Whatever happened to Uncle Sam’s Backyard?

Max and Jordan: One moment which perhaps captures an entire weekend.

Max and Jordan: One moment which perhaps captures an entire weekend.

June 4, Lawrence, Kan. – Good question, that.
The South might not rise again (but you never know, given the current economic climate), but this weblog will. I promise. Someday. Hopefully soon.
We are fresh off an unforgettable (that might be pushing it, considering the shattered state of my hippocampus) weekend in Kansas City with the wonderful Lebo/Rakoff clan. We can’t thank them enough for taking time out from their busy lives to meet us in Kansas City. As friends go, they are sui generis. Incredible people, them.
We did a bit of everything in a whirlwind four days. And then it was over. Just like that.
Empty ye 23.5-ounce cans of raspberry-watermelon Colt .45 (disgustingly) flavored malt beverages, for time waits for no man.
On Thursday, we embarked on an unusual Civil War tour, wandering the opulent streets of Westport to relive the “Gettysburg of the West.” Where Union and Confederate officers once dueled to the death in hand-to-hand combat, Kansas City’s beautiful people now reside in embarrassing splendor at the leafy corner of Croesus and Mammon (h/t to the Simpsons). Row after row after row of mansions, crafted out of stone and brick with lavish grandeur. If you’re looking to catch up with the Joneses, come to Kansas City. They are here, living the lives of Cornelius Vanderbilt and Alexander Cassatt. The Robber Barons have returned.

The incomparable, ageless Lauri Lebo finds a nice vantage point from which to explore the Gettysburg of the West.

The incomparable, ageless Lauri Lebo finds a nice vantage point from which to explore the Gettysburg of the West.

On Friday, Mike and I piled into the rental car with Jefferson Pepper and took off on an aborted urban blight tour. Someone got scared, but I won’t say who (at least not yet). Later that night, while Jeff and Max cuddled back at the motel, the rest of us ventured out to the Blue Room, where we caught the final hour of the dynamic Darcus Gates and her crack jazz band. Then it was off to the after-hours club at the Mutual Musicians Foundation, the former home of Local 637, the union which supported the black musicians of Kansas City during segregation. First we ran into a friendly soul named Dan Nabors, who gave us a piece of advice about going up the street to the old union hall:
“Keep your eyes open, and don’t worry about a damn thing.”

Dan Nabors, and his pretty lady friend Eleanor.

Dan Nabors, and his pretty lady friend Eleanor.

We did both. And so we followed old John Davis, flamboyant elder citizen who did his damnedest to steal the show at the Blue Room, up to the Mutual Musicians Foundation, cuddling a stray cat or two along the way. We sampled the special of the night, the $5 island punch, and enjoyed the continuing antics of Old John Davis and the music of Chris Clarke and Co. We made it till about 3 a.m., which I understand is about when the music just starts to swing.
Oh well, you can’t have Old John Davis, Kansas City Bill Clinton and expect to hear it all. Somewhere along the way, I think there was catfish involved.

Mike Rakoff, aka Supply Side Jesus, gives his blessings to gregarious little kitten.

Mike Rakoff, aka Supply Side Jesus, gives his blessings to a gregarious little kitten.

Saturday had just about everything. After ogling injured bald eagles and checking out turtles and snakes during a trip to an interpretive nature center, we ventured to 39th and Jackson, where we were treated to the experience of the weekend and quite possibly this entire trip. We came to see Old John Davis. Chris Clarke, the affable organist and band leader we met at the venerable union hall the night before, told us we might find Mr. Davis hereabouts. Chris said Mr. Davis is one of the last surviving musicians from Kansas City’s golden age, and is therefore to be accorded the utmost respect. We wanted to learn more, to find out if he jammed with Charlie Parker and what it was that had turned him into such an unabashed attention-seeker.
Whilst Waiting for Mr. Davis, we sat in the dark bar at Champs Lounge and listened to Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter. We drank, perhaps, a bit too much. We met the incredible Miss Nita and the generous Melvin Pickens, who owns the convenience store on the opposite side of Jackson. Melvin was the first to tell us we might not want to be hanging in the neighborhood when the sun went down. The crowd gets younger, he said, and more unruly.

Beautiful inside and out, Champs owner Miss Nita poses with her new buddy.

Beautiful inside and out, Champs owner Miss Nita poses with her new buddy.

We met Mr. Kansas City, and Miss Nita. Becky and I took turns chaperoning Max on trips to a nearby playground. On my trip, we met a sweet and adorable 5-year-old named Jordan. His big brother was playing basketball with friends. Jordan and Max delighted in each other’s company. I took about a hundred photos. And here’s a short video I took at Jordan’s request:

When it was over, we were delirious. Yet we still had a date to see the Gourds at Knuckleheads. First, Mike (Lauri’s son, aka Supply Side Jesus), Lauri and I broke off for a trip to fabled Gates Bar B. Q., provoking an epic tirade from militant vegetarian and beloved friend Jefferson Pepper. Along the way, he compared eating meat to child molestation. He really did. I said it was an epic tirade.
“In terms of an air-tight ethical argument, it is exactly the same,” he said.
He’s one of a kind, that Jefferson Pepper.

The one, the only, the amazing, talented, handsome, sweet and often-insufferable Jefferson Pepper.

The one, the only, the amazing, talented, handsome, sweet and often-insufferable Jefferson Pepper.

We made it to Knuckleheads in time for the Gourds, who as usual turned in a rollicking and pleasing set. I didn’t think it likely, but everyone made it through the concert standing up, save for Max, who slept through the entire thing. Jeff nearly overdosed on cinnamon, but that’s another story. Somehow he kept the cinnamon, a half-eaten cheese sandwich and the bile inside him. I was impressed.

With the pregame festivities winding down, the motley group poses in front of a passing freight train.

With the pregame festivities winding down, the motley group poses in front of a passing freight train.

On Sunday, Lauri, Becky, Max and I toured the Negro Leagues and Jazz museums at 18th and Vine. Later that night we piled into the Behemoth and drove across I-70 to the parking lot at Arrowhead Stadium, where we walked about till the sun went down and then returned to the camper to sip wine in the glow of twilight.

Lauri Lebo is not afraid to stand up to Kansas City Chiefs icon Lamar Hunt.

Lauri Lebo is not afraid to stand up to Kansas City Chiefs icon Lamar Hunt.

The fates willing, there will be much greater detail on our trip to Kansas City, not to mention our visits to Pea Ridge, Powhatan, Friars Point, Greenville, Vicksburg etc. etc. etc. in the not-too-distant future.
If the fates are willing.
Otherwise, all bets are off. You can’t dispute the fates.

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2 Responses to Whatever happened to Uncle Sam’s Backyard?

  1. Debbie Wallingford says:

    Love the pictures!! Glad you’re having fun…I miss you guys! Don’t let Max forget me…he looks like such a boy – not a little boy anymore : (
    Love,
    Didi

  2. Bongo Fury says:

    Agree with the Pepp, if you were in Thailand would you ………… ?

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