A Shout-Out to Johnson County

By Jack Cashill

OK, here is the most heartening sight I have seen in the last few months. On the trail leading south out of Leawood Park a pedestrian bridge crosses whichever politically incorrect stream—Tomahawk Creek? Indian Creek?—flows beneath it. On this particular day, a half-dozen shirtless teenage boys were jumping off the bridge into the creek about 10 or so feet below. Huckleberry Finn, I thought, is alive
and well in Johnson County.

There is hope for the future after all.

On another day I watched in awe as a boy of about 10 climbed a tree until he was at least 30 or so feet above the ground. His mother watched in horror. She urged him to come down, but, bless her heart, she did not make him stop. “If it is not your child,” I said to console here. “You know he is going to be OK.”

“But if it is your child,” she laughed, “you expect the worst.” “Exactly,” I said. “Such are the joys of parenthood.”

In these last two months I have seen lots of kids: playing in the creek, skipping stones, building dams, even fishing. They have done all of this without a coach in sight and usually without a parent. If there is a silver lining on this recent nonsense, it may be that kids are learning to live their lives without being managed.

The parks in Johnson County have been my refuge. Each day for an hour or two I leave my solo office in desolate Westport and head out to one park or another in Johnson County. I suppose I could walk around midtown, but the sight of joggers and bicyclists wearing masks depresses me. I am tempted to share the statistics with our millennial friends and tell them that they stand a greater chance of being felled by a rogue sniper than of dying from Covid-19, but who am I to question their righteousness.

People in Johnson County seem somehow more grounded. For years we city dwellers have been scolding them for their “sprawl” and their insistence on space, for their reliance on cars and their refusal to use public transport, but today those impulses seem a good deal more defensible.

On the trails, almost no one wears a mask. People smile when you pass them, occasionally even chat. On three separate occasions these past two months, I have run into the mayor of Leawood in Leawood. These cheerful encounters with Peggy Dunn and her husband Terry have largely constituted my social life. I wish I were kidding.

The one challenge is getting to the parks in Leawood is driving south on State Line Road. One distraction is the Chick-Fil-A on 85th Terrace. I find myself stopping there more than I need to. The food is OK, but the people are so friendly and efficient that I feel like I am visiting a foreign country to which I would really like to move. Some people have an ideological beef against Chick-Fil-A’s founders.

I am tempted to share the statistics with our millennial friends and tell them that they stand a greater chance of being felled by a rogue sniper than of dying from Covid-19, but who am I to question their righteousness?

The more conspiratorially-minded among them have got to be wondering whether last year’s major re-model was part of the alleged “plannedemic.” Let’s see: Chick-Fil-A shuts down for many months only to re-emerge with this incredibly streamlined drive-through service just in time for the current crisis. Hmmm …

Like most local motorists, I long ago figured out that you can drive faster north on State Line than south. Kansas City cops have better things to do than, say, pulling over drivers from another state for not having a current sticker on their license plates. That has happened to me twice in Kansas—to be fair, only once in Leawood—never in Missouri.

True story, the last time I got stopped in Kansas City I was doing about 50 in a 35-mile zone heading north on Broadway where it segues into I-35. The cop asked me why I was speeding. “I was accelerating to get on the highway,” I said it as though my answer made perfect sense. “You’re going to have to do better than that,” he said. “Okay,” I said. “How about this?  My father and uncle were cops and four of my cousins are cops.” “Sorry, won’t cut it,” he said. I looked over at his nametag. It was a very distinctive Italian name. “You related to Phyllis?” I asked. “She’s my cousin,” he snarled. “Get the hell out of here.”

Missouri has its virtues. One of those virtues is not parks. Once the trail along the creek crosses State Line, it gets quickly and visibly shabby, even junky. A few years ago, the aforementioned rogue sniper did, in fact, stalk those trails and murder a half-dozen people, most of them innocent dog walkers.

These murders got shockingly little attention. They would have in Johnson County. Of course, they would. In my favorite Johnson County park, Shawnee Mission, I have never worried about getting shot, but I did get stopped for speeding. I was doing 32 in a 25 zone on a weekday morning in January. That’s Johnson County.

To avoid getting stopped for speeding inside the park, I have learned to access the park right off Midland Road near where it merges with Shawnee Mission Park. A great stretch of trail begins here as it includes a seriously steep hill. I have been hiking it every other day. With my gym inexplicably closed, this is my one shot at aerobics.

Today, more than ever, it absolutely pays to be fit. On a Sunday this month, I was congratulating myself on my ability to master the hill without a coronary when a chubby woman in a short pink dress ran by me. But the running wasn’t the worst part. Nor was the dress, although it was pretty awful. No, the worst part was that while waiting for a friend to catch up, she ran a loop around me.

I realized then that I was not quite where I need to be fitness-wise. Mayor, please reopen my gym!

About the author

Jack Cashill is Ingram's Senior Editor and has been affiliated with the magazine for more than 30 years. He can be reached at jackcashill@yahoo.com. The views expressed in this column are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Ingram's Magazine.

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