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.

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