And as chance would have it, I would encounter each of these kind of odds on a short 24-hour trip to Kansas City.
Not exactly the kind of odds a travel blogger might dare research. I am not afraid to fly, only curious. I once jumped from an airplane. But at least now I knew the likelihood the plane I was on (or the plane I would be on the next day or the next day) would very unlikely perish over missing parts.
It was Major League Baseball opening game day. So I then turned my curiosity to the odds of catching a ball at a major league ballgame: 563 to 1. We wouldn’t be going to the ball game but planned to catch a game over dinner once we arrived.
I first checked the stats of our hometown Astros. Had we been home, chances are we would have been at the game, and the odds of catching a ball at a major league ballgame would more relevantly come into play.
As we navigated to the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, Scott chatted up our driver in his usual inquisitive, conversational manner.
“Say, where’s the best place to go for barbecue in town?”
While I’m not a food blogger, food is an essential element of travel because travel is never a mere destination. I couldn’t wait to drop our bags off in our room, dash out and explore the flavor of Kansas City.
On waiting for a cab, I noticed an impressive fountain across the street that ran nearly a block long. Varied-height water columns spewed from 112 geyser-like jets, shooting water several feet skyward and falling back onto a series of granite steps below in a waterfall pattern.
A mini-van cab pulled up, temporarily distracting my thought of the fountain, and we hopped in for the short five-minute ride to Fiorello’s Jack Stack Barbecue. It’s said to be the best in town.
So we ventured inside. We opted for dinner at the bar to avoid the wait for a table. The decor and lighting mimicked most barbecue or steakhouse restaurants — dimly lit and dressed in multiple shades of deep mahogany with dark, high-glossed wood and leather accents. Amber lamp shades added more warmth as does the deep yellow-to-orange glow of a lit fireplace.
Multiple televisions displayed Target Field’s freshly groomed and chalked baseball diamond in Minneapolis. The Kansas City Royals would start the season as the visiting team against my Minnesota Twins. I don’t follow Minnesota sports as closely as I do my Texas teams, but since I was born in Minnesota, I feel an obligation to – at least – root for them.
A quick study of the odds of the game revealed it would be anyone’s bet who would win this one. One report showed the Kansas City Royals in favor of a win on opening night. Most of the sportsbooks reported the Royals were the underdogs of 105. The latest report this week rated the Twins at #29, and the Royals at #30. But considering probability, the Twins also had not won an opening game in nine years.
We couldn’t find seats together at the bar. People tend to leave that one-chair gap between them and the stranger next to them. I notice this at airport gates too. An older gentleman and another man who looked Iike he could be the gentleman’s son politely offered to shift a chair to the right at the corner of the bar that would leave two seats together for us.
We thanked them, exchanged a few pleasantries with (as I suspected) the father-son duo, then asked the bartender which entree on the menu offered the best of Kansas City barbecue. She suggested the Jack’s Best sample plate: prime beef rib, pork baby backs and beef burnt ends. The beef burnt ends was a new find and, as I’d come to know, the signature barbecue dish of Kansas City.
You can find a variety of barbecue in every corner of all 50 states of America, but the heavy-weight contender titles belong to Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas and Kansas City.
So I ask myself: what are the odds this plate of Kansas City will deliver a smackdown over Texas barbecue?
So what’s the difference?
Kansas City smokes its meats over hickory while Texas tends toward pecan or oak. And the sauce. Kansas City is thick and sweet like molasses; Texas goes for a kick in the pants with a hit of heat.
I reached for the burnt beef ends, since it’s the signature dish. Burnt beef ends are the fatty end pieces of brisket. The fat and the sugary molasses in the sauce with a bit of charring creates a caramelized crust. But because it is that fatty end, venturing beyond the crust is, well, fat.
The other meat samples were good but seemed to be missing sauce. I suppose I’m more accustomed to BBQ basted with sauce then served with extra sauce to pour or dip like gravy. Dinner was satisfaction but no smackdown of the barbecue back home.
We wrapped up dinner and conversation, and headed back to the hotel where I would learn my Minnesota Twins won their first opening season game since 2008.
Despite the Twins’ win over the Royals, the next morning the fountains across the street gushed splashes of bright blue water – a show of pride for the city’s MLB team. Loyal Royals.
We set out for our day visit to the local Ronald McDonald House that houses children with severe medical needs and their families who are away from home for rehabilitation, surgery or specialized treatment. Ronald McDonald House Charities is a special place on its own, but I’ve had a deep connection from the time I was 12 years old with the RMHC Family that serves families across the country.
I was a resident of RMH in Dallas after my older sister, Mary Helen, was in a car accident at 17. Mary Helen and her boyfriend Charles were on their way to a baseball game when their pickup truck was struck by another pickup truck head on after it had crossed over into their lane. Charles was killed immediately upon impact. My sister suffered a severe closed-head injury among a plethora of other injuries: torn ligaments, a crushed knee cap, broken bones and a ruptured spleen.
Bruised and swollen beyond recognition, she lied in a hospital bed in a coma fighting to beat the odds the emergency room doctors predicted. She had a 10 percent chance of surviving that first night. Her odds improved each night. Eventually she woke up and became stabilized enough to be moved from ICU to a hospital room. While her life was spared, she still had a long road ahead of her.
That road would be how I arrived at the Ronald McDonald House. My mom, my four younger sisters and I moved to Dallas where my sister would begin rehabilitation to relearn basic life skills like swallowing food, speaking and walking that – until then – I had taken for granted.
During my time at RMH, I made many friends with other residents who were there for reasons ranging from Leukemia and birth defects to rare diseases and accidents. Some were like myself, there because a sibling was a patient. Others were the patients themselves.
Many nights I stayed up past my bedtime reading books and swapping stories in the home library with a friend who was 12 like me. Unlike me, he was being treated for 3rd degree burns that covered more than 80 percent of his body from a campfire accident. Another friend had difficulty sitting after a skin graft procedure that would be used to create outer ears as she was born without them.
I had shared about my sister with Scott early in our relationship, and over the years I’ve told him many stories of my time living at the Ronald McDonald House.
RMH holds a special place in my heart as it provided more than a roof over our heads while my sister was rebuilding what she had lost in that accident. It provided a sense of stability for me and my sisters at the most instable point in our lives – our parents also had recently divorced.
I was excited for our visit to RMHC Kansas City – for Scott to experience first-hand a place I once called home. Warm memories flooded as we walked through the entry.
“Does this bring back memories? Does this look familiar?” Scott asked.
While the odds these children were battling weren’t all obvious, their fight was not lost on me. Nor the exhaustion or worry of their parents. I also was aware that not all battles would be won. But just like the lesson I learned as a resident, life is worth the will to beat the odds.
If ever you visit Kansas City, be sure to bring your royal blue, get your taste of barbecue beef burnt ends on and stop by RMHC, if no more than to drop your change in the box at the entry way.