Page 2 of 2
On Saturday afternoon, All Saints was also possibly the hottest, most humid, most miserable location in Kansas City. To stand in the parking lot was to get some perspective of what it might be like to be burned alive. I stood in a demoralizing food line, hungry for pierogi and povitica, and watched a polka band play. After five minutes and no movement, I gave up. In the shade, out front on Vermont, it felt about 30 degrees cooler.
"You gotta get in that food line either before the floats show up or else wait until mass at 4 o'clock," a 50-ish bald man in wire-rimmed glasses told me. His name was Ed. "Even if you get in the door to the hall, good luck finding a place to sit and eat your food. You need a SWAT team and dynamite to get those folks out of their seats once they find a spot." (He was right: I returned later in the afternoon, and there was no wait. The pierogi were delicious.) Ed seemed to know a lot of folks at Polski Day. He lives in Shawnee now but grew up "on the Hill."
"I once saw Ted Nugent destroy a vase with a guitar note at Memorial Hall," he told me. "It was sitting on top of an amplifier, and he was playing guitar and he built up to it, and when he hit the last note, the thing absolutely shattered."
A truck containing Polish Elvis, who wears a bright-red jumpsuit, wheeled by. "The guy's a drunk," Ed said, puffing on a Marlboro Light. "A couple years back on Polski Day, he was shitfaced in the afternoon and hanging all over the women."
Three Sisters of Mercy, wearing light-blue habits, walked past and stopped to talk. They'd come over from France. Where were we from? Around here. Kansas City. Johnnie's, over on Seventh Street, ever heard of it? They'd not had the pleasure. "It was nice to speak with a nun who hadn't physically beaten me," Ed said after they left.
As a family-friendly, food-oriented event, Polski Day seemed a success. As a party, the general consensus was that it's less rowdy and robust these days. Frank's Place, a tavern at the corner of Eighth and Central, used to be the drunken northern hub of the festivities, but it closed a few years back. "The party's smaller anymore," O'Connor said. He was wearing a red T-shirt with "Polska Day 2002" stamped on the left breast.
Back at Johnnie's, talk turned to the Kentucky Derby. Ed wasn't interested in the friendly, rinky-dink bets floating around the bar. He spoke of a nearby establishment where you could win some real money on the Derby. What's the place called?
"Are you going to write this in your paper?"
Off the record.
He sipped at his beer and gave me a sideways glance. He shook his head.
"I forget the name," he said.