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KCUR's Gina Kaufmann brings you personal essays about how we're all adapting to a very different world.

The introvert's guide to rediscovering Kansas City

Cautious Kansas Citians can happily reconnect with the city they've missed — on their own terms. Here's how.

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I was in my early 20s when I hit my stride at parties.

As a pre-teen on the school cafeteria dance scene, all I had to do was bust a move like Young MC told me. But after that, small talk and mingling became prerequisites for having a social life, and it took a while to find my people and get the hang of it. Point being, these skills were learned — and not quickly.

Maybe that's why the first small outdoor dinner party I attended when I finally emerged from quarantine last weekend found me in an open garage strung with cafe lights, bubbly flowing, beautiful people laughing, and me staring fondly at a friend from afar, but not bothering to approach or say hi. When he looked over and waved in recognition, I was startled out of my reverie, whereupon I laughed and said out loud, "I forgot you can see me, too!"

It's going to be another long learning curve.

We've seen a lot of expert commentary about how introverts are going to have a hard time getting back out there, and there's some truth in that. Our collective awkwardness has even been lampooned on Saturday Night Live.

But all the discourse about introverts nervously avoiding things post-quarantine has been missing something important: all the stuff we're absolutely psyched about doing, stuff that flies under more extroverted radars.

Because it's not just bars and party invitations out there. You know where else people are excitedly going in their newly vaccinated states? Bookstores, record stores, museums, libraries, plant nurseries, even observatories. I saw a Facebook post with pictures of a date night at the observatory, and that inspired me in a way that networking happy hours do not. Some of us are most excited to get back to quiet discovery, to bask in changes of scenery, to infuse our sensory worlds with new input, and yes, to do so in the presence of other humans.

Digging for records at Mills Record Company feels a little more leisurely than it has in a while. More like a hobby and less like an errand, a regular tells me.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Digging for records at Mills Record Company feels a little more leisurely than it has in a while. More like a hobby and less like an errand, a regular tells me.

Judy Mills owns a Westport record store —Mills Record Company — and an adjoining bookstore, Wise Blood. Both have been open for most of the pandemic. During that time, Mills adopted a new sales philosophy. She's no longer physically putting records in people's hands, but standing back and waiting to be asked a question or approached for a transaction.

"Safety is the new service," she tells me.

Mills says some customers never stopped showing up in person — "and thank God for them," she adds. But there's a larger community of folks who did online ordering and curbside pickup.

It might be easy to assume that after all this time at home listening to records or reading books, nobody's dying to hit up the record store and the bookstore.

That assumption would be false.

Mills is seeing a massive new wave of in-person customers, including those who have been placing orders all along. She says they're giddy about the chance to casually stumble on the perfect book or record, to be surprised by what's there and make a new discovery.

"It's one thing to go, 'you know what, I want this record, I wonder if they have it.' It's another thing to discover it, like, 'Oh my God, I can't believe this record's here.'"

Talia Evans is a media specialist for the Kansas City Public Library, which is opening to the public June 1, and she says that while of course people are excited to browse the aisles for books, she's also gotten lots of calls from people who want to visit the rooftop terrace at the Central branch, to take in the gorgeous view of downtown.

"I can't tell you how many requests I got just to go up and take pictures of the city from that view. And I just had to say no, because it wasn't open to the public yet," Evans says. "I'm excited that people are going to feel more empowered to be able to see the city from our point of view again, because it's a really beautiful view. It's really nice up there."

That's part of getting back out in the city we call home: exploring all the nooks and crannies we normally seek out for different moods and occasions. A lot of those nooks and crannies — like the library terrace — haven't been accessible. That's made our experience of the city — and of "home" — feel flatter.

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3

For me, the first step toward changing that was going back inside the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. I'd never before gone a whole year without visiting, and I actually started missing the art inside the same way I missed my good friends.

I went straight to see the ancient Greek lion, who looks more like a friendly dog than a ferocious beast. From there, I remembered the painting around the corner of a woman playing records, and I had to run over to greet her. My whole visit went that way, moving quickly from one thing to the next. I even stopped outside Rozzelle Court just to hear the distinct sound of the fountain's acoustics against the marble. It was glorious.

If you're ready to refresh your view of Kansas City and don't know where to start — or just aren't ready for mingling and small talk — here's a handy guide, with a few Lawrence options for good measure.

Send any ideas for places you'd like to see added to the list to gina@kcur.org.

Book Stores

Prospero's: The laid-back neighborhood hangout, with creaky floors and a used book selection that skews irreverent, remains open to the public.

Willa’s Books And Vinyl: The namesake of this store is Willa Robinson, who became a business owner when her personal book and record collection—created over more than 30 years working for the U.S. Postal Service—got too big to keep at home. The store specializes in used and rare books with an African American focus, as well as jazz and blues LPs, soul 45s and vintage magazines. Robinson will have to move all of it to a new location due to plans to demolish the building that currently houses it—check back here for updates.

Rainy Day Books: Kansas City's highest-profile independent seller of new books is reopening to the public for in-person shopping on Tuesday, June 1. As of now, author events scheduled for 2021 remain virtual; check the website for potential updates.

Wise Blood: This bookstore is attached to a record store, Mills Record Company. Together they form a refuge for safely geeking out over culture and curiosity.

Specialty Cafés

Whiskers Cat Café: A Midtown coffee shop partnering with the KC Pet Project to let humans and cats hang out together, without making any commitments. Meri Boyer writes in to tell us, “There’s nothing better than getting a kitten fix for an hour (especially because you don’t have to make small talk with them).” There's low expectations for chit-chat, and the cats are skittish in crowds anyways—for their comfort, this café limits crowd size. A win-win for introverts.

Café Equinox at Family Tree Nursery: This coffee shop inside a plant nursery makes it possible do the suburban equivalent of forest bathing, unbeholden to the whims of Midwestern weather. Seating in the greenhouse is a major draw in the wintertime, but this time of year, they clear out the tables and chairs to make room for more plants. For now, drinking coffee in the greenhouse requires strolling.

Soulcentricitea: A menu of hot tea drinks named after Black women writers (the Ntozake Shange is a turmeric tea latte, and the Bell Hooks is a black tea with agave) is just one way this place honors Black artistry and intellect. It’s also home to a leave-one-take-one Black women’s library by the counter, a well-stocked local zine collection, karaoke nights, tarot readings by appointment, and all kinds of workshops and classes.

Art Museums

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art: This museum is small, which makes it easy to get in and out on a moment's notice. That makes it less of a commitment of time and energy than some of the other places around. The next exhibition opening here is an immersive light and sound environment that "features an upside-down canopy of mountains and valleys made from thousands of suspended light bulbs." It pulses in response to visitors' presence, like a heartbeat. This sounds amazing. It opens June 10.

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: The iconic Kansas City art museum is open to visitors, with some changes. Tickets are required to manage the number of people inside the space at any given time, and reserving a spot in advance is a good idea; they do fill up, particularly on weekends. You can go for the art — which represents every time period and every continent — or you can go for the whole experience, inside the museum and out. The lawn offers mini-golf, officially, and Sunday yoga — unofficially.

Outdoor Film Screenings

Cinema Under The Stars at Loose Park: This outdoor picnic-style screening of Anthony Bourdain's WASTED! The Story Of Food Waste takes place June 5 at 8:30 p.m. (with related events beginning at 7:30). The topic is kind of heavy but it has nonetheless been described as "wildly entertaining."

Limelight @ LeMonad(e): Every Wednesday this Summer, starting June 2, Screenland and is teaming up with the folks at Lemonade Park for outdoor movies. They'll be focusing on local films, cult favorites, crowd-pleasers and music movies. The series ends in October.


Powell Observatory: This observatory in Louisburg, Kansas, has begun its "COVID-aware" season on a trial basis, with scheduled events easing back on-site. Imagery from the telescope is projected onto a fence for those gathered outdoors. Check back for updates as the season progresses.

Warko Observatory (pronounced "Varko"): This observatory on the campus of UMKC is currently closed, but with tentative plans to reopen in August. Until then, star watchers are welcome to call the observatory for advice on where to go and what to look for in the Kansas City night sky.

Lawrence, Kansas

The Raven: This downtown Lawrence gathering place for readers and writers — and nationally known hub for Amazon resistance — reopens to the public starting June 5 in an expanded new location on Massachusetts Street. Online services added during the pandemic will also continue.

Wonder Fair: Less of a fair and more of a store, really, selling art supplies, stationery, prints, zines, nice pens and t-shirts. But it’s also a haven for artists. Wonder Fair also boasts a haunted bathroom, now simulated online for the convenience of those unable (or too scared) to see it in person.

KU Natural History Museum: Marveling at the diorama, filled with taxidermied American wildlife frozen in dramatic scenes, is a Lawrence tradition. A newer exhibit on the sixth floor gives visitors a chance to watch bees milling about a bee colony—it’s mesmerizing. The museum has reopened to the public, but advance reservations are required.

Other Field Trips And Nature Outings

Friends of the Kaw: This group’s outings on the Kansas River (also known as the Kaw) come recommended by a KCUR listener. The next event on the calendar, scheduled for June 5, is a 14-mile paddling trip from Ogden, Kanas, to Manhattan, Kansas.

KC Wildlands: Do you prefer socializing over a task? This conservationist group organizes volunteer teams to do things like collecting and identifying seeds from wild lands, or removing invasive species that prevent forest regeneration. No events are currently scheduled, but the organization’s website offers a list of wildlands to hike in the Kansas City area.

Updated: May 28, 2021 at 9:13 AM CDT
This guide was last updated on May 28, 2021. Send your suggestions to expand this list to gina@kcur.org.
People don't make cameos in news stories; the human story is the story, with characters affected by news events, not defined by them. As a columnist and podcaster, I want to acknowledge what it feels like to live through this time in Kansas City, one vantage point at a time. Together, these weekly vignettes form a collage of daily life in Kansas City as it changes in some ways, and stubbornly resists change in others. You can follow me on Twitter @GinaKCUR or email me at gina@kcur.org.
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