News » Kansas City Strip

A Real Gas

Pack a meal (and a mop) for the bus trip to Legends.


In case you haven't noticed, we're celebrating the grand opening of Legends at Village West. Legends is a "lifestyle center" — that is, a shopping mall that tries to replicate the authentic Main Street experience that shopping malls have spent the last 40 years obliterating.

Legends received enormo subsidies from the state of Kansas. Sales-tax-supported bonds have paid for about half of the $573 million construction in western Wyandotte County.

But amid the fanfare — a Counting Crows concert in the parking lot! — the Strip heard some shop owners whining about how hard it was to find good employees for their service-wage jobs. Chad Devorak, regional manager for Cali-based restaurant Yard House, told KMBC Channel 9's Chris Nagus of his troubles prying servers from established restaurants on the Plaza and in Overland Park.

So, what? The state is supposed to start a staffing agency for these guys, too? The Strip's handy-dandy supply-and-demand curves say Boss Man needs to quit fussin' and reach into his wallet if he wants a crack staff.

Besides, it ain't easy for some working folks to get to Village West.

The Strip is nothing if not a meat of the people. So, one morning last week, it pretended to be a carless resident of downtown Kansas City, Kansas, trying to get to a job at Legends.

The Strip started at North 7th Trafficway and State Avenue at 9:40 a.m. The plan was to walk in a westerly direction until we hit a bus stop. State Avenue, after all, dumps right into the Kansas Speedway, right?

Well, the Strip came across plenty of weedy lots and pawnshops, but there wasn't a bus stop to be found. This commutin' cutlet was flummoxed.

The Strip veered over to Minnesota Avenue, where it spotted a telltale stick-figure-boarding-a-bus sign outside a check-cashing store. But would the 101 line take us to Legends? Unknown, said the Magic 8-Ball.

We backtracked and ducked into the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Library, where a rack of route maps shined like a beacon. Sure enough, a Metro bus travels along State Avenue. But the route begins at Indian Springs Shopping Center — 40 blocks west of downtown KCK! Aargh!

The Strip learned that the 101 could get us to Indian Springs (the Village West of the 1970s), so it headed back to the check-cashing agency.

It was 10:15. The bus was a few minutes late, giving the Strip a chance to study route times. Our prospective employers had better not want us to work on Sundays, because the 101, like God, rests on that day.

The 101 arrived and delivered the Strip to Indian Springs just as another bus pulled away from the curb.

"Asshole!" yelled one of the other passengers, who had wanted to transfer to the departing bus.

That passenger was Marlon Eason, who told the Strip he's from Savannah, Georgia, where grandmothers watch children from their porches and bus drivers don't speed off without waiting for transfers. Eason said he'd moved to the area two weeks ago to be close to his daughter.

Eason and his co-passengers had disembarked at Indian Springs to find blood splattered on the pavement under the bus-shelter bench. A breeze turned the pages of a magazine that had stuck in the blood as it dried. "You all got a murder rate more than I got money in my pocket," Eason declared.

He described how he had been unable to find work. He said he went to culinary school, but a felony conviction for selling drugs six years ago inevitably trumps his kitchen skills. It was wrong to sell drugs, he admitted. "But don't use my past against me," he urged unknown future employers. "Look at what I want to do now."

At 10:57 a.m., the Strip said goodbye to Eason and boarded a short bus to Village West.

At 11:10, the bus stopped at Kansas City, Kansas, Community College. The driver received a call that a woman had left her purse on the bus. The black bag was found unzipped on a seat next to a guy with uncombed gray hair and old jeans.

"Did you mess with the purse?" the driver asked him.

"No," the man said.

The driver looked skeptical.

Two police cruisers met the bus at Providence Medical Center. The cops took the purse after a brief conversation with the driver. Gray Hair stayed in his seat and made an I-didn't-do-it shrug.

The purse handoff caused a delay. One passenger worried that he would be late for his job at the Village West Arthur Bryant's. The buses usually run on time, said the man (who declined to give his name). Even so, he relies on friends and relatives to get home at night. He works until 10 p.m. — too late to catch the last State Avenue bus that leaves Village West.

Finally, at 12:35 p.m., the bus arrived at Nebraska Furniture Mart.

The Strip had made a 10-mile trip in less than 2 hours!

Sadly, this travelin' tenderloin knows such experiences are all too common. Back in 2003, a group called Good Jobs First surveyed economic-development programs — loans, grants, tax incentives — in all 50 states. It found that not a single state coordinated its subsidies with public-transportation planning. Worse, governments keep helping developments in suburban and rural areas, shafting city dwellers who most need the jobs.

Later that day, the Strip read that the Unified Government spends $1.4 million on public transportation. WyCo Transit Director Marcia Bernard recently told The Kansas City Star she was working with the folks in Topeka to get more money to increase bus service on nights and weekends. But if county officials could afford to pay for the robotic dinosaurs at the Legends restaurant T-Rex, the Strip figures they could have peeled off a few bones for buses, too.

The Strip will give props to the transit authority. Once she handed off the purse, the State Avenue bus driver hauled ass to make up for lost time. And on the return trip, the Strip noticed that someone had cleaned up the blood at the bus shelter.

Add a comment