It took a trip to the Mayan ruins recently for me to get a global view of what others think of Kansas City.
Never mind that Kansas City now has winning professional football, baseball and soccer teams. Forget about the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the Country Club Plaza and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art being world class.
Also ignore Kansas City ranking No. 6 on Lonely Planet’s Top 10 U.S. Travel Destinations for 2014. Our town to outsiders is flyover territory — somewhere in Kansas.
Kansas City’s image problem starts where my partner, Bette, and I left for the Mayan ruins — Kansas City International Airport. Of course it’s not international.
Kansas Citians going on international trips have to fly to a major airport in a “real” city to get to another country. For travelers either stuck at our airport or changing planes and airlines there, KCI is purgatory.
There is little to do and few places to shop or eat. It’s not like airports in real cities.
At KCI, travelers can connect to the free wireless Internet service, charge electronic gadgets or read. Its three terminals were made for quick departures and arrivals with speedy parking, shuttle, luggage and security services.
It has pleased area travelers for more than 40 years, and many don’t want it changed especially when going to one terminal could cost more than a billion dollars.
Atlanta was where we boarded a flight to Cancun International Airport, which had an astounding mall area. Shops included souvenirs, restaurants and bars, clothing stores, drugstores, convenience stores and boutique outlets. We took a shuttle to Playa del Carmen and The Grand Mayan resort.
When people asked where we were from I’d proudly say, “Kansas City.” Many responded, “Oh, I’ve never been to Kansas.”
Initially I explained that Kansas City is in Missouri; Kansas City, Kan., is a separate town. But Kansas kept sprouting like unwanted sunflowers in conversations. People from other countries and the U.S. vacationing in Mexico wanted to know what one might see and do in Kansas.
Describing the Country Club Plaza to them was like trying to get a fish to walk. And, by the way, the Plaza isn’t in Kansas. Kansas City also has the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the American Jazz Museum and Crown Center.
“What’s a Crown Center?” some asked. “Is it in Kansas?”
No. Kansas has a lot of windmills, the Flint Hills, wheat fields and Kansas City, Kan., has NASCAR. People knew NASCAR.
They didn’t know that the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was in Kansas City in 2012, that Sporting Kansas City is a big star in the soccer world, that the Chiefs and Royals aren’t perennial losers anymore and that our town is a contender for the Republican National Convention.
Hope briefly appeared from talking with a young archeologist at the Mayan ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula. He had recently returned from Egypt, where he discussed the difference between the ancient ruins in Mexico versus the pyramids.
He knew Kansas City is in Missouri and had even been here. He asked Bette where she was from.
She said the Bay Area but she now lives in Kansas City. He asked her whether she’d gotten used to Kansas City.
She described the summer heat and humidity, which sometimes rivals the Mexican tropics. The winters, she said, dump merciless amounts of snow, making driving difficult, and the subzero temperatures are like nothing she has experienced.
The archeologist again asked Bette whether she had gotten used to Kansas City yet.
She said no.
To which he responded, “And you never will.”
Kansas City travelers have to learn to grin and bear others’ misimpressions of our great town.