So, like all good Kansas Citians, the first thing we did was get in our cars. But we couldn't just drive aimlessly. We wanted to learn something about our city. In an effort to challenge our own assumptions, we drove to a street that we thought we knew, a street we thought was all about traffic and sprawl.
Certainly we found those -- much in progress. A "lifestyle center," modeled after the Northland's new Zona Rosa, is planned for the area around 135th Street and Metcalf. Across the road, construction workers were smoothing a layer of asphalt for a parking lot that will serve a bank branch, a furniture gallery and a Ben & Jerry's. Jeff Swan, the construction supervisor, also built the nearby Chipotle and Starbucks. "You start with dirt, and all of a sudden you have a building there," Swan told us.
He was describing the satisfaction he takes from his work, but he could have been speaking for all of Metcalf Avenue -- and all of Johnson County. When we started talking to other people, though, we discovered something else: a side of the street we didn't know.
Bob Sight Lincoln Mercury
Santol and Shamoz Lacy -- they're brothers -- race against evaporation. The cars and trucks on the lot have been washed, and it is the Lacys' job to dry them before streaks settle on the factory-fresh paint. Armed with chammies, Santol and Shamoz move quickly through the Aviators, Sables and Grand Marquises.
Santol, 24, wears rubber boots, sweats and a skullcap. Shamoz, 23, is dressed in a powder-blue T-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes. Shamoz is the beefier of the two; they share the same friend-making smile.
The Lacys work for Carter's Mobile Wash. Santol and Shamoz each make about $100 a day, traveling from dealership to dealership with their boss, Joe Carter, and his son, Anthony. Most workdays begin at 6 or 6:30 a.m. and end at noon. "The rest of the day is ours," Shamoz says.
Santol and Shamoz, who live in Wyandotte County, spend their free time and money making rap and R&B records. Each produces and runs a label. (Shamoz also performs.)
"We original," Shamoz says.
"We don't sound like nobody around here," Santol says. "It's all real, all street, all shit that's really happening."
Lately Santol and Shamoz have had more time to devote to their music. Carter's business is down -- more dealerships have brought washing duties in-house. (Some have built on-site car washes.) "We're about one-fourth of what we used to have," Anthony Carter says as he waits for his father to pick up a check from the cashier at the Bob Sight dealership. The crew is bound for a lot in Bonner Springs.
Santol expects that he and his brother will be making music full time by January. One opportunity to advance their careers may be imminent. "The Isle of Capri is supposed to be having a talent contest," Shamoz says. -- David Martin
Aubrey Township cemetery
191st Street and Metcalf
Larry Pettit's yard is a molded menagerie. A plastic deer stands alert next to a molded Jersey cow. A concrete lion guards two swan planters. A 12-inch butterfly clings to the small house's white steel siding next to a window with an American flag decal that appears backward from the outside. At the street, Pettit has mounted a mailbox on a 21-foot-long pipe. "Airmail," he explains. "Wife seen one like that in Oklahoma."