TOM PENDERGAST’S OFFICE ON MAIN STREET
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
March 22, 2004
Dave opened the Country Club Cafe for awhile on Saturday because plenty of visitors had showed up in town for St. Patrick’s Day, March Basketball Madness, and a convention or two, and Dave wanted his share of the millions of dollars of revenue expected as a consequence. Dave had told me on the day before that he would be open.Yes, he said in response to my question, he would very much like to have a brand new basketball arena downtown, right next door to his cafe, thank you very much.
The joint was jumping when I showed up, which is saying a great deal, especially for a Saturday: business is usually slow even on the busiest business day. Mind you, the sidewalks downtown are rolled up after business hours; you could skate down the middle of the streets – Gully City is a hilly city – but Mayor Kaye Barnes does not like skateboarding downtown – she is afraid someone might scratch the concrete.
Bill, the weird guy that calls me crazy was around the cafe, so I chatted with him while I took a fatherly interest over his shoulder in the young ladies lined up for java. I remarked that it was nice to have some normal looking human beings around. Bill said they might be aliens. One of the young women standing nearby made the usual observation which visitors are inclined to make, that Kansas City was as dead as a doornail. Although I am a greenhorn to Kansas City, I played tour guide and told her and companions that Kansas City has many charms, but they are spread out. Since they had only a few hours to spare and no car, I recommended that they take a bus for a buck to Union Station, the War Memorial and Crown Center, if they were not up to walking the short mile thereto.
The power of my own suggestion overcame me, wherefore I took the walk up Main Street myself. Of course I was the only pedestrian along the way at that eleventh hour in the morning. As I approached Michael’s “Fine Clothes For Men” haberdashery founded in 1907, I remembered Edgar Kaplan, a salesman for same, the first man I had met in Kansas City, one chilly Saturday morning last November when I took my first walk ever up Main. Ed was outside the old store, now painted black with a huge tape measure painted on one side, “getting a breath of fresh air,” meaning he was having a smoke. He was the first person I had seen while walking around downtown that Saturday. He waved, and I crossed the street to chat with him.
“Not much business around here,” I remarked. Ed told me that looks are deceiving, that Michael’s is in fact a very busy store, that 18 suits were sold the day before, and that a half-dozen Stetson hats are sold every day, mostly to appreciative African Americans. He moved to Kansas City from New York some time ago, he said. Of course he has been in the clothing business for many years. He likes Kansas City but he prefers New York for its cultural aspects. I asked him about the other black building on the property, the old bank dated MCMXV. It’s a lesbian bar, he said, and a very good tenant at that. Furthermore, he said there was another gay bar or two in the area, which he identified as the Crossroads District – struggling artists moved into the old warehouses and rejuvenated the area with youthful aspirations, but are now being run off by high property taxes and other bourgeois niceties.
“That’s Boss Pendergast’s old place over there,” Ed declared, pointing at the Hotel Monroe property on the next block. “Boss Pendergast?” I asked. “Yes, Tom Pendergast, the boss, that’s where he was, at 1908 Main.
The number 1908 rang a bell. I had just lived in an apartment by that number in Hawaii for a few years, and had written half of a book about the year 1908. Now every time I walk over to Union Station to have a snack and pretend I am going somewhere great, I stop at 1908 Main and peer in. It is a small two-story structure next to the Hotel Monroe – the hotel is presently being restored. Last Saturday I pressed my face against the glass, looked up the dilapidated steps, and imagined that I had stood in line for a few hours and was now going up to see Tom Pendergast on the second floor.
Tom is a better man than all the current civic leaders put together, I thought as I mounted the stairs at the head end of the line. Their projects enrich the rich and provide more junk for the bulging-belly, upper middle class, but Tom has something for everybody regardless of class, color or creed providing he is a real Democrat, even if he is an honest and conscientious “goody two-shoes” like Harry Truman.
I’ll show Boss Pendergast my stuff today, I fantasized, and I’ll bet he’ll have something good for me to do for the community: use my communication skills, maybe write some speeches, make some calls, call on people, whatever, wherever, for he’s the boss.
At least The Boss will see me, and that’s more than today’s civic leaders will do as they sit around in their boxes repeating the hackneyed phrase to themselves, “Think outside of the box.” It’s no wonder they are so square after devoting most of their lives to getting inside of their concrete and glass and steel boxes, all modeled after The Box. They will not let anyone inside unless he has box-credentials, and what’s thought outside of the box really scares them although they give lip-service to thinking outside of the box.
But never mind the Box Heads. After The Boss hears me out, and if he cannot use my communications skills himself, I know that he will not give me a regular lead-pencil referral note, or have me delayed with a note in blue lead until something comes up. No, he will write my referral, say, to the City Manager, in red, so I will go right to work for the cause, because what leaders in that Ready-Mixed Concrete Box need most of all is a dose of independent thinking. They don’t remember where their material or spiritual foundations came from!
On the other hand, I thought as I backed away from the door of 1908 Main Street to continue my walk uptown, maybe Tom Pendergast would not care for independent thinking. Maybe he would knock me out with one punch. But I doubt it, because the civic leaders today need a punch in the nose more than I do. Shame on them and the H&R Block-headed editors and basketball-brained reporters of their media trumpet, the twinkling Kansas City Star