Wednesday was a brand new day, in a Broadway musical kind of way. The sun was shining, and we were up before the heat really settled on us. We felt strangely rested, and we were on the road nice and early.
A stop at the donut shop and we were off.
A poop in the cat carrier and we were stopped.
Poop tossed into an empty parking lot in Uptown, and we were off again.
Lake Shore Drive, the only road that competes with Pacific Coast Highway for Prettiest Road In America, took us to the 55 South through downtown Chicago. No traffic, the best way to experience it. We waved so long to the quintessential images of that Midwestern metropolis – Millennium Park, the skyscrapers along Michigan Avenue, Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park, the Field Museum, the Addler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium, Soldier Field, McCormick Place, adios.
The driving itself was largely uneventful. The first day of a road trip is always packed with energy and excitement, and the miles to that first stop destination just fall away like lemmings off a cliff.
I’d been on the 55 in the middle of Illinois before. I once took a late-December gig as a PA for some commercial shoot in Peoria. I drove a cargo van all the way there in the middle of the night. It’s a very different drive in the dead of night in the dead of winter – the landscape is lit only by stars and the moon, and the smoothness of the snow-covered fields makes leafless trees stick out like forks in pudding. It’s creepy.
On the other hand, in the middle of the day in the summertime, the trees fit the grassy knolls like Robert Pattinson’s hair on Robert Pattinson’s head. It was all so very green, despite the heat wave. So quintessentially Middle America. That’s Illinois for you. Once you exit the city of Chicago, you have a small circle of suburbs and then it’s just green fields all the way down.
We hit Interstate 72 at the state capitol and turned west. Sorry, Springfield, we’d have to catch those Illinois history museums another time.
We crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri, and were greeted by a friendly stone image of Mark Twain. This is not a joke, it was a real thing.
The stretch of Highway 36 we took to Kansas City was mainly farmland, very similar to the farm country in Illinois, but somehow different. The way I think of it is this: imagine a small blond farmboy from the middle of America. That’s Illinois. Now imagine that boy has a little brother who looks an awful lot like him, also blond, but with a flattop haircut. That’s Missouri.
We got to our hotel before sundown and had some time to meet up with some old friends. We smuggled the cats inside and jacked that thermostat for all the A/C the Super 8 had to offer.
I don’t know what I expected from Kansas City, but I don’t think my expectations were high. As it turns out, KC is rad. Way rad. Downtown is a very hip and mature area, with international as well as heartland-of-the-country cuisines all together in one place. There are steel and brick buildings all over the place because that’s how they made them, not because they were cool.
There’s a laid back atmosphere, and a wholesome lack of pretentiousness even in a neighborhood called the Crossroads. It’s charming without being annoying and without lacking modern technology to attract modern people. The few friends I had in Chicago who had recently moved to Kansas City went there to advance their careers. Their tech-based careers.
And those ribs are goddamn delicious.
The takeaway: if you’re looking for a fresh start and a new job, give Kansas City a look. It’ll charm you.