2003 Road Trip Diary: Chapter 1

The first two days of my trip were a mad dash designed to put as much of the Midwest behind me as possible. On day one I woke up at , showered, and hit the road before .

Adrenaline and a driving soundtrack made it difficult to keep the car under 85 between Columbus and Indianapolis. Each barrier crossed – city limits, county line, state line – compelled me to drive faster and get farther away from home. By the time I crossed into the Central Time Zone I felt like I was flying. Indiana and Illinois are functionally no different than Ohio, so I stopped only for gas and bathroom breaks as I crossed them. My first real stop came in St. Louis around lunchtime.

The Gateway Arch is impressive, but I took an even greater interest in the graffiti people had scratched into the steel at its base. Ricky must truly love Amber. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have defaced a national monument to tell her so. After the Arch, I parked near Busch Stadium (the old one) to look at the statues of Cardinal ballplayers which surrounded it. My favorites were Ozzie Smith, fully laid-out to catch a line drive and Bob Gibson wheeling around with intense inertia. No graffiti here. If Ricky so much as thought of scratching up Gibson’s statue old Hoot would have hunted him down and planted a fastball in his ear.

Across from the stadium sat the St. Louis Cardinals/National Bowling Hall of Fame. Yes, in the same building,* which was an odd combination to be sure. The baseball stuff was what you would expect: McGwire’s jersey, Musial’s bat, and countless assorted pieces of Cardinals memorabilia. The bowling stuff was vexing. Was it meant to be tongue-in-cheek? Could a wax dummy of Henry VIII lawn bowling with his courtiers be anything but? The actual section honoring the enshrined bowlers was tasteful enough. I suppose it would have to be seeing as though Dick Weber’s grandkids may come in to see his plaque one day.

*They’re apparently no longer in the same building. A shame, really.

The rest of St. Louis was depressing. It was a decaying city which seemed vibrant only in comparison to the wastelands on the opposite bank of the Mississippi. Casinos cluttered the west end of town along the Missouri River, conveniently located near the freeway so as to more efficiently drain the good people of St. Louis of money better spent elsewhere. The gaming commission no doubt anticipated my disapproval, having erected several signs along the highway stating how many millions of gambling dollars were diverted to schools, road construction, and social services. I don’t doubt the truth of such claims, but the signs’ very existence seems evidence of a guilty conscience.

The 250 miles between St. Louis and Kansas City were dreary, hot and dirty as the result of a strong and steady southerly wind. The soda I bought to keep me from falling asleep was the highlight of I-70 across Missouri, though things brightened up considerably once I hit Kansas City.

In keeping with the day’s baseball theme, I stopped at Kaufman Stadium, where I hoped to get a picture of the big Royals sign out in centerfield, which I assumed faced a parking lot. If the Royals were in town I would have certainly stopped there for the night to take in a game, but alas, they were back in Ohio playing the Indians. When I stopped at the stadium, however, I was surprised to see the water dancing in the famous outfield fountains and the P.A. system announcing a game. Curious, I made my way to the main gate to see what was going on.

It turns out that the Royals open the joint to high school teams when they’re on the road, and a game was in progress. Admission was free and the place mostly empty, so I found a seat behind home plate and took in an exciting couple of innings. The excitement stemmed from all of the triples hit as a result of the players’ apparent unfamiliarity with the major league dimensions. Can’t guard those lines too closely, boys. The power alleys are deep. I’d like to think that some lazy scout read the game’s box score the next day and simply figured that they grew ‘em fast out in Kansas City. With any luck, one of the kids I saw became an undeserved bonus baby because of it.

After Kaufman, I drove to the old jazz district around 18th and Vine, which is the heart of black Kansas City. Or was. I’m not really sure, because there weren’t a lot of people hanging around. The area was obviously nearing the tail-end of a careful rehabilitation, with shimmering club marquees and spotless sidewalks welcoming me into a neighborhood that, truth be told, I had hoped would be a bit grittier. I mean, it was hard enough for a white boy like me to imagine what this place looked when Charlie Parker was coming up, and I strongly suspected that Bird himself wouldn’t have recognized it, what with it being so clean and all.

If cleanliness was a problem, I solved it by popping into Arthur Bryant’s on

Brooklyn Avenue

for what turned out to be the best – and messiest – pork sandwich I’d ever had. Even better, the abnormally hot weather turned Arthur Bryant’s into a cliché wonderland. There was a hot wind slamming the joint’s wooden screen door shut every time someone new came in. A chubby preacher alternating between gnawing on his ribs and dabbing the sweat off of his forehead with a handkerchief. A cook in the back actually exclaiming that it was “as hot as tar outside.” It was beautiful. I felt like a new man when I left Bryant’s.

I had originally planned on stopping in Kansas City for the night, but with a belly full of barbeque and a couple hours of sunlight left, there was no way I wasn’t going to keep going a little further. I crossed the state line, listening to the Royals put a 12-4 smackdown on the Tribe as the sun set over the rolling grasslands of eastern Kansas. I stopped 180 miles later in Salina, happy to be sleeping someplace I’d never been before.

*Inasmuch as the point of this isn’t to show you my photo album, as this travelogue progresses, some of the pictures will be the ones I took myself, but many others will be better or more appropriate ones snagged off the web. If you really want to see my photo album, you can check it out here. If you’re wondering whether a given picture is mine or not, simply ask in the comments and I’ll tell you.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the national baseball writer for NBCSports.com. He writes about things other than sports at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.

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