Archive for August, 2015

Clear Focus, New Heights – #4

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015

Breathe’s YouTube channel goes live!

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

Very excited to launch our YouTube channel! I have had so much (yes, so much!) fun in creating my first half a dozen vlogs, and learned so much too. The first few are spoilt slightly due to the sound quality (the Colorado River caused the problem), but I am learning – and have purchased an additional microphone! Two vlogs available at the moment, the others to be released gradually and two more currently in production – one using Lego which has been particularly fun! If you choose to watch any – thank you – and any feedback welcome to help me in

Kansas City – no grey areas

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

I first became aware of Kansas City through my love of the Beatles’ music – I used to listen to Paul McCartney’s upbeat lyrical rendition of the Leiber and Stoller original on my vinyl version of the ‘Beatles for Sale’ album.  Consequently, Kansas is one of those places that has a musical meaning for me – like Winslow, Albuquerque and Wichita – that have featured along my train journey across the US on the South West Chief (the old Santa Fe Railroad route).

So much so, and due to the City’s influence on American music – and jazz in particular – I decided to stop off there for a day. Its 101-year old Union Station is a cathedral of the railroad, as so many US stations are, and has been beautifully renovated. It welcomes the arriving traveller with dedications to two of its most significant contributions to the history of the country – music and baseball.

I walked to my hotel in the Downtown area to check in. “Okay, you are from England. What brings you to Kansas City?” was the Receptionist’s question once she had ascertained who I was. I have recognised that this question – or versions of it –is generally included in the conversation when I arrive at locations that are not generally visited by English people.  It’s almost as if the staff think that they might have missed something that’s taking place, escaped their radar. I can recall similar such interjections in Natchez, Mississippi, and Tallahassee, Florida.

Having satisfied the Receptionist that I knew where I was and there wasn’t a convention that she didn’t know about, I asked if there was any tourist information material. She kindly offered me a couple of maps, and gave me details of the rejuvenated shopping centre area (a couple of miles away). She was also keen to inform me of the fact that Kansas City has the second most fountains of any city in the world. It is second behind Paris, apparently.

My limited research on the city had not elicited either of these pieces of information. My research had recommended to me the town centre, Science City and Union Station, how Bar-B-Q meat was the local treat, and also how the American Museum of Jazz, the Blue Room jazz venue and the Museum of Negro League Baseball were all to be found in the city.

The Museums were in the “18th and Vine” district, so off I trotted. The area was about 15 blocks from Downtown and the map indicated that they were located together. About 8 – 10 consecutive blocks of my journey contained little if any housing; the majority of the buildings were industrial, some in use and some ‘between occupants’.

On my way, I checked for “the corner of Twelfth Street and Vine” as is mentioned in the original lyrics to Kansas City, to see if there was, “a Kansas City baby and my bottle of Kansas City wine”. Sadly, the junction didn’t even exist – perhaps that’s why the lyrics were dropped from the Beatles’ version?

At the Negro League Baseball Museum, I learned how influential and successful the Kansas City Monarchs had been in the days of segregated leagues, thus giving justification to the location of the Museum geographically within the US. I also learned how Presidents, First Ladies and rock stars had been to visit (and I guess the shopping area hasn’t had a similar level of dignitaries). Finally, I learned that the Blue Room had live music that evening.

I did already know that “18th and Vine” is a predominantly ethnically black area. I had also seen conflicting advice on various websites as to how safe or dangerous it was to visit the area. Whilst being aware of this, having some knowledge of recent and significant racial tensions in Missouri (the vast majority and all major buildings in the city being in Missouri, not the State of Kansas), I decided to wander back in the evening to check out the Blue Room.

Between times, I learned that that there had been an appalling massacre a few hours earlier at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The TV news channels were devoting most of their time to the unfolding story. A lone gunman had killed 9 members of the congregation, it appeared to be racially motivated and emotions were understandably running high.  Should I change my plans for the evening? I decided not to.

Prior to going to the music venue, and because it was pretty much en route, I decided to also visit Gates Bar-B-Q for a Kansas signature feast – the place had been recommended to me by the ticket teller in Flagstaff (well over a 1,000 miles away).

As I made my way to Gates, and then to the Blues Room, it was obvious that this was an area where black Americans lived. Where games were being played, all the ball players were black. All the meetings on street corners were between black people. There was also a different feel to when I had been there in the morning. There were a lot more people and it was also a lot noisier. But at no point did I fell threatened. But at no point did I feel welcome. It was the same when I left the Blue Room.

Only two people proactively made an effort to speak to me whilst I spent my hour or so walking in the area – a man who had left his car to pop into a shop and a man working on a streetlight. They were also the only two white Americans I saw whilst I was there. It reminded me of how away supporters at a sports who have never met before are more likely to engage with each other than home supporters in a similar situation. It also left me feeling uncomfortable.

And there were no fountains in this part of the city.

When I arrived back in Downtown Kansas City, it was later in the evening and the place was buzzing. Lots of young people, a couple of large concerts taking place and several smaller venues with live music. The vast majority of those out and about (excluding those at work) were white Americans.

It had a very different feel from 18th and Vine. No better, no worse, just different. Absolutely nobody spoke to me here, black or white.

The Negro League Baseball Museum had been all about segregation – black players not being able to play with white players. This had finally been eradicated in 1960 – but I have to say it felt like it was still evident in the city itself.

But is it any different in certain areas of Britain? Is it just more apparent in the US because of the ready access to firearms and the incidents this creates?

Whatever the realities in either country, this is not a model for diverse integration. Some people may be comfortable living like this, but it will always engender hatred in a minority of people through ignorance and a lack of understanding.

A small step in the right direction could be a few fountains in 18th and Vine – which could be a start to it feeling more like one City – and the City might also overtake Paris then.