Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Walking on the Kaw River Bridge

A brief travelogue from January 29th, 2005 in Lawrence, Kansas

Get your rest on a different day when Greg comes to town. He will wear you out if you can keep up with him. I took a different approach to the mapcap Greg weekend this time. It was all about timing, pacing, and having an exit strategy. In anticipation of a long night of drinking and debauchery, I opted for a brief cultural swing through Lawrence, Kansas' literary legacy on my way to meet the crew. I drove in from Overland Park on K-10 and turned off on Learned Avenue where I passed the final residence of William S. Burroughs. I stayed in East Lawrence and drove North on Connecticut street. I cut over to the brick cobblestones of New York street and cruised through the neighborhood that Langston Hughes once called home. I turned left at the train station, past the old coca-cola distributor and the liquor store that they converted to a church, turned right on Massachusetts street and headed over the Kaw river bridge. The bridge included a small sidewalk for pedestrian traffic and I chuckled to myself. In spite of all my liquid adventures in college (some 20 years ago), I never had to walk across the bridge in lieu of a ride.

We met at the original Johnny's bar at 5pm on Saturday. Greg walked in with a cell phone glued to his ear and said hello to a couple of the regulars who knew him from his days as a bartender there in the late 80s. He assembled the evening's entourage; seven friends with a common goal, to see a KU basketball game and visit some old drinking haunts. I finished a pint of Newcastle before we ventured outside city lines to the smoky confines of the Pink Flamingo strip club.

What happens in the Flamingo stays in the Flamingo and while nothing happened in there that I wouldn't tell my wife about, I'll spare you the intimate details. I won't get invited to any future strip club / basketball game / pub crawls if I ogle and tell now. The big screen television showed a M*A*S*H* re-run. It was a Mike Farrell episode and I dismissed it straight away. I drank 1.5 beers and donated eight dollars to the g-string relief fund. One final note: "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman is the worst strip club dance number ever.

To Phog Allen fieldhouse for the first time since December 1994. The Hawks beat Steve Nash and the Santa Clara team that night in a game where Roy Williams took all five starters out at once in the first half for sluggish play. I was excited to be back and the place was rockin'. Dick Vitale and ESPN were broadcasting the game and it was sold out. Greg's sweet tickets included a parking pass. We parked in the new garage next to the field house and walked inside. I looked through the gangway and saw a wall of people. We were close to the action. Kurt and I sat across from the Texas bench 30 rows up. Our chairs had seatbacks - an Allen Field House first. I grabbed a hot dog and a bottled water for dinner. They don't sell beer. Kansas Governor Sebelius walked on the court and we sang happy birthday to the state, admitted to the union on this day in 1865. I got a lap dance from a stripper and saw the Governor. That doesn't often happen the same day - unless you're a lobbyist.

Wayne Simien scored 27 points and KU won 90-65. We met everybody at the Phog Allen statue after the game. Phog's baggy pants looked like they hid a Depends undergarment.

Greg made a call on his phone and we met a stretch limo at Summerfield Hall. We stopped for a quick beer at The Crossing. The Crossing lost some of its bohemian appeal. The front porch (aka smoking porch) was empty, but the bar blared Huey Lewis and the News at high volume to no one in particular. Greg ordered two creamy club sandwiches from Yello Sub next door and I bought the gang a couple of pitchers.

"Is this three-two?," I asked. "Of course." said the bartender. I deferred on the creamy club and sipped on my 3.2 beer (3.2 percent alcohol by volume, not quite full strength beer, it's a long story) until the limo returned from the liquor store with Jack Daniels and Calvin. Guess who was the driver. Ha-ha! We headed to the Jet Lag lounge on 6th street. Much to our surprise there was a line to get in. The same thing happened at the Hawk and the Yacht Club. People were excited about drinking in Lawrence and I understand this happens at least three or four times a month.

Earlier in this essay, I revealed a detail about the Pink Flamingo after I promised I wouldn't. The lap dance I described was a gift from an old pal and was administered with extreme care by a working mother who aspired to be a chemist or biologist in her spare time, and had a great rack and a nice tan.

Back in the limo, Greg dialed another number. He knew a guy inside the Hawk. This friend, whom I'll call Opie, knew a manager who could get us inside without waiting. We returned to 14th and Ohio and went around back to a non-descript wooden fence. A knock and a secret handshake later and we were in the beer garden. The Hawk is different now. The people who bought it a few years ago changed the name from the Jayhawk Cafe to the 18th amendment. They went out of business and now its the Hawk again, but the bar up front has been redone. It's all rough-hewn stone and glass. I thought it seemed out of place for the Hawk. The rest of the joint was the same crappy wood work we loved as drunken teenagers.

Our pub crawl was over. We camped in the Hawk. I drank a beer and looked at the youthful crowd, very conscious of my relative age and decided to deploy my exit strategy. I said goodbye to Greg and Kurt and walked outside to find the limo. The boys were ensconced in Budweiser and shots and said they wouldn't mind if I used it for a taxi ride back to Johnny's.

I nudged my way through the throng of college students clamoring for the chance to stick to the floor inside. I looked up and down Ohio street. I walked up toward the Wheel and down to Tennessee street. There was no limo. My chances of getting back in the Hawk were nil.

I haven't walked the streets of Lawrence after midnight since 1988. It's nice to know that it doesn't take as long to get somewhere on foot when you're not hammered. I trod North along Kentucky street, cut through the church lot in the 1200 block, through South Park and over to Massachusetts street. I hoped to spot a taxi but that didn't happen. People milled around while I passed several night spots on my way: Louise's, The Jazzhaus, The Replay.

I saw Liberty Hall and the Free State Brewery and I made my first pedestrian foot crossing over the Kaw river bridge. The river swirled across the dam below with brown foamy goodness. It smelled like Topeka spirit. I returned to my vehicle refreshed from my 30 minute walk and made it home by 1:35am.

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