Tom's Kansas City volleyball travel journal

My daughter, Darlene, plays on a club volleyball team at Cornell, where she's a graduate student. (She was going to play varsity softball for the Big Red, but the Ivy League, in a rare display of snootiness, decided that even though the NCAA says it's OK, they wouldn't allow graduate students at member institutions to participate in NCAA intercollegiate athletics.) So she found another outlet for her competitive nature.

The national club volleyball championships, for both men and women, were being held in Kansas City last week, so I went to watch her play. It's an incredible spectacle, with hundreds of teams competing in different divisions, and the volleyball is quite good. (The UA men's team dominated the event for much of the past decade, winning several national championships.)

The first thing you notice when you fly into Kansas City is that you're not in Kansas City. You're not in any city. It's as if Tucson decided to build this monster new international airport, and they put it on the butt side of Benson. The Missouri River separates Kansas City, Missouri, from Kansas City, Kansas. Apparently, there is so much animosity between the two cities that when the airport was built, they decided to put it in Nebraska.

I get to the rental car place and the guy says, "For four dollars more a day than what you ordered on the phone, you can have an SUV."

I said, "What do I look like, Chili Palmer in Get Shorty? SUV drivers are (jerks). If people are going to think I'm an (jerk), I want to earn it, not have it be by association." I could just see the guy thinking, "I wonder if I could still get that job with my uncle in his sewer-cleaning business."

All of the airport car rental outlets are on Mexico City Road. In Missouri. We don't even have a Mexico City Road here in Tucson, although I get the feeling that we someday might. There were three Spanish-language radio stations on the dial, and I saw a low-rider car with four shaved-headed vatos in it cruising by the Thomas Hart Benton House. It was kinda sad.

(I'm hoping for a nomination in Best Ethnic Reporting in next year's Arizona Press Club Awards.)

Kansas City is actually pretty cool. It has a nice historic feel to it, a mixture of a proud, rough-and-tumble past and an exciting, high-tech future. It also has Gates & Sons Barbecue, where they have a Burnt Ends BBQ sandwich that will allow you to see God without having to go through all that death and resurrection business.

Darlene had gone online to get me a hotel room. All of the rooms downtown were taken by the volleyball players, and she didn't think I would want to stay out by the airport, so she tried to get one that was as close to downtown as possible.

She didn't get me a hotel; she got me a ghettotel. The only thing missing was the chalk outline on the floor. At least there weren't any cockroaches; apparently, the rats ate 'em all. I actually like to exercise every day, and most hotels have exercise rooms. This one didn't. They probably figured that you'd get enough of a workout running zigzag back and forth to your car.

This place was so bad, the TV only got three stations, and one of them was Al-Jazeera.

A few blocks from my Rodekill Inn was the Marcus Allen Ford dealership. He once played for the Kansas City Chiefs, and according to O.J. Simpson, he used to have sex with O.J.'s wife. This was before O.J. killed her. At least I hope so.

Some volleyballers try to portray themselves as debauched; I'm not really sure why. They have custom T-shirts made with heavy emphasis on words like "pound," "deep" and "hard." You know, stuff that a 12-year-old boy would find amusing but everybody else would find boring.

For some reason, the UA women's team had three different shirts made, and all three were determined to be so dirty that they were told not to wear them in public. I would tell you what was on them, but there might be sailors or convicts among my readers who would be embarrassed by the language.

Darlene's team reached the Gold Bracket and eventually finished ninth in the country (out of 60 teams). Somebody told me that it was the highest finish ever for an Ivy League team. The UA women, apparently held down by the smut on their shirts, fell to the Bronze (bottom) Bracket and didn't do well there.

The UA men's "A" team was upset in the quarterfinals and failed to regain the national crown it last won in 2002. The Wildcat men's "B" team, led by local kids Ricky Culler, Anthony Ingraham, and Sean Chan (son of longtime prep volleyball coach Daniel Chan), won the national championship in their division.

One final note: As I sat in the Kansas City airport at 5 a.m., having been forced to awaken three freakin' hours before my flight was scheduled to take off and to retie my shoes, I had but one thought: I really hate al-Qaida.

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