Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kansas City--where'd everyone go?

I've been around. Lima, London, Prague, Rome, I've seen my share of cities, and just like people and particularly beloved stuffed animals, they all have their own personalities. Honolulu is a drunk chick past her prime dancing alone in front of the speakers at a bar. Spokane is a fat guy who wears his good sweat pants to the Arby's in case he runs into a potential lady friend. Lima is a scrawny ten-year-old with no shirt and an AK-47. New York is a lot of fun when she does a couple bumps in the bathroom with you at an art opening, but she'll shiv you as soon as look at you if you're not careful.

Now I want to have a conceptual Halloween party where everyone has to come as a different city. I'd come as Lima. Smear fake blood all over my ear and neck like my step-grandmother when a beggar reached in her car window and yanked her earring off. That place was harsh.

So I've been around, and I have to say that Kansas City, Missouri was one of the strangest cities I've ever visited.

There's nobody there. No people on the street, no cars on the roads. All of these great parking places and empty real estate, and nobody there to use it. But what's really strange is how clean and well-kept this empty city is. No trash on the streets or in the gutters; no vomit or dog shit in the floor beds. There's all of these lovely late 19th century and Art Deco buildings, as preserved as a Hot Pocket, that no one has graffitied or gouged with knives. All of the bronze decorations on the fountains and street lamps are still intact, not stripped down for the scrap metal. And lofts--lofts for sale and rent everywhere! But no dogs, no strollers, no people, no cars. It's like walking around a movie set before the cameras get there, or like the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.

I exaggerate, of course there were a few people on the street, but a LOT less than even Honokaa or Naalehu on the Big Island, and those towns have a couple hundred people living there compared to over a million who are supposed to live in Kansas City. We could walk around an entire city block and see maybe three other people.

And again, the lack of people wasn't as surprising as the quality of the infrastructure. It would be one thing if it was a dying city and the whole place was a shithole held together with duct tape and collective prayers of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. But this was a nice place, with immaculate landscaping and a brand spanking new opera house in the center of town. Roger Daltry was playing the concert hall on Thursday night! Kansas City is not podunk or small apples. (quick aside, New York City got it's nickname "the Big Apple" from traveling acts who called the towns they stopped in "apples," and since New York was the biggest stop on the itinerary, it was the biggest apple. The more you know!)

At the after party on Friday, all any of us out-of-towners from Kailua-Kona, New York, Seattle and Miami could talk about was the emptiness of Kansas City. We all agreed that it was, without a doubt, the weirdest city any of us had ever visited.

Good barbecue, though.

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