Kansas City isn’t just a city – it is the bi-state city. This was a hard concept for me to grasp; our administrative structure in Russia was such that we had only one city administration represented by one City Council with one mayor. One city, one mayor, one identity.
Here I had to learn the difference between counties, and little towns within Kansas City, with their own City Councils and mayors. North Kansas City – is it Missouri or Kansas? What is County? Are county lines really as important as the State line? Finally! The difference between neighborhoods and blocks! I found out that it was useless to build my knowledge of Kansas City on my Russian experiences of straight streets and one big city.
In Kansas City I had to learn the difference between the downtown area, the Business District, Crossroads, Bottoms, Westport, Plaza and Brookside, North Kansas City, and how they related to the larger metropolitan Kansas City area.
I was lost so many times and put way too many extra miles on my car, until I started grasping that I shouldn’t take Kansas City for granted. Streets that started out running from west to east would suddenly curve and, as capricious girls, will suddenly head north or south, or end to reappear somewhere in a different part of town out of nowhere. When I get an address for Antioch Street I expect it to be not too far from my Antioch apartment in Kansas, not one hour away on Missouri side. Metcalf suddenly changes its name into I-635 in Mission, and Shawnee Mission Parkway isn’t anything else but 63rd Street. My mother asked, “Why is it that we are south of Shawnee Mission Parkway, and here is 62nd Street, while we live on 65th Terrace, and it is north from Shawnee Mission Parkway?”
When we’re lost in Russia, we ask for directions.
Not here, as I was warned by my friends. But how about Missouri being the “Show-Me State?” You cross the State Line, and you can ask any question, I thought. The first and the last time I actually did ask a question took place between Prospect Avenue and Paseo. I had to slow down and ask a pedestrian with a paper bag in his hands to show me directions to the Community Center. He grinned, “I could show you some sexual ecstasy, gorgeous!”
I rolled up the window so quickly that it caught my hair but was afraid to open it again until I was far away, driving as fast as I could. I was working on my breathing to vent out my madness when I saw a police car passing by. I honked several times and waved for help until I got the attention that I desperately needed. I pointed at the back of the man who seemed so dangerous to me now. The police officer strictly instructed me to never open windows to ask for directions. “Officer, how about the ‘Show-Me State’?”
“Mam, those guys will show you what you do not want to know. Never ever stop in this part of town! How do you know that the guy doesn’t have a gun in his bag? You don’t want him to show it to you, do you? Drive safe. This is Kansas City – not Johnson County!”
The police officer waved and went on a pursuit of the pervert. Since then, I don’t ask anybody to show me anything in Missouri and even Kansas. Luckily, my GPS now has all the answers. The only downside of the device is the unpleasant female voice with the attitude, “Off route! Recalculating!” But it is still much more pleasant than the voice of an accidental pedestrian, offering himself out on the street.
“Missouri is definitely a ‘Show Me’ state,” but I think, it applies to both Kansas and Missouri. Intuitively, I understood such context to mean that people here expect others to either prove what they do or say or, at least, demonstrate some common sense in the process. Kansas City is truly a by-state city - maybe, that is why this rule is obviously present on both side of the State Line.
“ILV ME,” the first customized license plate that I noticed, inspired my thinking: “Aha,” I was ecstatic of cracking the owner’s idea behind that puzzle, “this is how people show off here.” That was how my collection had begun. Then followed a “GEEK,” a “WHIT,” a “CROOK,” a “KILLER”, a “FAT BOY,” the “ONLY BOY,” the “BOYSRUS,” “BIPOLAR,” and a “WEENER,” and a “KIDAGIN.” Among women of all ages, I selected a girl with “GR8LIPS” and with “GR8HANZ,” a “SPOYLED” girl and a “RAVEGRL,” a “SPCYMAMA,” a “MAMAHAM.”
License plates educate. When I wondered about the “LONG EZ,” the answer didn’t come so easy: all I could think of was “Long and Easy,” but my son-in-law, Curtis, lit up as soon as I asked - he is a pilot - he happened to know that the owner of the license plate probably was the owner of a slender and elegant private plane Long EZ that is designed for long range efficient flights.
“JAMM” – the lover of jazz, of course: I glanced inside of the car, and a few guitar cases and an amplifier proved my guess. “BACK2KC” – probably KC lovers.
The “LIL KUFN” – showed to me a sense of humor of the driver of, what I thought, was a petite car.
“Lydia, this Honda is not a ‘Little coffin,’” as you think, but the owner is probably a ‘Little Fan’ of KU team,” my husband’s interpretations were always a little different from mine.
The owner of the black Volkswagen drove around with the “LUV PINK” plate.
“Aha, another ‘Mary Kay’ saleswoman,” I was almost sure: they all dream of having a pink Cadillac. Only later I took a second guess, and I got embarrassed: why didn’t I think of a breast cancer advocate or even a victim, rather than making fun of a young girl desiring a pink car but having to drive a black one.
“BRN2WN” - I wondered how it feels to drive with a statement like this? Self-encouragement and self-empowerment were the mottoes of the driver. I was a little envious that didn’t come up with this idea myself.
The owner of a green “LIL BS” was too hard on himself, in my opinion, driving a still-decent car. For some reason, what we have rarely gives us a sense of satiety and we start looking for an upgrade.
The “ZUME”’s owner didn’t let me “GOFRST” but, instead, expressed her arrogant power over us, law-obedient citizens, in a very trivial way. She cut me off and zoomed to the right immediately, just to cut me off again, making a zigzag only a hair away from my bumper, showing me her elegant red middle finger. Only “BYGRACE” I was not killed. When I passed her at the intersection, I tried not to laugh and kept my calm – I was not an American yet to start a road rage.
“PMS” reminded me that, in Russia, we didn’t have an excuse for moodiness and anger spells like in America. I was already introduced to this concept by my lady friend who, one day, waved a plastic card in front of my nose, making me wonder why she wanted me to see her credit card until I narrowed my eyes and saw three capital letters “PMS.” I didn’t know yet that my lady friend clearly had some emotional issues and, knowing that, she had a card ready, just in case. Here on the road, it gave me chills to think what a woman with PMS could do, if she gets angry.
“ADD4YOU” – for me? That was even worse! You have an “ADD” person on one side, a “PMS”ing woman behind, and a "ZUME”r on another side - you might start thinking about Jesus. Oh, here he is: “RIP 4 JES” – still not sure what “RIP” meant. Rest In Peace? I thought, wishes like this are put on gravestones only, but “WHTEVR.”
A severe case of déjà vu appeared from nowhere - “KGB” and “STALIN” – that was an exciting tour back into the history of the Soviet era. Even in Russia, “KGB” and even “STALIN” are anonymous preferences, but here it was displayed right in front of my eyes. This abbreviation of the organization that was a well-known sinister version of the CIA made me think of a Slavic plain, rat-like face behind the wheel, so I sped up at first. But then the icy, sweaty fear chilled me from the inside out, and I drove away from a shiny new BMW, taking the first exit, just in case.
“FRSTLOVR” made me curios. I wanted to see the face of that enigmatic man, who claimed to be THE FIRST LOVER. I bet I would not see an athletic guy with stunning facial features and spiky hair and tanned body, but a short aging man with an enormous ego. There he was, showing his balding head and a large nose through the window – another typical Napoleon. At this moment, I related to another driver with the license plate “LV2LAF” and began feeling like “IMALIVE.”
“GR8GRLS” was a proud mama with several cute girls and “3G BOYS,” I guess, was a proud mama of three sons. Sweet!
“GET BUSY” – I took it as a voice of God that tried to shame me for wasting my time and wandering around staring at other drivers. Good point! The hunt for more and more license plates started looking like a dangerous endeavor. But I already became an American and laughed: “ILL PRCRSTNT TMRRW” - I could always start tomorrow: I will procrastinate tomorrow. So the hunt continued.
…Dillard’s parking lot was full, and my son and I circled for a good ten minutes, until my son gave up, “Mom, what if we just wait and maybe that we get lucky sooner?” He was right; in just a few short minutes, a lady with a child seemed to be heading to her SUV.
“Hurrah!” My son clapped his hands, and we moved forward. Right at this moment, a white Rolls-Royce turned into the aisle at a high speed and cut us off right in front of our noses. My son leaned forward with his mouth wide open.
“Mom, that is so wrong! I can’t believe it.”
“I know! We have to ‘BELIEVE!’ in what we see. It is a real life lesson!”
We both got glued to our seats, staring at the paragon of beauty in the dazzling white suit – a typical “4EVER49” Baby-boomer. It was not her, but the license plate, that astounded us. It had only one word - “PASTOR.”
We both felt really “BLSSD” but didn’t sing “HWGRTHART” – How Great Though Art.