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Just two and a half years after his book Summoned at Midnight, about the last military executions at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas City native and KC Star reporter Richard (Rick) Serrano is back with another outstanding book, this one about the skywalks collapse at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Crown Center.

The book, Buried Truths and the Hyatt Skywalks: The Legacy of America’s Epic Structural Failure, will be available for delivery Sept. 28. (Serrano had an advance copy sent to me.) Rainy Day Books in Fairway will have copies.

Rick Serrano

The July 17, 1981, tragedy was one of the seminal events in Kansas City history, and everyone 18 and older in the Kansas City area should read the book. Furthermore, school districts throughout the Kansas City area should order hundreds of copies and make it available to high-school students.

Although neither of those things is likely to happen, that’s how important the Hyatt catastrophe is in Kansas City history.

For we adults who were here then and are still alive now, it was, and will very likely remain, the most stunning and soul-rattling civic event of our lives.

The collapse of the second- and fourth-floor skywalks — a third-floor skywalk was not aligned with the other two — took the lives of 114 people and injured about 200 others. For some of the injured, like Sally Firestone, who was left paralyzed from the neck down, the event was was totally life changing. She went from an up-and-coming businesswoman to an advocate for people with disabilities.

Sally Firestone

Those who died included an off-duty Fire Department battalion chief, John Tvedten, whose son, also named John, was a firefighter who also died tragically after becoming trapped in heavy smoke while fighting a 1999 warehouse fire.

The Hyatt disaster left its imprint on all of us and all around us. It’s hard to believe, but for more than a decade now the hotel has been the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center. To that, I say it might be a Sheraton to out-of-towners who stay there, but for us, it will always be the Hyatt. Hyatt skipped town without even contributing to the Skywalk Memorial, which was dedicated in 2015.

At that dedication, which I attended, survivor Frank Freeman called July 17, 1981, the day “that wrenched innocent loved ones from our arms.”

“Mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, sisters, brothers, friends, spouses and lovers — all were gone in an instant,” Freeman said. “Gone. Just gone. How could that be?”

Yet it was…And to his credit, Serrano brings more clarity to the event than anything that has previously been written.

If you ask most people familiar with the collapse what caused it, they will tell you it was a mid-construction decision change: Instead of using six sets of long steel rods that were to start at the ceiling and extend straight down the sides of both skywalks, a structural engineer approved a change to 12 sets of shorter rods, with six sets supporting the upper skywalk and six others offset and bolted to the upper skywalk to support the lower bridge.

Tom Tryon, a drywall installer whom Serrano interviewed, said of the skywalks: “They felt solid…But I just didn’t like the idea of those rods. They weren’t heavy enough.”

In this Kansas City Star file photo, you can see the fallen skywalks, as well as part of the third-floor skywalk (top).

There is no doubt that the design change compromised the suspension system, but Serrano’s investigation makes it clear that the design change was part of a much larger problem: a rushed and disorganized construction process spearheaded by a failing general contraction firm, Eldridge & Son, which had done other jobs for hotel owner Hallmark Cards. (Eldridge was fired three months before the project was completed.)

It didn’t help that city building inspectors were essentially AWOL during construction. Serrano wrote: “City records reveal they spent an average of just eight and a half minutes a week supposedly checking the vast foundation, structure, steel, and concrete at the Hyatt job.”

Here are some of the other truths that Serrano “unburies”…

  • The “fast-track” construction method, in its early days at the time, led to something close to construction chaos at times, with the workers waiting on designers to give them their marching orders, i.e., the construction plans.
  • Live load tests (with significant weight being placed on the skywalks) were never conducted to gauge how much the skywalks would comfortably hold.
  • Before the hotel opened a year before the tragedy, some workers and others noticed cracks in the concrete skywalks, and others saw the ends of the skywalks pulling away from their moorings on the walls.
  • There were other clear signs before the collapse that the project was fraught with problems. First, Pauly Nold, an 18-year-old apprentice ironworker from the St. Joseph area, was killed in October 1979 after an 80-pound wooden beam fell from near the top of the building and struck him while he was standing just outside the construction area. Second, a large section of the roof crashed to the floor on an October Sunday morning when, fortunately, no workers were there. Hallmark p.r. man William Johnson then lied about the extent of the problem, saying a single 16-foot beam had snapped loose.
  • After Nold’s death and the roof cave-in, Donald Hall Sr., then president and CEO of Hallmark Cards, which owned and commissioned the hotel, called for the installation of access panel doors near the points where the hanger rods connected to metal box beams holding the walkways together. The panels were installed, but after that no one ever opened the doors to see how the connections were holding up. Serrano wrote: “Had they checked, they likely would have spotted a truth buried inside: The platforms were weakening.”
  • Don Hall (now 93 and living in Mission Hills) spoke frequently about the importance of safety during construction, but, at the same time, he and executives of Hallmark’s development arm, Crown Center Redevelopment Corp., pushed hard to keep the project on budget and open by the target date of July 1, 1980. James Lucas, the final construction project manager, told Serrano: “Don Hall is a nice guy and wanted everybody to be safe and happy. But that was an illusion. A fatal illusion.”

There was another eye-opening “truth” that Serrano unearthed: A federal investigation determined, among other things, that the third-floor skywalk support system had also weakened and that it, too, seemed “very near” to failing.

Every Labor Day weekend, SiriusXM produces some version of a show in which they play the top 100 songs of the 1960s, “as chosen by our listeners.”

I don’t know exactly how listeners vote on this — and I never have — but it’s always fun, and I try to catch part of it…I wonder, as an aside, if anyone ever plants themselves in their car or residence and listens to all 100.

I don’t have a top 100 or even a top 10, but, as you know, I like to weigh in occasionally with songs I’ve heard recently that I really like. When I happen to have pen and paper with me when I’m driving, I’ll sometimes make note of songs I like and want to pass on to you readers.

This Labor Day weekend I’m going to write about just one song, a song that’s been haunting me for weeks — “You Were on My Mind” by We Five.

I’ve always liked the song, at the same time, never thought much about it or considered it anything special. After I heard it several weeks ago, however, I started gaining a better appreciation of it and seeing its brilliance.

Two things in particular have struck me about this song. First, it’s universally human. Haven’t we all woken up at some time — many times — with someone on our minds? In the song’s context, it’s obviously a boyfriend or girlfriend and most likely (“I’ve got wounds to bind”) an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. And don’t we all know about that!?

The second thing is how the song starts off gently but increases in intensity and then ends in a veritable crescendo, with the final, echoing guitar chord.

The song was written by Sylvia Fricker in 1961. According to Wiki, Fricker wrote the song while sitting in a bathtub in a suite at a hotel in Greenwich Village — sitting in the tub not taking a bath but trying to avoid the roaches everywhere else in the room.

She and her future husband, Ian Tyson, recorded it in 1963 under the names Ian & Sylvia. Their version, which I would call low-key country, bears no resemblance to the We Five version. The Ian & Sylvia original starts off with a guitar lead-in that is very similar to the lead-in to the Rooftop Singers’ 1962 song “Walk Right in,” which is catchy but, to me, irritating and cheesy. And, I’ve got to say, the Ian & Sylvia original version of “You Were on My Mind” also strikes me as irritating and cheesy. Almost worse, it’s flat. Instead of increasing in intensity, it drones along and ends with the anti-climax of a tied soccer game.

In 1965, Michael Stewart, the founding member of We Five, which came out of California’s Bay Area, saw the song’s potential. He slightly changed the lyrics and melody and came up with an arrangement that transformed the song from blah to combustible.

Michael Stewart

Where the Ian & Sylvia original went nowhere, the We Five cover reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in September 1965. Not only that, but Billboard later ranked the record as the No. 4 song of 1965, behind “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones.

The other key member of We Five was lead singer Beverly Bivens. Although her voice blends in with the voices of the four males, the song would be nothing without her energy and captivating presence.

Unfortunately for We Five, she left the group in 1966, and that was essentially the end of We Five.

Bivens did not sing publicly again until the opening of an exhibition revolving around the rock scene in the Bay area in the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. She is now 74 or 75, presumably still living in California.

Stewart, the brother of John Stewart of The Kingston Trio, went on to become a record producer and a developer of music software. He died on November 13, 2002 at age 57.

One of the joys of researching this song was coming across a live, 1965 performance on the TV show Live on Hollywood Palace. If you’re like me, you’ll be jumping out of your chair by the one minute, 20 second mark. It’s sensational. Attesting to that is that it’s had almost 3.5 million views.

Here you go, then, “You Were on My Mind” by We Five.

Many of you probably aren’t PGA tour followers, but an interesting interpersonal and social dynamic is unfolding in the case of long-drive hitter Bryson DeChambeau.

Partly, at least, through his obsessive-compulsive need to be the best and to be a fan favorite, the 28-year-old DeChambeau has become a lightning rod in the golf world, dividing fans into pro- and anti- camps.

I started following DeChambeau when he was an amateur, back in 2015 and 2016. He was fun to watch because he was so good. In June 2015, he won the NCAA individual championship and two months later won the U.S. Amateur title. He was only the fifth person to win both the NCAA and U.S. Amateur titles in the same year, joining such stars as Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

His first professional win was the John Deere Classic, in the Quad Cities, in 2017, and he now has a total of eight wins, including the 2020 U.S. Open. The U.S. Open is one of golf’s four major tournaments, along with The Masters, the PGA Championship and the British Open.

DeChambeau has always stood out from other pros for at least two reasons: He sport Ben Hogan-style caps instead of the traditional baseball-type hats, and he appears to want to subject the game to his will.

In his quest to become No. 1, he has taken some unconventional steps. For example, early on he went to irons that were all the same length, dumping the traditional models that get progressively shorter as they get higher in order (that is, 7, 8, 9) and have greater loft angles. A physics major when he was at SMU, DeChambeau started exploring the single-length concept because, in the interest of eliminating as many variables as possible, he was concerned about having a slightly different stance when standing over his iron shots.

The most dramatic change he made, however, occurred in 2019 and 2020, when he added 40 pounds to his 6-1 frame with the intention of driving the ball farther. It worked. He’s now the longest driver on the PGA tour, often hitting the ball 330 yards or more. (For reference, I’ve been playing golf all my life, and I’ve never hit a drive more than 250 yards, even with the wind behind me and the ground hard.)

DeChambeau’s intensity and will to prevail have gotten him into big trouble this year, however. He has earned the wrath of some fellow pros for his slow play, prickliness, obsessiveness and, sometimes, lack of manners.

Another top player, Brooks Koepka, who is as bland as DeChambeau is compelling, several months ago took to needling DeChambeau on social media and on the course for his slow play and penchant for asking for relief, that is, seeking permission to move the ball because of an impediment or a perceived impediment. In July 2020, for example, he sought relief because of a red ant near his ball. A rules official denied the request. The next day, Koepka, after lining up over his ball in a similar location, stepped away and said to his caddy, “There’s an ant.”

Some fans have now started turning on DeChambeau, and at last weekend’s tournament, some were nastily yelling at him, calling him “Brooksie.” Oddly, DeChambeau has responded to the deepening melodrama by refusing to talk to the media. I say that’s odd because media interviews are the best forum tour players have to show their personalities and present themselves as fierce competitors and yet men of dignity and graciousness.

Now, the golf world is torn over whether DeChambeau is an earnest practitioner who has unfairly been singled out for criticism or whether he is a blowhard who is solely responsible for the tumult swirling around him.

I think this situation is unfortunate and bad for the game. It is totally wrong for Koepka and fans to bait DeChambeau and try to get under his skin and thrown him off his game.

Reluctantly, however, I’m in the camp that thinks DeChambeau’s actions have brought him to his current predicament…I used the word “graciousness” three paragraphs ago. That has long been the chief measuring stick of whether a pro golfer is a good sport or a sore loser. The way it should be is you compete like hell, but if and when you lose, you smile, look the victor in the eye, extend your hand and congratulate him.

Well, that’s not the DeChambeau style. Three times, I’ve seen him brush off competitors after being beaten. The first time was more than a year ago. I don’t remember the tournament or the specific situation. All I remember is that DeChambeau either didn’t shake hands or did so ever so fleetingly. I do remember he was asked about it later and gave a denial and apology at the same time.

Then came last weekend, when he and Patrick Cantlay, a picture of composure and icy determination, finished regulation play tied, setting up a sudden-death playoff at the BMW Championship in Bethesda MD.

I was watching closely and wondered how DeChambeau would react when it came time, on the 18th green, to congratulate Cantlay before they headed out to for the first playoff hole. As they approached each other, Cantlay looked directly at DeChambeau and extended his hand. DeChambeau, walking quickly, extended his hand and glanced fleetingly at Cantlay but diverted his eyes even before their hands touched. It was bush, and anybody who was watching closely could tell. None of the TV announcers made note of it, although I think it would have been appropriate, given all the hoopla surrounding DeChambeau and questions about his sportsmanship.

DeChambeau and Cantlay then engaged in an exciting six-hole playoff, which Cantlay finally won by holing an 18-foot birdie putt. Again, I watched closely to see if DeChambeu could muster any graciousness.

The answer was a decided “no.” Once again, he gave the victor a momentary glance and a lightning-quick handshake before while rushing off the green. I found this telling photo by Getty Images photographer Rob Carr.

DeChambeau looks good in those Ben Hogan caps, but as long as he’s going to be a jerk, he might as well outfit himself in black from head to toe because, whether he realizes it or not, he’s on the verge of becoming the Oakland Raiders of golf.

I hope he sees the light before that happens. He could become a good sport. It wouldn’t be hard. It’s just a question of whether he will wise up or whether he will continue blindly, bullheadedly, along the course he has chosen for himself so far. I hope he comes to his senses and finds humility and sportsmanship. It would be good for golf. To take it a step farther, it would be something of a salve for our terribly divided country.

Random reflections

It’s been pretty serious around her the last couple of days, what with me slamming The Star’s baseball reporting one day and then reporting Steve Vockrodt’s switch from The Star to NPR the next. So, today, I’m going to lighten up and go with some random stuff that I know you’ll be interested in. (How do I know? I just do.)

**

Have you noticed — leading question here — how difficult it is to get through to many businesses and organizations on the phone these days?

Two examples. Today, I got the name of a guy at Bank of America that I need to talk with about a City of Fountains Foundation matter. The person who gave me the guy’s name didn’t have his number, but I thought, “How hard could it be to reach a guy at one of the most prominent banks in town?”

Doing a Google search, I discovered that the downtown office of Bank of America had closed. So, I started calling branches of the bank, thinking, surely, whoever answered would be able to direct me to the guy I wanted to reach.

I called three branches, and at each number the phone rang several times before flipping to a voice message that started out, “Everyone is currently assisting customers…”

Oh, yeah, assisting customers. You know what they were doing…Most were either texting or surfing the web. And why should they bother to pick up that telephone that was ringing or buzzing nearby?

With some more Googling, I came across a document the guy had written, and at the bottom was his phone number and email address. I promptly called the number. You know what it went to…

He sounded kind of tired and beat down in his message, like he’d been assisting a lot of customers. I’ve been waiting by my phone all day, but nothing yet.

**

Another blogger in town, Tony Botello, yesterday wrote a lead-in to a linked story about Main Street congestion, and his headline was “Kansas City Hates Poorly Planned Main Street Traffic Cone Maze.”

Now, I’ve heard a lot of comments about the Main Street work but very few complaints. That’s because the vast majority of KC residents understand this is short-term pain before we get a major civic and commercial improvement — the new streetcar line that will extend from Union Station to the western edge of the UMKC campus at 52nd and Brookside.

The current line, from Union Station to the River Market, has been phenomenally successful, and there’s no reason to think the extension will be any different. Will people want to ride from the River Market to the Plaza or even farther south? Well, hell yes! This is going to spur businesses along the extension and make Midtown streets safer, partly because many people will drink and ride instead of drink and drive.

Tony needs to get out of his mother’s basement, which last I heard was blog HQ, and look down the horizon.

**

A few weeks ago, I did a photo post on the section of State Line Road between 75th Street and about 39th Street. The part between 75th and 71st has been particularly troublesome the last several years. It’s been humpty-bumpy, pot-holey and closed for maintenance quite frequently. It’s the main road I take to and from home because I try to avoid Ward Speedway.

Yesterday, it was closed again at 75th Street northbound, and I could see that the pavement had been stripped. Today it was open and the pavement had been stripped all the way to 71st. That means one thing: Repaving is going to be happening soon…Damn, life is good!

On. Aug. 15, Kansas City Star editor and president Mike Fannin announced that the paper would be “hiring nearly a dozen new journalists” and nearly doubling its investigative team to nine reporters and three editors.

Today, however, one of the leading members of that investigative team, reporter Steve Vockrodt, confirmed in a phone call that his last day at The Star was Friday and that he would be joining NPR’s new “Midwest Newsroom,” a consortium of four stations, including Kansas City affiliate KCUR, on Wednesday.

Vockrodt

“I feel good about it,” he said. “It’s a chance to try something new, try something different, and hopefully grow what I can do professionally.”

He added that he felt sad about leaving The Star. “They’ve been good to me,” he said.

Vockrodt, 39, has been The Star’s most productive investigative reporter since the paper hired him away from The Pitch five years ago. Where most members of the paper’s investigative team toil for months or even years on the same story, Vockrodt is more of a quick-strike researcher, turning around news-related investigations in a matter of days or a couple of weeks.

Vockrodt’s new title is investigative editor for the Midwest Newsroom, which consists of KCUR, St. Louis Public Radio, Iowa Public Radio out of Des Moines and Nebraska Public Media out of Lincoln. Technically, his employer will be St. Louis Public Radio, although he will be working primarily out of KCUR.

Holly Edgell, managing editor of the Midwest Newsroom, said she was eager to see Vockrodt “apply his reporting chops to the role as well as coach, lead and mentor other reporters.”

She added: “Steve’s journalistic and emotional intelligence are apparent to anyone who’s read his work and followed his career over the years. We are very excited that he’ll bring his ideas, investigative skills and integrity to amplifying important stories across the region.”

Vockrodt will be part of a five-member team headed by Edgell.

From the personnel standpoint, this is a big “scoop” for NPR and KCUR. Over the last 15 years, The Star has declined sharply under McClatchy ownership. KCUR, on the other hand, has steadily expanded over the last five to seven years and now is a stout challenger to The Star for the title of leading news source in the KC area.

KCUR has a staff of about 75 full- and part-time employees. Its annual budget is about $9 million, and it serves about 160,000 listeners in the area.

Vockrodt is just the latest of several big-name Star journalists to make the jump, at one point of their careers or another, to KCUR. Others have included Donna Vestal, a former Star business editor; Scott Canon, a former national reporter and editor; Dan Margolies, a business reporter; and, of course, political reporter Steve Kraske, who hosts KCUR’s popular Up-to-Date show.

A KCUR story last year said the four stations comprising the Midwestern hub would “coordinate and expand their local and regional reporting, providing stories to national news programs as well as the 25 public radio stations serving the four-state region.”

Vockrodt is a native of the Denver area. After graduating from the University of Kansas, he worked for a group of Northland papers before joining the Olathe Daily News. From there, he went to the Lawrence Journal-World, then it was back to Kansas City to the Business Journal, before going to The Pitch and then The Star.

The most recent story bearing Vockrodt’s byline led today’s KC Star website. It was titled “Kansas City awarding massive airport contract for restaurants, bars and shops in secret.”

Vockrodt resides in Fairway.

I went to bed early last night and, unfortunately, missed Salvador Perez’ historic, second-game-in-a-row grand slam against the Seattle Mariners.

I read about it — and the Royals’ 12th inning victory — on kansascity.com when I got up this morning, but I’ve got to tell you it was an extremely disappointing read.

For years, The Star had a history of hiring great baseball writers, like Bob Nightengale (now a baseball columnist for USA Today) and Bob Dutton (now retired), but since 2018 it’s been a different story.

Just like the quality of the writing in the rest of the paper, the quality of Royals’ reports has gone south.

Perez became the first Royals’ player to hit home runs in consecutive games, and those two smashes were electrifying to Royals’ fans. Somehow, though, Royals’ beat writer Lynn Worthy managed to make it sound perfunctory.

Here’s how Worthy, who’s been on the beat the last three seasons, started his story about Perez’ heroics:

While in the midst of a career season and a year likely to make history for a player at the game’s most grueling position, Kansas City Royals All-Star catcher Salvador Perez has continued to attain new levels of amazement.

He has more home runs (three) than strikeouts (two) in his past three games dating back to Wednesday. In his last two games, he has four hits, eight RBIs, two grand slams and just one strikeout.

Perez became the 24th player in the history of the American and National leagues to hit grand slam home runs in back-to-back games when he hit one for the second consecutive night to help the Royals to an 8-7 extra-inning win on Friday night in Seattle.

Even more appalling was the caption on a photo accompanying Worthy’s story. The caption — which Worthy was not responsible for — read:

Kansas City Royals’ Salvador Perez points skyward as he heads home on his grand slam against the Seattle Mariners in the fourth inning of a baseball game Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in Seattle.

Patty laughed out loud when she read that. She came into the house from the patio, screeching “…in the fourth inning of a baseball game?!”

Point being it was pretty obvious from the photo, with Perez rounding the bases with a grin on his face and his right index finger raised high, that this, indeed, was a baseball game.

Patty was equally disgusted with Worthy’s soporific account of the game, and I told her that just for fun I’d try to come up with a version that did justice to Perez’ feat.

So, I sat down at the computer and in about 15 minutes came up with this:

With the Royals trailing 5-1 against the Seattle Mariners last night and the bases loaded, Salvador Perez had the chance to become the first Royal ever to hit grand slams in back-to-back games.

On the third pitch from Logan Gilbert, Perez swung hard at a ball low and over the outside part of the plate. He connected, and the ball sailed deep toward centerfield. Mariners’ outfielder Jarred Kelenic ran back and climbed the wall but sank back in futility as the ball fell into the extended hands of fans a few rows up.

With one swing, Perez had not only set a Royals’ record but had tied the game and positioned the Royals to go on and win the game 8-6 in 12 innings.

We’re watching an MVP-style season with what’s going on here with this guy,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said after the game.

**

Now, I’m not going to run out and apply to become Royals’ beat writer for The Star — I’m sure most of the staff regards me as a pain in the ass anyway — but I ask you: Doesn’t that go a long way toward capturing the thrill of that event? And wouldn’t it make you want to go on reading?

That’s what the first sentence, or the first few sentences of a story are supposed to do — draw the readers in and “hook ’em” from the get-go.

Poor Lynn Worthy and poor KC Star…For the most part, they’ve lost one of the most important dimensions of reporting: vibrant writing.

**

You can see Perez’ home run here.

After a week in Cape Cod, it could have been time to head home, but, no, it was on to Chicago to meet up with friends from Louisville and visit our son Charlie, who’s been living there a couple of years and working at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

On Thursday, we caught a late flight from Logan to O’Hare, and by the time we got to our hotel and into the bed it was past midnight.

We had to fire up quickly Friday, however, because our friends from Louisville, Bill and Denise, had lined up tickets to the Royals-Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

This was only the second time I was at Wrigley. The first was many years ago, before the stadium had been improved and all home games were played in the daytime.

Let’s get to the photos…

Here we are outside the stadium. From left are Bill, Denise, Charlie, Patty, Charlie’s girlfriend Sabrina and me.
I mean to tell you, it is really exciting to attend a game at Wrigley. The fans pour in, and the air is electric. The atmosphere probably had a lot to do with it, but this was the most exciting Royals game I’ve seen since 2015. The game was tied 2-2 going into the top of the 6th, when Salvador Perez hit a scorching line-drive into the left field seats to put the Royals ahead. One out later, Andrew Benintendi followed with a scorcher to right, putting the Royals up by two. There was no doubt about either, and from contact to landing I was yelling my fool head off.
The Cubs couldn’t come back, and pretty soon it was victory formation. The Cubs fans began clearing out at the bottom of the seventh, and that electricity had faded everywhere except with the small pockets of Royals fans on hand.
On Saturday morning, Charlie had a volleyball game on the Lake Michigan beach. He’s played since he was 12 or 13, and he’s very good. The fact that he’s 6-7 helps. That’s him in the red shorts, waiting for a shot to descend. My job — taken on voluntarily — was to run down the errant balls. That was enough to wear me out.
What would a trip to Chicago be without some skyscraper shots? Here’s the Tribune Tower, near the Chicago River. The Chicago Tribune moved out a few years ago, but it remains a stunning structure.
Put the Wrigley Building, across the street, in the same category. Fabulous.
A building that I have emotional ties to is the Aon Center, formerly the Standard Oil Building, fondly known back then as “Big Stan.” A good friend worked there for a year or two back in the early 1980s, and he took me up to his office one day — way up toward the top. My friend was unhappy in Chicago and came back to Kansas City. He was unhappy here, too — more than that, terribly depressed — and committed suicide on Aug. 3, 1984. Every time I’m in Chicago, “Big Stan” brings back the horror of that day and the ensuing days.
Charlie has an apartment in the Pilsen Historic District, a lively neighborhood on the Lower West Side, not far from downtown. In the late 19th century, Pilsen was inhabited by Czech immigrants, who named the district after Pilsen, the fourth largest city in Czechia, that is, the Czech Republic.
This is one of many restaurants along 18th Street in Pilsen.

Here’s one of my favorite spots in Pilsen, Mikee’s hotdog and hamburger stand, also on 18th Street. While Charlie and I were eating our hotdogs at a table on the sidewalk, this guy came along with two containers of bleach and handed them to the lady running the window. When he sat down at the table next to us, we noticed his cap bore the word Mikee. Charlie surmised it was the owner, and, naturally, I asked. Mikee then posed for this photo. He gave Charlie a primer on how he selects and cooks hotdogs. I couldn’t hear over the traffic, but I can attest that the hotdogs are great, and the hand-cut fries (free with a hotdog or hamburger) are incredible.
After Pilsen and a quick trip to the Jewel-Osco grocery, it was on to Union Station to catch the 2:50 p.m. train to KC. The train always sounds romantic, but it does mean tolerating the vagaries of human nature. Patty asked a couple of passengers to put on their masks — it’s required by Amtrak — and they kindly did. One of them, a guy who had gotten drunk in the observation car, came back to the coach car and talked loudly the last hour of the trip. Oh, well, you can’t expect perfection. Great trip…Can’t wait to go back to Chicago.

Decades ago, one of five branches of the Fitzpatrick family (my father and his four siblings) ended up in New England. It’s always been a bit perplexing to me how this branch of the family — which, like the rest of us, had its roots in Louisville — ended up so far away. But that’s what a good job with a big company — GE — will do.

Over the years, I’ve had several opportunities to visit the Boston area and Cape Cod, and I’ve come to really appreciate the best of New England, that is, Cape Cod.

Boston is okay, but I’d take Kansas City over it any day. At least two of the times we’ve been there, it’s been as hot or hotter than Kansas City, and the public transportation system is not good for a city its size — except for the Silver Line buses that run between the city and Logan International Airport.

Recently, we spent a week in Cape Cod for the second family reunion held there in recent years, and it was a wonderful and gratifying occasion. At one time I had six aunts and uncles and many cousins. I still have all but one of those cousins — the one died way too early — but I’m down to a single aunt in the generation ahead of me.

Aunt Nanette turned 91 earlier this year, and is in good health. She lives in Needham, outside of Boston, but one of her sons has a house in Yarmouth, in the mid-Cape area. Yarmouth was reunion headquarters, but Patty and I took the opportunity to drive all the way to Provincetown, at the eastern tip.

Here are some of the photos I took…

We stayed at the Surf and Sand Motel on Nantucket Sound, that is, the fringe of the Atlantic Ocean. This is the street side of the motel. When we pulled up, we weren’t too impressed, but our opinion quickly changed.

The ocean side of the motel (which I called the back and Patty called the front) featured a beautiful and soothing expanse of grass and a walkway going down to the beach. We spent a lot of time on this patio, studying the horizon and the parade of human traffic.
Down the road about half a mile, at the end of what I would call lodging row, was this beach.
A sign outside a parking-lot hut informed beach goers how warm the “waddah” was.
But, like I said, we were also there on “family business.” Here Aunt Nanette had just opened a box with a T-shirt bearing the words “Gran’s Gang.” Son Bob made the presentation, and his daughters, Mailina (left) and Lola, looked on.
We spent a lot of time under a big tree in the side yard of Bob’s house. The youngest of us was five-month-old Nolan, being attended to here by father Andrew.
This is one of Nanette’s grandsons, Jimmy, and his daughter Joanna.
The day Patty and I went to Provincetown, we made a stop at this harbor east of Yarmouth. (I think the town was Harwich, but I’m not sure.)
I know Patty and I would have looked good on one of those boats, but this shore selfie had to suffice.
Pilgrim Monument towers over Provincetown. Built between 1907 and 1910, it commemorates the first landfall of the Pilgrims in 1620 and the signing of the Mayflower Compact, the first governing document of the Plymouth Colony. At 252 feet, the monument is the tallest all-granite structure in the United States, according to Wikipedia.
The largest yacht based at Provincetown is “Scout,” which was built in 2019 and is owned by a man named James Berwind. Scout can accommodate 10 guests and a crew of 14. Five generations ago, the Berwind family founded the Berwind Corp., which at first flourished in the coal mine industry and now invests in real estate and chemicals, among other things. The yacht is named after one of Berwind’s dogs.
Outside City Hall, a street musician entertained.
During the summer, Commerce Street is usually packed with people, and it’s quite a show.

Nearly two years ago, then-29-year-old Anthony J. Dorsey tried to elude the Kansas Highway Patrol, which had been pursuing him for an outdated vehicle registration, on westbound I-70.

When the chase, which had begun in Wyandotte County, neared the toll checkpoint just west of Kansas 7 in Leavenworth County, Dorsey wheeled his gray SUV around and began speeding east in the westbound lane.

More often than not, such situations end in big trouble, and this one did.

Nineteen-year-old Nathan Pena of Brookfield, IL, a western Chicago suburb, was heading west on the Turnpike, bound for Colorado to visit a friend. Pena saw the gray SUV do an about-face and start heading in his direction. In the seconds he had available, he whipped the steering wheel of his red vehicle to the right, toward the shoulder of the highway and a grassy incline.

Nathan Pena

As I wrote back on Oct. 7, 2019, Dorsey also took evasive action, but, maddeningly, he turned the same way. His SUV, larger than Pena’s vehicle, struck the red car nearly head on. Although Pena was wearing a seat belt, the impact killed him. And as sometimes happens in such tragedies, the bad guy was not seriously injured.

Dorsey was charged with first-degree murder, and it took nearly two years for resolution. This morning, in Leavenworth County District Court, Dorsey, now 31, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 17 and could get nearly 50 years in prison.

As it turned out, Dorsey had previous convictions for aggravated robbery and attempted aggravated robbery, and he was a parole violator at the time of the crash. There is no indication, however, that the highway patrol officer or officers giving chase knew at the time anything more than that the SUV had an expired plate.

The Star pointed out that the highway patrol policy at that time (I don’t know if it has changed) required the responding officer to undertake a pursuit only if he or she believed the risk to the public is lower than the immediate danger from the suspect remaining at large.

In this instance, obviously, the immediate risk to the public outweighed the danger posed by Dorsey remaining at large, at least for a while longer.

Scene of the crash

I’m not sure if the highway patrol continued the pursuit after Dorsey turned around. I hope not. In any event, the pursuit should have ended earlier. It had to be pretty clear to the officers Dorsey was only going to be stopped by a crash or — best case scenario — stop sticks.

I don’t think there’s a parent alive who would say, if it was their son or daughter who had died, that the continued pursuit was a good idea.

Among those left to grieve Pena’s loss were his parents Jennifer and Alex; sister Lauren; and grandfather John Pena and his wife Chris Meier and grandmother Alice Iankav.

Four days ago, having just learned of my October 2019 post, Jennifer Pena wrote me an email, saying, “The police were in the wrong for engaging this high-speed pursuit as well as the driver who fled police and killed my son.”

These are always judgment calls. But too often, up to this point, officers seem to err on the side of pursuit rather than public safety. The trend, and policies, needs to change.

In a story today about the Dorsey plea, The Star reported that between 2014 and 2019, at least six innocent people were killed and several others seriously injured in police pursuits throughout the metro area. The story said experts had told the paper that people evading police are more likely to reduce speed and drive less recklessly if they think police have stopped chasing them.

**

Below the 2019 obituary that appeared on the website of the Hitzeman Funeral Home in Brookfield is a string of condolences.

A woman named Alexandra Montgomery wrote: “Nathan was an amazing person. I am beyond grateful and blessed to have known him. He made working at Best Buy a million times better. He always knew how to make me laugh and could always make me feel better. He is going to be greatly missed, but his spirit will live on.”

Another woman, Anna Eich, wrote: “Nathan was a good friend to my daughter Linnea when they were at Park (Junior High). They were in band together. I remember Nathan as a good and kind-hearted young man. My heart goes out to your entire family.”

What a tragedy…It shouldn’t have happened.

Note: On Friday, Sept. 17, Anthony Dorsey was sentenced to 49 years and four months in prison.

It’s good news that Kansas City police have arrested one person in connection with the theft of Chinese artist Kwan Wu’s sculpture of an Osage woman from the Francois Chouteau Monument in Kansas City North, near Chouteau Trafficway and Parvin Road.

The arrest, probably the result of someone bragging about the theft, will discourage copycats.

The bad news is the 7-foot-tall, 400-pound sculpture was, predictably, found in pieces, having been sawed up with the intention of selling it for scrap.

The $80,000 sculpture might have brought $1,000 or so on the scrap market, assuming a dealer would have agreed to take the material. Bronze is 90 percent copper and 10 percent tin, thus its appeal to thieves.

The sculpture of the Osage woman was at left. (Another figure was added late last month, so the monument still has three figures.)

Mark McHenry, a member of the organization that has been raising money for the not-completed monument, said most of the parts have been found and that if all are found, the local fabricator who constructed the sculpture originally might be able to reconstruct it.

But if pieces are missing, it would be considerably more difficult.

The theft has been the subject of much gnashing of teeth among us members of the City of Fountains Foundation, whose mission is to promote and advocate for fountains, sculptures and monuments primarily in Kansas City.

Our organization maintains endowments for about 40 fountains, sculptures and monuments, and the Chouteau endowment currently has about $100,000. It is possible some of that money could be used to reconstruct the Osage woman or, if that can’t be done, to replace it.

Although this is the most brazen case I’ve ever heard of relating to a sculpture or bronze theft, it’s hardly the first.

Fairly recently, I believe, a bronze plaque at the Children’s Fountain, also in the Northland, was wrenched from its base, and one of our board members, Jocelyn Ball-Edson, a former Parks Department manager, suggested it might have been “nicked as practice” by the same group that made off with the Osage woman.

Jocelyn recalled another incident years ago when four 7-foot-long plaques disappeared from the base of a tall flagpole in Swope Park. Jacob Loose, businessman and philanthropist, had donated the plaques in 1912. One of the plaques bore the text of the Declaration of Independence, another the words of The Star Spangled Banner and a third the text of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The fourth was the dedication plaque.

Perhaps the most outrageous incident of outdoor art theft took place in 2005, when thieves used a crane to steal a 12-foot-bronze statue created by Henry Moore from the grounds of the sculptor’s former home near London.

The sculpture, called “Reclining Figure,” was worth an estimated $4.5 million. After an international hunt, police determined in 2009 that the piece was likely melted down, shipped abroad — first possibly to Rotterdam and then further east — and eventually sold for as little as $2,300.

Henry Moore’s “Reclining Figure”

It’s too bad that we have to worry about our public art being stolen instead of enjoyed. Jocelyn, of our board, said that back in the 1980s, a Parks Department supervisor once wrote a memo about the bronze plaques that were being stolen and suggested that the department should “just take everything down and put it all in storage until society improves.”

As Jocelyn then said in an email to me…we’re going to be waiting a long time for that.

Note: This post originally said police had arrested three people. As of Friday night, it is apparently just one person.