southwest boulevard

Kansas City Gothic

So I’m noticing a lot of stuff in the American Gothic tags for different regions of the country and their particular gothic flavors.  The midwest ones are nice, but I’m from a city in the midwest, so I feel the need to try my hand at this.  There’s a gap, I’m going to fill it:

  • Abandoned subdivisions slowly being reclaimed by nature.  Beige houses full of sheetrock walls with that awful gritty texture, slowly being eaten by black mold, streaks of rot running down from where the water damage started.  Sometimes, there are pictures hanging on the walls or abandoned furniture, as if the inhabitants left in a relative hurry, instead of being driven out by bank foreclosures.
  • Interminable road construction.  Men in reflective orange vests and hard hats ripping down the things they built just last year and laying down the groundwork for something else, something new, something that no one predicted.
  • Around town there are rail yards.  Acres and acres of rusted metal train tracks on which engines sit immobile.  The Amtrak rolls through every now and then, stopping and waiting in the pearly predawn.  Nothing else there ever seems to move.
  • There are lights on in the gutted steel mill, but no one ever seems to enter or leave.
  • A homeless man screams at you, and you can see every crooked and off-kilter tooth in his mouth.  You can see the horror in his eyes, like he sees something you don’t.
  • In the late spring and early summer, it’s tornado season.  Tornadoes don’t always touch down, but the sky turns a pale green and the light goes all dim and watery.  The wind stops, like the natural world is holding its breath, sitting quietly in anticipation of some expected punchline.
  • You turn a corner, and you’re no longer in the nice residential neighborhood.  You’re driving down a street with trailers set to either side, and no one is around other than one emaciated looking child in an oversized hoodie, watching you with knowing eyes set in his ashen skin.
  • Have you ever been to the Northland?  Downtown unfolds behind you like a great wall, suggesting an impassable barrier.  Rising up like the boundary of the world.
  • You take a shortcut through an alleyway, and the rusted wrought-iron fire escapes hang overhead like gibbets.  There are lights on in the apartment buildings.  You see no one, yet are completely visible.
  • Why is one of the largest hospitals in the area called simply “Research”?
  • Beneath our feet are stories and stories of infrastructure.  Pipes and access tunnels and spillways.  Not all of them are still in use, but not all are inaccessible.  Hundreds of miles of industrial-age catacombs, never again to see the light of day.  Take a wrong turn, pass beneath a rusted-out “BOMB SHELTER” sign, and you might get lost.  In some parts of town, there are office complexes built directly into cave systems, where it is cool and dry year round, where you could wander in the fluorescent undark without knowing anything about the world outside while office drones go about their business around you.
  • There are many man-made lakes in the area.  Why?  What lies beneath the surface of lakes Jacomo, Tapawingo, and Lotawana?  And where did those names come from?
  • On the east side, there are miles and miles of streets lined with abandoned shop fronts, chain link covering the windows, bars over the door, the glass all replaced with plywood.
  • When it rains, the sewers all back up, and the smell of rot and waste fills the air, mingling with the petrichor.
  • Where does that highway go to?  Where does it come from?  The one with not a single on-ramp that anyone knows about?  Why was it built?
  • Sometimes, children will climb up the grain elevator – you know, the one over by the rail line, where rainbow turns into the seventh street expressway and you can get on 35? – sometimes they’ll climb up there.  Sometimes they’ll fall in, and they’ll never be heard from again:  they drown in the coarse wheat waiting to be taken to market.  Sometimes their bodies are never found.  Sometimes the grain shifts like something is swimming through it.
  • There are malls throughout the area and many aren’t doing so well.  Some are completely abandoned.  Great tumorous eyesores in the middle of sun-baked parking lots.  Sometimes the graffiti isn’t written in any alphabet you recognize.
  • At the intersection of 18th and Vine, near the jazz musician’s foundation, there are buildings with painted-on store fronts full of smiling, blank-eyed people.  These buildings are empty, and haven’t been occupied for decades.
  • You find yourself – against all reason – sitting in a booth at Chubby’s Diner at 4AM, tired and a little drunk and hungry as all hell.  You peruse the menu, trying to figure out what to order when your waitress returns.  When you look up, no one else is there, and the windows are covered in a thick carpet of buzzing flies.
  • In the summer, there is the smell of grilling meat in the air, enough to make your mouth water (or stomach turn, if you’re a vegetarian,) this is independent of location and whether anyone is actually grilling.  No one knows where the clouds of meat-smell are coming from, or what is actually being cooked.  No one complains about much, other than the lack of a belly full of undigested meat.
  • The area is a tangle of boundaries, official and unofficial.  The state line, a dozen or more county lines, the racial dividing lines of Troost and Southwest Boulevard, the fine gradations in socioeconomic status between neighborhoods – Waldo and Brookside and Plaza and Mission Hills and Westport and Hyde Park and Valentine and Volker – but you always feel it when you cross it.  And don’t even get me started on the river and the Northland beyond.  You always know when you’ve crossed the line and you feel it in your bones.  To live here is to live in a state of trespass.

Untitled by William Hess