Dennis Hopper Stays in Dodge City.
There’s not much to look at where I’m from. Just grass, sky, railroad tracks, ruts in the ground, a dried-up river. But you can hear things at night. The wind. Always the wind. Rattling the houses, rattling your brain inside your skull. Only stops about two days a year. You don’t even notice because you’re so used to leaning forward that you almost tip over when it’s calm. Seems like the cars are all out of alignment from always turning the wheel to brace against it.
You hear trains too, passing in the day but howling at night. Going west. Going east. Always going someplace. Some place. Not here. I listened to them as a kid. I wanted to know where they were going. I wanted them to take me too. I wanted to follow them just because they got out of town, and they did it fast. So fast it was hard to count the cars as they rolled by. At least that’s how it was when I was a kid.
I was getting out of here — that was the one thing I knew. Sure as the sun set in the west, I was leaving. I drew pictures. Painted them. Nobody did that around here. I was going where they did. I was going to meet those people, and I was going to talk to them. They’d know me, and they’d call me by my name. I’d be one of them, wherever they were. New York. Los Angeles. Chicago. I didn’t know. I didn’t care. It didn’t matter. Any place but here. Anything but standing still. Movement of any kind. I was gonna get the hell out of Dodge City.
But I didn’t. I met a girl. No, I didn’t meet her: you don’t meet girls here; I knew a girl. I always knew her. I knew a girl just like I knew every girl I had ever known since I was a kid. They never changed.
Except they did. They started out looking just like boys with long hair then one day they changed. They definitely changed. She changed. I changed too.
We got married. They told me it was the right thing to do in the circumstances. I said OK. I was eighteen.
She got bigger. I started getting smaller. You’re always small out here. The sky smashes you, makes you tiny because it’s so huge. It presses down like a weight. I had been getting larger when I was about to leave. I was going to escape that sky. Now that I was staying it pushed me with a vengeance. Telling me I was small, telling me it would squash me down into nothing. Pinning me down like the bugs on the cardboard in science class. Trapping me like the cows in the overturned cattle trailer I once saw. Every time I went outside, the sky said I was stuck, chained to the ground, planted like the yuccas and scrub cottonwoods. The sky said I was going no place. I believed it.
I drank. Beer to dull things slowly and liquor to dull things fast. I’d go out when it stormed. I’d take a bottle and a wire clothes hanger. I’d unwind it and wave it over my head while I drank with the other hand. I’d wait around to get struck by lightning. It never happened.
I ran around with Mexicans. She didn’t like it. I didn’t care. One of them gave me my first marijuana cigarette. I liked it pretty well. When I couldn’t get better I smoked ditch weed I found myself. Not as good as the stuff from Mexico, but it helped. It changed my brain.
I worked at sale barns and ranches. I hated it. I drove trucks during the wheat harvest, and I worked in the gas fields. I hated it all, but I gave the money to her.
I went to the library at night until they closed. I read books on art though there weren’t that many. I read books on gunfighters. There were lots of those. Dodge City’s crazy about gunfighters.
She had the baby. I called him Wyatt for Wyatt Earp. We rented a house. I painted pictures in the garage. Modern pictures. I smoked reefer. I listened to jazz records I bought from when we went to Wichita. I was the only beatnik in western Kansas that I knew of.
I’d go to Wichita and look at their art museum. I went to Denver and saw theirs. I saw the one in Kansas City. I talked to people at their art school. I didn’t tell her.
I watched every movie that came to Dodge City. Westerns. Horror movies. Gangster pictures. Romances. Comedies. I saw some twice, just sitting in the dark so I wouldn’t have to go home. Most weren’t that good. I didn’t care. I just wanted to see something different. There were more colors. Prettier women. I liked the movies. Never missed them.
James Dean was my favorite. I saw all his pictures though there were only three. When I saw him up there I thought he could be my friend. But he died, and anyway I lived in Dodge City. I cried for the first time in years when he died. I thought I could be like him if I worked at it.
Wyatt got bigger. She wanted another one. I said no. She asked why. I told her she didn’t want to know. She said she did want to know. I yelled and told her she didn’t. I yelled a lot.
I walked out. I bought some beer. I drank it. I passed a picket fence. I ripped one of them off that was loose. I stuck it into the ground hard. I was going to jump onto it and kill myself like a vampire. I wanted Vincent Price there to do it for me. If he was there he could take a hammer and nail me into the dirt. Vincent Price wasn’t there.
Wyatt got bigger. He played baseball. I watched him. I tried to have him listen to jazz. He didn’t like it. I painted less. I was always tired. I read Shakespeare in the garage and drank until I fell asleep. The sun would wake me up in a mean way.
I got a job as a gunfighter for tourists. One guy would shoot me or I would shoot him. I liked it fine. It was the best thing that had happened to me since I could remember. I liked pretending. I liked pretending to kill people. I liked people pretending to kill me. I wished the bullets were real. I wished when the other gunfighter fell down he truly fell down, that his pain wasn’t made up. And I wanted to die when his bullets hit me. I wanted my blood to spill into the dirty streets. I wanted to die like a gunfighter. I wanted to kill like a gunfighter. I wanted it real.
I would think about people I knew who had died. I’d try to remember my whole life and make it pass through my eyes. Tourists didn’t notice. They just wanted to see some smoke and some rolling on the ground with some groans. I wasn’t wanting to play act though. I wanted it real. I wanted it to be true. Because if it was true I didn’t get up and go home and listen to her tell me how I was wrong. I didn’t go home at all. I just died. I liked it. Dying was fine with me.
Or I walked away with my opposition dead. Went away like Shane. Went away for good and didn’t come back. Going away was fine with me too.
They shot me off buildings. Probably a hundred times or more. I liked that part too. I liked the feeling of falling even for less than a minute. I felt alive pretending to die. I thought about James Dean in his Porsche sports car. I liked falling to the ground and pretending to never get up again. Sometimes I smoked special cigarettes if I was to get shot off something. Tourists couldn’t tell the difference. I could. It always made the ground a little softer.
A friend of mine could also get me other things in New Mexico. He was part Indian, and I guess he knew where to find the cactuses. That stuff helped me I guess. Sometimes I think it made me crazy, but it got me painting pictures again. I tried to paint like Jackson Pollock. He was in Life Magazine in 1949, and whenever I could I would look for old copies of that thing. I had some cutouts from it tacked up in the garage.
One day she was in a mood and started asking why I put pictures up from an old Life Magazine. I said because it was art. She said they didn’t look like anything. I said they weren’t supposed to look like anything- that was the point. She said a monkey could paint those pictures. I hit her. I was chewing a peyote button at the time. It was supposed to give me visions. That time I saw the wrong things. I can’t tell when it happened. Most of the time was a haze, and I drank to keep it that way. When I’d wake up I’d write poems on my hand with a black pen. I’d put them in a book later. Some of the time.
I was drinking too much. I fell off a building before the other gunfighter had a chance to shoot me. I broke my arm. My boss gave me money for the doctor, but he fired me too. I kept the money and had my Indian friend splint it. When I got better, I sold some of my good Mexican marijuana I’d been saving and with that money and the money for the doctor I bought a broken Japanese motorcycle. I fixed it and rode it for a couple of years until I wrecked it.
I ran around on her. I liked all women but her. So I went and saw the rest of them. It wasn’t her fault. She had just gotten in my way, and there was nothing I could do about it except go after others.
She found out. It wasn’t that big of a mystery. She told her Dad. She wanted him to scare me and to put some sense into me, so I would stop all the mess I had been causing. He found me drunk out in the country with some girl. He sent her away and pulled me out of the car. He went to his truck and got his shotgun. He had thought about scaring me. He didn’t think it was worth it. He’d take care of me for good. I was one mistake after another as far as he was concerned. A good for nothing, who threw housepaint around like a baby and called it art. He’d take care of me finally just like Marshal Dillon on Gunsmoke. It was time to put me down like a broken-legged horse. I was no good to anybody. Jesus would forgive. Maybe by taking care of me this way would put me into Purgatory instead of Hell. That was as close to a second chance as I was going to get.
He didn’t say any of these things. He didn’t have to. Some people’s minds aren’t that hard to read. Especially when they stick a gun barrel into your forehead — the message was fairly clear. I looked at him in the eyes. He’d been drinking too. That’s why he was brave. Then I did something that neither of us expected. I pulled the barrel down to my mouth, set it against my teeth and smiled.
There was something about that action that shook him, like maybe he saw something for the first time. All the drinking and all the women were just part of that smile pressed against that gun barrel. It was the smile of someone who tried to see visions and kill memory and fall off buildings and hope to get hit by lightning, who yelled and hit and loved nobody for the simple reason that he wanted to get out of town and couldn’t. So everybody else had to suffer. Maybe he had been the same. Maybe he understood. Or maybe he figured he’d just be making my dreams come true anyway. If he sent me to Heaven, Hell, Purgatory or a hole in the ground, the results were the same. It got me out of Dodge City. I wouldn’t see that sky anymore and that was all I wanted. Maybe he was scared, or tired, or maybe he figured I wasn’t worth going to jail for. He left me, and I rolled over on the ground laughing. Crying is for people who care. Maybe I did that too. I can’t remember.
I fell asleep and the sun woke me up like it had a lot of times before, but this time it was different. This time it wasn’t through a garage door window. It was like some monster coming out of the east, and I saw it for what seemed like the first time. And the wind was blowing real hard, and I saw something familiar but not the same. Tumbleweeds. I’d seen a million over the course of my life, but this wasn’t like anytime before. Here with the wind there were thousands of them together, rolling out like conquering armies. The wind could have been twenty-five or thirty miles an hour, and they just rolled with it. Nothing stopped them really. Sometimes they’d hit a barbed wire fence and get stuck. Sometimes the wind would free them, and sometimes it wouldn’t. I watched them for two hours and then I went home.
I stopped drinking. I got a job as a janitor at the high school. I gave her the money. I didn’t lay a hand on her. I didn’t speak harshly to her. I was quiet. I stopped painting. I drew pictures into a blank book with a carpenter’s pencil. She said she was happy, but she was just talking. She knew this was the best this would ever be and it wasn’t that good.
No more peyote. No more good marijuana. No women. The high school girls didn’t even see me. I’d smoke ditch weed sometimes but rarely. Mostly I’d just chew the leaves — not even as strong as aspirin. Sometimes I’d smell the chemicals I cleaned with, but mostly I didn’t need to. The work did it just fine. It had a rhythm that numbed me, and I tried to think of nothing, and I tried to offer no resistance. I was happiest cleaning at night when all the rest had gone. I made noises. I yelled. I did all kinds of stuff. I didn’t care. No one saw me.
Every day was the same. They passed. I couldn’t tell one from another. I got older and so did she and so did Wyatt. He came to the high school. He didn’t speak when he saw me in the halls. I just smiled at him.
The days passed until Wyatt was nearly through high school. He was going to college in town to play baseball. Catholic school. I was happy for him. He had a little girlfriend. He was eighteen.
He finished high school, and we went to the graduation. I wore a suit. We went home and had a dinner. I said I was going for a walk. She didn’t say anything.
I walked out the door. I walked down the street. I kept walking until I hit the highway. I kept walking. I saw the headlights pass. I kept looking at the horizon. I knew if I headed east long enough the sun would some up. Once it did I would put my thumb up as I walked. I was heading east, where the sky was smaller.
(artwork by Matthew Brent Jackson)
After the drought of last summer and fall, the early spring snow and rain offered a welcome respite. The explosion of greenery that erupted overnight provided easy inspiration when I was looking for something hopeful. The imagery is inspired by a clump of weeds and trees along a fence row by my house. While not literal representations of specific plants, the organic forms, veering toward abstraction, offer a space where I can be playful and decorative – make some marks, have fun.
All the works are ball point pen on paper and the actual images measure 6.5 x 4.5 inches
Picture the sea cucumber breaking into twins At first it must have been brilliant the self half gone halfway done like the lightness of a new city where no one hates me yet but then the screech the crash as pieces grow Not gone but double No one wants that You cannot want Jekyll to choke himself into another dry Jekyll What a failure that glass proved Puddled London that night is the same sexless stench a stretch of doors shut tight Not even the boredom is new Imagine the sorcerer’s apprentice had shut the door squeezed dry his hem and gone for coffee The whole time the brooms doomed to replicate Their only jobs to clean and carry They make themselves impossible crowding out against the unending tide One it turns out was too many to handle In Michigan where this mess began German POWs swam off one night but the other shore was still Michigan that lake just another pissant manmade lake not a great one Think of them thinking Michigan again This state keeps happening The worst must have been knowing they were still and always themselves I know the feeling I swim all night There is the proof you need I find sympathy for the enemy Do you see what happens if you follow me Once the Germans the other ones over in Germany same time more or less ordered camouflage but got tulle The prisoners at the factory who dreamt of weddings or births probably died for the good I imagine that happens to the good The soldiers static and blinkered took it anyway Orders you know The end was coming and by summer the empty tanks abandoned wrapped in tulle slouched like rusty jilted brides past the horizon the landscape a veiled horror All those guns identical hating themselves waiting for a triggerman See I am awful already even here in soft stiff white There could be more like me if we aren’t careful
on this kind of prairie where due north can never be undue let the eye take its own meridian toward the designated farm admit that only stepchildren were born to it not one a designee not even the first humdinger boy to arrive in a roar on this kind of prairie do not ever try to be more than an unneeded guest at the table until it is due time to stomp out and man the fields to become in turn after eating wind for an epoch an unheeded visitor on them and have to work to leave the prairie or work to stay and work to love it
Essay and photos by Moritz Piehler
The idea to travel to Syria in the spring of 2011 occurred to me and my roommate randomly. A friend had told us about the beautiful landscapes and captivating historical sites of this ancient country, and after checking out the political situation (iron clasp of an all but totalitarian regime, long stability due to up to 10 secret service agencies) we decided the Arab spring would not soon arrive in the land of Bashar Assad.
Damascus in all its glory was a fantastic place to visit, with teahouses and mosques and hammams fulfilling all the oriental clichés at their best. After learning to avoid any political talk with our hosts or pointing at the many posters of the president, we began to feel quite comfortable. We spent a couple of nights in an interfaith monastery on the old silk strait and visited Maloula, the last place where Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is spoken. We were invited to smoke shisha in hidden tearooms and visited the eery ghost cities in the green and red mountains. The country was living up to its promise.
We went to two soccer games in Syria, including one in Aleppo which led to our first impressive encounter with one of the secret services. The game itself was somewhat entertaining, including a minutes-long break caused by the refusal of the ref to keep the game going while his mom, sister and wife were (or so we understood) thoroughly insulted from the stands. The game didn’t pose much of a threat until we left the stadium and I took one last snapshot, unwisely using my flash. This set off a 20-minute stand-off with a dozen young secret service aids who would separate the four of us.
Their commander was like someone out of a Westerner’s cliché book: tall, dark, mustache, dark sunglasses, leather jacket. He took me aside, since I had taken the pictures, and questioned me at length in Arabic before believing that my knowledge of the language was indeed very limited. He then collected my passport and disappeared into the night with it, calling someone on the phone. For all I know, he could have been talking to his wife about what to have for dinner, but for me they were some very tense minutes.
Relieved after being let go, we headed back to Hotel Baron, which is a little bit of an oriental legend. Aleppo used to be the final destination of the Orient Express, so this now rundown palace was home to the inventors and boosters of what we now perceive as the Orient. Agatha Christie spent many a night here; Lawrence of Arabia as well. The walls are lined with old travel posters, and the whole place breathes an aura of passed glory. We mainly found it the only place outside of Russian “dance clubs” to sip a gin and tonic. So we used the colonial atmosphere to cool down a bit, wondering if we had been a bit too careless in out travels so far.
Deir al-Zor is the closest major town to the Iraqi border, so naturally the atmosphere is a bit tense. Beautifully set on the banks of the legendary Euphrates, it is mainly visited by local farmers for the market and the occasional Syrian tourist. (The only other foreigner travelers we saw were an Asian couple who might have had a serious typo in their guidebook). After being questioned yet again by a gang of youngsters with visible guns in their belts, we met a rather friendly older guy who sat down at our table in a falafel place. He introduced himself as Saladin, and I remember making a joke about the similarity to the famous sultan of the same name (You might remember him from “Seven Kingdoms”). It was a fitting moniker, as our next days would prove.
Not only did “Sala” lead us through the quarter as if it was his own, he invited us to every shop, let us have free samples, and was greeted on the streets with a mixture of respect and distance, which probably was closer to fear. He invited us to his house for tea, but upon seeing that no lights were on in a window upstairs, apologised and said it appeared that his family was already asleep. Instead he led us to another one of his — or really anyone’s — apartments, excused himself and left the premises, locking us into the apartment for a good half hour. He seemed upbeat when he returned, pointing out the secret policemen to us on our way back to the hotel.
The next day, we had agreed to attend another football game with Sala, by this point thinking we might be safer with than without him. We weren’t charged for the cab ride, an absolute first and a definite sign of his importance. Then led us up onto the VIP stands, were we sat between politicians, policeman and high-ranking officers. Also nearby were a couple of mean-looking guys who definitely understood our German. Keep in mind, I was not there as a journalist, nor did I intend to let them find out my profession anytime soon. We split ways with Saladin and were quite glad to return to the hotel, which was covered in symbols of the National Socialist Party, quite interestingly mixing a Soviet red star and a swastika.
It was upon the return to the hotel that we heard the news of the first protesters being killed in the southern part of Syria. After two kids were detained for tagging a wall, demonstrations had gotten out of hand and the regime came down hard. It was what would be the beginning of more than two years of civil war which so far has cost over 100,000 Syrians their lives and displaced roughly two million people.
Leaving Deir al-Zor after a final scare at the obligatory police checkpoint in a dingy room behind the bus station, we drove through the Syrian desert, arriving in the seemingly calm touristy town of Palmyra, where we watched the sun come up over the oasis surrounded by ancient ruins in a chilly morning wind. At the same time, our German travel companion was being very specifically questioned about us upon his return to Aleppo, followed to his hotel, stripped of his passport by secret service, and only allowed to leave town upon promising to leave for Turkey immediately. It made us question a lot of the interactions we had before, the many people who addressed us on the street, often with similar requests about our background and our professions, which we had attributed to their limited English. It made us wonder about just how closely the Syrian regime knew where we were and what we did at any given time. Mainly, it gave us a tiny glimpse of what it must mean to live in a police state, and what it must mean to lose trust in those surrounding you and to become suspicious about everyone you meet. As a German, for the first time I got a tiny hint of what life in the DDR maybe felt like. Always, of course, with our unfair safety net of being able to hop on a plane and leave at any time. There is a saying in Syria that if three persons stand together, one of them surely is an agent. I believe that this is true.
When we finally left Syria by taxi heading for Lebanon, we passed seven bikers in the steep hills around Damascus. We made fun of them a bit for riding their bikes in this sparse country, but as we arrived at our host’s place in Beirut, he greeted us with relief: “I’m glad you’re here,” he said. “I thought you were among the seven European bikers who were kidnapped near the border this morning.“
After we had returned home safely, we received a message from a teenage girl we had met in Latakia on the coast who had been touchingly naive in her assessment of the situation in her country. She begged us to confirm that we weren’t spies, as she had obviously been interrogated. A bit helpless, we answered back: “Spies? Us? What a silly idea…“
by Lucas Wetzel
There’s probably no more controversial issue in Kansas City right now than whether to tear down the existing three-terminal airport and replace it with an expensive, modernized, single-terminal facility. Newspaper columnists and public officials plead the necessity of a new airport, while groups such as the indignant “Save KCI” (over 59 Twitter followers at last count) demand the current layout be left alone.
I’ve always found the current airport remarkably convenient, but also comically inefficient in its use of space — the last time I flew out of Terminal A, the only sign of life I saw in a 10-gate stretch was a pigeon flying around inside. While I’m not quite as indifferent as my friend Red, who says all airports are just horribly overgrown bus stops, I’ve got little interest in debating whether a new airport is actually a good idea.
What does interest me about Kansas City International Airport is its atmosphere — or lack thereof. With some level of renovation almost a certainty, I resolved to explore the airport’s vibe and personality before any big changes took place. The best way to do this, I decided, would be to try something few sane individuals have ever attempted. I wanted to go to the airport — not to catch a flight or pick someone up — but simply to hang out.
To accompany me, I recruited Jeff Akin, a good friend, inveterate smartass, and the 2012 Pitch Reader’s Choice winner for best food blogger. Our rules were simple: We would stroll the entire length of the airport, recording our observations and musings along the way. And naturally, we would consume at least one alcoholic beverage per terminal.
Waiting for Devin
We made our foray to KCI on a cold Tuesday afternoon in late March. A mix of rain and sleet pounded the windshield on the familiar drive north on 1-29. Despite having been to the airport a combined 100+ times, neither of us could recall having any strong feelings about the place. I had always assumed there was more to see in the other terminals than my hurried visits allowed, but had never bothered to find out if that was true. Today, I would.
Upon entering terminal A via the underground parking garage, the first thing we noticed was that it smelled like crab rangoon — odd considering there are no Chinese restaurants in the building. Smooth jazz played overhead, and the first three rows of benches we saw were completely empty. It felt more like an abandoned shopping mall than an operational airport. “This place is dead,” Jeff said.
But not entirely. After a flight let out a few gates ahead, Jeff spotted a vice president at his company walking toward the baggage claim, forcing us to lag behind at a slow pace. We’d both skipped out of work early and didn’t feel like explaining that we’d done so in order to go on a three-terminal pub crawl. To be safe, we made up a story about how we were there to surprise our good (but non-existent) friend Devin, who was flying in from Denver, though we weren’t sure exactly when.
We decided to wait for Devin at The Fountains of Seville, which is basically your average airport bar except for a little gated patio under a red-tile awning. It was a lot like dining outside at a swank restaurant on the Country Club Plaza, with the added ambiance of giant headshots of Chris Matthews and Maria Bartiromo staring at us from the nearby CNBC newsstand.
Watching the various females walk by, I thought about all the times I had waited next to a pretty girl in line to board a plane, visualizing the whole time how we might wind up talking, sitting next to each other on the flight, and subsequently falling in love and starting a new life together in whichever city or country that plane was headed. Despite the tiny window in which these improbable scenarios could have taken place, I always felt a profound sense of disappointment when they didn’t.
“Do you feel like an encounter at the airport carries more weight than in the outside world?” I asked Jeff.
“I’d venture to say that girls are hotter in the airport,” he said. “There’s something about this world. There’s so much movement. Anything is possible.”
“You could hop on a plane to Rome, or Tokyo,” I added. “I mean, not from here, of course. You’d have to go to D.C. or Atlanta first. But that’s what it’s all about. Making connections.”
“And maybe, misconceptions,” Jeff said. “It’s the anonymity. You could be anyone. Like Devin.”
An actual functioning airport
In the course of my research, I asked Stephen Mueller of the architecture firm AGENCY how he would describe KCI, which he flew out of frequently while studying at the University of Kansas. He wrote:
I would describe KCI as instantaneously knowable — a simple architectural or planning idea made complicated by the demands of its users. It’s always felt to me like I was traveling through a flow chart about how an airport is supposed to be laid out, instead of traveling through an actual functioning airport. There were always strange glitches in the ideal operation (redundant security checks, strange trips through security just to get to a restroom, etc) that I found a bit annoying, and strange collisions of the planned geometry with the (apparently) retrofit additions and adjustments. Other airports that aren’t so clear about their ‘big idea’ seem to have been more forgiving when the idea’s failings start to appear, or new demands are placed on the operations.
For a different perspective, I asked the girl working at the coffee counter what her favorite feature of the airport was.
“I like the floor,” she said. “I think it’s actually imported from Italy.”
I’d never paid any special attention to it before, but looking down at the blue marble tiles and designs, I was instantly drawn in by the plus signs and dashes, a steady flow of anodes and diodes arranged like the currents on a wind map. How interesting that one of the most alluring aspects of the airport was the ground beneath our feet.
A whole ‘nother level
At the end of Terminal A, we stepped outside and walked back toward Terminal B among people hurrying to and from cars, buses and shuttles. Despite not having a plane to catch, I found myself getting impatient and wanting to brush past them. All those years of conditioning myself to hurry through the airport made it impossible not to.
As the hub of both Southwest and Delta, Terminal B is the one that feels the most like an actual airport, and we had high hopes for what we might find there. Shortly after entering, we saw a carpeted stairway leading up to some kind of lounge. There was a piano behind a velvet rope near a wine bar that boasted several fine offerings from Missouri Wine Country. “This is a whole ‘nother level,” Jeff said.
We skipped the wine bar in favor of a restaurant that looked pretty decent, but found it was only accessible to ticketed passengers behind beyond the security checkpoint. Instead we went to Jose Cuervo’s Tequileria, a lifeless mash-up of just about every generic Midwestern Mexican chain restaurant you can think of. We each ordered a margarita and split a chicken quesadilla for a total of $43.
Now as long as someone is willing to serve me real alcohol and something masquerading as a quesadilla, I’m not going to complain a whole lot. But plenty of people on Yelp! already have, netting Jose’s airport outpost a meager 2.5 star average. Elite reviewer Mike S. from Orlando wrote:
I knew it wouldn’t be good. But damn. This is bad. I like how they make it sound like the options for sauces is going to make it taste more authentic. WRONG. I’m not asking for authentic, i’m just asking for reasonable. Is that too much to ask?! Oh, yay!! I get to go back through security checkpoint for this crap. I shoulda slammed some Jose Cuervo tequila to make this place more enjoyable. But i’m willing to bet a shot cost $15, just guessing.
Bill C. from Shawnee said:
The is average Tex Mex. What did you expect? You’re in an airport. Suck it up.
Rose B. of Seattle said:
booze + airport = really good time.
Also, the Terminal B Sbarro’s appears to have vanished without a trace. A glance at FourSquare showed a woman had checked in to the Terminal B Sbarro’s just a few months before, meaning Sbarro’s had either closed very recently, or else a phantom franchise was operating somewhere in the terminal, fueled by secret pizza dough reserves hidden in the airport’s underground storage vaults. You never know.
Jetblasts and Sweatpants
With its crowded parking lots and security lines, Terminal B is a fabulous place to people watch. Our friend Wes, who worked for Delta between semesters of college, says the people-watching at Terminal B is the best in the city.
“We used to call it Kansas City’s epicenter of fashion,” he said. “People would wear sweatpants. I mean, who wears fucking sweatpants to go flying?”
Wes said the lack of gentility extended to the grounds crew as well. Two of his coworkers were fired for stealing the in-flight meals straight off the airplane. Another nearly drove a luggage cart behind a plane’s jet blast — a force strong enough to knock over a one-ton truck — before Wes shouted at the last second that the engine was on.
The worst incident he witnessed was a new hire almost wave an airplane into a passenger airwalk, a blunder that would have easily cost millions.
“What most people don’t know is that the people out there directing planes and waving them in are a lot of poorly trained kids,” he said. “Any airplane that gets a scratch is automatically held back for inspection and can be grounded for a month. Airplanes are precious, precious things. A commercial jetcraft costs maybe in the neighborhood of 150 million. It’s certainly not something you want to direct into an airwalk.”
C is for Casio
By the time we stepped through the automatic doors of Terminal C, the soprano saxophones sounded almost pernicious; the climate-controlled emptiness increasingly absurd. Through the locked doors of a closed-down business called the “Jazz District,” you could see a Casio keyboard mounted decoratively on the wall. “Nothing says Kansas City jazz like Casio,” Jeff said.
By this point any hopes of discovering unique landmarks or nostalgic signifiers in the airport were slim. Like the gradually curving chutes designed to lead unsuspecting cattle to slaughter, the arc of KCI keeps you believing you might stumble upon something awesome around the corner, but you never do.
We walked past a sad-looking bar full of businessmen on laptops, several of whom appeared to be asleep, before backtracking to the Budweiser Stadium Club for a final, unceremonious pint. Looking around at the drab surroundings, I felt like one of the reviewers who yelped: I came here with low expectations, and I was still disappointed.
Secretly, I had always believed our airport had more character than people gave it credit for, but there was very little here to love. With all the aesthetic charm of a Home Depot loading dock, it’s easy to see why KCI is an embarrassment to image-conscious Kansas Citians. On the other hand, maybe it just needs to try a little bit harder.
With the benefit of a few drinks, Jeff and I drafted up a few suggestions:
• Instead of muzak better suited for a dentist’s office or public access weather program, you could get a real jazz band to play once in a while. Maybe even a high school jazz band. The acoustics would be terrible, but it would be interesting.
• You could attract local food vendors / bakeries / barbecue joints instead of awarding corporate contracts to laughably generic corporate chains.
• Install displays of work by local artists instead of postcard scenery that becomes meaningless and depressing upon repetition.
• Establish functional, reliable transportation between the airport and various hubs in the city.
• Install an actual fountain outside Fountains of Seville.
• Consolidate all flights into one of the terminals, turning the second into an arboretum and the third into a menagerie.
• Host an annual three-terminal rave/charity event called “Liquids, Gels and Aerosols,” with the shuttle buses operating as mobile morality free-zones for the highest tier of donors.
The Red Bus (is calling us)
Having traversed the length of the facility, Jeff and I stood outside the end of terminal C, listening to jetliners firing up their engines while waiting for our beer buzz to die down.
I pointed out the little alcoves where people smoked cigs and played on their phones, recalling how convenient it had been to be able to see my mom coming from far enough away that I could put out my cigarette out in time. “I wish I had cigarettes,” Jeff said. “I would smoke them there.”
Jeff pulled up the KCI wikipedia page on his phone and read out loud about “TWA’s flawed vision” (the airport was unable to accommodate the 747) and the high number of wildlife strikes (1st in the U.S.). “The airport was dedicated on October 23, 1972, by Vice President Spiro Agnew,” he read. “And you wonder why this place hasn’t seen more miracles.”
Just then, we saw something moving into our field of vision from the far end of the horseshoe-shaped drive. It was the red bus – one of the passenger shuttles that runs in endless coils between terminals.
We hopped on and requested a stop at Terminal A, shrugging in confusion when the driver asked us what airline. I suddenly realized we were the only ones without any bags or luggage, which had to look puzzling to everyone else on the bus. I’d been trying not to attract any attention by appearing too goofy or giddy, but our proximity to actual passengers made it more difficult, especially after Jeff observed that the red bus was barely outpacing a woman on a motorized wheelchair.
“I think that’s Devin’s flight,” I said with a hiccup, pointing out the window at a descending aircraft. “I think Devin’s flight got canceled,” Jeff said.
While our effort to turn KCI into an entertainment district showed promise, it’s difficult to imagine the airport-as-social-hotspot thing catching on. For one, it’s too far away. For another, it’s too expensive. In little over two hours, Jeff and I spent almost $100 on food, drinks, parking, gas and more drinks. As appealing as it is to imagine a domestic sports stadium or airport not charging $9 for a beer, I’m afraid we forfeited that America long ago.
On our way out, we drove past the sculpture in the median, which on a cold March day looked like a lifeless billboard, but which on a summer night would be a fountain again, all lit up and alive in the Kansas City humidity.
Though I’d like to eventually see better public transit options, I do appreciate being able to hop in my car and be on the highway within minutes of landing. It always feels a bit like I’m sneaking quietly back into my life, especially at night. By the time I can see the skyline, I’ve almost forgotten I was even at the airport in the first place.
Perhaps that same emptiness people complain about is also what makes KCI so easy to fly through. The complete lack of ceremony is almost refreshingly archaic. Years from now, long after something else has taken its place, the three-terminal KCI may best be remembered for its utter forgettability.
(photos by Jennifer Wetzel)
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