There is another side to Kansas City. The Kansas side.
KC seems to be to Missouri what Chicago is to Illinois, but the Kansas side is viewed as poorly as East Chicago, Indiana. I’m not sure why that is, since our only experience with it was a fast food breakfast and a freeway out of town, and I can’t really make any judgment calls based on that.
What I will judge, however, is the fast food. I judge harshly.
The middle of the country has Hardee’s instead of Carl’s Jr. As I understand it, Hardee’s existed and then Carl’s Jr. bought them out, which accounts for the difference in menus and the gap in quality. It was very early in the morning, and there was a rusted mid-20th-Century Impala in the parking lot. That doesn’t have anything to do with anything, just a curiosity of the trip.
We drove through and I ordered a breakfast burrito. That was terrible burrito number one.
Long story short: character or no character, bad fast food at breakfast is just about the worst thing ever for a long drive.
Kansas marks the switch from the real Midwest to the Plains. Driving through Kansas is just like driving through Nebraska, but with hills.
Topeka is Google’s headquarters, though they haven’t been there long enough yet to influence the physical look of the town. As we approached, I half-expected to see large LEGO blocks in bright colors peppering the city. Instead, it looked like any other mid-sized mid-America city, with some multiple-story buildings that you couldn’t call skyscrapers and a handful of pointy church steeples. Quaint, though; I can definitely see the appeal of Topeka.
We didn’t stop there. The timing wasn’t right. I was still recovering from that ridiculous Hardee’s breakfast burrito, and Trevor was recovering from whatever the hell it was that he ate. We sallied forth to our next destination: Longmont, CO, a suburb of Denver.
At the western end of Kansas, we stopped for lunch. Our choice of eats? Taco John’s. Because every now and then, you have to try a restaurant that sounds like a really bad idea just to experience it. It’s like the freak show at the circus.
It was here I encountered terrible burrito number two. This one was made with fried chicken and tater tots.
From both burritos I expected some culinary Mexican influence, based on the fact that they were burritos. Both times I was wrong. Neither burrito contained any salsa. Both burritos contained gravy. Lesson learned, Kansas. I’ll just get the steak next time.
By mid-afternoon, we were across the border into eastern Colorado, and our ascent began. Up the inclined plane towards the Rocky Mountains we climbed, leaving Interstate 70 the first time that day just before Denver, just as the mountainous region really began. We cruised north of the Mile-High City until we found the house of Trevor’s kin, and there we stayed the night.
Trevor taught a quick music lesson to his nephew that night. A brand-new trombonist, now on his way. Trevor is an amazing teacher, in case you didn’t know. You watch the guy at work and you can tell that he loves it, and his love is infectious enough for not only the student, but anyone watching, too, to get excited and want to pick up the trombone themselves.
The evening was capped with a trip via open-top Franken-Jeep to a local microbrewery, one of Colorado’s finest gifts to the rest of the nation. Oskar Blues was the joint, and their pale ale (Dale’s Ale) is among the finest I have ever had. I dare say it even topped the outstanding pale ale from Boulevard Brewing Co. I had the night before in Kansas City. As beer across the country goes, this was perhaps the best trip I’d ever been on.
Beer is best when you don’t feel like you need it. And to this point, the road trip was smooth and, barring a couple of worthless burritos from the plains, a trouble-free journey.
But no good thing lasts forever.