Buildings with names like El Ranchero Discount Liquor, La Fe En Jesucristo, and El Pollo Guasave bracket Central Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas. Family Dollar and Boost Mobile are here, but these days, there's hardly a Kowalcyzk's Sausage Shop or a Bobak's Europa Deli to be found. No matter: Last Saturday afternoon, the street swelled with the dizzy rattle of the Polski Day parade.
Most cities block off the streets for large ethnic parades, but Kansas City, Kansas, is, of course, not like most cities. Was this oversight just the latest example of Legends-happy Wyandotte County neglecting its historic neighborhoods? Or was it inattentive planning on the part of the event organizers? A discussion for another day. Red-clad celebrators glided southeast down Central Avenue on trucks and floats; across the yellow line, frustrated motorists leaned out their windows and squinted at the gridlock ahead. More than once, I saw children scurry out into live traffic in the pursuit of candy. The proceedings were gritty and joyous and semi-legal — a heightened version of everyday life in KCK.
My vantage point was an old chair atop a flatbed trailer affixed to a Dish Network truck: the Johnnie's float. Upon arriving in KCK, I called Chris O'Connor. He's a good guy to know in general — the man is a great connector of people — but particularly so when it comes to navigating Wyandotte County, which is home to the bar he owns, Johnnie's on 7th.
"We're at 18th and Central, and we've got an open spot on the float," he told me. "Come on down."
I ditched my car somewhere around 13th Street and boarded the float midparade. A garrulous white-haired man named Al thrust a Hamm's can and a red plastic cup at me. The trailer bed was littered with large bags of cheap candy that O'Connor had purchased at Restaurant Depot. Other marchers and vehicles were politely tossing Tootsie Rolls and suckers to the parade onlookers. The Johnnie's crowd took a more aggressive approach.
"Happy Polski Day," Al yelled, digging into a bag and firing a fistful of hard candy at an unamused westbound driver. As we neared the final turn, the surly sunburned man seated to my left chucked an entire bag — 240 pieces of candy — into the street, and five little girls collapsed on it like vultures on a Death Valley carcass.
On residential Eighth Street, the homestretch, Hispanic families waved from their yards. An elderly couple rocked back and forth on a front porch lined with green putt-putt-course carpet. Fifty red T-shirts tumbled out of a house on the corner of Eighth and Pacific.
The after festivities were held at All Saints Church, which is a useful illustration of the shifting ethnic landscape in KCK. All Saints used to be called St. Joseph's Parish; it functioned as a hub for Polish families in the community. But because of dwindling populations, it has merged with other ethnic congregations from the neighborhood, including St. Casimir's (Lithuanian), St. Benedict's (Irish) and St. Cyril's (Slavic). All Saints is now a sort of catchall church for the Catholic European immigrants who now represent a minority in KCK.