Friday, June 3, 2011

Lincoln in Kansas City (Missouri), Visit 3.

There's a T-shirt out there that proudly proclaims "Missouri Loves Company" -- what does that have to do with this post? Nothing. But it makes me chuckle.

I'm sitting in MCI -- the official airport code for Kansas City's "real" airport, and I think it originally was taken to stand for "Mid-Continent International" -- but all of the marketing materials brand it as "KCI". Sigh. The gentleman sitting to my right -- and one of perhaps 8 people in the 4-gate area Continental operates out of, proclaimed this "The most boring airport in the workd". Perhaps he's right -- a booming pre-recorded voice periodically announces "K-C-I is on the web! Find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter!" to no one -- the clerk at the snack stand adjacent to gate 67 closed up shop and disappeared. In her absence, there seems to be no food or drink available behind security -- and not much in front of security either.

Perhaps most telling, the discussion I had with the TSA representative while he was checking my boarding pass: "You're kind of early, you know that?" "Better early than late, right?" "Maybe other places, but here being two hours early is going to be two hours of sheer boredom."

Backing up, at the end of the day yesterday I had finished everything I needed to finish for this trip, my third to Kansas City's suburb of Olathe, and three of four trips originally planned. While the fourth trip is still on the books, there is some chatter that it may not need to happen. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I could use the frequent flyer miles and hotel points, but do I really want to up my hotel count -- already at 35 nights since January 1st -- if I don't have to?

Today I slept in. It felt good. The first time in a few weeks where I really didn't have to be anywhere or do anything. After packing and checking out of my hotel, I headed to Kansas City's Union Station... like most every large city in the train era--including Cleveland's Terminal Tower--Union Station is a glorious edifice of the romance of travel: Soaring ceilings, intricate detailing. Today, it still hosts Amtrak service in a quiet corner, as does a restaurant that ties to the memory of when Fred Harvey's chain of railroad eating places (credited with being the first chain restaurant) called Union Station its headquarters. Today it has been restored and is host to a variety of attractions, the one piquing my interest "KC Rail Experience".

The organization is somewhat lacking -- After purchasing my $7.00 ticket, and following the directions I was given I seemed to be a bit lost. I asked a volunteer where it was and her reply was that it was $7.00... "Where?" "You need a ticket, it costs $7.00" "Yes, but where is it?" eventually I figured out it was the door right behind her. As far as railroad museums go it's a bit light on just about everything -- pretty much limited to one example of each major category, and clearly targeted at the 10-and-under demographic, but it was still an interesting look at rail and specifically rail and Kansas City. In their collection and on display but not open is, according to the museum, one of only five observation cars known to be surviving in its original condition.

An accompanying model railroad exhibit is likewise a bit light--small (not even relatively small, as I had originally typed.) layouts with no attendants and trains running in circles, but it still reminded me of my youth at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum in historic Balboa Park... for some reason I've been getting big on nostalgia lately, haven't I?

Back to the present time, after leaving Union Station I noticed a fairly nondescript building across the parking lot with a sign simply proclaiming "National Archives". Curious--and catching a glimpse of a "Free" sign--I walked over.

Along my walk my hand was hit by a dive-bombing bird... walking a little further (between a large parking garage and an even larger United States Postal Service building) I find a USPS employee strategically posting signs proclaiming:

Beware of Mocking Bird (Protected Species)
Bird has been seen "diving and hitting people"

So apparently I'm not the only one. Arriving at the building I was seeking, I'm greeted by another sign -- an impressive looking seal and the no-nonsense "NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION" tag line. I hesitate before pulling open the door, though not quite long enough to read the page-long, 10-point "GSA Guidelines for Behavior on Federal Property" posted by the door.

I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be there. Archives intrigue me -- there's something about the unfiltered snapshot they provide that intrigues me; beyond that, makes me wonder what happened to the people who wrote and received each document, and so forth. At the KC Rail Experience, the part of my visit where I was the most intrigued was looking at the reproduction timetable pages--the prices, the fine print, the destinations.

But I've had this thought that The National Archives are the bastion of academics and professional researchers, with the general public not being generally welcome.

Pulling the door open and walking in, I tell the very friendly receptionist that I'm playing tourist and I have no idea what I should see -- or if I should even be there. She pointed me in the direction of their welcome center, offering an 11-minute film introducing the National Archives, and their exhibition hall (Currently home to an exhibit comparing Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee's lives before, during, and after the Civil war, and suggested that I stop by the Research Room where another staffer would be glad to show me around.

The exhibit was interesting, but perhaps most striking to me that Ulysses S. Grant arrived at that name not by birth, but rather a paperwork error at Westpoint. I guess changing the paperwork would have required too much effort! While I didn't make it into the Research Room -- where it looked like a number of people of all ages, shapes, and sized were engaged in research -- I was fascinated by the artifacts decorating the walls: Pictures used as evidence in Federal cases, a film rental contract, letters between a film distributor and the superintendent of an Indian School about film rentals, film advertising posters...

I was fascinated, and almost wished I had a topic within the National Archives at Kansas City's purview (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and the Dakotas) -- the staff were all quite welcoming and helpful, and it's now clear the general public is allowed -- I even picked up a decent collection of "how to use the National Archives"-type literature so I can be more prepared the next time I encounter one of these institutions in the wild!

Leaving the National Archives, I made my way back to the Nelson-Atkins Museum for a quick fly-through, and had lunch at the Grand Street Cafe. The burger was so/so (the bun was exceptionally dry and my Blue Cheese request had somehow morphed into Cheddar) but the Cesar salad I had with it was amazing.

I then returned the rental car and...that's where the draft of this post ended, since boarding for my flight home was called. Boarding the flight, though, I noticed a gentleman who looked very familiar. Almost too familiar. Arriving back in Cleveland, I found myself behind this gentleman on an escalator, and now being more positive...and it was indeed the Cleveland Museum of Art's director. We had a brief conversation walking to the airport exit.

And now I'm home. For a week.


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