Is Kansas City, as The Kansas City Star breathlessly posited earlier this year, in the midst of a golden age?
Oh, come on. Of course not. Recent FBI reports found Kansas City to be the ninth-most dangerous city in the United States, with a crime rate three times the national average. Our public schools have been stripped of their accreditation. Every month, a new business flees the city for the Kansas suburbs.
Taxpayers spend more than $10 million annually to prop up the Power and Light District, which is owned, by the way, by a company headquartered in Baltimore. After five years, the Sprint Center still lacks an anchor tenant. The Chiefs' front office is an incompetent cabal of paranoid maniacs. The Royals haven't been to the playoffs since the Reagan administration. We're not even allowed to look at a full tit in our strip clubs!
Maybe let's dial back the self-congratulations a little, is all I'm saying. Which is not to say we can't be positive when the moment merits it.
And I am, in fact, about to say something positive.
There were so many fun things happening in Kansas City last weekend (including the band Fun, which is actually not fun but is, rather, terrible, but never mind) that I found myself paralyzed by indecision early Friday evening. Head straight to Middle of the Map, the indie-rock music fest in Westport? Or the Center of the City punk party at the News Room? Maybe stop by the Folly for the debut of the New Century Follies' vaudeville show? And what about all those First Friday art parties?
I followed my heart, which is guided by free alcohol. That took me, after work, to the Indie, the bar attached to the Midland. I'd never been inside the Indie, and it was relaxed and genuine. Music bingo was going on. A DJ would play 30 seconds of a song, and we would check our bingo cards for the song. It was '90s-themed, which occasioned some pleasant strolls down memory lane. Remember "Da' Dip"? It's all about Freak Nasty, y'all.
La Esquina, an art space affiliated with the Charlotte Street Foundation (which sits just north of Southwest Boulevard on Belleview), was holding the opening for its latest exhibition, The Speakeasy, and I soon migrated in that direction. It seemed an especially robust First Friday crowd in the streets of the Crossroads. On the corner of 18th and Baltimore, a Dick Dale-style surf-rock band played. The musicians were wearing wigs of long, blond dreadlocks and Jason masks.
Before arriving, I had not yet read Theresa Bembnister's fine piece in this week's issue (see Art) on the Speakeasy and the people who conceived the project. All I knew was that it was supposed to be a fun party, which turned out to be true. There were young and attractive people, free Boulevard drafts — Double Wide IPA and Pilsner — and a food truck parked in the middle of the room serving barbecue. I ordered the Chicago-style combo: two ribs, a half-sausage and white bread.
"You look extremely stupid," my friend said, as I lurched over my plate in the middle of the room, gnawing gracelessly at a pig bone.
"I'll be back in a minute," I said, and finished my meal away from his scrutiny, outside in the dark, alone, staring dumbly at the Royal Liquors sign.
There is a short, raised balcony overlooking the south side of La Esquina, and later on in the evening, I was standing there talking to Erin Olm-Shipman, whom I had just met, and who seemed to be involved with the exhibit in some capacity. The concept of the Speakeasy was, and to an extent still is, lost on me, and I was peppering her with questions about it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two teenagers streak through the parking lot below us and turn the corner, out of sight.
"That was weird," I said. Ten seconds later, I saw a bright-orange flame bulging inside an Airstream trailer parked to the west of La Esquina. "Holy shit!"
Others had already noticed, and soon two partygoers were spraying a fire extinguisher at the flames. It wasn't working. The fire grew larger and more threatening. How much gas is in that Airstream? Might it explode? I should probably not be standing 10 feet away from this thing, I thought, and then Sean Starowitz, one of the event's organizers, cleared everybody off the balcony. The fire department arrived and put it out. The Airstream — someone told me that a dude named Ryan keeps it parked at that space — was melted down and totally hollowed out.
I approached the two police officers who had been dispatched to the scene and told them I'd seen two kids running from the trailer right after it went up in flames.
"We're hearing that it was a lighting or electrical problem," the cop told me. "We'll come find you if we need you."
Really? A parked vehicle spontaneously erupts in flames, a bystander witnesses suspicious activity, and you have no interest in even taking down a statement? I mean, it's entirely possible that the fire wasn't an act of arson. Maybe those kids I saw running away were playing tag. But sheesh, cop, that's some shit police work. The Wire: truer every day.
Oddly, that bizarre incident — fires always seem so surreal – didn't alter the mood of the party much. Thirty minutes later, people dressed as condiment bottles performed some sort of dance. Then a group of people played some hand-touching game called Ninja Slap. It was very youth-group. "Now that," I said to my friend, "is extremely stupid. Let's roll."
Outside, the lingering smoke from the barbecue pit mingled with the smoke from the scorched Airstream. There were more parties to attend under these golden city lights.