She crept onto City Hall's observation deck and peered out over downtown. Three and a half years into her term, the city looked too much like it did back in 1999. What had she really done? Oh sure, she took credit for a downtown housing boom. But deep in her heart, she knew she was just surfing a national trend -- and wearing a pretty skimpy bikini doing it.
She paced around in circles, glowering over the gritty gloaming. To the west, Wyandotte County was roaring with NASCAR excitement. To the east was, well, the east side. To the south, in her so-called SoLo, hip-looking rehabbed warehouses stood empty and forlorn. To the north ... the mayor gazed out to the north, drumming her fingers on the ledge like the Grinch contemplating Whoville.
Stretching out beneath her was a patch of grass between City Hall and the federal courthouse. At least Ilus Davis Park opened during her administration, she reminded herself. Still, the park looked so fragile, its trees so young and spindly, its concrete so ... hey, wait a minute! The concrete! She'd heard the guys at the parks department whining about the concrete....
Barnes rushed downstairs to her office, taking the steps so fast she left a pump on the 29th floor's landing. Her chief of staff, Joe Serviss, was enjoying a little siesta. "Joe!" she exclaimed, jerking him awake. "Joe! Let's call a press conference!"
The mayor had recently snagged a decent headline by cracking down on housing-code violators. Folks out in the neighborhoods were ecstatic, she told herself. Meanwhile, though, her Greater Downtown Development Authority had been meeting for nine months and hadn't accomplished a thing. She needed downtown business owners to think she was looking out for them.
So a few days later, Kay Barnes strode up to a microphone at the northwest corner of Barney Allis Plaza. Just south of the concrete park, doorways at Municipal Auditorium were covered with plywood. Thirteenth Street was its usual rippled self. Cars clanked over metal plates rusting at the corner at Wyandotte Street.
Barnes smiled broadly. The mayor had a major, major announcement to make.
Reprobates were wrecking the city, and she was going to stop it.
She wasn't talking about the out-of-town owners of the long-empty Jones Store building. She wasn't talking about Aquila, the now-junked Fortune 500 company whose layoffs were turning the Town Pavilion into a haunted house. She wasn't even talking about her own water department, though city workers were responsible for most of the metal plates littering streets all over town.
The mayor's new public enemy number one: skateboarders.
"It's important to acknowledge that skateboarders are not bad people. It's not a bad activity," she said, before noting that skateboarders can and will be punished.
"We do arrest people," added Major Jan Zimmerman, the police department's high-profile dominatrix. Ride a rail, go to jail: The fine is 500 smackers.
"If you look around the area, you can see the damage to the concrete," said Bill Langley of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. "You can see dark places where they've waxed down the edges for a faster skid on their wheelies."
The mayor stared at the dark wax lining tiers of cement. Actually, she thought, the black gunk looked like a protective coating. Maybe we could use it to fill potholes, she mused. Maybe the kids were on to something. She gazed into the eyes of a skater who'd shown up for her announcement. He was wearing a ridiculously huge red T-shirt and baggy jeans. She started to get dizzy. You don't remember what it was like to be a kid, do you? To always feel unwelcome, no matter how rad your tricks.
The mayor blinked, shut her eyes, shook her head. Must stick to the script, she thought.
"Many of the people doing this are not residents of Kansas City, Missouri," she declared. "They come to the urban core from the outlying areas."
The horror! That visitors would venture downtown from the suburbs! But isn't that what you've been saying you want? The mayor tried to banish the intruding thoughts, but she couldn't. And then a repressed memory came flooding into the vortex of her brain: that crazy night earlier this summer when she'd gotten a wild hair, sneaked into the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden and sliced the head off of a gorgeous hydrangea. It blossomed on her bosom all the next day, and nobody even knew where she'd gotten it!
Stop it! the mayor told the thoughts invading her mind. That insignificant little episode of destruction was nothing like the hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage these little snots were causing. Nothing!
She was doing the right thing, she reassured herself, enunciating forcefully.
And here to prove it was a memo from the city attorney, pointing out that many variations of fun were prohibited in Kansas City. These included "roller skating, skateboarding and use of similar devices on public right-of-way," "ball games on streets or other public property" and "coasting or skating in streets or public parks."
As the mayor left Barney Allis Plaza, she felt good. She had made a strong stand. With her administration's intense focus on revitalizing downtown, it was important to keep the area looking as pristine as possible, and this was certain to help.
Now if she could only find a place to throw back a drink to settle her nerves. But there weren't many hip hang-outs on the way back to City Hall where a person could slam back a quick drink in peace and quiet. It must have been the skateboarders' fault.