I’ve lived in Kansas City, on the Missouri side, for nine months, brought here by my husband’s job. We had three choices: Kansas City, Saint Louis, or Washington, DC. Saint Louis, to me, was unimpressive and expensive and D.C. is just one of those places we don’t want to live, so we came to Kansas City.
The city is split in two. The western half of Kansas City is part of Kansas, the eastern half is in Missouri. The Kansas side is known as more affluent and has good schools but it is, I think, ugly—lots and lots of ranch style and Brady Bunch homes. KC MO, as our side is known, has many beautiful old neighborhoods with big stone houses and old trees.
My first impression of the city wasn’t good. I came to check it out in January. It was sunny but cold, cold, cold. And the city is flat, except for the bluffs above the Missouri river. When I drove around, the city felt slightly abandoned. There weren’t many people around, there was hardly any traffic, and it felt kind of dead. I’d been told to check out “The Plaza,” a shopping area built in the 1920s ( I think), that Kansas City natives think is fabulous. I was disappointed. Yeah, the architecture is nice, but the Plaza is basically an outdoor shopping mall with all the same stuff. So that was my first impression, a half-dead city on the plains with almost no character.
It also reminded me a bit of Denver when I was growing up there as a girl. Before Denver had its renaissance, it was a bigger version of Kansas City. The downtown was dead and empty and the biggest happening in the city was the annual “Great Western Stock Show.” So I had this feeling I was stepping back into my childhood by moving to Kansas City.
My first big surprise about Kansas City came during a weekend when Jason and I were house hunting. We stopped for coffee at a little French bistro, Aixois, and ordered lattes. I know coffee. I live for good beans. Most coffee is terrible. I hate Starbucks; it is lousy. I didn’t expect a good cup of coffee in Kansas City, but the lattes Aixois served up weren’t just good, they were fabulous. The espresso was rich and nutty and just a tiny bit sweet. The milk was creamy and the barista swirled a pattern into the foamy top of each latte. Aixois is not the exception. There are amazing coffee houses all over this town.
The houses are another wonder. KC MO has beautiful homes, homes that would sell for millions in a city like Boston. We walked through homes listed for less than $200,000 that had wrap-around stone porches, six bedrooms, stunning woodwork, servants’ stairs, and wood pantries. They are historic masterpieces and they are so damn cheap.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this city is its western past, and the remnants of that. When I drive through the old warehouse districts, I can still see faded painted signs for saddles and tack or western wear. The trains are still a constant presence. Train tracks crisscross the city. It’s not uncommon to sit for ten or fifteen minutes and watch coal cars loaded with coal from Wyoming make towards the Missouri River.
Hardly anyone comes to visit. It’s hard to lure friends and family here. Kansas City is not a choice destination. But for the few adventurers who have come, I’ve taken them to the Nelson Atkins Modern Art Museum, which has a first-rate collection and the building is breathtakingly beautiful. I’ve also taken them through the West Bottoms (the old warehouse district), Hyde Park (home to the city’s most beautiful homes) and to the Thomas Hart Benton house (great painter; it’s his original studio). Jason likes to take people for BBQ but I don’t eat meat so I don’t go. We both think we’ll take our next guests to the weekly horse and tack auction just outside of town, which is truly authentic. That’s where my horse, Daisy, came from.
I think my favorite moment in Kansas City came during my first visit. I was driving down a main street and saw a small furry animal in the road. I slammed on the breaks and waited while a rabbit hopped across the street. Turns out this city is infested with rabbits. They are everywhere. I love it. It is a constant reminder that we live in the plains.