Friday: As I mentioned earlier, we decided to treat ourselves to a stay in the Intercontinental Hotel, Kansas City. It’s the only 5-Star, 4-Diamond Hotel in the city. Its reputation and prestige is well earned. Our room was a study in opulence and indulgence. The beds were magnificent, soft, and beyond comforting. The view was spectacular. The furniture was a rich mahogany, topped with white Italian marble. It was the perfect juxtaposition to barracks living.
We checked in around one p.m. and set out to explore the Plaza area of the city. The Plaza is a cultural area of shops, dinning establishments, art galleries, and hotels, with buildings in Spanish style architecture and buttressed by a winding canal. My companions for the weekend were both much older than I and married, one with two young kids. We ate lunch at a great Irish Pub, our burgers and warm Irish chips washed down with my favorite beer, Smithwicks. Tipsy and satiated, we left the pub and made our way to the Apple store where we experienced our first taste of Kansas City hospitality. I needed to replace my iPhone headphones (they double as a hands-free cell phone device) which had recently broken. Apple has a phenomenal military discount and some of the best customer service I’ve ever encountered. When I mentioned to the sales attendant that I was interested in using my military discount to purchase the headphones because I needed to replace a broken pair, he smiled, and said “Wait one second.” He quickly returned and simply handed me the new pair I was about to purchase. ”Don’t worry about paying. Thank you for what you do. Have a nice day.” I stood there dumbfounded. I’m not good at accepting altruism and generosity, mostly because I seldom expect it. After the Apple store we found a coffee bar and ordered up a round of double espressos (my favorite post-meal drink). Once again, when we asked for the bill, the management replied with “Thanks for what you do. Don’t worry about it. Have a nice day!” Kansas City, you’ve got class.
After the espressos we made our way back to the hotel for a brief afternoon siesta before dinner. On the way into the hotel my friend Rachel called and instructed me to go to the front desk and inform them that I was back and that my room number was 333. I did as instructed and was handed a very nice card, from Rachel, wishing me a pleasant and enjoyable vacation. I was touched. I really do have the most amazing people in my life.
With the espresso flowing through my veins I abandoned the nap and hit the hotel gym. Upon returning to my room I was surprised to find a silver tray waiting on my mini bar. Inside I found a platter of strawberries hand-dipped in chocolate (my favorite), sugar encrusted grapes (amazing), white chocolate shaped hearts with a raspberry filling, and the most decadent chocolate truffle cake I’ve ever had in my life (also shaped like a heart). It hit me: Rachel had pre-arranged the whole thing. I’m still a bit speechless. Thank you so much.
I had a delightful shower and finally felt clean for the first time since arriving in Kansas (barracks showers just aren’t as luxurious), and then the Captains and I headed out for dinner. That evening, we dined at Plaza III which claims to be the third-best steak house in the country and the best steak house in Kansas City. I completely agree. Never before in my life have I tasted such wonderful food. I began the meal with a Spinach Salad with Spiced Roasted Walnuts and Hot Bacon Dressing. The Captains and I shared a bottle of Gewurztraminer that was out of this world with our appetizers. For the main course, I had a Filet Mignon Au Poivre with Brandy Cream Sauce that I will dream about probably every night for the next year. We enjoyed our main course with an exquisite bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from California. I opted to skip dessert and go straight for the most indulgent wine purchase of my life: a glass of port from 1937. At $61 a glass (more like a shot) it was out of this world. A firm believer in slow food, I let the better part of an hour pass as I savored each sip of the wine. It had hints of caramel, chocolate, and sherry. With each taste I felt as if my tongue was being massaged with an intensity and complexity of flavor I knew I’d never find again. I nearly wept when it was done. I had grown attached to it. Its loss was like the passing of a good friend. The last sip was bittersweet, both a delight and a moment of profound mourning.
After dinner we made a brief stop at a local upscale bar where we experienced sensory overload. After nearly a month of only men, I can’t begin to describe what its like to see THAT many beautiful women so close together in one space. The married Captains wanted to return to the hotel; I cursed at my misfortune. In truth, the hotel bar (where we ended up) was an outstanding time. We made fast friends with the hotel’s jazz band, the bartenders, cocktail waitresses, and fellow patrons (one of whom, I’m told, was the actor Bill Cobbs).
Saturday: We slept in, went to a riverboat casino for a few hours (at one point I was up around $150, but ended up being down $35 for the day, fun nonetheless), and retired back to the hotel (we were still recovering from the the hotel bar the night before). The Captains ended up wanting to stay in for dinner (one was really sick, the other wanted to eat at the hotel and then go see some lame movie), so I went out on my own. To be honest, I actually love going out by myself. I’m a social animal to begin with, but being out alone really forces me to hone my people skills. I hate being alone, and I especially hate eating alone. When I do go out alone, it becomes almost a game to see who I can befriend for the evening. I’ve met some of my closest friends this way. I ended up eating at a wonderful Italian place where I dined on pasta bolognese accompanied by a nice dry chianti. While the restaurant was warm, inviting, and friendly, the weather was anything but. Indeed, the extreme winter weather of FT Riley had finally found us hiding out in Kansas City, and it was pissed. The hotel bar, with its plush chairs, leather couches, roaring fire, and great jazz band offered the perfect refuge. I spent the evening drinking dessert wines, sherry, and brandy, while reading a copy of the day’s New York Times. Eventually one of the Captains (the non-sick one) joined me and we chatted till about 1 a.m.
Sunday: Leaving the plush comfort of the Intercontinental Hotel for the drab accommodations of barracks life required extreme patience. Our drive back to base was reminiscent of every car trip I’ve ever taken with my parents. I’m twenty-six, the Captains are older (late 30′s, early 40′s). I have a saying, “if the music’s too loud, you’re too old.” These men must be ancient. Orders to “turn it down LT” rang out, and I begrudgingly 0bliged, only to find out that the decrease hadn’t been enough, requiring further reductions in volume. Alas, I ended up catching only the occasional word and note of the re-broadcast of Saturday’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” After three days with these guys I was more than happy to ditch them and go out with one of the other lieutenants (my friend Jeff) for dinner and a movie. We ate at a BBQ place called Famous Dave’s. They claim to have the best ribs in America (as voted by some unnamed constituency that clearly have the worst taste-buds in America). They lied. Famous Dave’s, you are no Dinosaur BBQ. After dinner I saw two movies, Fools Gold and Rambo (the 4th installment of the series). Neither movie was good or bad enough to warrant any further commentary. While I was at the movies, Jeff had ended up at an Irish Pub that celebrates the 17th of EVERY month as if it’s St. Patrick’s Day. They call it “St. Practice Day.” I joined Jeff in between the films. We both agree we’ve found our new hangout for the remainder of our “incarceration” here in Kansas.
I also picked up a new pistol holster and kevlar laced gloves today. The new uniform (seven layer system) is actually outstanding. Two things the Army STILL cannot seem to get right, however, are gloves and pistol holsters. I ended up spending around $160 for a form fitting pistol holder from Blackhawk and kevlar lined gloves from Wiley-Ex. The gloves have hard plastic to protect my knuckles, and the kevlar lining adds one more layer of protection — something I can always use. I’ll be sure to take pictures at some point.