A little background: A few years ago, I was lucky enough to be sent to Lawrence, Kansas by the school district for an Instructional Coaching Institute and I was instantly hooked (as many of you know). Unfortunately, the school district has not paid for any of my future trips, but they are so worthwhile that I have returned every summer, so tonight I am back from another coaching workshop (by Jim Knight). I got to spend a lot of time with friends, old and new, eating some seriously great food and hearing some pretty interesting stories (Frank – your secret is safe with us).
For those who don’t know anything about Lawrence, you have to fly into Kansas City, Missouri and then drive about an hour. I’ve always wanted to stay an extra night or two in KC, but because I typically travel alone (or am paying for everything out of my own pocket), it just didn’t seem practical. This last week, I was planning on having my normal four days in Lawrence and heading home – but on the first day I met my new friend, Helen, who is from a city called Iqualit, located in a very northernmost part of Canada called Nunavut (is that right, Helen?).
Anyway, so Helen said that she had never been to Lawrence OR Kansas City so she had booked a hotel for two extra nights in KC…and then suggested I change my flight and crash with her for a night. While many of you know that I do dabble in finding new friends via Craigslist, you also probably know that sleeping in a hotel room in a strange city with someone I just met isn’t my bag. In fact, I would be lecturing others for doing just that – but Helen appeared totally harmless (she’s Canadian!) and we were already having a great time. Plus, she still talked to me after learning that I was really into the history of cannibalism (that’s when red flags should have been going off for her). So yesterday morning, I changed my flight, finished out our workshop and then we hopped in a town car that took us to Kansas City.
We had a room at a boutique hotel called Q Hotel in an area called Westport. I think it was kind of new the the neighborhood, and had a sort of hip retro vibe. We immediately explored an area called Westport Plaza which was a big outdoor mall that was crawling with locals. We had a late dinner at a place just a few blocks from our hotel called Bluestem. It totally reminded me of Mint 820 for those of you around here, except with a regional flavor. The pulled pork and a drink called Boulevard Sunset blew my mind (and my waistline).
Sidenote: From the moment I got into Lawrence, I was hounding the locals as to where I could sing karaoke – and no one had an answer. It was really disappointing. So while Helen and I were finishing dinner, I randomly googled “Karaoke Kansas City” and Helen said my eyes “light up” when I saw on the map that we were LITERALLY across the street from a karaoke joint.
Helen claims to not sing karaoke (although I can tell it’s in her blood!) but she still was enthusiastic about checking it out. While our restaurant was chic and obviously a local hot spot, karaoke was a different kind of hotspot – located in the WestPort Flea Market Bar and Grill (and yes, it looked like a flea market). At first there weren’t a whole lot of people, but I threw in a Lady Gaga song and pretty soon there was a decent crowd of hicks, college girls, recovering meth heads, and us. They were a great bunch and we hung around for awhile.
When we headed up the road to a bunch of other bars, it was very clear that Westport is college student central. The sidewalks and bar patios were PACKED, people were stumbling by and getting their fourth meal on at a bunch of food carts. We hung out on the patio of a bar for a little while, but the smell of sewage (which honestly seem to permeate the whole city) and the fact that we looked like cougars made it seem like a night.
In the morning, we ate at the hotel’s “Omelet Bar” and attempted to wander in a new direction. Granted, it was late Sunday morning so nothing was really open, but frankly we were surprised with how run-down and seemingly abandoned a lot of the city was. There were some interesting buildings and shops, but with pawn shops or title loan shops or just empty retail spaces in between…it was not a booming, lively place I thought it would be but we checked out as much as we could before my plane left. Many people had said to check out the Power and Light District but then others gave mixed feedback about it. On my ride to the airport, the driver took me through and it looked like a nicer area that was worth exploring, but at the same time it still looked on the verge of sad because I could see old, abandoned buildings in the distance.
All in all, the best part was meeting a someone new and just hanging out. Helen was a great travel companion (and very resourceful), and I know that she’ll be belting out some Celine Dione next time we are at a karaoke bar.