Not that there is much to do in downtown KC. It’s a nice, new, clean city, with a few standard attractions (museums, zoo, blah blah blah), but nothing out of the ordinary. No Space Needles or faces carved into mountainsides here. And the baseball stadium is pretty much the same. It’s quite new, purpose-built right next to the Chiefs Arrowhead football stadium, and looks very pretty. It’s not very big, but that’s fine because Kansas City isn’t really much of a baseball town. In fact people tend to treat a ballgame as just another day in the park. Tickets are cheap, it’s a pleasant atmosphere, and almost everybody that I saw there had brought their kids along. Kids must have outnumbered adults at least two to one, so you would have the strange sight of lots of empty seats in the stands but huge queues of people waiting to play on all the kiddie attractions that are dotted around the outfield.
To add to the ‘nice’ feeling around the stadium, instead of packing in seats wherever they could, the designers have added grassy areas, large open walkways, and some cool fountains and waterfalls as a backdrop. Unfortunately for the team, these serene surroundings do mean that nobody really takes much interest in what is happening on the field.
With a lack of atmosphere around the place, I spread myself out over several seats and waited for my legs to turn a nice shade of bronze in the baking sun. The little girl singing the national anthem was entertaining – she was wearing bright red cowboy boots and thought she was Judy Garland reincarnated, taking ages to sing the song and giving it plenty of attitude. She was then whisked away by the Royals mascot, which was (I think) a lion with a crown on its head. And judging by his tail, he was a very happy lion. All the dodgy-looking mascots I have seen up to this point (beavers, moose, elephants, etc.) let their tail drag behind them, but not the king of the jungle. He had been taking Viagra by the handful (pawful?) because his appendage was sticking out behind him like a CB aerial. He should be more careful – he could take somebody’s eye out with that thing!
There were the usual promotions during the game, the strangest being where one of the promoters, whose name I forget but probably begins with ‘V’, urged fans to “flash the V’s” on the big screen. I can only assume that “flash the V’s” is their company slogan. Only in America would they encourage you to flash the V’s – in England they arrest you for doing it! And the scoreboard showed another one of those ‘races’ at the end of an inning, this time it was a Hot Dog Derby. Although this one was performed to the Benny Hill theme. This gave me an idea. When I rule the world, all baseball games will play the Benny Hill theme to such events, but they will have to show Benny Hill chasing after nurses while they do it – none of this polluting of children’s minds with performing hot dogs!
St. Louis. Missouri
Missouri is similar to Kansas, in the between it’s eastern and western borders there really isn’t much going on. Except for a plethora of dirty bookshops! There are a few ‘Motel 13 miles’ and ‘Gas next exit’ signs, but these are completely overshadowed by huge billboards telling you that “Xplicit Pleasures Books & Toys” is only a couple of miles down the road. I haven’t got a clue why Missouri has all these places when it seems like there is even less to do in Kansas, but there you are! Also according to these billboards, the adult stores are “Saving YOUR first amendment rights”. I don’t know what the first amendment says, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t “You have the right to buy a copy of Jugs Weekly every half a mile”. And these places advertise so far ahead as well. You will see signs saying “Next branch of Wristies 100 miles”. I can understand this for gas stations where your tank may be almost empty and you need to fill it before you travel another 100 miles. Maybe the warning is there for men whose ‘tank’ is almost full and they will need to empty it before they travel another 100 miles?
So, into St. Louis before the ballgame with my local tour guide Robyn; yet another friend I have persuaded to let me use their house as a hotel for a few days! We didn’t have time to do a tour of the Budweiser brewery (complete with free beer – shame!), but we did take a trip to the Gateway to the West, locally known as simply The Arch. Down by the riverside, it’s an enormous silver arch that looks like half a McDonalds symbol, and is very impressive. And the best thing about it is that you can go inside it and head up to the top. After you walk through a museum with a brief history of it, you are squeezed into these tiny claustrophobic pods, emerging four minutes later at the viewing gallery at the top. From there you get an amazing view of the Mississippi river and across into Illinois, and on the other side you can see all of downtown St. Louis. It seems a strange idea to have an arch rather than the standard tower, but it looks great and is well worth seeing.
St. Louis has the highest rate of car thefts per capita of population in the USA. This was highlighted a few years ago when a group of people drove up to a church for a wedding rehearsal, parked their cars outside in the street, and when they returned a couple of hours later every single one of the twenty cars they had parked there had been stolen. There is currently a big police crackdown on car theft, not because of the wedding rehearsal heist, but it may have something to do with the mayor’s car being stolen – out of his home driveway – a while back! The last time I was in the area I stayed in East St. Louis, and throughout the night there was a lot of music and fireworks going on; must be some kind of festival. It turns out that it is a nightly ‘festival’, but the music was police sirens and the fireworks were cars being turned over and set on fire. This time I was lucky enough to be staying in the leafy suburbs west of the city, so the Dream Machine was safe from the natives.
Everything in St. Louis revolves around Budweiser. The baseball team play at Busch Stadium, where it seems that it is compulsory to have a beer in your hand at all times. Fine with me! And the beer you’re served comes in a huge plastic cup (although for $7.75 I would expect it to fill a small plastic bucket!). The fans in St. Louis love their baseball as well. The team plays in an old stadium which is getting knocked down and a new, smaller one is being built in its place. Perversely this will allow the team to generate more revenue as they will be able to have more corporate suites and charge higher ticket prices. This worked in San Francisco where nobody went to the old stadium but the new one is regularly packed, but in St. Louis the Cardinals regularly sell out the 50,000 seater existing place, and the move to build a new one will mean that a lot of fans will no longer be able to go and see their team play, and the others will have to pay a lot more. This is causing a lot of unrest locally, particularly as 50% of the cost of building the new stadium is coming from city coffers, i.e. the taxpayer. So Joe Bloke in the stands is actually having to pay to not be able to watch a game. And I bet the price of beer goes up as well!
It is meant to be an honour to have a bronze statue of you standing outside the stadium, although one famous ex-St. Louis player (although of course not famous enough for me to remember who it is!) might not be too happy with his. He is standing there twelve feet high, bat in hand, ready to take on all-comers, but the sculptor has given him a face that looks like Herman Munster with a bad hangover. Either that or the sculptor was a student of Salvador Dali during his ‘melting’ phase, got fed up doing clocks and tried doing a few faces instead. There is a photograph of the same player nearby and in .real life he is nowhere near as ugly as his statue. If I was him, I would sneak up to it one night and put a bag over my head.
The atmosphere amongst the sell-out crowd inside the stadium is excellent,
and complete different to the ‘couldn’t give a toss’ attitude
in Kansas City across the state. A lot of it is fuelled by those huge cups
of beer, but the fans really get into it, hurling abuse or cheering wildly
at the smallest of things. The Cardinals are also playing the Red Sox, who
took them out behind the woodshed in the World Series last year, so there
is a bit of bad feeling thrown into the mix as well. After the game, the
bars on the waterfront were packed with fans having a post-match pint, and
it was a great night out overall.