OK, it's been procrastinating, waiting for one of the other meat-headed commentators in this town to note the place's passing. Oh, sure, Ray's still exists in some form. The store's naughty inventory dildos, vibrators, inflatable sex dolls, dirty magazines, edible panties, flavored condoms was hauled off to the other location, Ray's Over 21 on Independence Avenue. But this sexy sizzler wouldn't be doing its job if it didn't remind readers about the screaming outcry that Ray's provoked back in 1996, when it moved into the building at 3324 Main (which we hear is now on the market for more than half a million bucks).
Kansas City Star columnist Barbara Shelly called Ray's Video owner Elmer Ray Cain a "fox" who was having a good laugh about how he had outsmarted Councilman Jim Glover and the developers of the four-block strip mall at Linwood and Main that now houses Costco and Home Depot. Kansas City had paid Cain a buffalo-sized chunk of change, $575,000, to move out of the 70-year-old building where he had peddled porn and other gift items for well over a decade, doing business as Ray's Playpen.
Everyone, it seems, has a Ray's story.
Before the gratuitous sex, however, this pontificating porterhouse feels a brief history lesson coming on.
The Ray's saga started when crusading city leaders had the grand idea to clean up a neighborhood that had grown as seamy and sordid as New York City's Times Square. The first dirty-book store had opened there in 1971. The next year, the old Kimo Theater at 3319 Main which had been Kansas City's "art" movie house for many years celebrated a new grand opening as the Dove Theatre. Its debut flick? Deep Throat. The new owners were even so brazen as to throw a party for the press. "And the press came!" confesses one photographer, who speaks with great authority on the subject but discreetly asks that the Strip not reveal his name.
Whatever, dude. A lot more people came in, we mean to, the theater, which was soon joined on that stretch of Main by several other sex-oriented businesses. In addition to Ray's Playpen, there was the first Bazooka's Showgirls and, just down the street, a cowboy-themed gay bathhouse called The Bunkhouse.
The bathhouse and the Dove disappeared, but Bazooka's stalled Glover's plans for Linwood and Main by demanding that the city let it move to the Crossroads. (This might be hard to imagine, but back then, there wasn't much going on in the Crossroads. Hoping for their own revitalization, Crossroads leaders fought the Bazooka's move, arguing that it would be very, very bad for the neighborhood to let men suck down nonalcoholic drinks while watching women dance naked. The Strip will say no more. Except to point out that they were obviously wrong.)
For his part, foxy Elmer Ray Cain pocketed most of the half-million the city had paid him to go away and immediately bought a free-standing brick building just across the street.
When the new place opened, it followed the city's standard commercial zoning rules by only offering 50 percent "adult" material. The nonsexy stuff was mostly mainstream magazines, newspapers and used books. In other words, it wasn't the same down-and-dirty adult emporium that the legendary Ray's Playpen had been.
One of the Strip's acquaintances, we'll call him Harry Reems (after the male lead in Deep Throat), remembers his first foray into one of the closet-like peep shows at the rear of the original Ray's. "I put my token in the slot to watch a movie, and suddenly someone stuck his pee-pee into a hole in the wall. I ran out screaming."
This snoopy sirloin has it on good authority that those metal tokens were one midtown housewife's clue that her husband was leading a double life. "She was emptying out his pockets to do laundry and figured out right away that they weren't subway tokens," says one of their gossipy friends.
"You always saw married men lurking around at Ray's Playpen," says a former Ray's regular. "The floor was always so filthy and nasty, your shoes would sort of stick to it as you walked through the place," recalls Mr. Reems. Another devotee says the dinginess was part of the store's sexual allure: "You kept telling yourself that you were a nice, clean person who shouldn't be in a trashy place like this and that was part of the turn-on."
Ray's Playpen became synonymous with dirty, furtive sex. But no one can deny that the place was a local institution.
"I used to drive a vintage Chevy," recalls a man who claims he only occasionally stopped in, "and a friend of mine took a photograph of my car parked right in front of Ray's and sent it to my boss as a joke."
"I remember being a little girl in my mom's Subaru, back in those days when a one-car family didn't necessarily mean 'shit poor,'" one of the Strip's co-workers says, wistfully recalling her days as a 5-year-old. "We'd drive downtown to pick up my dad at DST. On the way, there'd be the Dove Theatre, immediately followed by Ray's Playpen. The marquee at the Dove always said 'Live girls,' and my mom'd make a joke, saying, 'Too bad they're not dead.' Which confused me for a minute. Then I got it."
The Strip was hoping to hear a few words from ol' Ray himself, so it called his residence in Kansas City, Kansas. A woman identifying herself as his housekeeper told the meat patty that he had been dead for two years. We left a message for his daughter, who still lives in the home, but she didn't call back.
Soon enough, someone will buy the empty building at 3324 Main, and the only standing reminder of Ray's Playpen will be gone.
The Internet has made sex shops practically obsolete. It offers all the services of a porn palace dirty movies, online cruising, webcam sex from the comfort of home, so people can sticky up their own floors.
Sex will never be the same, and neither will Main Street.