After years of the AP Reading being in Salt Lake City, this year, the AP World History essays were scored in Kansas City this year, and Jim and I headed out there on June 1st. The switch to KC would involve a pretty extreme change in climate, with much more humidity than in arid Utah, and I thought I had prepared by buying enough cotton-free underwear to last two weeks.
Then it rained the day we arrived.
It hadn’t rained during the daytime of an AP World History Reading in a decade. Granted, the Reading was in a desert for over half of those years, which is the main reason that I left behind the two umbrellas that College Board had unhelpfully provided in rainless Salt Lake. When I needed them on June 1st, they were in the mass of umbrellas occupying the floor of the coat closet back in Midlothian.
After the alarming downpour on the first day, there was much less rain the rest of the week. But as it turned out, there would be a variety of reasons to yearn for Salt Lake City in addition to its non-rainy qualities. Here’s a sampling.
The Kansas City Convention Center employed at the Reading tables metal-legged chairs that lacked the plastic caps on the base of each leg. When dragged over the slightly lumpy concrete floor of this part of the convention center, the chairs created the auditory equivalent of stabbing yourself in the leg with a sharp knife and then slowly twisting it twenty or thirty times. While chair screeching is a problem at any convention center, the KC convention center had stumbled on a chair-to-floor surface combination that was truly remarkable in its awfulness. And the the consistency of the sound was really something, occurring each and every time someone tried to get up or sit down. Every. Single. Time. The sound in this video is mild compared to the perfect storm of metal on concrete at the Reading.
The chair-concrete combo revealed the character of my fellow Readers, dividing them into more or less two groups.
- People who embody the ideal of goodness: These people conceded defeat to the chairs, recognizing that even the most conscientious attempt to move the chair would result in blood-curdling screeching. They instead positioned their chairs in such a way that they could do a sideways slide into or off of the chair without moving it at all, even though such a move required a core-muscle workout that no one was inclined to do after scoring dozens of sophomore essays.
- People who are probably more evil than Hitler: These were the people who, upon realizing that the chairs would screech across the floor every time, embraced it, slowly sliding their metal chairs over the metal concrete each time they had to get up, unconcerened with the agony they were causing. These were probably the same people who stepped on the easily avoided metal plates on the Convention Center floor regularly, producing a Ker-PLANK sound to accompany the SCREEEEEEEEEEEE sound of their chair-sliding compatriots.
The bad convention food
This is not to say that the food at Salt Lake’s Salt Palace was anything amazing, as there were issues from time to time at the Reading in Salt Lake with service and food options. However, the Kansas City Convention Center seemed to go the extra mile in providing low quality convention food. At the Reading, we have morning and afternoon breaks, and snacks are served at those breaks. At previous Readings, a variety of food was offered. Sure, this food was to be avoided unless one wanted an unpleasant day in the overcowded, undercleaned restrooms, but the point is that some effort was made to take care of the Readers.
In KC, on the other hand, the snacks at break looked as if they were planned with all of the foresight of a high school sophomore who just realized that a project was due in their next class. Consequently, snacks involved the following:
- A candy variety pack that appeared to have been left over from Halloween
- Mini-packs of hummus that may have been purchased from Costco only minutes before the break
- Leftover muffins from breakfast
The Highlights of Kansas City
On the plus side, Kansas City itself was very cool, with lots of restaurants and, more importantly, lots of breweries. While Salt Lake City often seemed like a theme park version of a city with its empty malls and crazy street-crossing protocols, Kansas City was a real city with a lot to see in the downtown area.
There are many, many good restaurants, so many that it may take years of Readings at KC to hit even just the best of those near our hotel. The Convention Center meals provided plenty of incentive to explore the restaurant scene. Mostly, Jim and I stayed close to the hotel and convention center, which put us in the “Power and Light District” quite a few times. Here’s a rundown on the places we hit:
Flying Saucer: They have $4 drafts on a large variety of beer during their happy hour, which moved this restaurant right to the top of our list. Bell’s Bourbon Barrel-Aged Hell Hath No Fury for $4?!?!?! Two of those will kill any memory of the chair screeching.
Grinder’s: A pizza/sandwich place in the Crossroads Arts District. In keeping with the artsy surroundings, customers could write and draw on the walls. The result was a spectacular array of penis art. On an unrelated note, we ordered the delicious Bengal Tiger pizza with tandoori chicken and crab meat.
Jack Stack BBQ: Also located in the arts district, but with far less penis art. It was here that we tried KC’s distinctive contribution to barbecue cuisine, burnt ends.
Burnt ends, the charred ends of beef brisket, are one of those local food specialties that somehow have not achieved national distribution. Let’s get on this, America.
POI-O: This was a Hispanic barbecue place that was off the beaten path for sure. In fact, Jim and I almost walked right past it. A couple of months ago, I took my brothers Mark and Scott to a Thai place in Mechanicsville when they helped me move a piano. The Thai restaurant was in a converted gas station, with peppers and other vegetables growing in the spots where the gas pumps once were, an exterior so unpromising that Mark commented that if he had taken his wife Jodi to this place that she would not have gotten out of the car.
The food, though, was very good, mainly focusing on “do it yourself” chicken tacos with a variety of green and red salsas.
Joes’s KC Barbecue: You may be picking up on the barbecue theme. We got barbecue from Joe’s, one of the most famous of the KC barbecue restaurants, on our last night at the Reading. By this time, handling the essay books of hundreds of high school students and/or sitting in close proximity to hundreds of unhygienic, chair-screeching adults had infected Jim with a cold. Joe’s delivered through DoorDash, which enabled us to try their famous Z-Man sandwich, combining brisket and onion rings.
Kansas City also has an array of interesting museums, like the Negro Baseball Leagues Museum and a Steamboat Museum. Between reading lots of mind-numbing essays for eight hours a day and the efforts we had to make to recover our sanity after reading all of those essays, we had very little time to see them. On the last day of the Reading, I did have a chance to visit Kansas City’s excellent World War I Museum.
It’s possible that I mentioned that Kansas City had a number of good breweries and other good places to get beer. Possible. This was essential to our enjoyment of the city.