This is a guest post by Joe Buttry, Steve and Mimi’s middle son. At Mimi’s invitation, he and his wife, Kim, are sharing a “2 Roads Diverged” view of their recently completed trip:
Remember how I talked about how old I feel? Well, the day after the memorial, Kim woke up, stretched and was overtaken by terrible pain in her neck. (No, not me.). To be clear, this was not a little tweak that meant she would have to take it easy for a few days. This was a “no, I really don’t know if I can stand up” level of pain.
My wife does a lot of things very well. She is smart, funny, and very determined. Everyone likes to work with her. She is fun to be around. She is a truly strong, independent woman. That can make it hard when she needs help, which is rare. Any time she needs help from another person, Kim can turn…..petulant. It reminds me of the time when my brother Tom was a child and, frustrated that he could not tie his shoe on his own, threw it at my mother. I spent most of this morning trying to help Kim feel better and on guard for metaphorical and literal shoes. (I would be remiss if I didn’t say that this is a joke. Kim has never thrown a shoe at me. But I am a smart ass, and I take nothing for granted.)
We decided to call the nurse line. Surely, they would have advice that would calm us down! It didn’t. They told us that if the pain was that bad (And it was, I have never seen Kim in pain like that.) that there were concerns about nerves and vascular tissue that could have been damaged. That meant that we needed to go to the ER. Shit.
I got her up on her feet. I got the great idea that I could use the rolling chair as a wheel chair and use it to move her around (some real “Weekend at Bernie’s” shit). She, uh, declined, in no uncertain terms, to use the chair. She hated the chair. And probably “Weekend at Bernie’s”. I decided to give up on tying ropes to her arm and working them like a puppet. We would clearly not be checking out by 11, so I arranged a late checkout. I called Tom and commissioned him to take over our responsibility to pick up the sandwiches for the gathering at Mike’s house. He really needed to get on it. He was already late. (seriously, though thanks Tom.) I researched ERs (And Kim worked on why our insurance company thought our coverage was cancelled. Spoiler alert; not our fault, everything ended up fine eventually.). The nearby ER was in the network we should have had, so we got Kim ready and headed out.
Kim babystepped her way into the lobby (it would have been much easier in a rolling chair) and I grabbed the car. We drove around the block (it was really close) and I dropped Kim off at the door. I went to park, but all of the patient parking was in the garage (in Minneapolis they call them parking ramps. It’s like how the English say “lift” instead of “elevator”, but with a different accent.) that a was not tall enough for the SUV and the storage container on top. It was the weekend, so there was plenty of doctor parking. Despite the fact that I do not qualify (they do give out doctorates in theatre, but I do not have one.), and I was driving a very undoctorly 2009 car/house I took one and told the nurse up front. She said she would let security know.
The doctor (of medicine, I assumed, not theatre) checked Kim out and told us she had a condition, the name of which I do not recall. Kim turned down the bigtime drugs in favor of a shot of anti-inflammatory. I still don’t know why. They also gave her a prescription for valium, which she never took. Again, I still don’t know why. She also got a totally sweet neck brace. I dropped her at the hotel which we booked for another night and headed to Mike’s house to regale the family with tales of aging and neck braces. Even though she was on the lightweight anti-inflammatory, Kim passed out and had a nice drug dream.
We spent the rest of the day resting, reading and working on the first installment of this blog series. Kim looks very sad in her neck brace and I feel bad for laughing at her, but every time I stop she makes an overly dramatic sad face just to make me laugh again.
The next day Kim was already feeling better. She still hurt, but she was able to get out of bed on her own, which was quite a boon to her disposition. We picked up the dogs and took them for a quick visit with our niece Madeline. (Julia was at school, so sadly she missed the dogs.) The dogs loved it and shortly after leaving Susie texted us that Madeline “just turned into Leeroy”.
We hit the road and there were two big changes to our driving situation: I was driving and the dogs were riding on the floor and they would have to be ok with it. Kim was in no shape to drive, so it was my turn to drive long stretches. Up until this point she had handled the vast majority of the driving. I think she saw it as a point of feminist pride. Driving thousands of miles was not the woman’s role, so that is exactly what she did. Before we left, Kim’s Dad asked if I would be driving. She simply answered “No. It is my car. Why would he drive?” I see myself as a feminist, so who am I to fight it? With her new-found injury related shotgun seat, Kim could also not deal with the dogs climbing all over her. Both dogs would have to ride on the floor. Leeroy had been fine with riding on the floor. He typically made himself comfortable and slept. The concern was Harry. He would settle in on his bed in the back seat from time to time, but for the most part, he wanted to be on my lap. With some little whiney protest noises, he eventually saw that it wasn’t going to happen and he settled in with his dog brother.
Our next stop was a brief layover in Des Moines to see my mom and Aunt Mary. We swung by Mary’s house for a quick bite to eat and a nice chat. The dogs loved Mary and she loved the dogs. She sent us on our way with a load of gluten free snacks, fruit, and even a box of dog treats. The memorial didn’t allow us to spend very much one on one time with people, so it was lovely to actually sit and talk. Growing up, our family was very close with their family. My uncle Jim spoke beautifully at Dad’s memorial about just that topic. Mary and Jim are my Godparents. The three boys of my family were all close in age with the three girls in theirs, often arguing about which birth position was best (Consensus was the middle children are the best. Meg and Joe win.). I spent a lot of time at this house as a child, and it had been years since I was here. Many of you reading this know that my family was fairly transient, moving frequently. Two years after I left Omaha for Las Vegas my parents moved to the Washington, DC area, reuniting with Mike and Tom who were already out there. Mary and Jim’s house is probably the longest tenured home in my life, so walking into it is as close as I can get to walking into one of my several childhood homes.
We continued on to Omaha, which would be our stop for the next few nights. For the four summers I worked at the Des Moines opera, I made this drive many many times. As long as it isn’t snowing it is as simple as a drive gets. We grabbed food for all of us and pulled up to our friend Nick’s condo a little after dark.
Nick is the kind of friend who, no matter how much time has passed, we pick up right where we left off. A good deal of the time that is making fun of each other, which makes the fact that Kim got out of the car with a neck brace on extra funny. Except for all Kim’s terrible pain. Nick has an awesome place inside a giant old Omaha home that has been divided into several condos. Our dogs met his dog Mr. Pickles with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for the dog park. Mr. Pickles is a Pekinese with a super sweet disposition, which is good, because our dogs come in like little furry wrecking balls.
In a time of upheaval and uncertainty in my life, Omaha was still Omaha. Ever changing, it will always hold a special place in my heart. I spent some of the best years of my life here hating this town. It grew on me once I left. It has also grown into itself in that time, though many of my old haunts have been a casualty of that progress. The friends I made here are what gives the city it’s life. Nick is one of the deepest of those connections.
The next morning Kim went to see one of her old college roommates and I stayed behind, so the dogs wouldn’t wake up Nick’s entire building. Jerks. We spent a lot of time just hanging around Nick’s place. I am a true-blue introvert, and the last few days, while amazing, had me drained. I was happy to spend some time at the laundromat reading a book and washing my laundry. Kim and I have found a love for laundromats that had laid dormant for some time. It is so much more efficient to wash everything at once, with a couple of nice breaks perfectly made for sitting quietly, ignoring everyone around you and reading a book (three of my favorite things to do).
Kim’s Grandma is a huge fan of our dogs (because she only sees them in pictures), so we took them over to her place for a quick visit. They took turns spending time on her lap while the other one tried to find trouble. I ended up shuttling them outside a few times.
We continued the tour of visits with friends from the past with a visit with Kim’s college friend Mario and his family. Mario and his wife recently had a baby (Isabell). Gabby, Mario’s older daughter, arrived dressed in a drapey cardigan and a scarf in an attempt to dress like Kim. It is adorable. We had some ice cream and caught up.
The next day we grabbed some lunch and took it to Kim’s parent’s house. The dogs got to run around the back yard until Leeroy decided to leap off of the 3’ tall retaining wall in an effort to earn another expensive knee surgery. We sat in the kitchen for a bit and talked about where we’d been, where we were going and how the dogs were managing.
I took a look at the weather for the next couple days. Our plan was to swing through Kansas City and catch a ball game, but with thunderstorms in the forecast we start to rethink. We opted to go with seats in the covered bar area over seats on the first base line where I watched games as a kid in case the storms hit. I could tell that Kim was only into the plan because I was and that spending the game in the rain was going to have significant impact on her enjoyment. I booked a hotel walking distance from the stadium that Kim’s parents suggested. They have a free happy hour. I like free happy hour.
The next morning, we hit the road to Kansas City. This is another stretch of road that I have traveled many times. For the last few years that I was in Omaha, Kansas City served as the town over the hill that was everything I wanted Omaha to be. It has a culture to it that few mid-sized Midwestern towns have. There is a performing arts scene. There is a rich African-American history that has directly contributed to its deep-rooted Jazz and Barbecue cultures. There are professional sports teams that I have invested in all of my life. Only recently has that investment started to pay off. Growing up, my brothers and I spent many nights at the ballpark with my dad. More recently, he paid off a 30-year-old promise to take Mike to the World Series the next time the Royals went.
I would consider moving back to Kansas City. It is what Las Vegas isn’t. People on planes landing in Kansas City don’t yell “Kansas City, Baby! Whooooo!”, and I fucking love that. If the two cities were people, Las Vegas is the friend of a friend who gets you arrested while Kansas City is the genuinely kind aunt who welcomes you into her home and sends you on your way with gluten free snacks for your wife. I’m 36. I will take the second one all day long.
I made it my mission to get Kim to view Kansas City differently. While we were still in Omaha, I contacted my cousin, Doug Worgul. Doug literally wrote the book on Kansas City Barbecue. Two actually, one Non-fiction and one novel. Get them both and read them.
Genuine barbecue enthusiasts from real barbecue towns know a few Truths (capital T on purpose). Real Barbecue has a wait. While in Minneapolis, my cousin Jonathan, who is from Austin, spoke about the wait to quality ratio. The best barbecue will have the longest wait, but very very good barbecue has a much smaller wait. Doug works for marketing at one of KCs best places. There is always a wait. Doug has opinions about barbecue. (and, because he is a Kansas City guy, they are the correct opinions.) He is not shy to talk about burnt ends. Burnt Ends are the truly Kansas City addition to the barbecue zeitgeist. They are the crispy, caramelized ends of the brisket. (and only the brisket. There are places that will say they have pork burnt ends. Even Kansas City places. They are not. They may taste good, but have some damn integrity and eat the real deal.) They used to be cast off. They were considered waste. However, barbecue as a tradition is rooted in taking cast off waste and making it delicious. Burnt ends are the cast off of the cast off. This makes burnt ends the pinnacle of that tradition. But you would know all of that if you owned Doug’s book.
We pulled into town and headed to drop the dogs at a boarder for the night. I took Kim down 39th Street, which was a really cool area of Kansas City. We stopped at Prospero’s used books, which is probably my favorite used book store in the world. My favorite part of Prospero’s is that in the Midwest even the quiet, hard to crack, introverted used book salesmen are nice. We then headed to Joe’s Kansas City. Doug told us to meet him at the original location (they have grown to have 3) inside a gas station. There was a line almost to the door when we got there at 3 pm on a Thursday. Doug met us and we grabbed some food from the to go counter. He walked us through the back of house to the conference room. I work in entertainment and know this move. Walking people backstage during a show or load in is like a mini tour. They see a little of what goes into the show. I also worked in kitchens for most of college, so there isn’t any allure to being in a professional kitchen, but I ate this shit up. He walked us by the pit while he told us about the wood they use and why. And it was awesome. He took us to the conference room where there were rolls of paper towels on the table. NEW LIFE GOAL! Work at a place that has so much barbecue they need paper towels on the conference table. We sat and talked for a while about his writing, my dad, and Kansas City. He is something of an ambassador for Kansas City. If you watch the show “The Mind of a Chef” about barbecue (more specifically, smoke), he is in it talking about Kansas City barbecue in the Joe’s Kansas City gas station (more specifically, about how Kansas City is THE barbecue capitol of the world). He talked up the city to Kim, who has seen a little more of the charm on this trip than she had previously. We had a pretty much perfect visit. FYI, a pretty much perfect visit starts with a Z-man sandwich with family and ends when it is time to get to the Royals game.
We arrived at the hotel and unloaded the hotelement. I hit up the free happy hour and had a few free drinks. Kim borrows a Royals shirt (a personal high point in our relationship) and we walk to the ball park.
Walking into Kauffman Stadium I am sadder than I had thought I would be. Up until this point, things that remind me of my father were welcome. I have many things of his that I see and they always make me smile. His memory is never far. It might be that I steeled myself for the hard moments knowing they would be hard and I did not do that before this game. We entered through the right field gate and crossed the outfield concourse. I walked over to the railing behind the right field fountains and take a second. It was at this spot the previous summer the four of us stopped to have our picture taken. It was the last trip to Kansas City that my father took.
On that trip, we caught two games. The picture was taken just before the first game. It did not go well. That is the only time that I have seen a position player pitch (Drew Butera, he pitched well then doubled the next inning.). The next day we watched a much better game with Ian Kennedy pitching a great game and Kendrys Morales hitting two home runs (he hit one the game before). That was the last baseball game that I watched with my father. Kim and I found our seats and took a breath. We shed a few tears, but, in the words of a fictional drunken baseball manager, “there’s no crying in baseball!” Then we settle in and watch one of the few Royals games worth watching early in the 2017 season (Jason Vargas went 7 2/3 scoreless, striking out 8. The Royals offense did enough to get it done, all of it early in the game.). Kim enjoys the fancy gin drinks, I have a few Boulevard wheats, and we enjoy our time together. After a Royals loss, Dad would often say “Even a bad day at the ballpark is a really good day.” Well, this was a really good day at the ballpark.