Monday, September 24, 2012

Kansas City, MO

One of many refurbished neon signs in KC

We spent the last few days of summer in Kansas City, MO, where I was scheduled to make a conference presentation. Tim decided to come along once I found a relatively cheap non-stop flight on Southwest; but really, he went just for the barbecue. We ended up having a surprisingly wonderful time.

In the 19th century, Kansas City was the last bastion of civilization before the pioneers ventured off into the wilderness of the untamed West. Today, the downtown area is pretty much deserted. Every Californian I talked to at the conference was shocked at how empty the streets were. Nonetheless, the architecture was often spectacular—lots of beautifully preserved art deco government buildings constructed during the 1930s, as well as much evidence of a recent renaissance in modern cultural facilities. Quite an interesting mix of styles, as you can see from the photos below (click on them to enlarge).

Early 1900s Union Station in foreground

Downtown detail

We stayed in the Crown Center part of town, home to Hallmark Cards (hence the name Crown Center, after Hallmark’s corporate symbol). The National World War I Museum, with its impressive 217-ft.-tall Liberty Memorial tower, was located right across the street. I’m not a big fan of heights, but even I had to go to the top of the tower to see Kansas City from above.

Liberty Memorial

We didn’t experiment much with food, especially since we were there primarily for barbecue. Three hours after landing, we joined colleagues for a buffet at Fiorella’s Jack Stack, which was within walking distance of the hotel. Tim’s eyes lit-up when he heard it was “all-you-can-eat.” But like the rest of us, his eyes were bigger than his stomach and so he quit eating after only two platefuls. I called it a night after just one serving of ribs and chicken!

All-you-can-eat brisket


We also ate at Lidia’s Italy, owned by TV food personality Lidia Bastianich. Tim got the Spaghetti alla Trapanese with shrimp, while I tried Lidia’s Pasta Trio, a sampler of dishes that changes every day. We practically licked our plates, the food was so good.

Spaghetti alla Trapanese

Lidia's Pasta Trio

For more trip highlights, see below . . .

National Airline History Museum

So we missed the space shuttle flying over Los Angeles, Friday morning—major bummer—but at least we got to see the National Airline History Museum in Kansas City. Karen had visited several years ago and came back with tales of such fabulous artifacts, that I've wanted to go ever since. Lucky we knew about it beforehand or else we never would have found it.

Located to one side of the city’s former “downtown airport,” the museum celebrates the history of passenger flight and TWA, in particular. There is a small room filled with airline ephemera and uniforms—noteworthy, but not nearly as fascinating as the exhibits at our own Flight Path Learning Center at LAX. What sets the Kansas City museum apart from others is its small but exciting collection of aircraft: a 1951 Martin 4-0-4, built in Burbank at the Lockheed plant not far from my childhood home; a 1941 Douglas DC-3, built in Santa Monica; a 1972 Lockheed L-1011; and the true centerpiece, the first Lockheed Super G Constellation to be restored to flying condition. We got to board the Martin 4-0-4. But it was the “Connie” that really took our breath away: a wallpapered interior, sleeping bunks, and a relatively wide body for its time. Little wonder the Constellation was such a popular passenger airplane.

Martin 4-0-4


The Constellation

Connie's distinctive three-fin tail

Map of the world interior wallpaper

Artist's rendering

The absolute pièce de résistance for us Disney fans, however, was the third-scale replica of TWA’s “Moonliner II” from the long defunct—and much loved—Rocket to the Moon ride of our youth. I had a vague memory of it being part of the museum, but nearly collapsed when I saw it. 

      Moonliner II replica


And if that wasn’t enough, we found yet another Moonliner atop the former corporate HQ of TWA in present-day Kansas City! Just too fabulous for words!

18th and Baltimore in downtown Kansas City

Steamboat Arabia Museum

The Arabia, in all its glory

With a few exceptions, like the Airline History Museum (above), we rarely plan our trips in advance. Usually we get to our destination and discover there what we might want to see. Case in point: the Steamboat Arabia Museum, which I read about while glancing through a magazine in our hotel room.

In the 1980s, a family of self-described treasure hunters decided to search for one of the hundreds of steamboats that sunk in the Missouri River in the mid-1800s. After several attempts, they found the Arabia, which had been carrying over 200 tons of supplies when it hit a snag and promptly sank in 1856. One hundred thirty years later, the river had changed course, so the treasure hunters found the Arabia buried 45 feet beneath a cornfield in Kansas. Over the span of four months, they salvaged thousands and thousands of pre-Civil War artifacts that are now on display at the museum. Among the items recovered: 377 doorknobs, 1 million nails, 700 window panes, 1250 hooks-and-eyes, 10 tons of lumber, 1000 pencils, 1000 dining utensils, hundreds of pieces of china, 5000 boots and shoes, 418 clothespins, 3100 candles, 5000 sewing needles, 5000 cigars, and 5 million beads to trade with the indigenous natives. To say the collection is mind-boggling would be a true understatement. I highly recommend visiting the museum if you’re ever in Kansas City.

Hundreds of dishes

Doorknobs, brass fixtures and keys

Sinking fast

While you’re there, be sure to also stroll around the City Market that surrounds the museum site. We went on Saturday morning, during the weekly farmer’s market, and had our pick of breakfast items. As Tim said, their wares put our farmer’s markets to shame.

It wouldn't be vacation without a street sausage

Friday, September 14, 2012

Indoor Plumbing

Where our toilet used to be

I dearly love our quaint 1947 house, but it’s small and has only one bathroom. Since it’s just the two of us, this isn’t usually an issue. But when there’s a plumbing problem, the world practically comes to a screeching halt.

The bathroom was refurbished 11 years ago this week. In fact, I distinctly remember happily enjoying our new shower, when Tim came in saying a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center—but that’s a story for another time. What’s relevant right now is that the remodelers did a lousy job installing the toilet and so water has been slowly seeping into our bathroom floor and wall all this time. After monitoring the situation a while, we finally bit the bullet and are in the midst of extensive bathroom repairs. I work at home, so luckily there’s a McDonald’s only two blocks away. Lucky, too, they’re too busy to notice me slipping through the side door several times a day!

When you’re on the far side of middle age, spending the night without a working bathroom is tough. So last night we cashed in some of our Starwood Preferred Guest points and stayed at Culver City’s own Four Points Hotel. My parents slept there two years ago, so I knew it was nice.

The "Westside" Four Points

We checked in a little before 7PM, walked across the street to our fashionable “new” Westfield Mall—well, actually it’s the same ol’ Fox Hills mall that was recently remodeled after a couple of gang members were shot there a few years ago—and ate dinner at the much-better-than-average food court. (KyoChon fried chicken—YUM!) 

Our mall

We were ready to settle into our free room, when we noticed there was nothing on TV . . . so we drove home and watched tivo! Our new favorite show: Collection Intervention with our fave History Detectives investigator Elyse Luray. Highly addictive! At 9:30PM, we packed up our toothbrushes and headed back to the hotel. Thank goodness for indoor plumbing!

Room with a view . . . of Sepulveda Blvd., the 405 freeway,
and, oh yeah, Marina del Rey in the far distance