I had a chance to visit Kansas City. First surprise: this town isn’t in Kansas, but in Missouri, a relatively flat place with an abundance of farmland and space. Looked quite rural yet attractive from the air.
As usual I only had a couple of free hours in between, so how best to spend my time? Most US cities do not have an inner city that invites a leisurely stroll, so I had to come up with a plan B (although later I did discover that downtown Kansas City does have its charm). An Uber driver pointed out that the city had an art museum – he wasn’t impressed by it, but by his looks he wasn’t into art too much; more a baseball kind of guy.
So I took two hours for a fast visit to the Nelson Atkins museum of art, and indeed was in for a very big surprise, as shown on the photos below.
An impressive facade protects a rich exhibition, which was assembled by art scouts during the 1930 crisis: with wallets full of hard dollars earned the years before the economic collapse, these scouts bought artifacts and paintings from all over the world.
All in all, a visit to this temple of art is definitely time well spent!
I just returned from a business trip Germany to Kansas City, and as I sat on the plane, it suddenly occurred to me that I must have witnessed this utterly stupefyingly safety pantomime over 400 times. That’s a whopping 1000 or so minutes shaved of my life, thank you FAA and EASA. And it doesn’t help either: just ask a colleague or fellow traveler to repeat what’s in the safety instructions and what to do if the plane must land on the Hudson River, and you will only get back embarrassed smiles. I can guess what passengers will do if a plane makes an emergency landing: I suspect some will continue to push and shove to get to the exit first – countermeasures to that are alas not in the instruction booklet.
OK, I’m exaggerating. Mostly I feel sorry for the crew that needs to go through the exercise, while the passengers are staring into their smartphones and picking their noses.
It’s not that I fly excessively, but thanks to my adventurous parents I had an early start getting airborne. I recall times when air travel was still special; reserved for a few businessmen or tourists that were a bit better off than the ordinary citizen. The countries were more exotic then: half of the world was out of bounds being communist and therefore utterly boring, and many of the other countries had no infrastructure to support any mass tourism. Nowadays, if you haven’t visited Iceland, the Arabian peninsula, Chili, the Congo or Detroit you do not count as a well-traveled tourist. And in every country you can buy exactly the same stuff these days. I know a Japanese couple that vacations every year in Tuscany, Italy, and friends of ours from Switzerland have been traveling with a camper through Yellowstone – every summer, eight years running. Get a life and stay at home folks.
But I’m getting distracted. Back then (I am talking about the seventies and eighties) if you entered an airplane, smoking was naturally not allowed. In the non-smoker section and until after take off that is, after that you could light up your cigarette, cigar or even pipe; and relax. The ashtrays in the armrests was emptied continuously by the crew, since air travel makes nervous (surprisingly very few people are aware of this observation), and together with the cheap cigarettes bought in the tax-free shop, the soothing effect of a relaxing smoke could be enjoyed intensively.
The smoky air and the lack of water offered (in those days nobody realized that dehydration is an unpleasant accompanying effect of air travel) put a terrible strain on travelers, leading to colds and coughs. My mother suffered from asthma, so we usually sat in the non-smoking section; enjoying the recycled, second hand smoke coming from the vents.
Halfway during the flight, a movie screen was lowered in the front, and a beamer came out of the overhead. One or two movies were projected on the screen to keep passengers occupied. These systems regularly crashed, so sometimes there was no movie to watch at all but in that case we could revert to six radio channels. After an intercontinental flight you knew all the tunes by heart and singing along wasn’t a big challenge.
The door to the cockpit was unlocked and even stood open sometimes (thanks, Osama bin Laden, for putting a stop to that ridiculous practice) and the captain regularly walked through the cabin to chat. if you asked the stewardess (no stewards then) you could actually go to the cockpit and the pilot would explain the instruments and the basics of aviation.
Due to security, you had to arrive at the airport early: for intercontinental flights this meant at least 45 minutes before takeoff. For domestic flights three minutes sufficed. Security checks consisted of a quick look at your passport, hand luggage wasn’t scanned, and I recall passengers sitting on the plane with taped-up carton boxes and the like; anybody’s guess what they contained. Customs usually took those boxes apart after landing; I once witnessed the extraction of a 6 pound freshly caught fish from such a package (its freshness clearly debatable after an eight hour flight). Once, on a flight in the USA, a gun was confiscated. This didn’t upset the passengers too much, after all, in the lines for passport and customs checks we all enjoyed a relaxing smoke, ashtrays were available next to all waiting lines, so we didn’t need to flick the ash on the floor. We did throw our cigarette buts on the floor, I recall that a lady once scolded me and a cousin, stating that this practice was “frowned upon” in US airports. I was young and very much ashamed, I do recall that.
On most flights you had to pay for alcoholic beverages (but even as a teenager I could buy beer or whiskey, if my parents agreed, which they did). At the airports there was very little distraction: the tax free shop and one restaurant was all that you could visit, if those were available at all. Many terminals were rather empty buildings; a counter and uncomfortable metal chairs.
A few things didn’t change over the years: the aircrew was just as polite back then as now, which is surprising in light of the extreme stress due to higher numbers of passengers and increased security measures these days. There are a few more female pilots and a few more male stewards, but there is still a way to go on emancipation of the sexes in the transportation industry. The passengers are the same too: most compliant to the unnoticeable, a very few very obnoxious – usually explainable by higher levels of flight anxiety.
And United Airlines back then was just as ba… – but don’t get me started on that tangent.
I have already reported about my aunt Denise and her slightly skewed view on life. Here’s another gem that she shared with us during one of our family get-togethers.
“I was shopping in our local supermarket, when I encountered in one of the isles this little man, oh, he couldn’t have been more than five foot tall. He was in his fifties, with a tidy beard and shirt and necktie. He stood on his toes, trying to get to the bottles of barbecue sauce on the top shelf, but they were just out of his reach. I hesitated, but then I stepped up to him and asked him whether he needed help. Was that wrong of me?”
We, her audience, couldn’t agree on the matter. Some said that it was fine to help other human beings, whereas others insisted that in this case offering help might be perceived as an insult – being of short stature should never be regarded a disability.
“Well in any case,” continued aunt Denise, “The man looked up at me with a stern look on his face, but he didn’t reject my offer. He pointed at a particular brand and in a surprisingly deep voice stated ‘I need that one there’.
“So, just as I used to do with my two sons when they were small, I stepped behind him, put my hands underneath his arms and lifted him up, so that he could get the bottle that he needed.”
By this time, aunt Denise’s audience fell silent and some eyes suddenly opened wide.
“What happened then was unbelievable. The little man began to sputter, kicked his legs, and squirmed so violently that I had to put him down. I almost dropped him to the ground! He was quite upset, saying words like ‘Unbelievable’, ‘I strongly object’, ‘Never been treated in this manner!’
“I was flabbergasted! Here I was, trying to help a fellow human being; acting as a good citizen, and this was the gratitude I received! Let me tell you; I gave him a piece of my mind then and there!”
The summer was amazing: June, July and August, the sun beating on the Rhine valley like god’s anvil, temperatures hardly ever dropping beneath the thirties in daytime. No rain, the cistern ran out of water and we had to install more wine casks as raincollectors to water our tomatoes and fruits.
The local swimming pool was crowded every single day, the nights too hot to allow restful sleep and the farmers complained that the absence of rain was going to ruin the harvest.
This brought back childhood memories. Let me tell you a secret, that may proof valuable for you.
Many, many years ago, when I was a young boy, my father arrived home one night accompanied by two men carrying a big box. The box was put on the table and unpacked. It contained the very first television set that my parents had bought with their meager income. Mind, this was the time when most people still spent the evenings listening to the wireless.
The men installed the television on a small table and left. My father switched it on. My mother, my sister, my brother and I looked eagerly at the screen.
Only atmospheric disturbance was visible: a gray soup of signal accompanied by a fizzy hissing sound. My father played with the two antennas, moving them from left to right and back again. Suddenly a voice appeared from the ether, and after some more fiddling, a human face emerged out of the signal swamp.
My father lowered himself next to us on the couch. The five of us stared at the man; the first person we had ever seen on a television.
The man wore a dirty blue cap. He was standing in the middle of a field, and obviously was a farmer. Another man, outside of view (we could only see his arm and hand) held a microphone under his mouth.
“What will happen…,” said the invisible man, “If it doesn’t rain within a few days?”
The farmer looked at the sky, at the ground and started a long explanation in an exotic dialect that we could not understand. But his facial expression and voice made clear that the end of the world, if not of all times, was closing in on us.
We watched his narrative for five minutes.
Finally, my mother said: “What’s on the other channel?”
Donald Trump, Erdogan, the Dalai Lama and a backpacking student are the four sole passengers on a plane crossing the ocean. Suddenly the pilot appears and says: “Sorry guys, both our wings fell off, engines gone, tail on fire: the plane is going to crash. Only four parachutes on board, I’m taking one, so goodbye and good luck.”
And he pulls open the door and jumps out.
The four passengers are stunned. Erdogan is the first to move, grabs one of the three remaining parachutes, straps it on and says: “Guys, as the leader of the great Osman empire I have a responsibility for all Turks, and you will understand that it would be a terrible loss if I would die.” And out he jumps.
Donald Trump quickly grabs one of the two remaining parachutes, and shouts: “I am one of the greatest presidents and businessmen of the world, so true, I had the largest audience ever at my inauguration, I have big hands, the Democrats are to blame and I leave you with one parachute. So SAD !” And out he jumps.
Says the student: “Well, it seems only one of us can survive. Why don’t you take the last parachute?”
Says the Dalai Lama, with a twinkle in his eyes: “Don’t worry, son. Mr. Trump took your backpack.”