April 29, 2009

Missouri State Capitol - Jefferson City, MO

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to practice what I preach. I tell people the importance of being involved in the political process so I hopped a bus to Jefferson City, Missouri to join a group of citizen lobbyists. We went to speak with members of the Missouri legislature about current bills affecting women's reproductive rights.

This blog, however, is not about my political beliefs. It is not about my efforts as a feminist or a pro-choice activist. So don't worry, there will be no political ranting. Only a post about my admiration for the Missouri State Capitol.

When I went to Topeka, the capital city of Kansas, I was struck by the horrible contrast between the depressing economic conditions surrounding the capital building. But in Missouri, everything was as I would imagine the seat of government being. There were historical statues and fountains outside the building, beautiful green lawns and trees.

Of course, the stately building was complete with Roman style columns and a dome. (Fun Fact: Only a few state capital buildings lack a dome roof, including Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, New York, and New Mexico.)

Inside, I walked through several historical displays relating to the history of Missouri. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to stop and explore them. I had to hurry into the rotunda with its beautiful domed ceiling covered in artwork to hear the rally speeches. As impressed as I was by the words of our speakers, I was also impressed by the stately surroundings. (Fun Fact: The 4,500 pound chandelier that hangs in the rotunda took a fall back in November 2006. It had been lowered for maintenance but fell the remaining five feet to the ground and had to be sent to St. Louis for repairs.)

The Missouri State Capitol was truly beautiful, I only wish I had more time to enjoy it. But I'm sure I will find time for another trip back so I can take time to explore the grounds and

Total Trip Time: 10 hours
Total Travel Distance:
Soundtrack: "Oh, Perilous World" Rasputina

April 24, 2009

RIP Sinclair Dinosaur - Kansas City, MO

In these difficult economic times, roadside attractions suffer as much as everyone else. Which is why the Sinclair Dinosaur of Kansas City, Missouri is no more.

The Sinclair gas station used to feature a large, detailed Brontosaurus made from fiberglass. It was one of many around the United States. The original one was featured at the Chicago World's Fair of 1933/34. Sinclair was sponsoring a dinosaur exhibit to make note of the connection between the Age of the Dinosaurs and the formation of fossil fuels. It was so popular, the Sinclair dinosaur became available around the country in dolls and toys, as well as the large statue that used to stand outside the gas station in Kansas City, Missouri.

According to RoadsideArchitecture, the Sinclair gas station closed in 2008. About six months later, the dinosaur statute was gone, believed to have been stolen.

I suppose in these difficult times, it must be expected that some roadside attractions will go the way of the dinosaurs.

Total Travel Time: 25 minutes
Total Travel Distance: 19 miles
Soundtrack: "A Fever You Can't Sweat Out" - Panic at the Disco

April 22, 2009

Prairie Cutouts - Kansas City, MO

As I was driving on I435, I noticed the side of the road was lined with huge metal cutouts of prarie scenes. There were buffalo, rugged cowboys on horseback and women tending to a campfire. It was an interesting pastoral image in contrast to the rushing traffic of a busy interstate.

I've searched the internet trying to find out their historical significance, or at least who built them. but I can't seem to find anything out about them. So all I can tell you is they are located off I435, Exit 69. What they are doing there is anybody's guess.

On a side note, I should caution other people from stopping their cars on the interstate to take pictures. Not necessarily because of traffic, but because of the things you find on the side of the road. Broken beer bottles, a hubcap, children's clothing, beer cans, broken liquor bottles, empty cartons of cigarettes and fast food containers...but most importantly the wildlife. Screaming and jumping back after almost stepping on a lizard is not smart to do near speeding traffic. Nope, not smart at all.

Total Trip Time: 15 minutes
Total Travel Distance: 9 miles
Soundtrack: "Kiss Kiss Kill Kill" - HorrorPops

April 20, 2009

Loose Park Again - Kansas City, MO

As much as Loose Park was a place for my dog to reek havok somewhere other than my home, it is also an important historical and cultural site for Kansas City.

The park is named for Jacob Loose, a baking giant in Kansas who made a fortune off cookies and crackers. He and his wife Ella were popular community philanthropists. After Jacob's death, Ella donated 80 acres to the city in 1923. From that lovely space, would come Loose Park. Even after their deaths, the city continually honors their memory. A statue of Jacob Loose stands in the park. The philanthropy of the Loose family continues as well. Their charitable trusts left behind later formed part of the largest charitable organization in Kansas City - the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and Affiliated Trusts.

The park offers many ammenities: a lake, tennis courts, a wading pool and even a Japanese Tea Room. It also features a wonderful rose garden and shelter, but I was not able to see it because of renovations. Fortunately, it will re-open this summer so I don't have to wait too long.

The park also denotes itself as a historical site with markers. One sign put up by The Chouteau, both in French and English, explains the complex relationship with the French and the Osage Native Americans in Kansas City. From trade disputes to the Osage War of 1793 to the building of forts, it is a complex story spanning centuries. And even if it is in two languages, I'm not sure if I get the point of why it is there.

There was much more to see, but Brock Lee wasn't patient to wait while I examined the more historical aspects of the park. After all, he was scared of the statue of Jacob Loose and there were bushes to smell! Hopefully, I'll make it back in the summer to see the rose garden and some of the Civil War markers.

April 16, 2009

Loose Park - Kansas City, MO

Without a doubt, my favorite traveling companion is our dog Brock Lee. He is our only pet who actually enjoys traveling with me. Our little dog is horrible to ride in the car with. She barks at every car, person, and tree thinking it is invading her space. She has a particular vendetta against the windshield wipers. And our cat is...well, she's a cat. She wants nothing to do with anything that takes her away from napping in the sun.

But Brock Lee loves car rides! And he loves Loose Park in Kansas City, Missouri. It is a beautiful park with a lake, open lawns, Civil War markers, tennis courts, picnic areas and a rose garden. I was enjoying the great sunny weather and Brock Lee was under the impression every child and other animal was there to play with him. Luckily, he was easily distracted by the many strange scents in the park. He was trying to smell everything possible. He spent most of the time dragging me along the trail chasing every smell through the bushes.

All was going really well. Brock Lee was behaving himself as well as he ever does, which is to say he hadn't done any permanent damage to anything or anyone. Then we went to the herb and textile garden where I discovered the newest addition to Brock Lee's fears. Currently it includes golf carts, guinea pigs, scarecrows, and porch stairs. Now we can add statues. We approached a statue of a naked woman holding a bowl and Brock Lee lost his mind! He was jumping around and barking at it before running away. We saw geese and ducks earlier - nothing. But an inanimate anthropomorphic stone carving terrified him. When I told my father about it, he hung his head in shame and said, "Some hunting dog you are."

A hunting dog he will never be, but he's already a great traveling companion.

Total Travel Time: 2 hours
Total Travel Distance: 20 miles
Soundtrack: "@#%&*! Smilers" - Aimee Mann

April 13, 2009

Road Trip Memories - Somewhere in Indiana (On Our Way to Michigan)

When I was in college, I had two of the coolest friends in the world - Bess and Mir Mir. Bess was studying film and wanted to do a documentary for a class about Hell. She interviewed numerous religious authorities about Hell as a place. She decided the narrative of the film would be our trip to Hell, Michigan. That's right, we were going to Hell!

We went all out in preparation. Mir Mir borrowed a car and we taped a figurine of Buddy Christ to the dashboard compass so we could yell "Which way to Hell, Jesus?" I put together some mix tapes to celebrate our road trip in an appropriate fashion (meaning a lot of AC/DC). The coup de gras was a cardboard sign tapped to the window - The Handbasket. We were going to Hell in the Handbasket!

We set off for Hell early one morning, AC/DC blasting on the radio as we left the big city of Chicago behind for the open highway of Indiana. But it came to a quick and sudden halt when we were pulled over by Indiana Highway Patrol. All highway cops have the same walk, they put their thumbs in the pockets and point to their packages as they saunter up to your car - keeping in mind their packages are at the drivers eye level. Even their wide legged slow approach is perverse.

After taking his time to approach the car, the cop leaned over to Mir Mir in the driver's seat and said, "Where are you in such a hurry to?" Bess shot me the dirtiest look in the world. I curled up in the backseat and covered my mouth. I wanted to say it, oh god, I wanted to say it! Mir Mir got a speeding ticket which we laughed about and as soon as the cop walked away I couldn't hold it in anymore.

"We're in a hurry to get to Hell, officer!"

April 12, 2009

Road Trip Philosophy - How to Avoid Getting Decafed

When I'm on the road, I live on coffee. Hell, I live on coffee even when I'm not on the road. The other day, I went to a drive thru to treat myself to a latte. Suddenly, a car pulled up next to me at the pick up window. The driver got out and started to yell at the barista for not giving her a receipt. I laughed at how ridiculous she was being and after she left the barista told me she had made a comment earlier about high maintenance the previous customer had been. Oh, hypocrisy! As I drove away I thought, "I hope he decafed her."

To "decaf" someone is a trick I learned as a barista for dealing with particularly obnoxious customers. When someone is being obnoxious, offensive or just plain rude, you give them decaffeinated coffee instead of regular. The logic being if they are that horrible already, they don't need any caffeine to make them worse. It's passive aggressive, but in customer service sometimes it's the only kind of relief you can get.

I'm sure you're thinking that no barista has ever done this to you. Yes, he/she has. "But I wasn't that obnoxious!" you say. Yes, yes you were. "But I didn't deserve it!" Yes, yes you did. Managers know about this trick. In one case, I had a manager encourage employees to decaf customers.

Here is how to avoid getting decafed to make sure you get all the caffeinated coffee goodness you need for your road trip:
  1. Be polite - Never underestimate how effective this is. When your nice to your barista or anyone in the customer service industry, then they want to help you and will often go above and beyond to make sure you get whatever you need.

  2. Be patient - I don't care how long the line is, be patient. If you're running late then that's your problem and not the barista's fault. I used to work by a Metra station and constantly had customers screaming at me that they were going to miss their train. But that was their mismanagement of their time and there is nothing their yelling at me will do about it except get them decaf.

  3. Tip - No one decafs a tipper. So if you have been rude and impatient, I suggest you make sure the barista sees you drop a nice big tip in the jar. A little money can always make up for your bad behavior to an overworked and underpaid barista.

April 10, 2009

Haunted Waggener House - Atchison, KS

In addition to being the birthplace of Amelia Earhart, Atchison is also the most haunted town in Kansas. I drove through town to see some of the notable dark destinations.

One of the haunted houses is the Waggener House. The house was built in the late 1800's by local politician B.P. Waggener. Local legend says Waggener sold his soul to the devil for money and power. The stately home seems a testement to his fortune and so perhaps is a testement to his pact with the devil as well.

Around the house on the roof are gargoyles. At the apex of the house is one of the gargoyles - an angular, red demon looking like it is about to take off in flight. The gargoyles are part of the house's ghostly curse. A later owner was trying to remove some of them from the house when he fell to his death.

The Waggener House, like many of the haunted destinations in Atchison, is private property and not available for public viewing. I was able to observe the murderous gargoyles from the outside, but stayed on the street so I didn't bother whoever lives in the cursed home. Luckily for curious little ol' me, the city offers numerous tours throughout the year. I hope to go back to get a closer took at some of the haunted houses.

If you want to find a haunted house or site of paranormal activity near you, I suggest you check out Dark Destinations, a travel guide to all the mysterious and ghostly locations around the world.

April 8, 2009

Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum - Atchison, KS

On sunny but extremely windy Saturday, I took off for Atchison, Kansas. No major highway or interstate goes there so around the halfway mark I turn off onto a two lane road that follows the railroad tracks. For twenty miles there's nothing but farmland, trains and the occasional other car.

The museum is easy to find, Atchison is very small and very proud of it's heritage so it isn't hard to miss the signs that lead the way. It is a beautiful stately house that has been maintained for many years by the Ninety-Nines, an international group of female licensed pilots. Amelia Earhart was their first elected president.

It is a stately house filled with homages to Amelia's life - from a bathing suit she wore when she was four-years-old to a model of her plane to multiple portraits of her throughout her life. The parlors and formal dining room downstairs are finished to the full former majesty while the upstairs bedrooms have a cozy comfortable feeling, complete with quilts and clothing laid out as if to be worn the next day.

The museum shows Amelia Earhart mostly as a woman but also for the amazing pilot she was. The first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger, the first woman to make a solo flight around the United States, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, not to mention her numerous speed and altitude records.

In addition to her courageous acts as a pilot, the museum also records her works as a writer and fashion designer. She was an accomplished poet and published multiple books. She also designed clothes for her fellow female pilots she eventually developed into a fashion line for "the woman who lives actively."

Atchison may be out of the way, but it was worth the trip to see the museum. But I have another stop to make - the Haunted Waggener House - before I go home.

Total Trip Time: 3 hours
Total Distance Traveled: 138 miles
Soundtrack: "The Ascension" Otep

April 6, 2009

Dwight Eisenhower Fountain - Kansas City, KS

On Friday, I was forced to take a day off work. I suppose that's the result of loving your job and spending way too many hours in the office doing it. So I spent the day with my mother and my sister who was visiting from Oklahoma with her friend. And of course what visit with two college girls is complete without a shopping trip?

In Kansas City, Kansas there is a very large shopping center called The Legends in East Village. It earned the name The Legends from it's various homages to 80 different notable Kansans. From athletes to civic leaders, The Legends honors them in various artistic fashions.

Following a yellow brick road from the parking lot into the shopping center, you can see a large statue of Dwight Eisenhower is wading knee high in a pool of water. The water dances from the drops jumping from the surface like fish to the children splashing on the side.

Eisenhower served as the 34th President of the United States and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. He was born in Texas, but his family moved to Abilene, Kansas when he was two-years-old. So he may not be native by birth, but certainly is by his upbringing.

As to why the former president is depicted fishing, I suppose it is because he was an avid sportsman during his life and during his presidency. He was well-known for his love of golf and of fishing. In that sense, it is a fitting memorial. In honor of his love of golf, a tree on the 17th hole of the Augusta National - where the Masters Tour is played annually - has been named after him.

Total Trip Time: 3 hours
Total Travel Distance: 45 miles
Soundtrack: Whatever my sister felt like playing on her iPod

April 3, 2009

Inappropriate Fountain - Kansas City, Missouri

Outside of the Starbucks in the Plaza of Kansas City is a thoroughly inappropriate fountain called "Boy and Frog." Why is this fountain inappropriate? If you can't tell from the picture, it is a naked young boy with his frog. When turned on, the water sprays from the little boy's peep into the frog's mouth. It is a little boy peeing in a frog's mouth! How is that appropriate for public viewing?!

I first saw the fountain when my friend Anna came to visit me last year. We went to the Plaza and to look at all high-fashion things we couldn't afford and be "ladies who lunch." For those who don't know, ladies who lunch are the ostentatious well-kept wives of wealthy business men. They don't really do anything except shop, look good, and go out to lunch to gossip with their friends. We found a nice little Italian bistro that looked like a place kept women would go. Turns out we were right. While Anna and I were enjoying a nice lunch, we overheard a group of first wives gossiping about the trophy wives who were being forced into their circle of acquaintances. Thus confirming the Plaza is the hangout for Kansas City's ladies who lunch.

After lunch we went to get some coffee. That was when we saw it. A boy peeing into a frog's mouth. We both stared for a while, trying to be sure of what we were seeing. Then I looked around for someone else who was shocked by the fountain, but nothing. People were buying their lattes and going on their way. Apparently public depictions of little boys peeing in the mouths of amphibians is okay in Missouri.

It was originally sculpted by Raffaelo Romanelli and was acquired for the Plaza in Florence, Italy in 1928 by John C. Taylor, the chairman of the J.C. Nichols Company. I'm all for artistic expression and extremely opposed to censorship, but I'm struggling to get what the creative merit to this fountain is. It is an allegory for something? A political statement? No, it is just a boy peeing in a frog's mouth. So everyone say it with me now - Romanelli, what the hell is wrong with you?!

April 1, 2009

Wild Boar Wishing Fountain - Kansas City, Missouri

In the Plaza of Kansas City, Missouri is a really odd wishing fountain - a wild boar. People shopping or wandering around can drop in coins and rub the nose of the boar for good luck - apparently many people do because the bronze statue's nose has been rubbed until it is golden.

The fountain is a copy of a Greek marble statue at the entrance to the straw market in Florence, Italy. Coins are dropped into the fountain in Italy for the benefit of children. Kansas City has adopted the charitable tradition as well as the statue. Coins from the fountain are given to the Children of Mercy Hospital.

Still, as altruistic and artistic as the fountain may be - why is there a wild boar in the middle of a city shopping center? Really? Why?

Also, looking at the fountain itself you start to notice more and more things that just don't seem right about it or at least don't scream "Help the little children." For example, the ...ahem... genitals of the boar are prominently displayed. The boar is also surrounded by a number of other little creatures - toads, frogs, crabs, snails, turtles and snakes. Apparently, they do not share the good will of the fountain's patrons because in at least one case a snake is eating a frog. I don't get how a demonstration of natural selection helps sick children.

I wonder if anyone has ever raised these similar issues in Florence?

Total Trip Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Distance Traveled: 20 miles
Soundtrack: "Le Red Soul Comunnitte" Tokyo Sex Destruction