Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Waxing Poetic

So here's the thing: sometimes I miss Kansas. WAIT!!! STOP!!! Don't you dare go reading anything into that. As has recently been made clear, and as Madonna so eloquently put it, I love New York. I don't want to move back to the Midwest. Not even a little bit.

However, I do think fondly of Kansas sometimes. It's nostalgia, I suppose. I spent nearly 29 years there, and after driving those highways for a decade and half, it's hard not to remember every hill and curve. A lifetime of shopping at the same malls and convenience stores, going to the same restaurants, and seeing the same downtown skyline in the distance leaves an imprint that is not so easily erased.

My memory is a funny thing. When I focus on something and really pay attention to it, I can remember nearly everything about it. No, I don't mean I have a photographic memory. I wish. What I mean is that my brain absorbs visual input and spacial relationships at an incredible rate, along with certain other details that happen to catch my attention. I can say with near certainty whether I have ever laid eyes on any given person, though I'm not nearly so good with names. I never forget what make and model of car someone drives; in fact, I used to know the tail light configuration of nearly every modern model on the road. If I'm paying attention when going somewhere, I can repeat the route reliably every time.

While some people have an internal monologue, I have internal video. It's not creative video; I'm not good at visualizing what things could look like, I'm good at remembering what they did look like. And I can call that up pretty much whenever I like. It's my own personal Google Earth.

Lately I've been thinking of KC. Coming into the city from the West, as I did a thousand times while driving in from Topeka, you can see the downtown KCMO skyline from miles away. It peeks out at you from between the hills on the North side of the Kaw (Kansas) River, along which I-70 runs. All the major freight trains also run along that route between I-70 and the river. As you approach downtown, the train lines expand into train yards, wide swaths of tracks bathed in a hundred thousand floodlights, running between power and manufacturing plants, down in the valley below the highway. Somewhere around the 18th Street Expressway the train bottoms are so visible that they become their own river of twinkling lights, running on toward downtown, which rises up from them at the junction of the Kaw and Missouri rivers. The glass tower of One Kansas City Place presides over the shimmering crystal mountain, keeping watch over the Power & Light building as its art deco top is bathed in alternate colors of light, and supported around the edges by smaller buildings such as the four concrete towers of Bartle Hall suspending the convention center over the mad conflagration of I-70, I-670, and I-35. The Bartle Hall support towers were crowned by some artist's futuristic metal sculptures which shine beams of light in all directions, three small ones and one large on the tower closest to the center of the city, and these alien spaceships grin back at you, looking ready to launch into the sky at any moment. Beyond the valley to the South of the main skyline there's a hill that struggles to steal glory from downtown, and on it rises the lone monolith of the Liberty Memorial, the country's only World War I memorial, which smolders with red fire at its apex hundreds of feet in the air, supported by a giant stone angel at each compass point and forever burning in memory of people long forgotten.

I've seen that view perhaps tens of thousands of times. The first time I can remember was riding in the back seat of my mother's car as we crossed the Kaw on the 7th Street Viaduct. It was only a little different then, with a few less towers and alien spaceships, but it was no less amazing. I can see it just as clearly in my mind's eye right now, immune in this view from the distorting tears it struggles to pull from my eyes.

Yes, sometimes I miss Kansas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Funny, I do too (rarely)