A Personal Trip to Kansas City

When I say Kansas City, most people think Kansas. But the real deal is in Missouri. The turn-of-the-century classic across the river from it’s younger sibling that spawned generations of blues, and world-famous barbecue. The other place is called KCK and you’d know that if you were from Missouri. Kansas City is full of wonderful memories for me. It’s where I was born and raised. My work ethic, moral code and “show me” attitude were all grounded in the Midwest.

When I traveled there for Kristen’s wedding, I extended my trip a few days to visit my father. He is the third owner of a jewelry store that’s been in Richmond, Missouri since 1850. Since my trip, he’s sold the store and retired to continue his personal work in South Africa. My father was a minister and that’s how I fell in love with the Northwest, as we traveled across the country to a congregation in Seattle. He’s remained active in the ministry, even while running his jewelry store for decades. Since retiring, he’s been focused on his passion project of helping South Africans set up small businesses and churches.

The first thing I did when I arrived in town was eat lunch at the original Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue in Kansas City, Missouri. There are four regions in our country famous for different styles of barbecue and trust me, the Northwest is not one of them! My friend, blues musician Mark DuFresne and I literally grew up just down the road from each other and Kansas City barbecue is always a topic of conversation for us. Arthur Bryant’s may not be the best in town, but it’s the most well known. Presidents, celebrities and regular folk have all sat down together at this world famous joint. It’s a Kansas City institution.

Sitting at Arthur Bryant’s, I thought the neighborhood felt familiar, but couldn’t quite remember why, so I called my dad. He reminded me that we lived just down the street, so I drove past the old house and the church where he was a minister. I learned to ride a bike in that church parking lot. Remembered the stone wall like it was yesterday. It’s where I scrapped the skin off my knuckles because I was afraid to turn the bike in fear of falling over. And Askew Elementary, where three generations of our family attended school. Lots of history there for me.

While taking pictures of the church for my dad with my Lensbaby, the minister pulled up. I thought I was in trouble for taking photos of the church, but that was not the story this time. It was sheer coincidence. The nicest man— I shared with him my memories of growing up in that church. He was very interested in the history and opened up the church and let me step inside the memories of my childhood. As I left, he warmly embraced me and told me to thank my father for keeping the ground. I had to ask my dad what that meant. Ended up being preacher speak. An inner code.

My father wore me out keeping up with his busy schedule. We drove to Carrollton, Missouri and recorded a couple of father-and-son radio ads for the retirement sale, ate more barbecue and drove back for a city council meeting. My beloved aunt works for my dad, so I spent time with her as well. It was strange being home. Felt comfortable, as if I’d never left.

Just outside where my dad lives is another famous barbecue joint in the old Wabash train station called Wabash BBQ in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. I had to stop and compare their short ribs to Arthur Bryant’s. Purely for scientific reasons, of course. If I’d had more time, I would have sampled a lot more barbecue.

I also spent a weekend with my friend Mark Kegans in Des Moines, Iowa. Everyone who knows Mark loves him and his witty, sarcastic, dry sense of humor. A unique and talented photographer who’s roots go back to the Dallas Morning Tribune in Texas. I got to meet the Des Moines crew (who tried to hurt me with alcoholic drinks) and photograph a 12-hour wedding alongside this wedding legend who may actually be better then me.

Thanks for sharing in this personal journey of my humble beginnings. I feel that knowing the personal history of any artist is valuable insight into what motivates them. So tell me gentle reader… what’s the best BBQ you’ve ever had?

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Fantastic post Randy! It’s inspiring to see you share your story in such an open and heartfelt way. The photos that go along, especially of you as a kid and your family now, are moving. I’d love to meet Mark too, sometime, but not necessarily the drinks from his friends. (lightweight) Great story and thanks for sharing. Now about the BBQ, not cool. I’m starving right now and that was torture. Delicious torture.

  2. Hey Randy,

    Isn’t it great going back to the places that are small memories, to see how they are different and, yet, ghosts of the same?

    Favorite barbecue, hands down, is my husband’s. A recipe he got from his step dad.

    Jackie

  3. Wow. This brought back some memories. I have been really busy and am just now catching up on your posts.

    Now that picture of you in front of the house is the stronger memory I have of you although I barely remember the house. You look about the age you were when Grandpa Siveright and your Dad “accidentally” shot Santa Claus one Christmas. Now that I think about it, that was at your house in North KC a year or two later.

    Is that the old Van Brunt Church? I remember it with windows (although it looks like original windows have been bricked in.) If so, I spent many a service there. That is where Great Grandpa Kepple preached for so many years, and where his funeral was held. More people attended than could get in the place and so when we got there people were standing on the sidewalk and in the parking lot. Later, Dad bought his white/gold 58 Chevy from Grandma and I drove it through my high school years before heading off to Texas.

    I love the pictures of your Dad and Auntie Gwen. Especially the one of him laughing. That is my most-ready image of your Dad. His smile and that unique laugh he has. Of course, no picture of Gwen is authentic unless it presents her with cigarette in hand.

    Barbecue? I love it all. Memphis, Carolinas, Kansas City and of course, Texas barbecue. Sonny Bryan’s in Dallas, The Mt Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville, just to begin a long list.

  4. Bob… Really appreciate you taking the time to visit the blog and leave your comments.

    Yes, that is indeed the church on Van Brunt. I remember those walls so very well. Learned to ride my bike there as I mentioned in my post.

    Yes, the photo of my Dad laughing. That’s the man we all love. He does have a great laugh, much like Clifford! And you’re right about Aunt Gwen. She is a tried and true smoker and no photo would be complete without that cigarette. Very authentic, huh?

    And Barbeque. I hope that I have more time in my life to travel and experience all the amazing barbeque in Memphis and Texas. I watch Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (Triple D) and he’s always hitting these amazing BBQ joints across the country.

    Thanks so much Bob!

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