City Portrait: Kansas City

Text: Christian Neuhauser • Photography: Christian Neuhauser

It is still dark outside when my watch alarm starts ringing. By five, the whole family in the car, we're turning out of the driveway for the Midwest where we'll take a scooter tour of Kansas City. The clan arrives after a boring 12-hour drive: the only highlight being Florian's sighting of the Oscar Mayer WienerMobile™. He is still talking about it when we find our parking space at the Extended Stay.

Aprilia and Piaggio are providing their elite scooters, the Scarabeo and Atlantic, for our city excursion. But we have to drive another 172 miles west of KC to pick them up at Salina Powersport. It's easier with our other mounts, the Vespa and the BV 200 - Vespa Kansas is located in Overland Park just around the corner from our hotel.

After sacrificing an entire day collecting vehicles, we're ready to start our explorations on our second day in town and begin our tour with a morning meal at the First Watch, a local chain renowned for its delicious breakfasts. And then our first ride leaves the Blue Valley Parkway for downtown, and takes us to Country Club Plaza. Nestled against the banks of Brush Creek, this architecturally stunning 14-block plaza was the brainchild of Jesse Clyde Nichols, who built it by converting a swampy tract of land into the country's first shopping center in 1922. He envisioned a shopping area that was automobile friendly at a time when many thought the auto was only a passing fad and he filled his little village with romantic courtyards, ornate towers, red-tiled roofs, and sparkling fountains similar to those he had admired in Spain.

The architecture is very authentic and not at all like Helen, Georgia, for example - a "Swiss, Austrian, and German" town that looks more like Disneyland instead. Speaking of Disney, he lived here in his early days, during the 1920s. And as the "tail" goes, the American icon of animation shared space in his Kansas City art studio with a rodent he dubbed Mortimer. Years later, needing to come up with a new character, the young cartoonist remembered his bewhiskered buddy, and with its name changed, Mickey Mouse was born.

As we're scooting around the Plaza, the sights produce an overwhelming sense impression that we're actually roaming a southern European piazza. Prolonging that feeling, we pull over at a nice spot for cappuccino and café latte while the boys venture a short distance farther to spoil their appetites for lunch at an ice cream shop.

Later, we cruise Main Street to downtown Kansas City and pass the beautiful fountain in front of the Union Station. It is already one thirty and our stomachs are howling like a pack of wolves. One block south of the City Market we find the solutions to that problem at The Walnut Deli in sandwiches like the Marlboro Man (a tender roasted, nicotine-free pile of beef and bacon) and Flipper's Revenge (homemade tuna salad and Swiss spread on rye).

That afternoon we crossed the border into Kansas City, Kansas, on a route that leads us past the stockyards and the Kansas and Missouri Rivers. The highlight here is Wyandotte Lake where our Italian companions zip us through 1,500 acres of parkland studded with bluffs, heavily timbered woods and gently rolling hills. This park is a popular place drawing folks from the surrounding areas for carefree hours of fishing, rides along the horse trail and activities at the children's playground. Others show up for the free model railroad rides that run each second Saturday of the month from April through November. We stuck with the scooters and chased each other around the lake. It's a very twisty course, but the handling from our two-wheelers is great; and we enjoyed this ride so much, we ran through the loop twice.

On the second loop, I counted 16 park shelters and took a closer look at the Korean-Vietnam Memorial, the only monument in the United States that honors soldiers from both wars. Dedicated in 1988, the structure includes a wall of marble fronted by two life-size bronze statues representing the 111 who died in these wars from Wyandotte County. Tom Corbin, a Kansas City sculptor, created the bronzes and donated them to Wyandotte County.

On the way back, we stop by the arts district around Southwest Boulevard. The atmosphere amid the shops, galleries and restaurants in the old barley warehouses is loud, colorful, cosmopolitan and laid back all at once. We hear splashes of reggae, follow them to the Café Expresso III and take a welcome break with one of their blended gourmet drinks, the Café Xpresso Frappe, a delicious creation of French vanilla, mocha and raspberry chocolate.

Exhausted from the long day in and around the city, we return to our hotel at seven. Venturing out to the Plaza again that evening, we realize how perfectly a scooter fits in with this city's picture. The Piaggios and Aprilias weave us effortlessly to dinner, an excellent Mexican meal. On the next morning, before dropping the scooters off, we discover some hidden riding treasures: Blue River Road and the round trip that rolls by Blue Spring Lake and Longview Lake.

There is so much more to see. But as usual, there wasn't enough time scheduled to fully experience this wonderful city. The Neuhausers will have to return.