On my way to Kansas City, I can’t get a song out of my head: “Everything’s up to date in Kansas City . . .” This song (from Oklahoma!) is what I think of, when I think of this city. Next comes George Brett, I guess, followed by Boss Pendergast and ribs.
I’m not the only one. Before I left, I told David Pryce-Jones where I was going. There is none more erudite than this particular Etonian and Oxonian. And that erudition extends beyond Homer, Shakespeare, and the boys.
P-J paused for a second and quoted, “I went to Kansas City on a Friday.” I supplied the next line: “By Saturday I learned a thing or two.”
Man, that song has gotten around.
Kansas City surprises me a little. Lately — meaning, for the last several decades — Midwestern cities have tended to be down at the heels. The big city closest to where I grew up, Detroit, was long ago wrecked, by that awful wrecking ball, race.
Race is an all-consuming fire. Nations and peoples should guard against it, at all costs.
Anyway, Kansas City is beautiful — and prosperous-seeming. It is clean and handsome. Downtown is spiffed up. People live in lofts, in addition to the suburbs. There are great movie palaces of the past.
It’s amazing how much care and attention went into the design and building of these palaces. Going to the movies must have been a treat, back when. An occasion.
Kansas City is, to a large degree, planned, I understand. Sometimes planning can be advantageous, in the right hands. There are fountains everywhere. A beautiful fountain graces a city, and it is especially appreciated in the hot months (like now).
There is a new performing-arts center, the Kauffman Center. You could almost say that everything is, indeed, up to date.
A friend tells me that Kansas City has just earned a distinction: It is the second “most redneck” city in America. This, according to a real-estate website. Atlanta was No. 1. After K.C., there was Oklahoma City, Nashville, Tulsa, Fort Worth, etc.
What were the criteria? As a newspaper article explained, “such things as high school completion, per capita number of gun stores, cowboy boot stores, taxidermists, country radio stations, Wal-Marts, riding lawn mower shops and the number of NASCAR racetracks nearby.”
The Kansas City Public Library is a glory. From what I can tell, it is everything a library should be — certainly in the center of an important city. It is big, majestic, beautiful. It could inspire awe, where learning is concerned. The building used to be the First National Bank. (I have a friend whose father worked in the bank.) It became the library in 2004.
They hold a wonderful and diverse series of events — author talks and so on. They even welcome conservatives, which is practically a miracle.
For a long time, I’ve thought of libraries as places where reeking homeless go to look at porn. The library in Kansas City is tremendously encouraging. It is a throwback — “throwback” being just about the highest term of praise in my vocabulary.
I meet a man who served in Vietnam. He very, very strongly dislikes LBJ. He tells me this story:
A man says, “I went to visit Johnson’s grave.” His friend says, “Did you spit on it?” “No,” says the first man, “the line was too long.”
A friend of mine in K.C. — her father (or stepfather, I can’t remember which) played poker with Harry Truman. He very much liked Truman. But there was one problem: Truman wouldn’t pay his gambling debts, which was annoying.
Another friend tells me that Pendergast gambled heavily: thousands and thousands of dollars a day, in the Depression. That’s one reason his corruption had to be so aggressive. (I should have put “had” in quotation marks.)