Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Kansas City with the Fam Day 2

We woke up, ate some bagels and tiny little yogurt packages at the hotel's free breakfast, and hit the road. Our destination was Independence, MO.

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Independence has a few things going on. It was a point of departure on the Oregon Trail, it serves as headquarters to some Mormon denominations, and President Harry S. Truman grew up here. It is now the site of the Truman Library and Museum. We were here primarily for the museum, but we saw a few other things along the way.

The Truman museum was quality. I don' t think that it was quite as technologically advanced as the Lincoln museum in terms of movies and other multimedia, but it did seem quite a bit larger. Truman was president through all sorts of American milestones: the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, the end of WWII, the creation of the UN and NATO, the Marshall Plan and the Berlin Airlift, the beginning of the Cold War and McCarthyism, and the Korean War.

Room devoted to the Berlin Airlift.

I'd like to see this one. I'm sure its a real gem.

This is a really biting letter a dead soldier's family sent to Truman when they returned his Purple Heart.

I thought it was interesting that Truman was alive to see his museum. The place certainly has more of his influence in it as a result. There was a little audio intro in the room that featured a replica of his oval office's trappings. It began something like "I'm President Truman, and this is my office". It had a bit of an eery, beyond the grave sort of feel to it. I think I'm just so used to the idea of the Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, where the man had been deceased over a hundred years before the place was built.

Another theme the exhibit brought up a few times (how true it is I don't know) was that Truman hadn't really wanted to be Vice President, let alone President, and there's a picture of him at Eisenhower's inauguration with his feet propped up and a big smile on his face, as if he was glad to let the burden of the presidency pass to some other poor sap's shoulders. Shortly after his term he returned to his little Missouri home and lived out his days. I thought that was a nice contrast to the millionaire's club national office seems to be today.

Once we were finished reliving the Truman era we headed to Independence's small town square area. There were a few more Truman related places around, his house, his wife's house and so on, but we felt like we had a satisfactory understanding of the situation by this point.

Old-timey courthouse in the center of the square: check.

We stopped in to have a quick ice cream treat before hitting the road back to Kansas City. The menu had a couple of Truman related flavors, like the Buck Stop Sundae.

I had Harry's Favorite, chocolate ice cream with butterscotch topping.

On our way out we passed a Mormon church, The Temple, which is straight out of the Land of Oz.

Back in Kansas City, the last stop of consequence was another journey into the land of barbecue.

Arthur Bryant's

Judging by Arthur Bryant's restaurant interior alone it seemed like the food would be better than at Oklahoma Joe's. It's unassuming and cozy, you can see some of of the firey magic happening just from the ordering counter, and the wall is lined with pictures of famous people eating there. We had plenty of time to examine all of these features while we waited in a very long line.

In addition to another full rack of ribs that we shared, we ordered an open faced burnt ends sandwich, which was awesome.

While Arthur Bryant's was better than Oklahoma Joe's in my humble opinion, I am forced to point out, right in the face of Kansas City's hyped up barbecue fame, that Pappy's Smokehouse in St. Louis is better than the both of them. I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but there it is.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Kansas City with the Fam Day 1

July 8-10 my family went on a little road trip down to Kansas City.

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Being an Illinois boy, my understanding is that a US state ends where the river tells it to. One minute you are in Illinois, then you cross a bridge, and you're in Missouri. Easy to grasp. Kansas City was interesting to me geographically because it sits on an imaginary line between Missouri and Kansas. We would be driving around and realize we had inadvertently changed states. "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore" was uttered more times than I can divulge with pride intact. I thought that was interesting. I'm sure that has all sorts of fun legal implications.

Kansas City barbecue's siren call had been pulling on Tom's soul from both the food channel and history channel for many a moon, so that was something we went for early.

Boom. Oklahoma Joe's. Supposed to be the best barbecue ever, ever.

And the restaurant shares its building with a gas station.

Opening the door and seeing the long line to order and the limited seating had us conversing over how and where we would eat our messy food. Everything moved rather quickly though, and the staff was great about getting people up off their butts and out the door when they finished eating, so seating wasn't a problem.

In order to keep things fair, I chose full rack of ribs as my benchmark for BBQ deliciousness. It was good, but best in the state it was not, I'm afraid. Another thing I've learned is to avoid the sides at a place like this. Legendary meat searing skills do not translate to potato salad.

Anthony Bordain christened this one of the 13 places to eat before you die, which strikes me as a random list, but he is the man so I'll let it slide. A 98.9 The Rock's Johnny Dare radio interview he did about Oklahoma Joe's can be found here(the audio clip begins automatically). They also talk a bit about eating guinea pigs in Peru. You can read about me rocking that delicacy here. What now, Bordain?

After a long drive and a big meal, the rest of our energy was spent on a bit of driving around downtown and exploring. The Country Club Plaza came recommended, so we headed down there. It's a really classy shopping area that covers several blocks. The shops themselves were too expensive for me (Tiffany & Co., a Rolex dealer) but it was still really enjoyable to window shop.

My favorite part was the faux European architecture. There were lots of tall spires, statues, and fountains all around us, and they looked good. I remember walking toward the first tower thinking there must be something awesome or historical underneath only to find it attached to a North Face retailer or something. Take surroundings like that, add people strolling and a street band playing on a corner, and you've got something called atmosphere.

Not too shabby for our first day.