For the first time in years, neither sleet nor snow pelted Kansas City on Mardi Gras (thank you, global warming!). So, on that unseasonably balmy Tuesday last week, we headed over with a group of research assistants to what promised to be the quirkiest and most awesome celebration in town: the 18th Street festivities that stretched from the Crossroads to the east side.
After some predrinking at the Bulldog, we walked over to Y.J.'s Snack Bar at 18th Street and Wyandotte, where we happened upon a fantastic scene. The pulsing, percussive sounds of the Marching Python drill team greeted us as we got near the block party. Stationary floats lined the street, and a plethora of imaginative costumes fulfilled our people-watching needs. A guy in a nice suit wore a head-engulfing Mexican wrestling mask. A couple of the Late Night Theatre guys rocked the French courtesan look, complete with corsets, hot pants, knee-high boots and white powdered wigs. A woman and two kids donned a dragon costume, à la Chinese New Year. It draped over their shoulders, leaving their heads exposed; a big papier-mâché dragon face, held at chest height, helped them clear a path through the crowd.
Then we spotted the most striking costume of the night: a guy dressed as a giant tree. Plastic-y, mottled-brown bark covered his entire body and face, and mini branches sprouted from his arms and head. A yellow marshmallow Peep chick nested on his shoulder. The outfit flared out at both feet into branch-covered platform shoes, which pushed his height to more than 6 feet and caused him to clomp around slowly. He told us that his name was Zimlam, and he kept up the tree persona by stating that he was 30,000 years old.
"Has anyone asked you if you've got wood?" we asked.
"All the time," he responded.
We soon discovered that we'd made a tactical error in planning our night. We were unsure about the alcohol situation at the block party. When it turned out to be BYOB, we were SOL. We rectified our mistake by trotting to 18th and Vine.
As we headed over, we were thrilled to see actual pedestrians walking between the two neighborhoods. By the time we got there, we caught the tail end of the parade procession from the Crossroads. The scene at this end of 18th Street was equally awesome. People stumbled about and dispersed to the different venues that had stayed open late for Fat Tuesday. Music reverberated down the street, and, we thought, This is how Kansas City should be on non-Fat Tuesdays.
We then headed over to the absolute best thing KC has to offer: the Mutual Musicians Foundation. Best known to us lushes as the place to go after the bars close on weekend nights, it held a special open house in honor of Mardi Gras. After strolling in, we were shunted to the cavernous upstairs overflow area by a security guard. Sadly, the upstairs was dead, so we infiltrated the downstairs room, which we liked better. The crampedness of the small room added to the clubby feel of the historic landmark. As the house band played a jazzed-up version of the Sesame Street theme song, couples danced in the tiny space in front of the trio. The crowd there was diverse age-, race- and costumewise and even artistically: We spotted two women with sketchbooks, staring intently at the performers as they wielded their pencils.
We wended our way to the side door and into the spacious backyard for some air. That's where we met "Quincy" and "Thor," two guys wearing feathered eye masks and beads. They claimed that they hadn't had to show anything for the beads. "I just smiled at the Bacardi girls in a bar," Quincy said.
So, guys, what are you giving up for Lent?
Thor, who was clad in a nearly sheer black shirt, said he would give up alcohol, sugar and flour. "I'm going back to my bodybuilding diet," he said. "I often don't figure that out until the forehead gets marked."
Quincy, on the other hand, was still not sure. "Uh ... fabric soft-ener?" he said.
"You're giving up Snuggles," Thor snickered.
"Hey, your clothes will be stiff, so it'll be just like wearing a hair shirt," we said. Penance thus solved, we went back inside and, speaking of hair, met 35-year-old Shannyn, a pretty brunette sporting a jaunty Hercule Poirot mustache. We asked what the reaction had been to el mustachio, and she said no one had said anything about it. They'd just pointed and laughed. Or tried to fix it it was a bit askew. "A lot of people have touched my face tonight," she said. "I'm used to it now."
Come on, no one asked for a mustache ride?
"You're the first," she said.
Yay, us! We put the ass in class.
Shannyn had to leave to catch the shuttle bus back to the Crossroads, and the clock had struck one, so we were getting kicked out, too. We headed to the front, and just outside the front door, we met a cool guy who gave us his street name: Mo' Cheez.
"Is the z backward?" RA Julianne asked.
"No, I'm not Tech N9ne," he quipped. Then he told us that he'd probably give up hard liquor for Lent. "Not beer," he said.
Well, we figured out what we'd give up, if we were to give something up. Snuggles, you've been warned. Mo Cheez is smokin'. A trip down 18th Street, complete with 6-foot wood, hair shirts and the final days of fabric softener.