Sunday, December 23, 2007

Home, Consolidated

A Good Sunday - A nice snowfall last night preceded by two hours of steady sleet left Kansas City with a solid base of ice, hiding ominously under the snow. Any spots where the plows didn’t reach presented morning drivers with a tricky challenge to be sure. So, after putting it off for two weeks, I figured it was time to finally stop into the Home Depot to grab a couple of sand bags for the Vibe's backside.

After lifting the two 60 lb. tube bags into the hatchback trunk, I headed downtown to the River Market, needing some fruit - lemons and limes, in particular. Okay, call me stingy but I simply refuse to pay .89 for a friggin' lemon. I don't know, maybe it's all those years working in the tomato and produce business; I suppose, I know too much. So, the River Market it was.

Seriously, I love this place. It’s not exactly Faniuel Hall/Quincy Market, where I worked for four years while a BU undergrad and then some time afterwards. But it’s a good reminder and, for now, that's enough for me. Something about marketplaces excites me, makes me feel good. People food shopping, selling their goods, produce, jams, pies, flowers, nicknack's. Just being in the bracing air gets the blood pumping and brings a wide smile to my face.

Sure enough, 5 lemons or limes for a buck, can’t beat it. Corollo’s Italian Deli sells produce so that's where I made my purchase, chatting for a bit with, Mike, one of the owners. I’d been in his store a few times before to get fresh Parmesan and pasta and it’s yet another reminder of home. The fresh bread, Italian meats displayed in the glass counter, cheeses, olives in the barrels; all kinds of olives oils and vinegars, coffees, sauces. I was pretty hungry (so, what's new?), but it was way too early for that kind of thing. (That's the almost 50 in me talking there). And besides, I’m in the midst of a campaign to clean up the diet so … much of that stuff is on hold for the moment. I do, however, see a fresh Italian hero treat in my future. And Corrolo’s is the place for that. I’ll be back. And the next time, it won't be for lemons.

Home, Consolidated
- "Chinatown Food Market" - I’d seen the sign on the large brick building every time I’d been in the market area, but never went in. There always seemed to be a reason to take the other turn. This morning? Fresh snow, clean air, my morning task completed ... it was time to check it out.

As soon as I walked in, things felt familiar. But not in the frantic way I remember it. You see, having lived in NYC for so many years, I'd often made my way down to Chinatown and was always stimulated by the visit. A subway ride downtown often left me feeling as though I'd taken a trip to another country. Seriously, for any of you who have been there, doesn't it feel that way? It's as though you've left the U.S. for a while to do some shopping. Sure, the heat's oppressive in July and the mass of people, the chaotic zig zagging of cars, bicycles, trucks. The noise, horns, engines rumbling, choking the street with fumes. You name the sense, it gets pummeled when you step into NYC’s Chinatown. And my hunch is it’s that way in any urban Chinatown. I always had mixed feelings when I trekked down there, extreme feelings; the "love-hate" thing again. Loved the food, (roast pork buns, in particular) smells, array of goods - the variety of people. Hated the noise, chaos - the mass of people.

Enter, Kansas City’s Chinatown Food Market. It’s as though someone drew a square box around NYC’s version, pushed in from each of the sides and then down and up from the top and bottom, cropping and shrinking the box so it would then fit into this one little (not so little, by the way) store in the Midwest marketplace. No chaos. No blaring horns. No car fumes. Just … good stuff. And lots of it.

Fruits, vegetables, many of them strange looking to me; canned and bottled goods of all kinds, sauces, marinades, oils, vinegars, noodles … I had no idea what many of the products were, by the way and certainly wouldn't know what to do with most of them if I bought them. So many strange names and images. One thing is certain - I really want to learn how to cook Asian style. With my kitchen here - finally, I have a chance to stretch my cooking wings - (i.e., I have a place to prep veggies, unlike the West 87th Street place where I had to balance a cutting board on the couch arm to prepare a meal) – so I figure it’s time to make the move; to experiment a little and to do it in a more healthy way. To do that, however, I figure it’s time to get a book to explain not only recipes, but directions in terms of what to buy and how to prepare it. As I browsed through the market, I found myself getting excited at the prospect of cooking great stuff and then inviting friends over for dinner to show it off. After a few practice rounds, no doubt.

Yes. Yes, I Miss The Ocean – I know, this isn't the same, but … I think I stumbled on the place to buy fresh fish in this town. And ... now I’m not sure ... but I think some of the fish I saw in the back may have still been moving. That's a good sign, right? I mean, not for the poor fish, but ...

It was ten on a Sunday morning and the place was pretty busy for a store that had just opened its doors. The first cars that drove up, it was as though all those people made a beeline to the back area where the fresh fish is sold. I snapped a few shots here where you can see customers ordering, the workers in the back gutting, slicing and preparing the orders to people’s specifications. It looked great and reminded me a lot of Haymarket in Boston and, of course, the old Fulton Fish Market in the city. There is nothing, I mean nothing like that smell. You either love or hate it.

On my way out, I met a nice young man at the register named Frank. Thin, glasses, broad smile - we started talking and, after I told him it was my first time there and how much I loved the place, he asked where I was from? It turns out Frank just returned to Kansas City from the West Coast, having spent time in school in LA. I ended up telling him about the book and, as always, figured I'd take a shot at an interview pitch. I mean, you never know, right? Getting Asian Eldercation participants has been a challenge right from the get-go because of the language issue. Frank said he may know a couple of people here so ... we’ll see.

I handed him a card.
Another seed planted; another morning adventure complete.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"Part Of The Plan"

Two weeks ago, while working in the library, a song came on my iTune's 70’s radio station – “Part Of The Plan.” I leaned back in the chair, removed my hands from the laptop and looked out The Plaza Library window as the song played. For three minutes, I was back in Myles Standish Hall at Boston University - 1976 - sitting with friends - some getting high, some sipping a beer, some just sitting. Just about any time of day or night, you could walk down the Myles' hallways and hear tunes like "Part of The Plan." If people weren't listening to the likes of Fogelberg or Taylor, you'd hear some Steely Dan, Poco, Eagles, Hall And Oates, Doobie or Allman Brothers, etc ... Those days, there was so much great music to choose from, so many fantastic songwriters and performers. Still, for me, one singer/songwriter really stuck out. Who knows why that happens? We all have someone special - a band, a singer, something that just seems to hit us when it counts, right at the time we most need it.

I think "Stars" may have been the first of his songs I heard. One of my roommates had that "Home Free" record, the one with the face on the front cover that looked like an American Indian. I remember hearing "Stars" and heading directly down to the piano room, it must've been two in the morning and it was absolutely crucial that I learn that song and learn it right away. I must have plunked at those keys for an hour or two until ... well ... what can I say? Some songs just sound better on a guitar. "Stars" is one of those songs.

* * * * * * * * * *

“I have some bad news.”

I heard my brother’s voice on the phone; we'd just finished comparing notes about the Pat's game. Once Stuart assured me a family member wasn't involved, he told me that Dan Fogelberg died today. Prostate Cancer. He was 56.

I’m sitting here writing this tonight because, to tell you the truth, I feel I have to do something. Musically, Dan Fogelberg wrote songs that were not only beautiful - they actually affected me. Sure, for those of you who know me, Billy Joel is obviously still high on my list, as are the Beatles, Stones, Who, Eagles, and so on. But there was something special about Fogelberg’s music. Something that moved me, as well as so many others.

I learned and performed Judy Collins', “Since You Asked,” at my friend Larry’s wedding; it was the Fogelberg/Weisberg rendition that served as the motivator. "Stars," "To the Morning" – those songs carried me through my college re-entry after I’d taken a year off to find myself and take in a bit of the world. That was a hard and very special time for me and certain music is firmly embedded, dare I say it? In my soul. Once exposed to this man's music, I loved everything he released. "Souvenirs" is probably my favorite album – not one weak song on the entire LP. Now, how often does that happen today, if at all? “Part of the Plan,” "There’s A Place In the World for A Gambler,” “Mornin’ Sky,” “Better Change,” ... It’s silly to name every song. They're all terrific.

My Favorite - And then – there’s “Leader of The Band". I just pecked out those four words and my eyes started to well up, I swear it. I don't mean for this to sound morbid but, over the years I've often thought that when my father dies, I'm going to sing that song at his funeral service. And the fact is, I'm pretty sure I’ve already told him I’m going to do just that; this way he won't be surprised when it happens. A singer songwriter himself – I always felt as though Dan Fogelberg had somehow secretly studied my family and wrote a song about my father, as strange as that sounds. It turns out, (and I didn’t know this for sure until today) "Leader Of The Band" is about Fogelberg’s own composer father, Lawrence. And judging from the hundred’s of responses on YouTube under this song title, it’s apparent this composition has hit the “father” mark dead-on when it comes to the great parent/love songs of our time. If you've never heard this track, here’s a link to it. It’s worth a quick listen. Check out the lyrics. Sure, sure ... some of you will say it’s too soft, syrupy, schmaltzy, whatever. You know what? Call me square, but I liked the quieter and often softer times, too. Anger, franticness, tension, conflict - I find I tire of that stuff much more easily these days.

So Here's The Thing ... After I heard "Part Of The Plan" two weeks ago, I found myself browsing iTunes for Dan Fogelberg music. I think it must have been 25 years since I've felt that kind of strong desire to hear those songs again. At first, the quick 30 second clips satisfied my craving. But, after hearing a song or two again, it didn't take long to figure out that clips just weren't going to do the trick. One by one, I started to buy tracks– creating my own Dan Folgelberg’s Greatest Hits collection. And, once I got home, I made sure to burn a CD so I could listen to the songs in the car. And for the past two weeks, that's all I've been listening to.

So, when Stu told me the bad news tonight, I heard the words, paused for a moment and then couldn't help but smile. I told him about my recent Dan Fogelberg music run.

Strange, huh? I've hardly even thought about Dan Fogelberg all these years and certainly didn’t know anything about his illness. I figured with my rekindled interest in his music, it'd be easy to catch him on tour some day soon.

But that’s not going to happen.

"Papa I Don't Think I Said ... " - While visiting with my parents last week in Florida, I had a chance to chat for a bit with my dad one night at the dining room table. We had just finished speaking with my mom who was in the hospital and, after lighting the last night's Hanukkah candles, I thought it would be a good time to ask him some questions - something to add to the Eldercation interview I did with him a few years back. We ended up talking for quite a while about his songwriting and he shared some of his thoughts with me; new things I'd never heard him talk about before, at least not with me. He talked about his love for creating music for people, how he'd sometimes be on the subway in the city, and he'd hear people humming or whistling a line from something he wrote.

“When you die, it’s kind of like being a bit immortal. Your music is still here," he said. "You’ve left something real and special for others to enjoy - even when you’re gone. That’s a good feeling. To know that's what's going to happen.”

Well, thank you, Dan. You've left more than enough for us to enjoy for many years to come.

And when I head into work tomorrow, all I have to do is click on the CD player - the disc is right where it's been for the past two weeks.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

"Once A Kid ..."

"Choo-Choo" - When I was little, my parents bought a train set for our basement playroom. It was, I don't know, about eight feet long? Five feet wide? Or, maybe it was ten feet long. I haven't seen it for years so my guess is, if I looked at it today, it might very well be only about one by two feet. I'll tell you one thing, to a four year old it pretty much looked like a NYC block. It was big, brown, with long green stretches that looked like open prairie. The first time I saw that set, it was the most exciting thing I'd ever seen.

We had Lionel trains. There were two engines - one was the old fashioned type of, I guess you'd call it a choo-choo train; the kind that tugged a long series of freight cars, with it's bright red caboose pulling up the rear. That engine was black, (it looked a lot like the one above), with that silver metal bar-like post attached to the wheels, the one that moved up, down and around as the wheels spun. I always liked that motion for some reason. That engine made a whistling noise and I have to tell you - it sounded just like a real train. It was wild. I remember one day, my dad showed up holding a little box filled with tiny white tablets, which you placed in the similarly tiny smokestack at the train's front. As the engine heated up from the electricity flowing through the tracks, a thin white wisp of smoke streamed from the engine. The whistling, the smoke, that silver bar moving up and down - I was in heaven.

The other engine was a more modern, "Amtrak," type of machine and this train pulled passenger cars like the one down below. I loved the sleek, silver, rectangular look of these trains and the way the passenger car windows would light up, showing off the tiny profiles of people as they chatted with one another and enjoyed their meals in the dining car, (you can see this on the train to the right). Well, I'm figuring that's what those folks were doing and I could have sworn I always saw my Nana Ann in there whenever we took the trains out for a spin. Back in the late 60's, we used to go and pick up Nana at the Springfield, Massachusetts train station, so it didn't take much for my imagination to simply transfer that experience over to our toy basement set.

I used to love heading down to the basement to play engineer. And there was nothing better than running both trains at once and turning off the lights for the complete night-time experience. The sounds, the smoke, the lights of the little plastic towns complete with gas stations, cars and people ... there was even a little helicopter somewhere on the open prairie. I'm not sure that really fit in well with the set, but that didn't matter. It was still exciting to have it there. Sure, I my siblings and I were mere observers in the early years; my Dad was chief engineer and we were instructed to stay clear of the set when my parents weren't around. The electricity was too dangerous, I suppose. But, years later, it was time for my sister and me to take over the controls and then it was my brother's turn after that. So many times I would head downstairs and get lost in that little Lionel world. It was relaxing - I can remember that feeling. And yes, sometimes, the "boy" in me would take over. I remember sometimes speeding up the trains so much, that they'd take off and fly from the tracks. But as you might imagine, after 15 crashes or so, there wasn't a whole hell of a lot of mystery in the accident scene. You should know, however, that I never purposely crashed the passenger train. All tragedies were reserved solely for the coal, flatbed and general freight cars. No lives were ever lost in that basement. After all, how could I ever hurt my Nana Ann?

Take A Look At This - Well ... if my eyes popped out of my head when I was 4 looking at my Lionel basement set, I can't imagine what it must be like for 4-year old encountering what you see here. To me this was, perhaps, the biggest - I guess you'd call it a "train set" - I had ever seen. It's actually a collection, an association ... a train set conglomerate. I wrote a bit about seeing this a few posts ago when I had wandered down to Union Station and met a few model train hobbyists as they were setting up this beauty. (See above - you have to look carefully to see the people in the photo and this will give you a better sense of the scale of the project).

Well, it's finished now - completely set up. I snapped off a few photos so you can see what I'm talking about but, to tell you the truth, there was no way to get a good shot of what I'm talking about here. My little Canon digital isn't set up to give you the full flavor. It was one thing to see the people setting up the train early one weekday morning with just a few people milling around the station. It was something else to see the system fully up and running, with kids running around the outside boundary, putting their little hands up to the glass, mouths open, eyes as wide as ... well ... I'm guessing that's what my eyes looked like the first time I saw that basement train set.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Ultimate Veteran's Day


I don’t like to admit it, but war fascinates me. I love learning about it, seeing paintings and photographs of it, reading first-hand accounts of it. The Civil War ... now that's always sucked me in. I don’t know. For me, there's something kind of ... well … eerie about that period. Maybe that's because it's the first time mankind was able to see actual images of war's horrors. Photos of mangled, contorted bodies lying dead in the open fields. Of makeshift hospitals with all the surgery paraphernalia - saws, ether, white metal beds ... It all gives me the creeps. On the edge of the industrial revolution, The Civil War seemed to change everything about the way wars were fought and followed. Until, that is, the next war came along. And then, the next. It seems all wars change everything. And yet, they change nothing.

"The War To End All Wars" - Last week, I happened to see something in the paper about the The National World War I Museum, At The Liberty Memorial being located right here in Kansas City. I hadn't heard much about it and, in fact, haven't thought much about WWI for a long time now. It's funny how that particular conflict is overshadowed by it's world war cousin. Anyway, when my friend Mary mentioned something about Willam Jewell College presenting a special alumni lecture, followed by a tour of the museum on Saturday, I thought it would be fun to join her. I was meaning to head back down to Union Station anyway, so I thought this would be a great way to kick off the weekend. And you know what? It was.

The lecture was held in a large loft area upstairs at Union Station and the guest speaker was Dr. Thomas Howell, a renowned World War I scholar. Dr. Howell presented the information in an almost poetic way and his - I'll call it a pre-museum briefing - was the perfect appetizer to the main meal. By the time we entered the museum, I felt like we had traveled back in time, our heads filled with fresh knowledge about the early 1900 European social, cultural and political climate. What did Dr. Howell call it? A tinderbox?

Okay. So I've seen three museums since I've been here: The Nelson Atkins Museum Of Art, including the new Henry Bloch wing; The Arabia Steamboat Museum; and The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. I can't remember the last time I spent so much time in museums. I know part of the reason is my newness to the area. But I'm sure another factor has something to do with my lack of a television; I chose to not get one when I moved into my new place.

Anyway, the World War I Museum is an incredible place. And I don't like tossing around the word "incredible" too much. As Dr. Howell suggested to us during his lecture, this is a world-class museum in the truest sense. The displays, interactive materials, educational copy and media ... it's a tremendous collection. I know I have to go back at some point since it's too much to take in on a first visit. There is one section, which is kind of like a wide balcony area, where you can either sit or stand while you watch a short movie presentation about the U.S. entry into the conflict and how that shift affected the war's outcome. The balcony overlooks a huge replica of a trench and it looks remarkably realistic, complete with the mud and water. I don't usually take photographs of copy but the description to the right caught my eye, (you can click on it so see the words more clearly).

Of course, it was good to tag along with Dr. Howell every now and then, so we could get our questions answered immediately by the expert. And, to be at the museum over Veteran's Day weekend was something special as well. Crowded, to be sure. But still special. I don’t actually remember the last time I even thought about the first world war. I took two courses about the second war when I was in college and they only touched a little bit on WWI. But after listening to Dr. Howell and then to the movies; after reading and viewing the various displays - a lot of the history came back to me. The Serb issue, The Black Hand, Hitler's capitalizing on Germany's disgraceful defeat, sowing the seeds for the coming turmoil... It's
interesting to think that people back in 1918 actually did believe that the phrase, "the war to end all wars" was appropriate.

If you live in Kansas City and you haven't been to this museum, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It's a must-see - a truly extraordinary experience. Not that you’re all traveling to KC, but if you do get here at some point, I recommend some trips to the museums I mentioned earlier (and I haven't even seen the Truman Presidential Library yet - I heart that's great, too). And when you're through exercising the mind, stuffing it with all kinds of information, you've earned the right to check out the barbecue spots.

Have I mentioned how much I love barbecue?

I'm kidding.

Friday, November 2, 2007


Resident vs. Traveler.
Routine vs. Unusual.
Waking up in the morning, knowing pretty much how the day's going to be structured vs. Waking up, walking out the door and not knowing what to do next.

Finding the balance between these concepts has become an interesting experiment for me. From the look of it, many folks seem to enjoy the more set, familiar approach. They love routine; the same series of events, operating like clockwork, just about every day of their lives. Well, I'm pretty sure that's not my bag. Sure, I can do it and, in fact, do do it for about half the week these days. But, when it comes to the remaining days of the week - it’s the lack of routine .... the “what’s going to happen today?” unknown component to the whole thing - this is what gets my juices flowing.

It's The Vibe, Man - 35,732 miles marks the spot. Someone mentioned it would be a good idea to get my car into the shop for a quick checkup before the bumper-to-bumper coverage runs its course. I found a dealership up on Main Street and met a mechanic there named Tony. Great guy, by the way, which is good since I can now check that off the list of settling-in “to do’s” -

Dentist ... done.
Cleaners ... done.
Barber ... done.
Mechanic ... done.

After dropping off the car, I had about three hours to kill and didn't have the faintest notion of what to do next. Years ago that would have been a challenge, perhaps even a worry. No car, in the middle of nowhere, strange area. Nowadays, it's just the way I like it. I looked to my left as I zipped up my backpack and stared at the tall buildings marking the Kansas City's skyline. The air was crisp and the lighting was that pretty, light golden, with an early morning mist floating above the grass. I decided to head toward the buildings.

I've driven through Crown Center, (a city shopping and dining area surrounding the Hallmark Company's main headquarters), about 50 times since I've been in KC, but haven't spent any time there, certainly never gotten out of the car. I figured it would be a good time to grab a quick breakfast, relax and read a bit. And just as I reached for the door leading to the Center, I felt a vibration in my jacket pocket.

“You wouldn’t happen to have your keys, would you, Harry?”

I reached down with my left hand, feeling the clump on my left thigh. I closed my eyes and dropped my head. It was Tony and, yes, yes, friggin' yes - I forgot to leave my keys with him. I'm pretty sure he couldn't hear my near silent-swear as I waited about ten seconds … the lull continuing … while waiting … for the pickup offer that never came.

The walk to Crown Center was delightful. Of course it was. It was completely downhill. By deduction, the walk back to the dealership was a fairly slow, persistent - sort of grueling early morning test for my legs and lungs. I had clearly earned the right to a good breakfast.

Union Station – I couldn't help but smile as I stared out the bus window, retracing my initial morning trip down the Main Street hill. This was my debut KC bus ride and, at $1.25, it is truly a bargain. Public transport was my default transportation mode in NYC; the occassional car there was a treat for me. Here, the whole thing is flipped. Whenever I need to travel, it's all about the car. The bus? It's just not something I think about ever using. Having said that, a bus ride downtown every once in awhile might be nice; there’s something relaxing about someone else doing the driving and I enjoy looking out the window – observing. And, of course, you never know who you’re going to meet.

"The Link" is an above-ground walkway, connecting Crown Center and Union Station, the city's main train terminal. As luck would have it, The Link led me directly to the place I needed most – a diner type restaurant called the Harvey House. Originally opened at Union Station in 1896, the refurbished version was the perfect place for a relaxing breakfast. I sat, read and wrote. The place was empty so my waitress spent some time at my table, filling me in on the goings-on around Union Station. I enjoyed watching the mixture of tourists, travelers, and vendors as I ate my eggs and sipped some really good coffee.

I'll just say this for the time being because I'm planning on heading down to Union Station again soon to check out the World War I Museum (just up the block) with a few friends. I loved milling around the train station. Come to think of it, I always enjoy wandering around old train stations. Well, I guess by definition they're all old, right? There's just something about train stations - you can smell the history, the age. And Kansas City's depot is real treat; I'm going to snap off a few photos in a few days. Get this: they're setting up this huge, and I mean huge model train -I don't know what you'd call it - a community? I hesitate to call it a "set" - it's more of a train "wing." About half of the station's main lobby is eventually going to be filled with this train set-up, which includes all kinds of different model trains, winding tracks and little buildings. About a dozen volunteers are currently working on the construction and design as well as manning the operations center. I hung out for awhile and chatted with some folks, just to find out what the scoop was. It turns out this train exhibit is an annual thing and they were putting it together for the coming holiday season.

The Adventure Continues - I know, I know. It's not exactly like scaling Everest or trekking through the Amazon. Still, an adventure, no matter how seemingly small and insignificant, is still special to me these days. Call me crazy. A few people have - trust me. My return Link route took me back up and into Crown Center where I walked around shops and into one particular gift shop, where I was greeting by a nice smiling woman named Betty. A former school teacher, Betty now works part-time in the “Best of Kansas City” gift shop down the hall from the Westin Hotel. She’s over 70 so, after chatting awhile, I asked if she’d like to be an Eldercation participant. She smiled and took a card I offered her. We'll see. I don’t push too hard on that front. If a person wants to speak with me, they’ll reach out in one way or another. Those are the people I enjoy interviewing the most. No force-feeding here.

I started my walk back up the hill and this time, there being no rush, I took the steep grade more in stride and it was quite a bit easier. Of course, just as I was approaching the dealership, Tony called to tell me the Vibe was ready and ... in very good health.

And so, that was my Monday morning. My non-routine morning. My traveler morning. It’s interesting just how different I felt as I wandered around, seeing new places and faces. The question always looms there for me: how can I allow this feeling to more a part of my life?

I’m working on that one. For now, the balance seems just about right.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Those Who Ignore History ..."

I thought I had done something terribly wrong to my body. I’m talking medically wrong.

“Are you okay?” I asked my brother. I was laughing hard and with quite a bit of discomfort; I actually had to back off and stand still for a second. As Stuart and I crossed the street at 18th and Vine, we knew we were in for a treat. We had arrived at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and it was something we'd looked forward to seeing since Stuart arrived for his Kansas City visit. Both or us are huge baseball fans, so this was sure to be a treat. The second treat of the afternoon, as a matter of fact, the first being a prior stop at yet another of the city’s premiere barbecue spots. More on the baseball museum in a bit. First, a short blurb about LC’s Barbecue (<----this link takes you to "" - a great place to get the lowdown on interesting places to eat).

"Oh, My God"
– That’s all I can say now and pretty much all I could say at the time. The fact is, Kansas City barbecue is something special. And my first few bbq indulgences here have taken me to one of the city’s very best barbecue restaurants – Gates Barbecue. (Note: I recently had the honor of interviewing Mr. Ollie Gates, himself. I'll be posting a portion of that interview soon). I’ve already visited Gates about 3 or 4 times, first with the Connecticut crew and then with my friend, Heather. The food is top-notch and the sauce? It's pretty much the best I've ever tasted; I use it on all kinds of things now and you can buy it in most grocery stores here - (or check out this section of the Gate's website). Still, on this day, it was all about another of KC’s finest. It was all about a place called LC’s.

When asked “What’s the best barbecue place in the city?” a number of folks at work kept placing the name, "LC’s," high up on their lists, usually within the top three slots. They grouped LC's along with two other local, lesser known favorites (lesser known to rookies like me) - Oklahoma Joe’s and Rosedale – I’m sure I’ll be writing about these places somewhere down the road. Arthur Bryant’s, (you have to see this Bryant's video clip - it reminds me of Katz's), and Gates are the city's mainstays, as are the Jack Stack and Smokestack restaurants. But a visit to LC’s – less flamboyant and in no way fancy - simply means good eatin'.

So, here’s what happened.

To me, the concepts "fancy" and "barbecue" are not a natural mix. And when you enter LC's, your reason, the only reason for being there hits your nostrils immediately. The fact is, you smell the bbq as soon as the car door opens. The place is small, there's a TV is in the corner, animal heads on the wall – I'm posting a couple of pics from the Roadfood site so you can get a sense of the place. Here's how one reviewer summed it up - check out his links with the photos : "L.C. has a couple of stores, but the original on Blue Parkway is my favorite. Dinky little store, you're right in the cook's lap when you order. The sandwiches are HUGE. Fries are as good as Bryant's, but again. bring a defibrillator. Beans are very good, too. (-George Blowfish)

Shock & Awe - I had heard about the burnt ends – saw a few orders flying by me – and that’s why we made the trip, so ... we each, of course, ordered a burnt end sandwich. Share? What does that mean? Sandwich? Ha!!! They put a piece of white bread on the plate, smother it - and I mean smother it – with a humongous pile of burnt ends, (the more well done ends of the meat), put sauce on it – then top the stack with another slice of bread. You'd be a fool to try to pick it up. The fact is, it's impossible to pick it up. The white bread's sole reason for being there is to soak up the sauce. An order of beans? I’d heard they were great, so we got an order of those. The fries looked good, so we got an order of those, too.

“Okay," my brother smiled. "We need a vegetable - something healthy.”

Cole slaw?

Two guys. Lots of food. A TV on in the corner.

It was perfect.

Mmmm, Mmmm - Okay. I’m pausing here - doing my best to reminisce about that special moment when we each picked up our initial burnt end and placed the crispy morsels in our mouths.

“Oh, my God," I smiled as I reached up to high-fist my brother.

And that was that. The beans? There were pieces pork in there, too. And when you spooned a helping onto the plate and they mixed in with the burnt ends … wow!! Tremendous.

I'm pretty sure I’ve ever had so much food in one sitting in my entire life. And that's not necessarily something I'm all that proud of.

Which now brings us back to the “medically wrong" concept.

"I’m not sure I’m okay. " Sheer post-eating pleasure, mixed together with a little fear and a dose of …. “Feel this,” making my brother poke my stomach. “Standing room only” in there - that's what we were each hauling into the baseball museum as we bought our tickets.

Treat #2 - Any true baseball fan would appreciate the place. You really get a better sense of what the modern game is all about after spending time in this particular museum, reading the descriptions and looking at the photographs. The exhibit is packed with history and, if it hadn't been for the post-LC’s effect, we would have enjoyed our time there even more. One example: They offer a short 15 minute film about the Negro Baseball Leagues when you first walk in so, of course, we wanted to check it out. Immediately, we made our way to the very back of the screening room so we could prop up our freshly fed bodies against the wall; we didn't want to tumble over. Listen, looking back, the whole thing was actually pretty funny. And the unfortunate thing is, other than the sound of James Earl Jones' voice in the background, I can’t tell you a hell of a lot about that movie, the reason being, we both conked out within two minutes of the film’s start. Clearly, a burnt-end-induced siesta.

I'm not going to try to describe the museum here. The place deserves it's own entry and I'm sure I'll be heading back there very soon. On the way out, we visited the gift shop and ended up meeting a nice man, Bob, the museum's head of marketing. As baseball fans often do, the three of us bonded, and we told Bob how the museum visit was the perfect salve for healing our wounds. Stu and I were still reeling from our bout with "PCS" ("post collapse syndrome" - a common condition, most recently suffered by New York Mets' fans).

Back out into the fresh air, a short walk to the car - my body bounced back fairly quickly. A great day, no doubt. Tremendous food and a first-rate education about our favorite sport. I love history - learning about new things. And I certainly learned something important that day. No, it wasn't anything about Satchel Paige (that's his familiar smile above), Jackie Robinson or Cool Papa Bell. What I learned is this one extremely important lesson:

One burnt end sandwich is enough.

For three meals!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Little Bit Of Everything - Part II

After a bit of a blog slowdown - I'm back in the swing of things. I posted a few backlogged entries below - enjoy.

Home Sweet Home: I'm originally from Western Massachusetts - Springfield, Massachusetts, to be precise, (home of basketball, Dr. Seuss and Indian Motorcycle - see the photo on the left). So any time I have a chance to head that way for a visit, it means a lot to me. Of course, the real reason for this latest trek up to Springfield? Emma, plain and simple; it was time to see her. I pretty much think about Emma in some way every day and I do my best to call her often. But phone calls are no substitute for a real flesh and blood visit.

When I first arrived, I was happy to see that Emma's doing okay; as well as can be expected for a person fast approaching 100 years of life on earth. Up until a year ago, she was completely independent, living in her own apartment, cooking her own meals. Then, she was hit with a gall bladder infection and things started to shift. Now, even Emma would admit she needs help, which she's now getting at a wonderful place called Heritage Hall in Agawam, Mass. I snapped the shot to the right as Emma napped, bundled up while watching her stories, (soaps - Emma still loves her soaps). As I sat with her, I couldn't help but grab the bible sitting on top of the desk next to her bed - and I read while Emma slept. I read it out loud and, at one point when Emma woke up, she listened and talked with me about what I was reading. That's something I've always enjoyed doing whenever I've spent time with Emma over the years. For those of you who don't know the story, this is the woman who helped to raise me as well as my brother and sister. (See Emma Foote - on the main portion of the site). She's a very special person to me and my family - very special. And a few hours with Emma the other day drove one key point home with me: As soon as I return to Kansas City, I'm planning another visit to Agawam. I know it means a lot to her.

After my morning visit I headed up 91 to Northampton to grab a quick bite with my buddy Bill/Will. A camera within reach on the passenger car seat, I was ready to snap a few photos of the famous New England foliage. Yeah, right. You would figure, two weeks into October, the timing would've been absolutely perfect for such a thing. Unfortunately, 90-degree weather doesn't do much for leaves, in terms of bringing on the color. For crying out loud, the trees probably thought it was still mid-July out there. I think I saw one red tree somewhere around Holyoke. And that was it. I managed to catch one quasi-autumn shot on my approach into Northampton - you see it above. Still, summer weather aside, it was still great to see Bill/Will and Rose. And it was an extra treat to see the Polish heritage parade which made it's way up Main Street as Bill/Will and I ate a late breakfast.

The afternoon meant a return visit with Emma to give her a hug and kiss goodbye, a quick stop at Richard's Grinders - the best sandwiches around - at least in Springfield, that is - and then I was on my way back to the city. Slowly ... on my way back. Traffic, traffic and more traffic. Thinking it would be the quickest way back to NY, I chose to take the 91 to 95 route. Unwise choice. Bumper to bumper on my approach to New Haven, the only thing that kept me sane was the beautiful sunset, which you see here, hovering over the New Haven skyline. Another plus about being stuck in traffic, if there is a plus, the long trip allowed me to listen to the Yankees'/Indians' game on WCBS-NY. It's always a treat to listen to John Sterling and Susan Waldman announcing a Yankee game. I'm kidding, of course. By the time I hit the Henry Hudson, the Yankees were losing - 4 to 0. And it was only the 2nd inning!

I forgot how much fun it is to walk around the city when there's a big NY sporting event going on. There is no need for a TV or radio. Just walk the streets or sit quietly in your apartment with the windows open and you'll know precisely what's going on simply by listening carefully. After returning my Thrifty rental, I weaved my way back to Howard's place, taking in the Upper East Side block by block. Every bar, pub and restaurant had the game on. Screams, moans and groans. Whenever I heard one of those sounds, I poked my head into whatever restaurant I happened to be passing and asked, "What's going on?" And the news wasn't good. For Yankee fans, that is. Howard was actually at the game, so I know he wasn't thrilled being a witness to the Yankees' final 2007 contest.

Back To The Midwest: I grabbed a falafel from around the corner and headed back to Howard's to organize for my return trip. Max watched as I packed so I decided to snap off a few photos of the best cat in the world. Not since I was 7 had I become so attached to a cat. That particular black cat with the white spot was named "Ben Casey" and he used to follow me home from school every day. Like Ben Casey, Max is special. So much so, I'm pretty sure he's a dog. I know, I know. Cat lovers hate to hear that kind of thing.

By the next morning, I had clearly had my fill of New York. Still, I found myself taking a few more photos on my way back to Newark Airport. The Super Shuttle driver ended up choosing a strange route, taking us through the Bronx and then over the GW Bridge via Washington Heights. Who knows? Maybe it was all about my being able to see Yankee Stadium ... the day after. I couldn't help but think this might be the last time I would be seeing this remarkable place. And it is remarkable. The history - My lord. This has absolutely nothing to do with my being a Mets' fan. I'm a baseball fan first. And Yankee Stadium is quite the special place. It's sad to think they're tearing it down.

Progress, I suppose.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A Little Bit Of Everything - Part I

8 months.
Hard to believe.
It's been 8 months since I was looking out the plane window, staring at steel beams and a concrete foundation; the beginning stages of what will one day be the Mets' new home - Citi Field. 8 months since I was staring at a Wichita Airport baggage claim belt moving from left to right, cracked and squeaking, my baggage nowhere to be found on it. What I didn't know at the time was that my luggage had never actually been loaded onto the plane that day and it was still sitting back in Atlanta, waiting to catch up with me. What a way to start the trip of a lifetime.

More or less settled into Kansas City for the next year at a minimum, I've been keeping a list of things I need here - little things. Items packed away in my NYC, Dumbo storage locker - ("Dumbo" = "down under Manhattan Bridge overpass," by the way). Add to that, I haven't seen my Emma for ... well ... it's been too long. Add these two things together and one thing became quite clear: it was time for a trip back East.

The People You Meet: It's what drives me. Some like to jump from planes; some enjoy scaling mountain peaks; others enjoy diving into the ocean's depths. For me, it's all about meeting people. The idea that I can wake up in the morning and have no idea that I'll be meeting ... hmmm ... a woman named, "Irene," (pronounced "Irayna" - with the swallowed "r" sound). Irene is from Denmark. Interestingly, I first noticed her as I made my way into the gate waiting area at 5:30 AM - I was half asleep and it's a wonder I was able to make the half hour drive to KCI airport. Still, a cute young lady always catches my eye, so that's that. The funny thing is, she ended up sitting in front of me for the entire 2 1/2 hour trip and we didn't say a word to one another until the deplane beep sounded and we stood up to remove our bags from the overhead compartment. A quick "Do you live in NY/KC?" conversation turned into a stroll to the baggage claim (my bags were there, thank you) ... which then led to another walk to the taxi stand ... which led me to do what would have been the unthinkable for me years ago.

"How 'bout a coffee?"

A very simple question.

And that was that. Again.

Irene and I sat and talked about all kinds of things for almost two hours. In no rush to get to Howard's and with Irene stuck at the airport until her evening flight to Denmark was due to leave, it was simply the thing to do. A new girlfriend? Hardly. A huge age difference and a boyfriend waiting for her at home - two things that, in the past, might have caused me to avoid the "How 'bout a coffee?" question - made such a notion impossible. Still, none of that stuff matters. I just know I had a great time hanging out with Irene at Newark Airport. And, as I've already pointed out twice before - that was that.

The cab ride into the city inspired me to snap a few photos - it was good to see New York. As I've written before, I love the place but also despise it. NYC inspires extreme feelings, as least for me it does. It was good to be back in a familiar place, extreme feelings and all.

Autumn In New York - 90 Degrees?: Who really knows what this is about? All I'll say is, the NYC hate factor kicks in when it's hot and humid this way in the city. Solution? A friend who plays in a hockey league. An ice hockey league. Luckily, I have such a friend in Howard.

The night before I headed East I had an idea about shooting some video of Howard playing his favorite sport. He's been such a good friend, allowing me to crash at his place - I wanted to give something back, so ...

It was nice and cool, actually, a bit cold in the Chelsea Pier's Skyrink but, trust me, I wasn't complaining. Here are a couple shots of Howard in action. Great game; an overtime 4-3 win. Or was it 5-4? It doesn't matter - The Sled Dogs won and that's the important thing. For some reason, whenever I watch an SD's game, it always ends up being exciting and, the Sled Dogs usually pull out a win. Go figure. Perhaps I'm their good luck charm.

The first night back ended up with me joining the team at their local hangout. A couple of beers, chicken tenders and French fries later, it was time to head back uptown. The 4:08 AM wakeup time was starting to take its toll on me.

And Sunday meant an early morning appointment with my Dumbo storage bin.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Putting It In Perspective

I’m glad I chose to make the trip again this year. It's always special to spend time with my family for the Jewish holidays. (If you're interested, I wrote about this experience years ago in a piece called "What's Going On?") I don’t mean for this to sound morbid – and it’s not. It’s simply a fact that I don’t know how many more times I’ll be able to reach across to each side of my synagogue seat and hold my parents hands like I did yesterday. The days are numbered. Then again, haven’t they always been numbered? The same thoughts flit through my brain every time something exciting happens in a Mets’ game and I pick up the phone to check in with my Dad.

“Did you see that?!”

Every call starts with the same line. And I understand all too well that some day, there won’t be anyone on the other end of those calls. I know this. And as soon as I find myself getting sad at such a prospect, I catch myself and think, simply – "He's here now. They're here now." And I can cherish that fact ... now. The only time that matters.

Sure, sitting with my Mom and Dad in synagogue got me thinking about re-connecting with my Judaism. My presence in Kansas City, far away from family, has sometimes brought on an emptiness that's hard to ignore. And it's occurred to me that it might be good to pick myself up and head to a Friday night or Saturday morning service every now and then. Sitting and singing familiar songs and prayers the other day – it was truly good and soothing for my soul. Not so much in an ultra-religious sense; that's not really my thing. More in the yoga, meditative sense. If that makes sense.

Once the day and fast came to a close, it was fun to walk outside the synagogue and grab some apple juice and honey cake with Adina and Yosi, my niece and nephew twins (that's Adina doing her thing to the left). What a joy to be able to see them, even if it is only every few weeks or so. And then it was time to head to my sister's for the 'break the fast.' The regular fare – bagels, lox, herring, and all the rugelach, babka and cake you can imagine. The highlight this year, as it is most years, was a noodle kugel (noodle pudding) my mom made. It had some kind of crumb topping on it and … well … let’s just say this wasn't for the faint of heart. And I mean that literally, in the artery-clogging sense. I think I had something like three helpings, complete with strawberries and sour cream to top it off. And that wasn’t even dessert!! It’s good to know these types of meals are treats only. I wouldn't last much longer if I ate that way all the time.

A Trying Time: Anyone who is a baseball fan out there and knows what’s going on in the National League these days understands what I’m about to write here. It is a tough time to be a Mets’ fan, let me tell you. Come to think of it. That’s a pretty stupid statement. It’s a much tougher time to be a Kansas City Royals' fan. Or a Pittsburgh Pirates' or Tampa Bay Devil Rays' fan. I say this because at least the Mets are in first place and they still may - I say may - be in the playoffs again this year. The idea that a couple of weeks ago this bunch had a 7 ½ game lead with only 17 games to play and now ... well ... for some unknown reason this team seems intent on blowing off the rest of their season. It's downright nerve wracking to be a helpless witness to this kind of train wreck. It's funny. When my sister mentioned three weeks ago that the Mets were going to be in town while I was in Florida, I thought, "Why not?" Who figured these games would even matter? I mean, who knew!?

The Perspective Thing: Fitting in with what I wrote above - How many more times will I be able to go to a baseball game with my Mom and Dad? Both Brooklyn natives, long time Dodger fans - these are the folks who introduced me to this wonderful game. My father is the one who took my sister and me out of school that crisp autumn day in 1969 to drive to NYC to see a baseball game. But not just any game. It was the final game of the the '69 World Series. The day the Mets became the most unlikely of World Champions by beating the big, bad Baltimore Orioles. I was there. I still have an original program, complete with my dads’ scoring of the entire game. Talk about a cherished memory.

So, to hell with un-nerving pennant race and the mental breakdown of my favorite team. And, believe me, the game ended up being quite the un-nerving adventure. The Mets/Marlins game, the Florida trip - it was all about being with my family. It was about another Yom Kippur; a belly full of bagels, lox and noodle kugel; a tough Mets' win and a chance to run the bases in a major league ball park with the most lovable twins in the world.

That’s what this was all about.

That's my kind of adventure.

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