I was nearly 25 years old before I realized Kansas City isn't all that bad: I mean, it has restaurants like Eggtc. and You Say Tomato, dive bars like Dave's Stagecoach and Chez Charlie, and plenty of trees and green space, plus a low cost of living.
But every time I visit a place like Seattle, as I did last week, I'll be reminded that KC is, in fact, a big small town, especially when other travelers I meet say things like, "Yeah, I'm planning to visit pretty much every place but Kansas City, sorry," as though it offends me, and then, "How are Toto and Dorothy?" as though I still think it's funny after hearing it for the five-hundredth time.
Just for the sake of competition, though, here's my snap-judgment KC vs. Seattle showdown, based solely on various initial impressions:
Round 1: SEAFOOD
Choose from saltwater (the Puget Sound) or freshwater (Lake Union, Lake Washington). You can get everything from dungeness crab to king salmon or tilapia to halibut. My friend I. and I had some oh-my-god smoked salmon nuggets at the Fisherman's Terminal against which I will now compare all food.
There's a dirty pond around 27th and Broadway where I suspect bums jab at mutant fish with sticks.
Who has the edge: Seattle
Round 2: SAFETY
Within six months of moving to 39th Street and Wyoming in 2003, I got mugged by some behemoth with a crowbar who stole my purse and my new cell phone. Also, at night I used to sit by the open window in my living room and listen to the bums sing.
The scariest thing that happened was when some toothless crack addict got all up in my face mumbling gibberish while I was on the phone. That is to say, kind of gross, but not scary at all. Also, as two girls walking alone at night, I. and I never once felt uncomfortable on the busy, well-lit streets.
Who has the edge: Seattle
Round 3: SCULPTURE PARKS
The Olympic Sculpture park occupies a beautiful, grassy hillside overlooking one of Seattle's many glittering bodies of water. But the sculptures themselves were scarce and somewhat unassuming, aside from a shiny aluminum tree for which Charlie Brown would have no love. We did have some fun climbing on wooden replicas of a washer and dryer for photo-ops.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is home to several stunning pieces I still remember vividly though I haven't seen them in over a year, including, of course, the world's largest shuttlecocks, the several haunting rows of emaciated, headless bronze figures (Standing Figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz, below), and several abstract but oddly hypnotizing Henry Moore creations.
Who has the edge: Kansas City
Round 4: PRO BASEBALL STADIUMS
The home of the Mariners, Safeco Field (in the background below, as seen from the Smith Tower) is downtown within walking distance of the bars and restaurants of lively Pioneer Square. Built in 1999, it's one of only two partially-domed stadiums in the world, providing shelter from the rainy northwestern climate. The pitcher-friendly park features natural grass and is named after a Seattle-based insurance company.
In the drab, ironed landscape of a Blue Springs parking lot, the Royals' Kauffman Stadium is within a five-minute drive of several sketchy barbecue joints and strip clubs. Built in 1973 and named for late owner Ewing Kauffman, the park is the sixth-oldest in the MLB and the only stadium with fountains in the outfield.
Who has the edge: draw
Round 5: FARMERS' MARKETS
The first time I went to KC's downtown City Market I was 19, and it is to date one of my favorite summer memories. I snatched up several plants that I was unable to keep alive longer than a couple months, and I bought a bunch of fresh vegetables I never cooked and some dried lavender my cat ended up eating. But the experience freed me, somehow, and let me know there was more to the city than seedy gas stations, the creepy cashier at Apple Market with the hand swollen to two times its normal size, and a whole bunch of people who just wanted to drink 40s and smoke cigarettes.
For all my happy City Market memories, it is absolutely dwarfed by the awesome supernova of Seattle's century-old Pike Place Market. With a street musician on each block(some good, some pretty awful) and cute dreadlocked boys (who, I realized somewhat painfully, are now much too young for me) handing out slices of fresh peaches at the many produce stands, the market has a life force all its own. The many colorful flower stands are a treat for anyone coming from the summer wasteland of the Midwest, and the Pike Place Fish Market truly lives up to its fame, with strapping young fishermen-types shouting catch phrases as they toss and wrap your order. There's also the Beecher's Handmade Cheese factory, home to mouth parties such as the world's creamiest mac-n-cheese, which the cashier informed us you can order online (note to self: hide your credit cards next time you drink) and an heirloom tomato and grilled cheese sandwich.
Who has the edge: Seattle
So far, as expected (largely because I'm notoriously self-defeating) Seattle comes out on top. But I suspect if I were to include gelato (Christopher Elbow's Glace) and happy hour prices (Buzzard Beach's 75-cent PBRs) in round two, KC would come back swinging for the fence.