"It's not much but it's ours"

Sunday, May 14, 2006



Just my bloody luck. One of the biggest weeks in British sporting history ( The FA Cup, The Arse in the Champions League and Ricky Hatton in a big fight ) and where was I? I’ll tell you where. Half way across the world in a country where sports may well be a major part of life, but only if the US wins. That’s right. I am in the good old US of stateside. A country where the participation ( using the term loosely ) of Canadian teams allows them to call their championships “World Series” You do just have to love them.

This time, I have managed to bookend my trip with a few days me time. A rare and necessary treat given a fun, if brutal business schedule

First port of call, Kansas City.

After an entirely uneventful flight, I arrived about fifteen minutes ahead of schedule at the single most disgusting airport in the entire world bar none and no returns. Chicago O Hare ( O hell, more like ) This is the exact replication of every level of Hades. From the moment I arrived to be sneered at by immigration, through the tortuous wait for my luggage ( arriving out last of all, of course ) and then fighting my way on to the inter-shuttle terminal before the final act of dehumanisation of practically stripping before going through domestic security. Everything about this airport fills me with loathing. The prevalent smell of cinnamon which pervades every bit of the terminal concourse, the sight of unfeasibly large human beings scarfing down equally unfeasible amounts of food that contains at least a month’s worth of fat, salt and sugar to the robotic “ at this time we would like to ask you to …..” of the airline staff. Everything about it makes me want to gnaw my own head off rather than experience it again.

Still, for all the horrors. It is worth it for the end result and final destination. Kansas City MO. I have meetings planned here on Monday but was invited by my dear chum, Mark, to come and spend a couple of days with him beforehand and kick back and enjoy some of that Midwest hospitality.

My colleague, Zaro spent a good deal of her younger days in the Midwest and is not that fond of coming back. Me? I love it. I think it is the sense of other I feel when I am here. It is, to me, a representation of real America, both good and bad. Seeing signs of the highway showing the way to Wichita, otherwise only known to me in song still gives me a thrill. It could well be a big old cesspit of a town. Who knows? But, for a little old lad from Rotherham, it still makes me raise a grin.

Kansas City MO is a perfect example of that. It still seems to be kicking itself in the arse for letting the trans-continental railway hub go to Chicago way back when. A decision which transformed the city from the nation’s largest ( where everything was, of course, up to date ) to a Midwest also ran.

It is more that that. The people have a tangible sense of civic pride ( except of course, that is in sport where their major league teams are a laughing stock ) and it has a highly developed cultural and culinary scene. The quality of life is often voted amongst the best in the US. On the downside however, they seem to be keen not only to ignore their history but to rip it down and build over it. Main St shows signs of the lovely buildings of its heyday but now in rack and ruin as it was abandoned and people moved to live in the suburbs and many of the buildings seem to be created by committee rather than design. That being said. It does have the lovingly restored Union Station complete with the bullet holes left when Pretty Boy Floyd ( I think ) met his fate at the end of a tommy gun and a number of other buildings from the 20’s and 30’s that remain stunning examples of their kind.

My flight from Chicago to Kansas was delayed due to the slow boarding of a whole troop of elderly veterans who had, one of them told me, been to The Golden Age Games in Virginia. Apparently they happen in a different city every year and the men gather to compete at games such as shuffleboard. Although, the sprightly 70 something next to me informed me, with a wink, that it was really and excuse to “ meet the ladies” It looked more likely that he would pull a muscle than a bird, but, if god grants me the span to be that old, I hope I have half the energy of these guys.

Another interminable wait at the airport for my luggage and I met up with Mark and headed to his stunning house.

I have known Mark for a number of years through my work with Hallmark, who, it seems own most of Kansas. He is one of the good guys and meeting people like him is one of the reasons I love this business. He is my friend and I don’t say that lightly. However, he does tend to much to the hale and hearty sometimes and has an over use of phrases such as "gosh darn it” which make me want to get out a hypodermic of cynicism and inject it into him.

He did also almost get me killed once as I gave him a tour of London’s East end where he insisted on stopping and photographing manhole covers ( I kid you not ) He then, when we were sitting in a slightly rough old pub, announce in a loud American accent that he had been taking some “neat pictures of manholes” Ahem.

Still, he seems to be doing alright in his “golly gee” Thumper-ish kind of way and, as I say, he has a stunning house. Much of the work on it was done by him as he is a talented carpenter and furniture maker.

When I arrived, the house was already buzzing with some friends of his he had invited over to meet the brit and I dumped my bags and spent the rest of the night happily guzzling on rather nice Fat Tire Amber Ale while Mark prepared beer can Chicken ( he will hate me for posting the picture as he burnt the skin, though the chicken was incredibly moist and delicious )and grilled shrimp on the Weber.

We stood around the burner as the night became a little cooler. The full moon was in full effect, the food and company was good, the beer plentiful and it all suddenly seemed worth an eighteen hour journey.

Welcome to the Midwest.

P.S "note to self" humour doesn't always travel. So when Americans ask you if you jokingly if you were cavity searched at the airport, it is probably best not to reply "only when I asked really nicely"
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