Bleeding Kansas

At home he feels like a tourist
At home he feels like a tourist
He fills his head with culture
He gives himself an ulcer
He fills his head with culture
He gives himself an ulcer

—Gang of Four, "At Home He's a Tourist"

The Tragic Prelude: John Steuart Curry's "The Tragic Prelude" (top), an allegorical mural painted between 1937 and 1942, is familiar to almost anyone who went through public grade school in Kansas. Thousands of the state's children have seen the mural on one field trip or another to the state capitol building in Topeka, where it is located. E-Rock's visit to D'Bronx in Kansas City (above left) with friends Andy and Chris (above right) is in itself a tragic prelude (though an undeniably less dire one). Stopping by the famous KC pizzeria made E-Rock late to a wedding he was attending.

words by e-rock .::. photographs by a. graham .::.

Sometimes Slice pulls out all the stops for E-Rock.

The last time you heard from me, I was on assignment in Northern England. Maybe the pizza wasn’t the best, but our great leader, Adam, felt like it needed to be covered. And the lush, cool English countryside was a nice break from the mind-frying New York City summer.

But sometimes the head honcho over here at Slice headquarters isn’t so nice. He can be a downright evil bastard. Over drinks one night, we were having a friendly conversation about archery, the implications of NASCAR culture on American life, and other things.

Suddenly, he leaned over the table and yelled: "I’VE GOT IT!"

"You mean they’re all crazy rednecks and we’re basically doomed? Haven’t we been over this?"

"No, no, you stupid bastard! NASCAR! They built that racetrack outside of Kansas City that seats, like, 100,000! It’s the biggest tourist draw in the region! I’m sending you to Kansas City to do a pizza story. Do it on d’Bronx. It’s apparently the best in town."

"Have you lost your mind? I think all that grilled pizza is starting to get to your head, man. If you think for one second I’m going to put myself in harm’s way like that, you have another thing coming. If you’re gonna TREAT me like Christiane Amanpour, you’re gonna have to PAY me like Christiane Amanpour!"

He sat back in his chair, slowly sipped his drink and let out a low chuckle.

After about 20 seconds of silence, he said: "Are you refusing the assignment? You can. By all means, you can. But are you prepared to deal with the consequences?"

"Hey," I said to the waitress, after wiping about a gallon of sweat off my brow. "Can we get two more over here?"

"That’s my boy. That’s my boy. So why do they always sell so much basil in one bunch? I can never seem to use all of it, and every time I buy the stuff, it goes bad."

When one tells someone they’re from Kansas City [Full disclosure: Adam and E-Rock were both raised in Kansas City], they’re bound to get some pretty similar, cute, responses. One is, "Are you from Kansas City, Kansas, or Kansas City, Missouri?"

Why do you people always ask that question? Why do you care? Does it make any difference to you? You’ve never been there. If you had, you wouldn’t ask. You wouldn’t know the fucking difference! (Except Kansas has a better basketball team.)

Then there’s the whole Wizard of Oz thing. "How’s Toto?" and "There’s no place like home, huh?" How creative! That’s a real obscure remark! Moron.

And lately, if you’re a Royals fan, you can easily get jeered by some smart-ass 12-year-old Yankees fan, whose seen his team win the Series half his lives and wets his bed if the Bombers get knocked out of the ALCS on a random year. Well, let me tell you, you little brat. If George Brett were around today, you little punk, you’d be pissing a RIVER!

Uh-hum. Sorry. Sometimes E-Rock can get of hand.

Anyway, the reality of growing up in Kansas City is anything but cute. It’s brutal. Especially if you grew up in the suburbs. The suburbs there can make or break any teenager with half a brain. There’s nothing to do. There’s nowhere to go. There’s no sense of community that one has in an urban environment, where you’re forced to (and hopefully enjoy) living with people from all sorts of backgrounds. It’s about 90 percent white. You have to drive everywhere. The local meeting point for teenagers is the area convenient store. And the ’burbs sprawl on and on and on.

This does strange things to people. Some are happy, stay there their whole lives and become honest, decent citizens, who think people in New York are either homosexual prostitutes or part of the vast left-wing conspiracy. Others go nuts and start eating handfuls of acid at a time, listening to the Butthole Surfers, driving their cars down empty country roads at weird hours of the night, eventually ending up in cardboard boxes or mental asylums. Then there’s the hick contingent that lurks around, barking obscene things at women and longing for the day when it’s perfectly acceptable to behave like Johnny Paycheck anywhere, all day long. And still others, like your dear narrator and his boss, get the hell out of Dodge.

20040921Bryants.jpgBut E-Rock exaggerates. There are many great things about the city. The town has many huge, green boulevards. Its jazz history is impeccable. The barbeque (right) is considered among the world’s best. [Um, make that THE world's best. —Ed.] Kansas City’s downtown is filled with one of the largest collections of Art Deco skyscrapers in the nation, and just south is the grand Country Club Plaza, a shopping district developed in a Spanish architectural style in the 1920s. E-Rock can actually enjoy the place if he feels like a tourist when he goes back.

Plus, E-Rock has a handful of friends and family who live there who don’t fit in the aforementioned categories, so it can be a nice visit from time-to-time. But these are strange people, nonetheless, who have somehow created a world livable enough to ignore the area’s many bad qualities.

One of them is Andy Graham, currently the biggest rock star in Kansas City. He might be living high now, but I remember the days when empty bottles of Early Times littered his basement room and he would play lonely love songs until the sun came up. Songs with lyrics like: You talked about me/ You talked about me/ In the bars around town/ The bars around town/ You made me look like a clown.

special to slice


Total Nutcase (m4a, 2.4M)
from This Tyrant Is Free, by A. Graham & the Moment Band
[Right click (Mac users: cntl-click) on link and choose "Save As"]

Jake and I (mp3, 3.2M)
by mid-'90s A. Graham project The Dot.Dot.Commies, feat. Slice editor & publisher Adam K. on drums
[Right click (Mac users: cntl-click) on link and choose "Save As"]

Now his lyrics are about getting drunk with chickens and monkeys—and nautical adventures. Andy also has a nice girlfriend named Chris, who generally keeps him in line. No more sedatives and pornography in his life.

Since Andy lives near D’Bronx, we decided to go together.

D’Bronx. Pretty stupid name for a pizza place in Kansas City, huh? It’s like calling something the Fuhgeddaboudit Deli in Houston. I remember the Citysearch profile saying something about how the people who run it have family from The Bronx and blah, blah, blah. There’s only about five of those joints in every metro area in the country, so E-Rock couldn't give a shit about this information and would rather just go to Arthur Avenue. [I'd rather go to Arthur Bryant's. —Ed.]

Let’s just say E-Rock wasn’t expecting much.

20040921BronxExt02.jpgThe restaurant is off 39th Street, one of the main business strips in the city’s Midtown area. It’s a somewhat vibrant area in the city for boutiques, restaurants, and bars, and has the closest thing one will find to a Brooklyn-type feel in the city. The place has a prime corner in the area.

We walked in and placed the order at the counter. I decided on a large pie with tomatoes and garlic to get a good feel for the quality. At D’Bronx, when you order, it takes about 20 minutes (it gets pretty busy there, especially on a Saturday afternoon, when we went), so they give you a numbered ticket. We decided to go to a bar across the street and wait it out.

When we got back we grabbed a table in the open-seating area. The interior is nice and airy with large windows all around. It kind of had a bit of a hippy vibe to it, but not in a way that’s too pronounced. What E-Rock did find strange was that D’Bronx sells its own bottled water. I guess it makes sense since Kansas City is so close to the Alps, right?

We picked up our pizza at the counter and sat down. After one bite, the pie blew away my expectations. The crust isn’t thin in the New York-style sense, but it wasn’t too thick, either, and it did have some nice, slight nice burning on the bottom. The ingredients were super-fresh tasting. Maybe there was a little too much sauce, but E-Rock liked its wine-tinged flavor.

Great New York pizza this was not, but it was definitely worth the trip for their interpretation of the art. Most Slice readers will have no business going to Kansas City, but if they do, this would be a great choice, if they are in the mood for pizza. My advice is to go in with bad expectations—the expectations any person with a quarter of a brain stem would have about Kansas City pizza. One will be mightily surprised.

Well, the day went downhill from there. E-Rock won’t get into the nitty-gritty details here, but the evening in Andy’s back yard was highlighted by endless quantities of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Jameson. An Elliott Smith live-show bootleg blared out of the speakers, on repeat, into the morning until sun rose. Answers were given before questions were asked, and E-Rock had dreams on the air mattress about roving packs of wild Chihuahuas laying small towns to waste.

Location: 3904 Bell Street, Kansas City, MO 64111
Phone: 816-531-0550
Hours: Mon. through Wed.,10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Thu., 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fri. though Sat., 10:30 a.m. to 11p.m.
Payment Accepted: Cash and credit

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