We didn't know you, Craig, but we'll gladly booze in your honor.

Wake Crashers 

We didn't know you, Craig, but we'll gladly booze in your honor.

When it comes to crashing a wake, we recommend pre-drinking, then bringing some trusty sidekicks to diminish that pesky ghoulish feeling. Sadly, we neglected the pre-gaming part, but we certainly had our Research Assistants at our side when we visited Flo's Polk-A-Dot Lounge for a gathering in honor of 55-year-old Craig Strayer, who died of a heart attack on December 28.

It all started with a random obituary in The Kansas City Star that caught our eye. "The cheetah is the only cat with non-retractable claws." Um, what? "Craig knew that fact as well as almost everything else. He was far and away the local Jeopardy champion as well as the local Wheel of Fortune champion. He would often solve the puzzles before any letters were revealed."

Oh, it gets quirkier. "As a child, he wanted to be a dinosaur, but realizing that would not work, he later wanted to become a rock star, and although he did not make it to that level, he did, prior to entering the field of law, become an accomplished singer, often performing at local establishments around the Kansas City area."

How great is that? Craig just sounded so cool that we wished we could have hung out with him over some beers to discuss whether he'd rather be a stegosaurus or a velociraptor. So we headed over to Flo's — his favorite bar — on a Saturday afternoon with Research Assistants John and Cece to pay tribute to him and to meet the people behind the obituary, who obviously loved him so much.

Despite our best efforts to blend, we were immediately pegged as outsiders. "Some poor souls just walked into the wrong bar," cracked an older lady as we stumbled in, our eyes taking a few seconds to adjust to the dimly lighted watering hole. Located in the little strip mall just south of Princess Gardens Restaurant on Wornall Road, Flo's is a neighborhood bar that's got a bit of the dive about it. The place was surprisingly spacious, with a giant rectangular bar dominating the front room and a pool table in the back. Red and black polka dots adorned the white walls, which also had dark wood paneling on the lower halves. A table in front of the electronic dartboards was laden with tortilla rolls, cans of bean and queso dips, chips and crackers, a store-bought veggie tray and crock pots filled with cheesy goo. We studied a color printout of Craig that hung on the dartboard (not for target practice). He had a wide, gap-toothed grin and gave a thumbs-up to the camera. A picture of Murphy, his black Lab mix, hung next to him.

Across from the food table, a guy set up an amp and connected a guitar and started singing "Margaritaville." A blond woman in a black turtleneck and jeans joined him on the mic, and a swarthy older guy with brushed-back gray hair, a black sweater and a gold cross on a chain started dancing.

We made our way to the bar to check out the drink selections. After making sure that we weren't mooching on an open bar tab (hey, we've got some standards), we ordered Bud bottles and Miller Lite, which came in a can. Our domestic beer choices seemed appropriate for Flo's, which had just two beer taps dispensing Bud Light and one serving Miller Lite.

Thus fortified, we started mingling to find out more about Craig. His wake attracted mourners both in their mid-20s and 60-plus. Tim, the guitar player and the former owner of Westport's Harris House, knew Craig from a group that plays tennis in Loose Park as well as from partying together in Westport. He extolled Craig's musical talent. "He played guitar to put himself through law school," he said. "He played small places that kind of looked like this. If you ever had a party, he'd bring a guitar."

Tim then left us to sing "Take Me Home, Country Roads," so we started chatting with Doris, a feisty, funny lady who met Craig through a bridge club she runs. "Everyone liked him. He had a very winning personality. He enjoyed everything he did," she said, then got teary. "He didn't care who you were or your age. He just enjoyed nice, fun, intelligent people." We were starting to get choked up ourselves, especially when she told us that he died on his couch, his dog by his side. "What a way to go," she added. (Incidentally, donations can be made in Craig's name to Wayside Waifs.)

As much as we wanted to just drink with Doris, we were approached by a woman named Annie. "Come meet my best friend," she said. Annie told us that she used to waitress at Cosgrove's, a now-defunct bar by Mike's Tavern, which is where she met Craig. And Jahudi — pronounced Judy — did his tax returns, so one day back in 1988, he introduced the two women, and a friendship blossomed. "Craig made us be friends," Annie explained.

Just then, a guy in a brown Bill Cosby-style sweater came up to chat. Ray was the one who wrote the obituary and became Murphy's legal guardian. He had brought the dog to Flo's for a "farewell tour" earlier in the afternoon before taking him home. He said that Murphy was acclimating to his new home. "He ate an expensive pillow. What makes a pillow expensive? Little teeny things came out everywhere — they're called feathers!" Ray said. He, too, started tearing up when we asked him about Craig. "I was the last one to talk to him, the first they called when they found him."

Well, now that we made people cry, our work was done. We went back to rejoin our RAs, who had been drinking in the back, feeling slightly awkward the entire time. It was after six, and the wake seemed to be winding down a bit. As we walked out, the swarthy guy sporting the gold chain kissed the Night Ranger's and RA Cece's hands. "I love you," he kept saying.

We certainly felt the love that afternoon. Rest in peace, Craig, and thanks for sharing the factoid about the retractable claws.


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