Category Archives: Kansas City

The Big Ten

Vivian and I got to enjoy a couple lovely days in Kansas City to celebrate a decade of marriage together! Grammy was kind enough to handle the kids while we were gone, which made this a rare chance for us to get some kid-free time together.

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We headed on down Thursday afternoon, putting some 535 miles of wear-and-tear on a rented Kia, which I’d estimated cost less than the same on our own car.

Then we spent the rest of the afternoon at IKEA, having a few of their signature meatballs as a snack before browsing the various home and kitchen items on two floors and finding quite a few things that we actually needed — and all dirt cheap. Vivian was most impressed with the children’s play area, where we play to drop the kids of the next time we visit (so we can have a meatball lunch all by ourselves).

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From there, we checked into our hotel and then strolled down to the Power & Light District to have a surf-and-turf dinner at Bristol, commemorating our honeymoon on Bar Harbor ten years ago. I got to give Vivian an aluminum cheese plate and a couple souvenir packs of cards I’d been holding onto for nine and ten years. (There was also my ten-year anniversary comic ready as well, of course.)

We got some Crème brûlée for dessert and then took a quick walk around the District, checking out a free concert with the Casey Donahew band just around the corner. I’m not a country music fan, but it was fun to see such a packed house enjoying the free music. After that, we dropped by Union Station long enough to poke around a few of their exhibits and see the colored fountains across the street before heading back to the hotel.

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The next day, after a greasy breakfast at Waffle House, we spent a couple hours getting wet at Schlitterbahn. A number of our friends had raved about this particular water park for years, so we’d had it on our short list of places to visit in Kansas City (even after that particularly gruesome incident in 2016).

We had a good time going down a few slides on tubes and riding through the rapids and waves on the multiple rivers around the park, but the place seemed to be a bit of a disappointment. About half of the rides were closed for various reasons — some having failed inspections and others being “short-staffed.” I doubt we’ll be going back anytime soon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it closed before then. I also discovered my dad’s waterproof camera wasn’t quite as waterproof as advertised, which was another massive disappointment, but we still enjoyed ourselves (and got tickets at a discount from Groupon).

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We spent that evening at the Country Club Plaza, having dinner at our favorite KC restaurant, Jack Stack. I got my usual platter of meats (beef ribs, beef brisket, and burnt ends) with a cheesy potato bake, and we shared an obligatory piece of their insanely good carrot cake for dessert.

The weather was an insanely gorgeous 70-80 degrees during our stay, making for a much more pleasant walk through the Plaza than in previous years (when it was around 100). We walked down to the Better Cheddar to splurge on some fun cheeses from their collection, as well as a bottle of balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy. Phil Rosenthal had raved about it on his Netflix show, Somebody Feed Phil, and while it tasted similar was “regular” balsamic vinegar, we found it to be far smoother and a bit sweeter, much like a fine wine.

We finished off the evening watching The Incredibles II at the Cinemark before having a romantic walk along the riverfront before calling it a night.

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We headed home the next day, but not before a quick trip to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. I can’t recommend this place enough, as they have a lovely collection of work from all different eras. Vivian and I especially like the Impressionists, and I love the broad, vivid brushstrokes of Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne. I also admired a pair of paintings by Rococo artist Gaspare Traversi, each of which featured one person eerily breaking t he fourth wall (and staring into your soul).

The weather was still lovely outside, which made for a nice stroll through the Museums beautiful (shady) grounds to and from our car (parked a few blocks away). Then we got some lunch (and tacos) at Jack in the Box before heading home — a place Vivian had grown up with and one you can’t find in Nebraska.

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We made a brief detour through Nebraska City to pick up some apple wine and an apple pie on our way back home. Hannah and Aaron had been surprisingly good while staying with Grammy for the past couple of days, and Hannah’s room had somehow become magically clean while we were away. I’d gotten them each a mouse from IKEA as a surprise when we returned home (which Hannah named “Lisa” and “Dockendock”.)

Happy ten years, Vivian! I can’t wait to see what the next decade has in store.

Practice vacation

For the last couple of weeks, Nebraska’s been in the midst of a severe drought and triple-digit temperatures, so the Johnson Family has been enjoying the great indoors a little more than usual. Last week, we dropped by Sakura Bana last week to celebrate Tamra’s birthday, and we also dropped by Chick-Fil-A for the first time to have some chicken sandwiches before the rush on Wednesday (when they were actually completely sold out of food).

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Last weekend, we took a “practice” vacation to Kansas City, seeing what it would be like to hit the road with Hannah before our big trip to northern California at the end of September. We visited the plaza as usual, grabbing lunch at Jack Stack’s, where Hannah got to chew on a baby back rib or two. We also dropped by a toy store to play with some puppets before making our traditional visit to the Better Cheddar. We check into the hotel next, where Hannah seemed to enjoy playing with the curtains and looking generally adorable. We stayed at the Q Hotel across the street from the World Market, so we naturally had to walk across the street to stock up on curry sauce and avocado oil. By some fantastic coincidence, we bumped into Drew and Alisa, my old bible study leaders from Lincoln, who I hadn’t seen since our wedding four years ago. It’s definitely a small world.

When the sun went down, we packed into the car and went to the Boulevard Drive-In to see Ice Age 4 and Batman Rises. I’d never been to a drive-in before, and it was a fun throw-back to an era that ended long before I was born.

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The next day, we had breakfast at the hotel and spent a good portion of the afternoon at the Union Station Museum touring Science City. They had some fun optical illusions, floating balls, and a set of gears that kept Hannah fascinated. She also got the chance to meet a couple of new animal friends.

We had a late lunch down at Arthur Bryant’s and then dropped by a mysterious part of town around 21st and Vine Street. When Vivian and I traveled over a bridge on the Paseo Boulevard, we couldn’t help but notice a giant limestone castle peeking out from amidst the urban blight (known as the Vine Street Workhouse). There was actually a whole street of public works buildings down there that had been built over 100 years ago and reflected a time when this part of Kansas City was a ritzier neighborhood with buildings that reflected the wealth of residents who were no longer around. It made for an interesting diversion before heading on home.

New Year’s in Kansas City

Vivian and I spent another New Year’s Eve in Kansas City, a town we’re both growing increasingly fond of, and not just because it’s the home to our two comic friends Vort & Michelle (who actually live in Independence).

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We beat a nasty snow and ice storm and headed down a day early to stay at the Sheraton next to the decked out Country Club Plaza. We’d visited the Plaza a few times before, but we’d never seen it dressed up for Christmas. It was quite lovely to walk around in the not-quite-freezing weather and enjoy a piece of cheesecake down by the Cheesecake Factory before bedtime.

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We had a fun-filled time the next day seeing a few new sights around Kansas City, which mostly included food. After a greasy breakfast at the Waffle House, we dropped into the Better Cheddar, which is quickly becoming one of Vivian’s favorite haunts, to spend a small fortune on cheese, jellies, and various sauces. We also dropped by the World Market for more off-shore goodies before having some barbecue lunch up at Arthur Bryant’s, which was a favorite of my dad’s when we lived in Warrensburg. It was a fairly typical (albeit famous) KC barbecue joint, though Jack Stack is still going to be our favorite for some time.

Afterward, we had time to gawk at the ruins of the Wheatley Provident Hospital, which had apparently been the first black hospital built in Kansas City. We rounded out the day by visiting Union Station, KC’s old train station which has since been remodeled as a kind of large museum (not unlike the Durham). Most of the exhibits were closed, but we did drop into the Build a Dino workshop to create our very own Santa Saurus. The holidays will never be the same. ROAR!

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Our next stop was Vort and Michelle’s home down over in Independence. We had dinner and killed some time cracking up to Jeff Dunham talking to his puppets and playing Kirby’s Epic Yarn on the Wii. Once Fading Aura arrived from Colombia and then made a quick trip up to Walmart to buy ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies before midnight. We rang in the New Year with sparkling white wine and grape juice and then played a game called Outbreak as the first dark hours of 2011 unfolded before us.

P1020597On the first day of the new year, I went “geo-caching” with Fading Aura down around Watts Mill near the Indian Creek Bike Trail. Geo-caching is a bit like a treasure hunt, where you find hidden items using GPS and record it in a log book both at the site and online (mostly for bragging rights). It was sunny, windy, and unexpectedly frigid outside, but we managed to find our cache and check out the ruins of the old Watts Mill before retreating to the warmth of the car.

Among the other ruins we expected that day was the quite dead Bannister Mall up the road. It was built back in 1980 and the main structure had been torn down about two years ago. All that was left were rows and rows of vacant strip malls that looked like something out of a post-apocalyptic zombie film.

The mall wasn’t completely dead (though it is featured at deadmalls.com). There was a “GenX” clothing store still open, along with a Burlington Coat Factory that felt it was necessary to hang a banner and remind everyone “Yes, We are still open!!!” The rest of the facility was just a sad example of suburban blight, with bizarre details like boarded-up windows and bleached-white stop signs to remind us how long it had been since anyone cared about this property.

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Back at the house, Fading Aura made some of his delicious trademark waffles for a late breakfast, and then we introduced Vivian to Doctor Who by firing up the first episode of Season One (from 2005). It was much easier to follow than I expected, and we might wind up watching more.

Before we said goodbye, we headed down to the local Steak and Shake for lunch. They don’t have one of these in Omaha, and as a “burger snob” I was eager to give it a try. The chain has been around for some seventy years now and has the distinction of being both a fast-food drive-thru and a sit-down, wait-you-at-your-table restaurant. It was definitely a step above most other burger restaurants I’d visited. We spent the rest of our afternoon eating and drawing together before Vivian and I headed on back to Nebraska.

Anniversary in Kansas City

It’s hard to believe, but Vivian and I have spent two wonderful years together as husband and wife. To celebrate, we decided to take a little shorter trip this year and head down to Kansas City to enjoy some of the sites of our neighbor to the south over the weekend.

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Our first stop, naturally, was for some KC barbecue at Fiorella’s Jack Stack. Vivian and Jenny found this place by accident when searching for a place to eat other than the nauseatingly ubiquitous likes of Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang’s or Kona Grill. We had a couple gigantic onion rings as an hors d’oeuvre and then dove into a couple plates of dinosaur-sized beef ribs. We topped it all off, of course, with the legendary hot carrot cake that Vivian and Jenny remembered best (partly because they got it for free when the chef made it by mistake).

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Vivian and I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the Country Club Plaza, which was the nation’s first shopping center designed for people traveling by car (ironic considering it was just a few blocks from our hotel). I always love walking the streets and admiring the elaborate Spanish-style architecture, even when it happens to be a muggy 97 degrees outside. I did a little research on Yelp before our trip and found a lovely little cheese shop for Vivian to explore called The Better Cheddar — we spent a good hour or two there digging through hundreds of different cheeses, including some Limburger (though we weren’t quite brave enough to buy some). We finished off the afternoon dropping into the theater to see Twilight Eclipse together. Vivian and I had actually watched Twilight and New Moon together in the week or two previously, so I can safely say we got our fill of sparkling vampires (and I’m personally looking forward to the upcoming parody film, Vampires Suck).

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We stayed at the Embassy Suites just a few blocks away from the Plaza and had a good time there as well. There was an adult swim after ten o’clock, so Vivian and I were able to enjoy some time in the pool without a hundred screaming kids splashing around with us. We also got to try out our waterproof digital camera, which we are happy to report works quite well even when submerged. We dropped by World Market afterward to get some salmon pate and wine to enjoy back in our room. It’s a shame they no longer exist in Omaha.

We both got a free breakfast downstairs the next day that kept us going until well after lunch, which was an added bonus. We also brought our own real maple syrup from the World Market to use on the pancakes — after tasting the real stuff on our honeymoon, I don’t think either of us could go back to artificially flavored “pancake syrup.”

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On Saturday, we visited the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which was also located just a few blocks from our hotel. As an art major, I enjoyed being able to see works by Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and Monet up close and personal with Vivian (who incidentally discovered that she’s a fan of Impressionism). They had plenty of other works in various media from different periods, but we were only able to see a portion of the museum before our feet started giving out. I did find time to give a brief lecture in the auditorium about the artistic freedom of not wearing any pants.

Vivian and I enjoyed a quick game of badminton outside before heading back to the hotel.

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That evening, Vivian and I enjoyed a romantic seafood dinner at the historic Savoy Grill in downtown KC. In memory of our trip to Bar Harbor, we both ordered giant lobster dinners and lobster bisque, all of which was magnificent. Neither of us had actually eaten lobster since our honeymoon two years ago, so it was a joy to break out the crackers and enjoy some of that soft-shell goodness once again. The staff at the Savoy Grill definitely made the dinner an experience — we even had the owner stop by to sing us an Irish blessing before we left. It was a splurge, but I’d definitely go back.

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On the day of our anniversary, Vivian and I beat the summer heat by heading up to Oceans of Fun for the day. I had been to this water park just once back in middle school, and it was even more fun now than I remembered. This might have to do with us visiting on a Monday with much smaller crowds than there would have been on the weekend. We were able to visit just about every water slide we liked without much of a line, and I gave our waterproof camera a pretty good endurance run filming myself shooting down one slide after another (and then trying to stay upright as I hit the water at the bottom).

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That evening, we dropped by Oklahoma Joe’s — another local barbecue place I’d found via Yelp — and enjoyed some brisket together as we changed a few anniversary gifts. One of these was the second of my series of Anniversary Comics, which sum up the year we’ve spent together.

We took a trip down to the Plaza one last time to pick up a few mementos and some more cheese before making the long drive back home. When we arrived, we found Vivian’s parents had left us a nice table setting along with dinner for the next day. It’s definitely nice not to have to worry about making dinner when you’re on vacation.

Thus concluded two wonderful years with the most wonderful bride I could ever imagine. People still occasionally ask us, “How’s married life?” Honestly, it keeps getting better and better. I love you, Vivian! I’m lucky to have you.


Highlights from our trip

New Year’s Eve in Kansas City

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Happy new year, everybody! Vivian and I kicked off the new decade by driving down to Kansas City to visit some old friends from Comic Genesis. I was the best man at Vort and Michelle’s wedding, and they invited me and Vivian to spend the evening with them and Fading Aura to ring in the new year. We had dinner together and then toasted with red champagne as the clock struck midnight. The next day, Fading Aura made us some of his legendary waffles for breakfast.

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We wound up spending time in four states before arriving home on New Year’s Day: Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska. We had a fairly late Christmas dinner with Vivian’s parents, enjoying ham and potato salad before opening presents. Jack and Donna gave each other some new measuring cups, which they used to toast the new year. The next day we came back to enjoy leftovers and watch District 9, which was a much better film than Halo: The Movie, as was originally planned.

Mr. and Mrs. Vorticus

Dan & Michelle get all kissy

Vivian and I had a big weekend in Kansas City, where I had the honor of being best man in the wedding of two close Comic Genesis friends: Michelle “Dragonmajik” Mayo and Dan “Vorticus” Zastrow. I got to meet them both in person for the first time at the Comic Genesis cookout in 2006, and I was there to witness their first date at the cookout last year in 2007. It was quite an amazing experience to witness such big moments in a couple’s life even know we all live hundreds of miles apart from each other.

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The big weekend started on Friday when Vivian and I left early to come down to Kansas City and participate in the wedding rehearsal. I got to meet Dan and Michelle’s families for the first time, and afterward we all went out to dinner at Ryan’s. It felt good to catch up with them and see what craziness has been happening on Comic Genesis in my absence. Dan’s brothers and I absconded with him afterward to have a makeshift bachelor party with his dad down at Dave and Buster’s, which we were able to find eventually, no thanks to Google Maps (which led us on a wild goose chance downtown and then scrambling for exits to get to west Kansas City).

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The main event on Saturday was just lovely. I and the other groomsmen got to wear Hawaiian shirts as we bore witness to the union of the couple, and after having several hundred pictures taken, got to blow bubbles at the couple on the way out the door. Vivian, along with Dan’s brothers, had taken the liberty of decorating the groom’s getaway car before the ceremony (with minimal damage, I hope).

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Next on the agenda came the reception, where I had the honor of giving the new couple a toast after we stuffed ourselves with prime rib and potatoes. That and the sugar-laden cake gave us enough energy for some serious dancing throughout the night. The couple went first, then the bride and her father, and finally the groom and his mom did a little Jitterbugging before the rest of us took the floor. I got to work up a sweat and work off a few calories from the evening meal before the bride and groom made their eventual escape.

Drawing with Fading Aura Jack Stack's Barbecue

Once we got the reception hall tidied up, Vivian and I did a little exploring with our Comic Genesis friend “Fading Aura.” We dropped by a World Market to check out a wide selection of Missouri wines, and then made our way downtown in a vain search for a coffee shop in the midst of the busy bar district. We eventually crashed at the lounge of the Marriott to draw comics on a napkin while sipping Bailey’s and hot chocolate together until midnight.

The next day, Vivian and I got to tour the beautiful Country Club Plaza, ducking into interesting little shops along the Spanish-themed streets. We had some delicious Kansas City barbecue for lunch at Jack Stack, finishing it all off with some warm and gooey carrot cake before driving back home.

Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Vorticus! Here’s to a long and happy life together.


Video from Dan and Michelle’s wedding day