Plenty Ladylike?

United States Senator Claire McCaskill was in town a few weeks ago. While she currently makes her permanent home in the St. Louis area she spent time in the Kansas City area in the ’80’s and ’90s. Presumably as a consistently upward progressing professional she maintains several relationships in KC. When I learned she was scheduled to make a public appearance I took a look at schedules and decided we could make it.

Anxiously I emailed the organizer as they sounded quite certain the venue may be stretched to accommodate attendees. While reservations were not required—it was suggested they be notified so we did.

I had never been to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library–a travesty considering it’s less than a 25 minute drive. We pulled into the parking lot around thirty minutes prior to Sen. McCaskill’s appearance. She was in town as part of a book tour–Plenty Ladylike–presumably planning to ramp up sales amongst friends to help show high numbers to her publisher. Simply a presumption. Independence, Missouri is not particularly a gem in the greater Kansas City MSA. In fact; many parts of it are rather tattered looking. Back in the days of Truman and the influence of the Pendergast Machine I’d suspect it was a bustling metropolitan area; not so much anymore. Over one of the many hills of Independence Avenue the library complex appears almost out of place. A few acres of green grass and parking asphalt were a welcome break from the miles of strip malls and dated homes. Dated; not charming, classic, historic or historical; just dated.

We pulled into the nearly empty lot and immediately shifted our thinking from a dynamic, packed crowd of groupies, fans and political wonks to our upcoming time with a handful of retirees, close friends staff.  We were spot on.

President Truman’s Library retains an aura of prestige in spite of its age and relatively pedestrian locale. Timeless stone with crisp lines, plenty of green-space including a sizable courtyard that also serves as a gravesite. Naturally the gift shop (read as steady revenue stream) directly inside. Perhaps more on the library and museum at a later time. For now it was down the hall to the mid-sized theater room–perhaps room for 250. In line with our thinking as we pulled into the parking lot we stood out amongst the blue-hairs, personal friends and staffers. All couple-of-hands-full of them. Twenty-five, thirty tops. Disappointing to say the least. Were I in the position of Sen. McCaskill’s assistant I’d have been preparing myself for a tongue lashing. Surely a sitting United States Senator making an appearance in a metropolitan area of nearly 2.4 million one could expect more than a couple dozen attendees on a pleasant Fall weekend afternoon.

Seats aplenty we chose the middle of about the fourth row back. Perfect. Details of the presentation can largely be obtained from her book, Plenty Ladylike. In fact our host, the library events director stated as much. He pulled questions and topics directly from the publication–after all this was essentially a book tour–and the Senator responded largely in line with the book.  Clearly she has friends, enemies and frenemies; per the book she makes and leaves an impression. Seems one would know how one stands with her after an interaction. I liked her–she’s tough, opinionated and principled. All of which earned through a lifetime of political wars and a fairly well-off upbringing.

Event @ Truman Library
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill @ Truman Library

I was saddened for our time to come to a close. Being suckers for this sort of thing of course we wanted a signed copy of her book. I’m not much for standing in line…..short as it may have been… I took an abbreviated tour of the library as Ames jumped in line. True to form the Senator was short on small-talk; it was all business and quickly conducted at that. Worth the time? Absolutely. It’s added to my list of similar events I’ll take with me.

KC Water Service Selling Out

KC Water and Random Sales Services
KC Water and Random Sales Services

Calling up to verify new utility start dates, account numbers and website accounts used to be fairly simple. If not simple at least straightforward. Name, address, move-in date, possibly a credit-card number to verify credit-worthiness. Today it might be a returnable deposit, social security number, date of birth, last two addresses, place of employment. What business does the water company have checking with my employer? They have my date of birth and a credit card for—-when did an employer start impacting the relationship with flushing my toilet?

I’m pretty sure I’ve stumbled into the worst example of bait-and-switch revenue generating by a utility. Setting up the city water account, which already was the most onerous of the utilities requiring a full SSN, name and date of birth of my spouse just so she would be able to pick up the phone and inquire about the account, gave me the biggest shocker. The fact that a joint card (hence them having all the financial info needed on both of us) was used to set up the account did not matter—full personal information was still required. A non-governmental agencies with all the inefficiencies of government. Perfect. Near the end of our painful application conversation the representative indicated she would be transferring me to another customer care department who would verify my account number as well as provide other customer assistance. It was presented in a way that implied I had no choice–that it was simply part of a new-client validation process so naturally I said thanks and was transferred. Justin picked up the phone and quickly verified my name and brand-new account number. I anticipated a short, if not redundant conversation. Not so fast.

Justin seamlessly slid to the topic of aiding me connect with my phone and cable provider, even quickly pulling up who they are. He also mentioned a set of coupons  to aid the home-buying experience—Home Depot, Best Buy among them. He rattled off a couple more assists he could facilitate; each one requiring that I accept or deny the offer. I very clearly declined every offer become more impatient and irritated with each passing sentence. Finally we made it to the end without my signing up for a single offer which likely led him to reiterate that he would send me a way to check out all his deals and contact him if I had questions. Unbelievable.

Where does it end? It’s not bad enough to be at the mercy of the natural monopolies in our everyday life but now they’ve taken to raising even more revenue by partnering with providers pushing other unrelated goods and services on us. Unbelievable.

Within minutes I had an email from the company–AllConnect. And of course it included no information on Justin, my all-caring, all knowing representative. Blindsided with little recourse other than a rant or adding yet another complaint to their already long list. I’ll save my energy and direct it toward remaining cautious with all my dealing with the local water utility. Unbelievable.

September 11 Memories – Anew or Forgotten

9/11 Memorial – 2006 NYC
9/11 5th Anniversary - NYC
9/11 5th Anniversary – NYC

By some accounts the memory of Pearl Harbor has reached a period of  exponentially rapid fading. A survivor in Baton Rouge indicated 2012 was the last time he was asked to deliver words about the event–and with few survivors remaining it may be up to historians to continue either marking the date or further emphasizing the events in teaching materials.

I’ve been to two of the three September 11 attack sites on the anniversary dates—New York for the fifth anniversary and Washington for the twelfth. Each had a much different feel that was likely more due to geography rather than time. New York hosted several events attended by thousands of people over a few days in close proximity to the attack site. It’s a very public space. Washington, on the other hand, held numerous events scattered over miles of space covering several venues. Largely due to the near-police-state bubble known as The Beltway. I didn’t like one more than the other—they were very different. Very different.

Sept 11 Flags in Rosslyn/2013
9/11 Flags as seen from Marine Corps Memorial (2013)
9/11 Flags on 14th Street Bridge over Potomac
9/11 Flags on 14th Street Bridge over Potomac

I was on foot in NYC and on a bike in DC so had little difficulties getting around–but I felt part of a community more in NYC. In DC I just felt like another tourist trying to circumvent barriers, blockades and the exhausting security presence. I wouldn’t do it again.

In KC I struggled to find anything to attend—limited in part by the geographic spread of the city and some transportation limits. I did find an all day open-door prayer service a few blocks away—it didn’t look as if many more were in attendance than any other weekday morning. The local permanent 9/11 memorial is still unfinished and several miles away so I’ll reserve it for another year. By that personal admission I wonder if the memory or –care-factor–is beginning to fade in me? Other areas around the country are already feeling a bit of the 9/11 fade–so surely I’m not alone.

A local, unscientific survey was completed with the open ended question of, ‘do you feel more or less safe now than before September 11, 2001’. Responses indicated people feel less safe—yet it’s due to circumstances far removed from the origins of the 9/11 attacks.  Local crime, ongoing proliferation of gun violence, law enforcement violence all scored points—international terrorism took a seat considerably in the back. If I voted that’d be mine as well.

My parents along with several aunts and uncles visited Pearl Harbor a couple of years ago—my dad lost an uncle in the attack and Dad was interested in visiting the site in person–photos and videos were no longer enough.

Pearl Harbor Memorial - Feb 2012
Pearl Harbor Memorial – Feb 2012

They said it was a moving experience but the way they told the story indicated it was something more than moving.

Perhaps Pearl Harbor fades more quickly because of the relative difficulty in visiting. Or the lack of current technology to capture, display and archive visuals. Or the subsequent relationship rebuilding with Japan. Perhaps September 11, 2001 fades more quickly because of our current short-attention-span culture. Or fascination with lowest-common-denominator reality television. Or population size relative to that in the Pearl Harbor era. Only history will tell. For now I’ll anxiously await the completion of the local 9/11 memorial to add to my destination list and delay my personal memory fade.

Saying Little – Doing Even Less

Samantha doesn’t scare easily. She startles rather easily but doesn’t scare lucky for me. As I continued to tug at Tucker to convince him my feet were soaked and the piney branch would be there later, as in after the sun came up and it dried out, Sam continued to crouch and crawl under another branch of the same tree. Suddenly she jumped back with a combination of a yelp, bark and growl. Equally as startled I tugged them both toward the flickering street light, nearly tripping over a pair of men’s ankle-height shoes neatly lined up at one edge of the overhanging branches. Heart-rate back under control I peered under the canopy, in toward the trunk and made out the image of a shadow; mostly likely a blanket or thin coat given the late summer warmth. Continuing my tug I picked up our pace toward the street, knowing we’d likely disturbed the occupant’s early morning sleep.

That was the first time I’d run across someone tucked under the trees in such a manner; the evenings wind and rain forced him under which made me wonder why he had not taken refuge under one of the local bridges scattered all along Brush Creek. It also resulted in my further checking into homeless information around the area. Considering I’ve walked among them, chatted them up, fed a couple and slipped a few dollars to another I guess it was only a matter of time before I nearly stumbled over one.

Homeless by KC Art Institute
Homeless by KC Art Institute

Not surprisingly KC has a sizable Homeless by KC Art Institutehomeless population. Extrapolated this looks to apply to Kansas and Missouri overall.  A couple of years ago a study indicated that  our states had among the highest increases in homeless populations in the nation.

Somewhat surprising to me is their geographic spread, as most of them in Tucson congregate in only couple areas and have built up several impressive campsites. I’ve lived in enough decent size metro areas that I’ve not ever felt unsafe around the homeless population. Things I’ve seen and learned in my short time have changed that somewhat here. Recent reports of thieves collaborating with homeless-–in turn, turning them into thieves.

I could do more; it’d be a stretch to come up with excuses. Yet I can come up with them. For now the occasional breakfast and spare change is where I’ll land. Anything else said seems pointless. The limited amount I know about the ones semi-residing in our park helps keep many concerns of my world soundly in check.

Is it a Crime Wave if it Happens Every Day?

A few weeks ago I thought I was really completing my share of community service when I called the local police dispatch about a couple bags/packs we found in the park across the street. I stood at attention, proudly answering all the questions the CSI guy delivered standing in our apartment.  I even took some housing advice from him after I explained a bit of what we were looking for. I waved at him again as the dogs and I crossed the street once he left–he and his partner were still scouting the general area.

I gave myself an even bigger back-pat when I pulled up from a run, pulled out my phone and reported a crashed truck in the creek down the road a bit. I nervously explained the location as best I was able and reported it didn’t appear as if anyone was still in it or in the creek–but I couldn’t really tell. I felt a slight bit of disappointment when I returned to the scene some time later and it was undisturbed—apparently this type of thing is routine or detectives are so busy they get to it when they can unless a body is clearly involved.

Somewhat disenchanted I rummaged through the latest stolen bag I retrieved looking for ID to call the owner directly. A day later I felt a sense of satisfaction when the relieved owner met me down the road to claim it. She confirmed what I knew–that it was taken from a car break-in a couple days earlier. Since that day I’ve run across at least four more bags or packs in roughly the same locations. I’ve not picked up any of them–feeling slightly less bad each time.

A couple of five cars with smashed windows along our street
Smashed-Plaza Style

A couple of five cars with smashed windows along our street

By the time I headed outside with the dogs in the pre-dawn of Sunday I figured I’d seen the worst of what the immediate neighborhood could offer. Endless stream of empties and wrappers around doorways and park benches, scattered articles of clothing and the perpetual issues with stolen bags being ditched. Not to be outdone, the element delivered big: at least five fully smashed windows decorated cars parked along our street. Throughout Sunday owners and law-enforcement could be seen viewing the damage. As of a day later this episode of smash-n-grabs has not made the local news—odd considering one of the news stations is on the very street of the crimes. In fact, I’d make a guess the security camera over the public entrance door likely caught the perps. Maybe not so surprising considering a weekend murder was committed just a few blocks away and this morning in the pre-dawn hours I saw a squad car with lights on parked in front of a white CSI van directly across the street. At least three officers with flashlights on were searching in and around Brush Creek. Every time I think I’ve witnessed the end….something else steps into play.

Getting ready to return a found bag
Getty ready to return a found bag

Here in town mere weeks and I’m not only not shocked but almost numb to it. I could about make a career out of reporting apparent crimes in an area just a few square blocks from our apartment. Originally under the impression we were moving to an upscale, safe area I’ve come to learn that’s not exactly the case. In late 2010 the documentary Kansas City Murder Factory was released. While I’ve not yet seen it~~it’s likely not much different from several episodes of the local news strung together. I also learned we are mere blocks away from murder central in the area. Zip Code 64130 could almost be reached with a strong golf shot from the park outside. Zip 64130 is the KC Murder Factory in the film of the same name. And I live mere blocks from it.For now I’ll continue to carry my phone and headlamp after dark on my walks, refrain from running in a couple directions after dark and taking quick scans at the inevitable variety of stolen bags that’ll continue to end up in the park–hoping some of them have some form of ID still in tact. That is until we move to our new north side neighborhood in a few weeks and this becomes yet another distant memory.