Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Introducing the Inter-City News

Prof. Ulichne and I, with a little help from our friends, are publishing a new newspaper called "The Inter-City News," which you can read online by visiting www.inter-citynews.com, or pick up a copy at businesses in the area.

This newspaper serves the area that for many years stood unincorporated between Independence and Kansas City. A lot of people don't remember the Inter-City.  Until the 1940s, the western boundary of Independence was Forest Avenue. The area between Independence and the city limits of Kansas City, which were moving eastward but still several miles away, was generally thought to be "Blue Valley" on account of the Blue River, important at that time for transportation and industrial uses. As the railroads and the street car lines started to connect the two cities, this unincorporated area became known as "Inter-City".

By the 1960s, nearly all of that area had been annexed by Independence and Kansas City, but because this area lies on the farthest reaches of those municipalities, it is the most under-served and blighted area of Independence, and Kansas City should be ashamed as well.

Politicians in both Independence and Kansas City (and even Sugar Creek, for that matter) have no trouble using and abusing Eminent Domain to seize land and homes that are NOT blighted in order to suit the needs of the corporate investors who line their campaign pockets, but for decades these same politicians have ignored the disgraceful blight that exists on the thoroughfares between I-435 and Sterling Avenue in Independence, and the same conditions west of I-435 in Kansas City.

The most painful spectacle of this to us, the publishers of the Inter-City News, is that stretch of 24 Highway that takes visitors that come from around the country and the world to visit the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. The entire metropolitan area should be ashamed of this stretch of roadway and its abandoned businesses, overgrown weeds, run-down houses, crime, tweakers, etc.  "Professor Joyboy" took us on a tour of this route last year in "The Road to Harry's Library," and if you'll click on that link, you'll see what we're up against. 

As we delivered our newspaper to businesses in the Inter-City, asking them to help us distribute them to residents, we heard the same stories over and over again from the business owners and citizens we spoke with.  100% of them feel like the local politicians have completely forgotten the area, or just abandoned it altogether.  "They don't care about us," and "They don't know we exist" were heard often, as Independence people contemplate the hundreds of millions of TIFF dollars handed over to develop the 39th street/1-70 area, which wasn't blighted at all or in need of economic development the way that Inter-City has been for decades.

And so comes The Inter-City News, aiming to use tactics that are "Revolutionary" in the Ben Franklin sense, to mobilize the citizens and catch the attention of the politicians who serve this area.  Thankfully, it's an election year.   Hopefully, this area that despite woeful economic conditions still turns out on Election Day in impressive numbers, will start getting the attention it desperately needs.  Suggestions and sumbissions to the Inter-City News are welcome.  Stay tuned...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Urgent Reminder! Please look!

Saturday, May 24, in a city near you, millions will be gathering to speak out against one of the most evil corporations of all time, Monsanto.  The same people that told our troops in Vietnam that Agent Orange was perfectly safe to breathe now want a monopoly over our food supply, while they're drenching the world's crops that they genetically engineered with record levels of their own herbicides and pesticides, not to mention destroying the bee population.  Watch this "entertaining" video, please!  And no matter what your weekend plans, please take a few hours to add your voice to the growing number of concerned people who are finding out every day what's at stake when a mega-corporation with a long record of poisoning human beings wants to have complete control over the very things that keep us alive:

If you're not in Kansas City, click here to find the rally in your area.   And if you're here in Kansas City...
If you can't be there, you can always help just by educating yourself and telling others.  It's amazing how many people have no idea this is even an issue.  You can help make a difference.  I hope to see you there!

Friday, May 09, 2014

C'mon, Kansas City!

Usually when I come back from a vacation to a bigger city, I'm bursting with pride over my hometown and its beauty.  This was not the case when I got off the Amtrak train at Union Station that brought me from New York and Chicago at 11:15 p.m. tonight.

It's bad  enough that the Southwest Chief takes people through some of the ugliest industrial areas of town and that Amtrak riders, many of them seasoned travelers who enjoy vacationing by rail, see absolutely none of the town's beauty from the train.

Wouldn't it be nice when people depart from the train if they saw a big sign of some sort that said, "Welcome to Kansas City!"  Maybe there was one, but I didn't see it.  It needs to be in lights and look so awesome that everyone who gets off that train (and those that stay on) feel like they are welcome here.

Instead, riders are greeted with a narrow, white, steel staircase that they are expected to carry their luggage up single-file.  If Kansas City wants to be a world-class city, let's get an escalator for these weary travelers!  Is there no money in the city's budget for a project of this scope?  I didn't see anybody greeting or assisting the new arrivals, many of whom looked confused about where to go or what to do.

As an alternative to the steel staircase, disembarking passengers can wait in line with their luggage to pack like sardines into a big elevator that is lacking obvious capacity guidelines.  "How many people can this thing hold?" was heard over and over as people squeezed in.

It was really embarrassing after I'd spent the whole trip telling everyone that would listen how wonderful Kansas City was going to be.  I saw people who had been friendly with me all the way from New York shooting me dirty looks as they dragged their bags up the narrow stairway.

First impressions mean a lot, and all the beauty of Union Station's interior is lost on people who are bedraggled from a long trip, coming into one of the most inconvenient and least appealing depots along the Amtrak line, as seen from the train.

IDEAS: Beautify the area of the track as it is coming through town, add convenience to the platform, and make it look awesome and inviting.  The view from the track, unseen by local motorists, is a great advertising opportunity for Kansas City's many attractions, and would get people excited about being here before they ever reach the station.  A woman from South Carolina who has been through Union Station many times on her way to visit relatives in Leavenworth had no idea that Kansas City has the National World War I Museum, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum,  the Jazz Museum, Crown Center, or anything appealing.  I don't blame people who pass through KC often for not finding any reason to stop and spend their money here.


Use the Toy Train line to bring the Amtrak passengers to the station.

The train platform offers even better opportunities to tell travelers how awesome Kansas City is, because most people on the train never leave the train, continuing instead to more inviting places.

This is the first in a series of rants about "Why Kansas City Can't Compete and How It Could"

Monday, April 21, 2014

Funeral Birthday

   My family was having one of our biggest gatherings ever.  It was the day my nephew Brett turned six years old. But nobody was there to celebrate Brett's birthday. Quite the opposite. We had come together for the "celebration of life" of Brett's 22 year old brother Anthony, who one week earlier was found dead, thousands of miles away in Florida.

   On the way to the church I showed Brett the key I always wore on a chain, a Key to the City of KCMO that I'd bought on ebay, my most prized possession.  It had spent months right next to my heart.  I told Brett we were going to send it along with Anthony.  Brett asked if he could hold it 'till then.  "Of course!"

   We got to the big, beautiful church early, but not early enough to beat the "Early Birds," those mourners who show up to a funeral extra-extra early and get good seats so as not to miss a single dramatic reaction.  As I saw the beautiful and angellic face of the nephew I'd lost, the only thing the Early Birds needed was popcorn as they watched me tearfully and emphatically try to persuade my nephew's stepfather that none of this was actually happening, that none of this was real. There was a tug on my dress.  "Don't worry, Aunt Leigh Ann. It just looks like he's sleeping, and besides, he's in Heaven now. It's better than here."

   That snapped me back to reality, and the Early Birds seemed satisfied as they readied themselves for the next scene.

   For the remainder of the three hour visitation (which ended too soon), I was given charge of the Birthday Boy.  The first thing he wanted was the laminated funeral card that he'd seen in the hands of everyone else there.  We went up to the funeral home representative that was giving them out (not associated with the wonderful people of the church, who were angels of mercy) and I asked for a card for Brett.

"Adults only," she said, reminding me of a matronly liquor store clerk in the winding-down days of a decades-long career. 

  "You see, today's Brett's birthday!" I told her, "and that's his brother in there.  So would you give him one of those cards, please?"

  "If you want him to have one so bad, give him your own," she suggested, without a trace of warmth or sympathy.

   Instead I handed her one of my business cards, and told her that if she didn't give Brett a card I would spend the rest of the year telling everyone I could in Kansas City how her family's company treats bereaved child siblings on their birthdays.  Hardball.

   "Here!" she said, and gave me another card. Brett was thrilled with his funeral card as I walked away, scowling at her.  Wrong date on the card.  Misquoted.

   Most of the visitation I spent proudly showing off Brett to people I hadn't seen in many years.  "This is Anthony's brother Brett.  Today's his birthday!  He's six today!" I'd tell them, seeing that jolt of sad irony dozens of times.  "Today is Brett's day," I kept telling myself.  "Make this about Brett," and I tried to keep him amused while the whole time my heart was just being ripped out of my chest because of why we were there.  I honestly don't know what I would have done without Brett that day.  He kept pulling me back from the worst abyss of my lifetime and I'll be grateful forever.

   His spirits were good.  We looked at pictures. He made me laugh a lot.  He loved the Key to Kansas City.  "Do you want that key, Brett?" I asked him.  "Yeah," he said, "but I want to give it to Anthony."
I told him I had another one almost just like it, but older and better.  "It's from the 1950s," I said.  "From the 1950's? Wow!"  All my family loves nostalgia.  I promised him he could have the other key.

On his sixth birthday, my nephew Brett spent the whole day with everyone he loved saying goodbye forever to his hero big brother.

And today he may be the only 9 year old kid in KCMO with his very own Key to the City.

Happy Birthday, Brett.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The End of Cable TV? (1965)

In 1965 the world's foremost authority on everything to do with television, TV Guide, turned to the experts to find out, "What Ever Happened to Pay-TV?" The answers were sobering for people in the mid-1960s who had been looking forward to the promise and variety that cable television offered.
   "You're probably wondering whatever happened to pay-TV. Where is it? Why hasn't the bright promise materialized? For years, you've been conditioned to beleve that 'feevee,' or 'tollvision,' or 'pay-see,' as it's called variously by its friends and enemies, will one day offer surcrease -- to hipper, more discerning minds -- from the banality of much prime-time TV programming: concerts instead of cowboys, ballet instead of bathos, opera instead of soap opera.
   "Well, so far it hasn't worked out that way, and a lot of experts are beginning to believe that it never will."
Dr. Joseph Smith of the Oxtoby-Smith market research firm pronounced dismally, "I don't see any hope of any pay-TV system ever working."

A few companies, like Zenith and RKO, had seen the potential. John F. Pinto, vice president of the RKO General Phonevision Co., was optimistic. For three years RKO had been offering pay-TV services to 5000 subscribers in Hartford, Connecticut, and insisted, "If we gave the Hartford experiment the full push, we could put it in the black in three or four years."

TV Guide pointed out, though, that the facts could not be ignored.  Two of the three pay-TV experiments in the U. S. and Canada had gone bust, and it wasn't looking good for RKO.  They'd already spent ten million dollars, and would need 20,000 subscribers just to break even.  Zenith was fighting FCC regulations that was keeping them from selling their "unscrambling device" from coast to coast.

The 3 networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS felt threatened and fought hard against pay-TV in Washington. One of the networks called in the Oxtoby-Smith research firm for reassurance.  Dr. Joseph Smith, the impartial researcher, who, by the way, helped design the NBC Peacock, reassured them that Americans would not be willing to spend the $65 a year it was costing to bring arts and culture into their home to replace the Hayseed shows of the day, like The Beverly Hillbillies and Gomer Pyle.  Oxtoby-Smith estimated that cable companies would have to charge as much as $175 a year per household just to survive.

Zenith Radio President Joseph S. Wright called that idea preposterous.  He said they would be happy to get $2 a week per household, but that they could get by charging $1.25.  "The economy and convenience of subscription TV is of greatest importance to middle- and lower- income families who can least afford the higher prices of entertainment."

TV Guide found the most fascinating revelation of the market research to be the fact that people were far more likely to spend money on pay-TV for movies and sports than they would be for culture and educational programming.  The motion picture industry already knew this and was fighting alongside the TV networks in a regulation battle to limit choices for consumers so as to preserve their monopolies over entertainment.