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Category Archive: Stories

Feb 05

First-timers visit the Super Bowl — a look back.

Super Bowl 2012

Lucas Oil Stadium

Super Bowl  XLVI (46)–Feb. 5, 2012

From my archived columns, first published in The Examiner on February 9, 2012. The Examiner is a daily newspaper, Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.

“Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic.” –Author Unknown

First-timers, amateurs, novices—that is how you could describe my husband and I as we set out last weekend for Super Bowl 2012 in Indianapolis.

We weren’t afraid, we just had no idea what to expect, or for that matter, who to cheer on to victory. We did not have a favorite team, but happily, we did have free tickets thanks to a drawing my husband won through his work.

And, we had a parking pass, which turned out to be golden.

Pure “awesomeness” as one of our grandkids remarked when he heard Grandma and Grandpa were going to the Super Bowl.

I began to refer to our trip, however, as “Ma and Pa Kettle Go to the Super Bowl” because we were clearly ‘babes in the woods’. Nevertheless, it did not take us long to acclimate ourselves to the energy and excitement of Downtown Indy and the Super Bowl experience. It goes without saying that right away I began to jot down some observations of the day, knowing I would want to share them with you when I got home.

My Super Bowl 2012 observations & reactions from a newcomer to the scene:

–Go early, buy a parking pass before you arrive and take plenty of cash. Essential.

–At the Super Bowl, don’t spill any popcorn. It costs 15 cents a kernel.

–Best Tweet: from @JerrySeinfeld: Ok Bill B, grotesque grey cutoff hoody officially not ‘lucky’! Can we move on? #jos.abankfirststoptomorrow.

–If I were younger, I would ride the block-long zip line near Super Bowl Village.

– Star sightings in the stadium included announcers and commentators Kurt Warner, Aaron Rogers, Dan Patrick, Al Michaels, Chris Collingsworth, Tony Dungee, Bill Cowherd and others we “thought” we knew. And stars, such as “Biff” Henderson from the David Letterman Show, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Meg Ryan, Guy Fieri of Food Network, and on and on. My husband and I would continually tap each other on the shoulder and whisper, “Who was that? I know who it is but I can’t think of the name.” Yes, we admit, we were star struck.

–Luckily, because I’m tall,  I could stand on my toes and shoot a few pictures of sports celebrities over the partition designed to keep gawkers such as me from disturbing the NBC commentator’s pregame booth. That plan worked for a few seconds until security made me move. However, I still wanted a close-up photo of Aaron Rogers. Seeing my disappointment as I was being sternly told to move on, a very tall young man asked if he could help. He grabbed my camera, stood on his toes and leaned over the partition to snap a picture of Aaron Rogers for me, handed the camera back and ran. Good boy. It was all I could do not to break into a “discount double check” Aaron Rogers’ move.

–The Players:

Since we arrived in the stadium at 2 p.m., we had plenty of time to watch the players warm up. Eli Manning wore sweats, no pads, and no helmet and practiced passing to his receivers, over and over and over again. Then he performed a series of exercises and jogged. After the informal early practice, the teams went to their locker rooms and came out later in their full gear for an “official” practice. I took a lot of pictures of both teams. Then, I asked the Patriots fans who were seated all around us, where’s Tom Brady. I don’t see him. They laughed and said, ‘Oh he’ll be out later. He doesn’t practice much before a game.” You may draw your own conclusions from that.

–Halftime:

This may sound like a bolt from the blue to some of you, but honestly, I thought it was the best Super Bowl halftime show I have ever seen. Some people apparently hated Madonna’s performance, but most reviews called her outstanding. In fact, there were non-Madonna fans that found her to be surprisingly and unexpectedly excellent. Watching Madonna in person was a treat, to say the least. We thought her to be the consummate entertainer, talented and stage savvy with strong vocals and great moves for a 54-year-old (I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the fact that she can still gyrate). She gets my vote. I suppose I can overlook the self-centered attempt by M.I.A. to get world attention. From where we sat, we could not see M.I.A. “gesture”, and apparently, the cast didn’t see it either as they later reported. NBC and the NFL apologized to viewers. Frankly, there is always something or someone trying to grab the headlines, and I don’t really care to give M.I.A. any more ink. Madonna, that’s another matter. No wonder some call her the high priestess of the music industry.

–Tickets:

Before the game, we listened to a band in Circle Centre Mall while waiting for nearby Lucas Oil Stadium to open its doors. It didn’t take long for us to strike up a conversation with a man from Tennessee who was there trying to buy tickets for himself and his elderly dad. Going to a Super Bowl was on his Dad’s bucket list, the son said, so they just got in the car and came. He was confidant he would find some for $1,000 each, his bottom dollar, but so far no luck. Ticket prices on the street ranged from $2,000 to more than $15,000 a piece.

So there we were, not quite believing our luck. We simply took it all in and relished this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Granted, the trip was not on our “Bucket Lists” before we went, however, we are certainly glad it is now. And it’s crossed off, too.

“Awesomeness”, yes that is a word I use a lot these days.

Feb 16

Like an obvious truth, Kansas City tends to be “discovered” on a regular basis, and I just discovered it again. In a dusty box in the basement, I found this recently: A 1982 magazine article titled ‘KANSAS CITY: The Boom Town That Blossomed’, by the late Tom Ladwig, Mizzou ad/journalism professor.

An introduction to his story:

As writer and ad-man extraordinaire, Tom Ladwig once penned, “Like an obvious truth, Kansas City tends to be ‘discovered’ on a regular basis.”

Kansas City was discovered again by many this past baseball season when the Kansas City Royals took the world by storm and made it to the World Series in October of 2014. For some, they discovered this surprising city for the RoyalsKKfirst time.

When I found the late Tom Ladwig’s story in a box of old magazines, I was delighted. Not only does he create a picture of how this town grew and blossomed, but it’s a timely tale in its own way. When he wrote this in 1982, he spoke of how Hallmark’s Donald Hall made a mind-boggling investment creating the new Crown Center in what was a badly blighted area. Ladwig wrote about the then relatively new Harry S Truman Presidential Library and the “plush” Harry S Truman Sports Complex as well as the Kemper Arena, “a snow-white, pillar less, space age building”.

It was interesting to me that he wrote about these as new, shiny, state-of-the art landmarks in Kansas City that we now consider antiquated. Now, they have either been remodeled a couple of times or are in need of a face-lift. We certainly don’t think of them as new.

Read on and enjoy this 1982 description of Kansas City-The Boom Town That Blossomed. It’s all seems new again.

KANSAS CITY:

The Boom Town That Blossomed

By Tom Ladwig

Published in March 1982 Edition of Ford Times, The American Road, Dearborn, MI

Tom Ladwig

Tom Ladwig and his beloved typewriter

(To read a related column by Kay Hoflander

 about Tom and his typewriterclick here.)

 

Like an obvious truth, Kansas City tends to be “discovered” on a regular basis. Many years ago, Andre Maurois, the French author and no-nonsense intellectual wrote, “Who in Europe, or in America for that matter, knows that Kansas City is one of the loveliest cities on earth? And yet it is true.”

What most Kansas Citians know (and visitors discover) is that their city has more tree-lined “promenades” than Paris, gushes with almost as many fountains as Rome and certainly has more hills. It’s greener than Ireland and is indeed a lovely city.

Kansas-City

French fur trader Francois Chouteau was the first white settler in the area. That was in 1821. When the Missouri River flooded his trading post he left for furrier pastures.

Independence, Missouri, a few miles to the east, had all the profitable Santa Fe Trail business. John C. McCoy, a Baptist minister’s son with a sharp eye for profit, opened an outfitter’s store at Westport, four miles south of Chouteau’s post, and grabbed that good Santa Fe business from Independence. McCoy’s store still stands, now restored as Kelly’s, a popular bar.

While all this was going on, “One-Eyed” Ellis was minding his own business down by the river, selling booze to the Osage and Kansas Indians and picking up a stray horse or cow now and then. He also acted as a sort of justice of the peace when the occasion arose.

A nearby farmer, Gabriel Prudhomme, got himself killed in a barroom brawl and his 257-acre farm (now downtown Kansas City) was put up for sale. McCoy didn’t miss a lick. He and 13 friends bought it for $4,220. They wanted to build a city, or at least, a town.

Because “One-Eyed” had a cabin close by with a hickory fire and booze, and because of his quasi-legal status, the group went there to choose a name for their town.  Besides, “One-Eyed” had a handy reference tool—a blue-backed Webster spelling book. He was named chairman of the group. One fellow who wore a slit-tailed coat wanted to name the town “Port Fonda” after himself. That was voted down. Another suggested “Possum Trot” and another “Rabbitville”. An argument flared. “One-Eyed’s” spelling book was no help.

But in the end, he saved the day, or the city, as it turned out. He suggested, perhaps as a compromise, the name “Kansas” after his good customers. And so the town was named. Later, in 1853, it was officially designated Kansas City.

It became the hottest boomtown on the frontier. It was “wide open” and by 1857 public sentiment grew against open saloons and public drunkedness. There were 1,500 souls there spending $135,000 a year on liquor, a staggering figure in more ways than one. Robert Van Horn, a newspaper publisher, suggested editorially it might be a good idea to start some local distilleries. No use letting that good money go out of town.

With Van Horn promoting, the Missouri River was bridged and a rail link established between Chicago and the West. That did it. Business boomed and Kansas City shed its fur-trapper, Buffalo-hunter, Indian-fighter image and entered a period of opulence and the finer things of life. Gun-fighters Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickock, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday mingled with white-tie wealthy in the opera house, theaters, fine restaurants and gambling palaces. A library, a medical school and an Academy of Science were established, and permanent commercial and public buildings were built. Police and firemen were decked out in uniforms. Civilization had arrived.

At the turn of the century, the city boldly butted heads with Chicago, Cincinnati and Cleveland for the 1900 Democratic National Convention—and got it. No sooner had the award been announced than Kansas City’s new convention hall burned to the ground. The city’s spirit was such that 90 days later the hall had been rebuilt in time for William Jennings Bryan to receive the Democrats’ presidential nomination on July 4.

Newspaperman Henry Haskell, who established the Kansas City Star’s editorial policy (and picked up two Pulitzers along the way), said there were two things that made Kansas City great. The first was the great bend of the Missouri River and the second was William Rockhill Nelson, the Star’s publisher. Another noted publisher, William Allen White, said “Nelson was a traitor to his class, a rich man willing to attack the rich, especially if they were slumlords thwarting his dreams for a beautiful Kansas City.”

Nelson nagged, berated and abused the city into making something of itself. He made possible the William Rockhill Nelson Art Gallery, which along with the Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Art, forms the cultural core of a four-state area. In fact, the Nelson is the largest art museum west of Chicago and is ranked among the nation’s top half-dozen. It houses perhaps the largest collection of Oriental art outside Asia.

In 1907, J.C. Nichols, another fellow with a penchant for quality, bought a 10-acre hog farm and turned it into the beautiful Country Club district. He wasn’t just compulsive about quality; he was downright fanatical about it.

In 1922, Nichols took a 55-acre tract and developed the Country Club Plaza, a Spanish-style marketplace and now the oldest shopping center in the United States. It has become a way of life for thousands, with its waterfalls, tree-lined walks, wrought-iron fenced courtyards, gardens, fountains and statues. But best of all, eight gigantic enclosed parking areas make it a pedestrian delight The Plaza is still the standard by which other such centers are measured.

Joyce Hall, up in Nebraska, heard about that 1900 convention hall rebuilding feat and decided Kansas City was for him. He came down and founded the Hallmark greeting card empire. Donald Hall, a son, heads the firm today and has opened up spectacular new frontiers of his own.

He’s made a mind-boggling investment in the city—building an 85-acre “city-within-a-city” on a once-blighted area, which touches Prudhomme’s old farmstead. Taking its name “Crown Center” from the Hallmark logo, it has two major hotels (one with a 60-foot natural waterfall in the lobby), an elaborate shopping center, restaurants, an office complex and condominium towers.

The late President Harry S Truman learned his way around politics in Kansas City during the 1920s and ‘30s. (The Harry S Truman Library and Museum is located in Independence, just down I-70).

Kansas City never could do things halfway. While all the spectacular growth was under way in the 1920s and ‘30s, a corrupt and well-oiled political machine under Pendergast took over city hall. The Kansas City Star stopped all that in the late 1930s by exposing the Pendergast skeletons in city hall closets.

When Harry Truman decided to run for his first office, Pendergast gave him this advice, “When you are after votes, don’t wear a coat and pants that match.” Must have worked.

The Pendergast period had its brighter side—“Kansas City Jazz.” It developed in the Prohibition-era speakeasies and spawned such stars as Count Basie, Charlie “Bird” Parker, Benny Moten, Mary Lou Williams, Hot Lips Page, Julia Lee, and Baby Lovett.

Walter Cronkite honed his reportorial skills on a Kansas City radio station and in the old United Press bureau here. Ernest Hemingway credited Pete Wellington, the Star’s city editor, and his stylebook for developing the Hemingway style. He worked for the paper before World War II.

Joan Crawford, Burt Bacharach, Ed Asner, Ginger Rogers, Thomas Hart Benton, Jean Harlow, Walt Disney and Goodman Ace were all Kansas Citians who have fiddled with the national psyche at one time or another.

And Lord knows that Kansas City roast beef is the best in the land. And besides the Lord, Calvin Trillin (who writes about food for The New Yorker and Nation) says: “The best restaurants of the world are, of course, in Kansas City. Not all of them; only the top four or five.” Trillin says the best single restaurant in the world is Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque. Bryant’s, a battered cafeteria in the shadow of old Municipal Stadium, has served thousands of ballplayers and newspapermen, along with several presidents, Jimmy Carter, the latest.

Each autumn, the American Royal Livestock and Horse Show take over the city. More than a million people see purebred animals from all over the world pose and prance.

Most of the city’s 1.3 million-plus souls are involved in some way in some sport. Their enthusiasm has produced the Harry S Truman Sports Complex, a plush stadium that is home for the football Kansas City Chiefs and the baseball Royals. The Kings were the roadblock the Houston Rockets had to get by last season to reach the National Basketball Association finals. Their home is Kemper Arena, a snow-white, pillar less, space age building that was the site of the 1976 Republican National Convention.

Some consider Kansas Citian Tom Watson the best pro golfer around. In the winter, while his fellow pros go to warmer climes, he sets up shop on a carpet in the greenskeeper’s shed at the country club, whapping balls through its garage doors onto the snowy hills.

But if sports are big in Kansas City, the performing arts are bigger. A couple of years ago, the nonprofit performing arts groups (theater, opera, dance, symphonic music, jazz, the Starlight Theatre and Theatre League) amassed three times more paid admissions than the football Chiefs and the basketball Kings.

The new International Airport is a marvel, with as little as 85 feet distance from plane to car, and you never walk much farther.

Kansas City has a young look and has the vibrant beat of youth. Young people come with the idea they can do anything they’re big enough to do. And they can—except for one thing.

They cannot tell a Kansas City native that the Gateway Arch of St. Louis is the “Gateway to the West.” That distinction belongs to Kansas City.

 

 

 

 th-1 th-2 th

 

Editor’s Note: Tom Ladwig-authored books available here.

 

 

Oct 19

A look back at my columns about the Kansas City Royals: Part 1 — Baseball fever happens every spring. First published April 14, 2007, in The Examiner, an Eastern Jackson County, Mo., daily newspaper.

 

Baseball fever happens every spring

More than flowers or sunshine or April showers, it is baseball that is our true April love. It has been that way as long as most of us can remember.

 

After all, baseball is America’s game. Granted it may have gone global, but we invented it, and we love it.  In fact, we love it so much, that when opening day of baseball season finally arrives, folks take off work often braving bitter temperatures and cold rain just to watch. You know the drill. Some of us just have to be there. Period.

 

Others of us prefer the coziness of our homes or offices on opening day, but make no mistake we are paying attention just the same.

 

Each spring, baseball makes us believe all over again that all things are possible, for a few weeks at least.

 

Any team can win the Pennant on opening day, maybe even the World Series. The worst team in the league can be at 500 in mere days. The coaches have winning records, and the pitchers have great stats. Every batter can be Babe Ruth, every fielder Jackie Robinson, on opening day.

 

If they can be all things, then so can we. At least that is our hope each and every spring.

 

To be on the safe side, we throw up a silent prayer along with our hopes, “Please do not break our hearts this season!” How well we remember last year when our home team had an indescribably miserable and embarrassing record.

 

Let’s face it. Some years, it is nearly impossible to be a fan. We pray it will not be such a year.  We pray hard.

 

“No more 3 to 2 losses in the ninth, please,” we beg.

 

“No more pitchers losing their groove.”

 

“No more batting slumps by our star hitter.”

 

Ernest Lawrence Thayer understood our baseball psyche, our worries, and desperate baseball prayers such as these as long ago as 1888. That is when he wrote “Casey at the Bat”, the single most famous baseball poem ever written. “Casey at the Bat” was first published June 3, 1888, in the San Francisco Examiner.

 

Another writer Albert Spalding once wrote of it, “Love has its sonnets galore. War has its epics in heroic verse. Tragedy its somber story in measured lines. Baseball has Casey at the Bat.”

 

In his legendary poem, Thayer describes a baseball hero, the mighty Casey who is advancing to the bat just in time to save the day for Mudville’s home team.

 

It is fun to remember some of the poem’s perfectly written verses. Here are some excerpts:

 

“The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day.

The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play…

A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair.

The rest clung to the hope that springs eternal in the human breast;

They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that,

We’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat…

Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped,

‘That ain’t my style,’ said Casey. ‘Strike one,’ the umpire said…

He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;

But Casey still ignored it and the umpire said, ‘Strike two’…”

 

So the legendary story goes, but let us pretend we do not know how the game ended.

After all it is April. Baseball season has just begun. It happens every spring.

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