Blues, Baseball and Birthday USA

We approached and settled in KC after having our fill of Home Made Ice Cream (Is that even possible – the “having our fill” part?) at the Florers’. We had identified an RV spot that seemed close-in, being just outside of Downtown Independence, which is just outside KC – a first layer suburb. That spot was close to all the Harry Truman Historical sights (A problem, as we will outline later in this post), and an easy drive to the various KC spots we had been told to experience.

Weird Temple, Amiright?

The first KC Mystery was answered just after we pulled in. The “Campus RV Park.” What Campus? Turns out it was part of the “Community of Christ” campus, immediately adjacent to the HUGE and bizarre Community of Christ Cathedral/Temple/shrine/????. This building looks like a cross between a Dairy Queen Cone and a gigantic Spermatazoa – I don’t mean to be disrespectful, and I am a BIG FAN of weird architecture, but this place is WEIRD.

And that is not all. Apparently, this Church and community is a splinter group of Mormons. Though they follow most of the teachings of Joseph Smith, this group could not be convinced to follow the rest of the Mormons heading out Utah-way; and they did have some theological differences as well.  So, they stayed in Independence and built this spectacular (if weird) edifice.

I had no idea the Mormon history, or that there were splinter groups too far out there even to be “mainline” Mormons; which already doesn’t quite fit into “standard” Christian Doctrine. Again, no disrespect intended – just had NO IDEA about any of this!

With THAT mystery solved, we needed to plot out our efforts to experience KC. It was pouring rain the whole time we were there. So we figured , no problem, “Museums and BBQ.”

KC Downtown Panorama

It was reopening the day AFTER we were leaving KC!

Our intention had been to see the Harry Truman Library, but Oooooops! One of the down-sides to not really planning much in advance is clear from our (lack of) experience at the HTL. The Library had been undergoing a renovation since 2019, and was closed. It was reopening the day AFTER we were leaving KC! Timing is everything, or in this case, NOTHING!!

Aversion to “planning” notwithstanding, we have already scheduled another pass thru KC to visit this library – and I have ALREADY PURCHASED TICKETS, ensuring it is open and we can attend.

WWI Museum

We did manage to find some other things to do, though. I would say first among these, the WW1 Museum is SPECTACULAR. The USA was very late to this “party,” and I admit my grounding in the history of that era is limited. This museum did a GREAT job of setting the geo-political stage for the conflict; of setting forth all the complex alliances, many shadowy and hidden, that inexorably drew the world into conflict. The artifacts in the collection, and their display with historical context really enlightened me about an era that I knew about only from my Grandfather’s stories when I was way too young to appreciate them.

Negro League Baseball Museum

We also found and attended the KC Jazz and Blues Museum. EXCELLENT. As with most museums of this type, you learn about some of the better KNOWN muscicians, but also about lesser known, but seminal artists. And there was also the FABULOUS Negro League Baseball Museum – a part of history that is not known to many and is WELL TOLD here. Spectacular!

Arthur Bryant BBQ

Finally, we managed some BBQ while in KC. There are MANY to choose from; we finally picked one of the oldest…Arthur Bryant.

“Pigging” Out!

“The Best” is a topic like Chicago Pizza or Hot Dogs – if you ask 10 people, there will be ten proposed, and potential violence as the preferences are “discussed.” For us, hard to say if Arthur Bryant’s was “Best” but it was damn good. We’ll try another on the way back thru and then we can compare at least 2…

Our next stop was St. Louis. I had actually BOOKED here, because of the July 4th Holiday. We have been finding that weekends are quite crowded, and I assumed the holiday would make this even more so. And, we wanted to be somewhere where there would be a 4 July celebration to enjoy … Bluebird Friend Jimmy McDonnell sent a bunch of links to St. Louis Music and Fireworks celebrations, which was more than enough to convince us!

Sunset Across from the Arch

We found an RV park at the River Queen Casino across the river – and I mean JUST and DIRECTLY across the river from the Gateway Arch, which is where the Fireworks Extravaganza was to be.

Jimmy confirmed the casino was fine, but “stay on the grounds…” Not hard – the St. Louis Light Rail stops right at the casino, and $5 day transit pass got us into town with ease.

Forest Park

The first day, we hopped on the train and went to Forest Park. There we wandered through the Zoo, which is GREAT, and “almost” free.

What do I mean by “Almost?” Well…similar to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, there is no admission fee. You do need to acquire a timed-admission ticket, but they are free and I acquired one on my phone, while standing outside the gate. HOWEVER, there are WAY MORE concession stands than animals at the St. Louis Zoo. SOOOOO many places to buy ice cream, $5 cokes, sausages, etc. etc. etc. And then there are the “Special” exhibits, such as the Dinosaur area, the Stingray Petting Tank, the Penguin exhibit, the Seal Show, etc. These are MOST DEFINITELY not free (though of course you are free to NOT do them).

Traitorous Beer Stop!

Anyway, we walked thru the zoo, and though a large part of the park around it – Liz’s Misfit tracker said we put 10 miles on our shoes! – for a spectacular day. We ended up by the Cardinals Stadium – had a beer across from the sign that said, “Cardinal Nation.” I felt a little traitorous doing so, and Cubs-Fan-Liz was even more out-of-sorts, but at least the beer WAS Chicago’s own Goose Island IPA (though now owned by Anheuser Busch)!!

National Blues Museum

While in St. Louis, and outside of Fireworks, we spent some time and effort of a Musical nature.

First was the National Blues Museum, which was a little disappointing EXCEPT they had an outdoor concert on Sunday. It was more of an informal gathering with maybe a couple hundred folks in lawn chairs enjoying the day. Right on the street corner in Downtown St. Louis (with the side street closed for the event). 

The artist was “Silky Sol AKA THE RED AFRO QUEEN.” You can Google it – you cannot make this shit up! And, she was ALL OF THAT. A GREAT time, a great band – really enjoyable. 

Also on the music front, we went to the Broadway Oyster Bar (highly Jimmy-recommended), where we hoped the Oysters were not freshly plucked from the Mississippi. The Music there was outdoors also, and not as excellent as RAQ. But the Oysters WERE excellent – a great time!

Then there was the Fireworks Extravaganza… Our RV spot turned out to be THE PERFECT LOCATION. Pulled out the lawn chairs, a cold adult beverage and watched the rockets red glare over the Gateway Arch.

The Casino RV Spot was pretty full for that evening – so obviously the primo viewing location was not a secret.

KimChi Guys

Finally, we had passed a place to-and-fro on the train called “The Kimchi Guys.” This was a BBQ Place like no other – featuring Korean-style BBQ Chicken Samich.

K-Pop and Hockey

And to complete the cultural mashup OF Immigrant and USA (and Canada, truth be told), two TVs on the wall, one playing K-Pop videos and the other St. Louis Blues Hockey highlights.


Anyway, Liz and I shared a Chicken Sammy with a side of Kimchi and a second side of Kimchi Fried Rice – DELICIOUS, actually.

Interesting Ice Cream Option

And then there was a nearby Ice Cream Place – and they had “Jalapeno Strawberry” flavor – which was really excellent!

Having “done” St. Louis (though we plan to return as Jimmy owes me a beer in exchange for some Bluebird parts I sent him awhile back), we were unsure “where next.” Friends Nancy Sinclair and Sid Weseman suggested the Missouri Wine region. Since we did not even know there WAS a Missouri Wine region (and we knew Sid knows whereof he speaks, oenologically-speaking), WHY NOT?

Nancy waxed philosophic about a beautiful winery with a lawn merging into the Missouri River with a patio. She remembered the only problem being you had to buy a bottle to sit on the patio (which she did not even remember as a problem) because there was no table service. She was SURE this was in the town of Augusta, and was the winery with the town’s name.

Missouri Wines

We went there, found the winery, and also discovered the extent of wine-enrichment one’s fantasies can endure. There WAS a patio, and it WAS Bottles-only. But there was no ”beautiful lawn sloping to the river.” In fact, the river was about a mile away.

Not to be too caught up in detail, we did a flite in the winery, and bought a couple of bottles to take back so Nancy can possibly relive that or other fantasy(s).

We went onwards to the little town of Hermann, about an hour further down the road. It had a city park with RV spots at a very reasonable price. And, we learned, there are few places in the world MORE ALCOHOL ORIENTED per capita than Hermann, Mo. There were at least 4 wineries, two distilleries and a brewery in a town of 2,000. YUM!!!.

We also learned that Missouri was one of the first wine regions in the USA. Who knew?

A Meat Vending Machine!

Also in Hermann a meat/sausage shop (Hermanhof Wurst) with delectibles such as Asiago and Chive Bratwursts. And, in the category of “You cannot make this shit up…” we discovered a MEAT VENDING MACHINE outside that fabulous Wurst House.

Enjoying Hermanhof Wurst

So, In case you desperately need MEAT at 2AM, you can solve that problem with locally-sourced delectables!

While in Hermann, and continuing on for our next several stops, we had the opportunity to stream/watch my nephew, Chet, as he played in the FIBA U19 World Cup Basketball tournament in Riga, Latvia.

The USA Team

This is for 19-and-under national teams – essentially the Junior Olympics, but every 2 years. Chet was on the USA team (and was designated “Captain”).

This was REALLY FUN – even though the round robin games were pretty lopsided (and Chet didn’t play many minutes…didn’t need to), the Semi game against Canada WAS VERY TIGHT. The Gold Medal game against France REALLY showed the USA team’s mettle…they were behind until about 2 minutes left but through sheer determination overcame and won.

Chet played GREAT – Blocks and Rebounds, and moving the ball up court and dishing highlight-reel assists and an excellent 3-point stroke – especially for a guy who is 7’2”. He is gonna be a BEAR at the next level (Technically, not a bear but a BULLDOG – at Gonzaga) and the level after that!!!

Tournament MVP!

We not only got to watch Chet as he grows into and REALLY excels at world-class competition (USA won gold AND Chet was selected as Tournament MVP – so BEST OF THE BEST), but we got to help my Dad watch as well.

Kudos again (they managed NO COVID CASES throughout the pandemic) to his senior community – their tech person worked with me to get an Amazon Firestick on his TV, to stream the early round games from Dad’s tablet and to load the ESPN+ app onto the Firestick for the tournament Quarter, Semi and Finals. And to Dad’s good friend Nick Koch, who attended every game with Dad, and communicated pictures and trash talking on Dad’s behalf to and from us and Chet’s Mom (My sister) who was in the stands in Latvia.

After becoming WORLD CHAMPIONS in Riga, we cannot wait to see what comes next for Chet – He starts at Gonzaga in the fall…indeed he’s already moved out there and started on his next evolution.

One of the places we stopped during the Tournament was Branson, Mo. We didn’t do “Music things” in Branson – it was at the moment the COVID capital of the USA…soooo many unvaccinated folks in Missouri that we decided sitting in an indoor event space with 3,000 was just tempting Delta-fate. We decided that Dolly Parton’s Stampede, the Bald-Knobbers and all the other wonders of Branson would have to wait. To be honest, they didn’t sound all that appealing, anyway.

Not willing to be indoors, we looked for outdoor events , and found a few. One was the Powerboat racing in the nearby town of Forsyth. I shall refer to this forever more as “Hillbilly Hydroplane” events. These are small versions of the big unlimited hydroplanes you see on TV – with 2-cylinder outboard engines, they race around an oval at speeds around 70 mph, so pretty exciting.

And NOISY, like angry lawn mowers from hell.

All of this lasted only an hour or so, as a thunderstorm started to roll in. We decided NOT to be outdoors lakeside during THAT noisy excitement, though the races went on.

The whole thing made me wonder…

   Why DO hillbillies and rednecks like to race noisy things in circles?

Also while in Branson we had a chance to visit in person with Rhonda and Randy Dietz. Friends from another phase of life, when my company belonged to an international association of management consulting firms. We had been zooming with them fairly frequently over the past year; and they live in North East Arkansas, which is not far from Branson. We agreed to meet one evening after they attended the Ozark Opera (yes, there IS such a thing…and REAL opera even, not hog-calling!) in Eureka Springs…a town conveniently half way between Branson and Bella Vista, where they live. Not only did we dine with R&R, but alo Rhoda’s parents, visiting from Florida. All around Quite a hoot!

Normally, people are VERY willing to tell me where to go

And speaking of a hoot – and a geographical coincidence extraordinaire — I texted with former partner Steve Sawatski, who I knew vacationed at the Lake of the Ozarks every year. I was just wanting to ask him where to go (or not go) in the area; and for sure, Normally, people are VERY willing to tell me where to go…

Instead, he said they were going to BE THERE at the exact same time for the Sawatski Family Reunion. SO we crashed!! Well, not literally – no bent sheet metal. But we were apparently adopted for a few hours and did spend the afternoon drinking IPAs, eating Brats and catching up. We even left with a bag of Pierogi, though we tried to refuse, worried it was stolen from the mouth of one generation of hungry Sawatski or another. Steve assured me there were plenty – generations and Pierogis!

Leaving the Ozarks, we headed Northwards to reprise our attempted visit to the Harry Truman Library, and along the way had a close encounter of the Bluebird Kind.

NEXT POST for all of that!

3 thoughts on “Blues, Baseball and Birthday USA

  • It was great to hear a familiar name, Steve Sawatski! I do miss those JHI days. A great bunch of folks. Glad to hear that you are able to get together with some of them.

  • Thanks for the memories of Independence and St Louis. We parked our MH somewhere near that bizarre cathedral, but didn’t really know what it was. I figured it was a Mormon temple of some kind. We did spend time at the Truman museum as well as the family home…a simpler time for past presidents based on their well-preserved home. St Louis was fun for the grands, especially a Cinderella coach ride with purple lights around the city pulled by a horse with purple painted hooves…..the dream of a lifetime for our then 5- year old granddaughter! The Arch snd museum, as well as the City museum were also big hits.

  • Dan and Liz – great seeing you guys! Always good to take advantage of “travel coincidences” especially with “old” friends.

    Your Blackhawks coozie is safe (?) with me until we next meet…

    BTW that “adoption” thing? We had a family vote after you left, and although it was close, I am sorry to say you failed by a vote of 43-1 – Liz however, was adopted successfully and unanimously (something in her heritage?).

    Enjoy those homemade pierogi – safe travels until we meet again.

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