The Harbinger Online

All Aboard: Exploring KC through a Trolley Tour

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Photo by Trevor Paulus

As someone who’s lived in the same suburb for the majority of my life, I often find myself longing to escape the constant drives down Mission Road and running into everyone I know at Starbucks in the Village. So at my friend’s suggestion, I jumped at the opportunity to take a trip through Kansas City from a tourist’s point of view — and it was fully worth the $20.

Being a local, I had already been to or heard of almost all of the “main” attractions we cruised by on our trolley — the National World War I Museum, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Sprint Center — you get the picture. But if you’re looking for more than an Instagram photo in front of these attractions and are hoping to gain a new perspective of the city as a whole, the tour will be worth the 90 minutes.

bynn - sidebarMy friends and I had a rough start since the company failed to let us know that construction had moved the tour’s starting point from the front of Union Station to the back, and we nearly missed the trolley. But considering his friendly personality and thorough knowledge of KC, I’ve decided to forgive our guide, Trolley Tom, for this miscommunication.

My first impression of the white old-fashioned trolley — fittingly named “Pearl” — was that it was hot. Unfortunately, that didn’t change as the tour went on. On a 95 degree day, Trolley Tom’s one fan wasn’t cutting it, and the heat sometimes made it hard to focus on Tom’s anecdotes. Other than that, old wooden benches and arch head windows created a classic aesthetic that I preferred over the usual  large double deck tour bus.

Once I found a comfy seat and recovered from our chaotic journey to find Pearl, the intriguing tour drew me in and made up for the heat. As someone who loves collecting obscure facts and stories, I enjoyed Trolley Tom’s narration. From the story of how the Hannibal Bridge helped establish Kansas City as a major Midwest city to the ironic backstory of how the KC Police Headquarters building used to be an illegal brothel, Tom’s knowledge was comprehensive but constant — so the tour might not be the best place for socializing and chatter with friends.

Though I learned many new historical facts regarding KC, like how Tom Pendergast’s political machine ran the city in the 20s and 30s and how the country’s gateway to the West was originally called Westport Landing, the tour wasn’t just a history lesson. What set the tour apart from other sightseeing tours was that it informed me of current and upcoming events in KC and other tidbits that are useful to me as a local.

For instance, KC will be hosting the NFL draft at Union Station in 2023, and parking is free at downtown parking meters weekdays after 5 p.m. and on weekends. I also hopped off the trolley with a new list of things to explore — including the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 18th & Vine, the Garment District Museum and the Black Archives.

One of my favorite parts of the tour was being one of the only KC natives in the group of 15 on the trolley. Given our reputation as a “flyover state,” and the fact that when I tell out-of-state people where I’m from they often respond with “I don’t even know where that is on a map,” I was surprised to find that my friends and I were the only locals on the trolley.

Coming from the isolation of Prairie Village, it was refreshing to hear the French tourist couple in front of us chatter and watch them jump from one side of the trolley to the other to snap a photo of sights like the Sprint Center that don’t even phase me anymore. Watching this and contemplating the new rich history I’d learned about KC made me more appreciative of my community and the people in it.

Considering this, I thought the price tag was reasonable for the 90 minute tour, though it depends on what you’re looking to get out of the tour and whether you live on a lifeguard’s budget like. I can’t say I’ll be back to visit Trolley Tom, but I’ll definitely be back downtown with a new perspective and list of places to explore.

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