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 "Roadfood.com" - 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.

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