Carolina: Cruising Past 70: A Tale of Two Cities; a Tale of Two Views

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Tale of Two Cities; a Tale of Two Views

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City
After five months of babysitting grandkids, three in Calgary and two in Seattle, I flew to Kansas City. Bill was waiting for me at the Kansas City International Airport to celebrate the 8th anniversary of our wedding at 8 PM on 8/8/08! But, he didn’t tell me in which Kansas City we would stay! There are two.
courtesy of
It reminds me A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens where the main character traveled back and forth on a secret mission from London to Paris in 1775. But there is a big difference. The two Kansas Cities sit side-by-side, as if one, but separately governed. The older city, where I landed, is in the state of Missouri with a population of about 500,000. The smaller with about 150,000 lies in the state of Kansas.

We stayed on both sides. In the first two days, Bill's fraternity brother Ollie and wife Kris welcomed us to their home in Olathe, Kansas, one of the fourteen towns and municipalities in the Kansas City metropolitan area (2.2 m in population).  And that is where we also had our first dinner at Joe's KC, a favorite restaurant specializing in Kansas City barbecue, meat slowly cooked in a wood-fired pit just like in Carolina, Memphis, and Texas.  KC style has slightly sweeter and thicker sauce.

As we went deeper into Kansas City, Missouri, however, we experienced a tale of two views, one that digs deeper into its past and the other that portends the future.

A Tale of the Past

Union Station from the Liberty Tower
City Market
Ollie and Kris brought us to the historic Union Station (established 1914) and from there went to the  City Market, founded in 1857 and still one of the largest and longest operating farmers' markets in the Midwest. Right at its center is the Arabia Steamboat Museum, one of the most popular attractions in the city. It is a unique display of 70 % of the artifacts from the boat and the cargo it was carrying when it sank nearby in the Missouri River in 1856. Five men recovered it in 1987-88 and, with the help of their descendants, four of them operate the museum and are still in the process of cleaning the remaining 30% of the treasures.

the stern of Steamship Arabia
Next stop was the Liberty Memorial, the only museum in the country dedicated to preserving the memory of WWI with the largest collection of artifacts. The global war started in 1914 in a Europe ruled by entangled monarchies and aristocratic families. The US emerged a world power when it belatedly sent fresh troops to the trench war on the western front, turning the tide for the Allies. The war’s end transformed Europe to the consternation of Germany and the other Axis powers. In a sense, it fostered the hatred that resumed the global war 20 years later.

the Liberty Memorial
Visionary leaders of Kansas City raised the funds to build the Memorial just two weeks after the signing of the Armistice treaty in 1918. The tower is 217-feet tall and offers the best view of the city from the top. Two halls flank it, one holding the flags of the Allied nations and the other the names of the 441 Kansans who died in the war. A quarter mile long grassy area with a double row of sugar maples on each side leads to the tower.  In 1998, after four years of temporary closure, a Museum with an East and West Gallery, a theater, and a research center were added. In 2014 the US Congress renamed it the National World War I Museum and Memorial. It taught me well.

The Raphael Hotel
For our anniversary, Bill booked us at The Raphael Hotel, one of the World's Best Hotels for 2015. It is an architectural landmark in the National Register of Historic Places and a member of Marriott's Autograph Collection. It is at the top end of seven hotels in the Country Club Plaza, a privately-owned 55-acre shopping center established in 1922. The first in the world designed for shoppers arriving by cars, it is patterned after Seville, Spain as one of 60 of the World's Great Spaces.

a block of Country Club Plaza
A Tale of the Future

Ollie and Kris were the perfect hosts. Besides delicious meals, comfy bed, and a great home and garden, they also showed us a few of the exciting neighborhoods around the city, like the Latino community on the west side where we had an excellent authentic Mexican lunch.

Sphinxes at the Liberty Memorial
There are two Sphinxes at the Liberty Memorial. One represents the past, with eyes concealed because he did not want to see the horrors. Another represents the future, also with eyes covered because he feared the unknown. But to me, the future represents possibilities.

Some of these are already realities like the Streetcar that we rode, taking us from the Union Station to the City Market and back, fare-free! The service opened just last May 2016. Another is The Roasterie with the plane atop its roof, which buys the best coffee beans and roasts them via the best way possible today, air roasting.

The Roasterie
But the best example is the striking modern architecture of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Moshie Safdie, who also designed the famous Marina Sands Bay Resort in Singapore, created the concept for this Center. Inaugurated in 2006, it quickly became the city icon.  

But Kansas City is no Silicon Valley, After all, it is part of the Midwest where the tale of the future is not as big as the story of its past, just like Kansas City, Kansas is not as big as its Missouri counterpart. But it is also where time stands still as far as incredible human values are concerned. Ollie and Kris are perfect examples. In this little trip, Bill cooked up an excellent way to celebrate our quintuple 8. 

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