This trip took place April 28th through April 30th, 2017. I drove to Kansas City with my cousin, Todd, for his bachelor party. Also in attendance were my other cousin, Dan, their father/my uncle, Mark, their cousin on the other side, Megan, and Todd’s friend, Mike.
Beth was nice enough to allow me to leave her and James for a few days and help Todd celebrate his upcoming nuptials. I took the day off, as it was Friday, but still woke up nice and early. I had to meet Dan across town so we could both sign the rental agreement for our ride for the weekend, a 2017 Chevy Suburban. Dan works for a large company that has it’s own rental car office for employees; a service he has to use frequently for business trips. Dan would do most of the driving but I went along so I could drive it whenever we needed a sober driver (I don’t drink). We loaded our stuff into the Suburban, a six-seater with way more cargo space than any of our personal vehicles, and headed South to Todd’s place.
I drove the first leg, actually, because Dan’s wife, Toshia, and their daughter, Evee, were going to spend some time with Todd’s fiancée, Brooke, and his mom, Tammy, doing various wedding prep tasks for the weekend. Dan drove their car while I followed in the rental. It was a nice vehicle but much larger than I’m accustomed to. It felt like I was driving a motor-home or small tugboat. Traffic was medium to heavy, which didn’t help me pilot said tugboat. I followed Dan closely because he couldn’t give me an address for Todd’s place. He had been there before and navigated by memory instead of GPS. They live in Lonsdale which is 45 minutes to an hour from Dan’s work in Maplewood. When we arrived Mark and Tammy were just pulling in as well (good timing).
Everyone exchanged pleasantries briefly but then we packed the car and hit the open road. Dan tuned in the local sports talk radio station, KFAN, popular with most of us. Their top-rated morning show, the Power Trip Morning Show, plays a fun game called “Initials” on Fridays at 8:20am that is always a good listen. The main host puts together a list of 12 names, places, or things based on a set of two common initials and provides a series of clues for each one that his cohosts and guests try to guess for points. It’s fun to play along in your car, at work, or podcasting hours later. Here is a link to the show from the day of our trip. I think you have to listen to the entire episode to get to the game which is toward the end but if you’ve got time on your hands I recommend it. How many did you guess before the answers were provided?
We played along as a group but Todd got the most correct. Dan steered us South on I-35 towards Iowa but we had one more party-goer to pick up on the way, Dan and Todd’s cousin (from my aunt’s side), Megan. She was able to catch a ride to Austin, MN so we deviated from our course to pick her up at a gas station. They had a McDonalds so I got myself a bacon and egg sandwich for second breakfast. There was a dinosaur statue in the parking lot so I used Bachelor-Party regulations to make Todd pose on top of it. It wasn’t super sturdy so he wisely chose not to mount it like a horse. Bachelor-Party regulations, by the way, are incredibly serious and cannot be broken. The groom-to-be cannot deny a simple request of stupidity from one of his crew in attendance. That’s a fact. Look it up!
Now with our full complement of rabble-rousers, Dan piloted us into Iowa. I usually try to take pictures of border signs but as we approached the Iowa sign Dan sped up and switched into the left lane to pass a semi. I coined the term border-blocked in Iowa and it wouldn’t be the last time on the trip that it would happen to me. My trip planning skills (and liberal political beliefs) became topic of discussion throughout the next two hours and, indeed, the remainder of the trip. My wanting to take pictures of border signs was considered silly by the rest. At a minimum one of them voted for Trump, however, so who are they to judge me for being silly?!
It rained most of the day and it was disappointedly chilly for late April. It drizzled off and on but it was a full downpour when we stopped for lunch in Ames, IA. Todd chose a chain known as Texas Roadhouse because Megan, apparently, works at another of their locations as an assistant manager. I had never heard of it before but it’s quite popular, I guess. Having arrived during the lunch rush we were told it would be at least an hour for a table with room for six. Megan happened to know one of the bartenders at this location (or a cook or something, I can’t remember) and went in back to say hi while the rest of us went back out to sit in the car (the waiting area was that packed). We couldn’t afford an hour wait so we were planning on visiting a different establishment nearby. Megan called us back inside and we were shown to a suddenly-open table like that scene in Goodfellas (or is it The Godfather?). There were plenty of mean looks from those already hanging about in the packed waiting area.
It was a bit early for lunch having eaten two breakfasts so I couldn’t really look at the menu honestly. I ordered the same thing as Todd because it didn’t sound disagreeable. It was a good portion of two different barbecued-meats, fries, and a baked sweet potato with marshmallows on top. The table was also given warm biscuits and a delicious honey-butter. Everything was fantastic except for the baked sweet potato. All the others that ordered the marshmallow-topped item swore by it but it just wasn’t for me. That big platter of food off of two breakfasts made my stomach a bitch to handle the rest of the day (an awful condition when on a road trip).
It continued to rain most of the way to our destination in Overland Park, KS. It took another three and a half hours and only the last twenty minutes were dry. We watched the car thermometer closely, remarking every few miles when it would tick up a degree from the low-40’s to the eventual high in Kansas City of 61 degrees. Our planned entertainment for the evening was a Minnesota Twins baseball game so the conditions were highly important to us. Dan guided us to our hotel where the six of us were sharing two suites. Todd was in with his dad and Mike. Dan and Megan took the two beds in our suite leaving me with the pull-out couch (more like pull-out ouch, am I right?). There wasn’t much time so we jumped back in the car for our excursion into enemy territory – Royals territory – dressed in our best Twins gear.
Approaching Kauffman Stadium it was evident it was a vastly different place than our very own Target Field back home in Minneapolis. Target Field is tucked in next to downtown skyscrapers while Kauffman, known affectionately by locals as “The K”, is out in the boonies of Kansas City. The only thing around other than several thousand parking spots is Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Chiefs. We didn’t bring any tailgating supplies, nor was there time, because we didn’t even have tickets yet. With the weather forecast and the Royals bad record at that point in the young season, our plan was to show up and see what tickets we could find. I forgot my phone in the car and Dan found a scalper while I was fetching it. We would be sitting roughly twenty rows up on the third base line for $25 a piece. Thankfully the rain had moved on and our night was just cold (both would’ve been worse). A couple of the guys proceeded to the nearest beer stand while we waited for first pitch. There was a decent Minnesotan contingent joining us for this weekend series. I spotted a middle-aged couple failing to take a good selfie with the field in the background and offered to help (us Minnesotans and Twinkies-fans have to stick together after all).
The seats were pretty good. From them we could easily see our starter, Kyle Gibson, give up three runs in the first three innings. Gibson has been a beleaguered starter on the Twins for a few years and has gained a bit of a bad reputation for only lasting a few innings into any start. Ever the fans of gambling, we decided to liven things up by placing friendly bets on various occurrences within the game, one of which was how many innings Gibson would last. I thought for sure he’d make it through six innings but I lost $2 to Dan when he was pulled with two outs in the fifth. We even bet on the outcome of individual pitches. It was all small potatoes and by the end of the game I was down a total of fifty cents to Mark and even with everyone else.
After a few innings in our seats everyone but my uncle went to check out the rest of the stadium (he was just fine sitting still). That’s much of the fun in visiting other ballparks for me, seeing what other cities have to offer. In most ways, Kauffman wasn’t that impressive. The scoreboard was blurry and had a weird bluish tint that looked of old age rather than intentional. The sound system sounded like an average boom-box from the 1980’s. The seating capacity is less than one thousand less than in Minnesota but The K seems so much smaller. There’s definitely a lot less room to walk around and explore (unlike Target Field there was only one level on which to complete a full circle). KC did have some nice attributes, though. Kansas City is known for it’s many fountains and its baseball stadium is no exception. The fountains in the outfield of Kauffman are its most iconic image (similar to the Green Monster at Fenway in Boston). The jets spout water and light up to music. With the weather being on the colder side it was difficult to stand in the open outfield concourse for long. Beyond the fountains is a kids area complete with six holes of mini golf, a merry-go-round, and a whiffle-ball baseball diamond. Target Field is an amazing stadium, better than Kauffman in every way but that kids zone. We have nothing like that in Minnesota.
I didn’t order anything extravagant for dinner because my stomach was still off but the waffle fries I did get were just what I needed and a good portion for the price. Everything else my compatriots sampled left them happy. The weather wasn’t improving and neither were the Twins. We decided to leave in the seventh inning when they were down three to two and the Royals added another run while we were in the car on our way to our next destination, a riverboat casino.
I drove (designated driver) and used the Suburban’s guidance system to navigate to Harrah’s. Missouri has odd gambling laws that require all casinos be boats on either the Missouri or Mississippi Rivers. From the outside it was hard to tell the building we were about to enter was technically a boat. The parking garage and non-gambling portions of the building are built on land and seamlessly transition to the river barge where gambling is allowed. People were generally interested in eating again (I wasn’t) so we ducked inside a restaurant first. A guy at the bar, the first person to really see us come in with our Twins apparel, congratulated us on our excellent comeback still in progress. “Comeback? What comeback?”, we asked. Apparently the Twins mounted a four-run top of the eighth inning and took a six to four lead (the eventual final score)! We had fun at the game but I am sorry to have missed that eighth inning. I cannot remember what each person ate specifically but I know there were delicious tacos with varying proteins and some fantastic-looking mac and cheese present.
Once done with dinner we were ready to win some money! I was hoping to play some roulette, my favorite table game. I know the house advantage for roulette is among the worst for players but I find it fun anyway (and I’ve yet to lose playing it). There were two tables near the front entrance but they were absolutely jammed with people. Each one easily had ten people actively playing and another ten just watching and/or waiting to play. I watched with Todd for a bit while everyone else went upstairs to the second level. He hasn’t played roulette before so I did my best to explain how it works with the moderate knowledge I have on the subject. I’ve played at three different establishments in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Nevada and none of those instances were like what I witnessed in Missouri. The players were covering the entire table in chip stacks that were 30 chips high. I don’t know what denomination they were all using but it wasn’t high enough. If you want to bet $5 on each number, you should get $5 chips. It looked like these players were splashing eighty chips or more per spin, most of which were on two or three numbers. Just get higher value chips! Ridiculous!
Realizing it was far too busy to play roulette at the moment, I followed Todd to a couple slot machines. He’s pretty frugal, like me, so he parted with $20 and was satisfied. We rejoined the others and Mark gave him another $20 (as fathers celebrating their son’s upcoming wedding are wont to do) which vanished quickly as well. I was expecting a three hour stop at Harrah’s but the rest of our group was done after half an hour. I didn’t spend a nickel there despite my intentions to play roulette. Hopefully there would be another trip to a casino later in the trip. On our way out we passed a taller man that looked like he was in a band. Sure enough he was one of the members of the Gin Blossoms as they had played a show there a few hours earlier. Thanks to Google it was an easy hunch to verify.
I drove us to the hotel and we all retired for the evening (earlier than I expected). Dan and Megan were asleep before I even had my couch-bed pulled together. The metal bar in the middle of my back was especially uncomfortable as you might imagine. I used all available blankets to add additional cushion and slept only under a sheet. I turned on the television and fell asleep to whatever movie I could find. End of day one.
Coming Soon: Trip #10 [Day 2] –>