“Why don’t they have soccer tournaments on tropical islands?” Jim asked, piloting our swagger wagon southwest out of Kansas City.
“Because you can’t drive there,” I told my husband, thankful for the smooth sailing on I-35 down to Olathe. This was Jade’s first year on the U12 team, and we’d already logged hundreds of miles for our 11-year-old.
“We’d need a plane if all Jade’s games were on islands,” our 8-year-old son, Taylor, said from the backseat.
“Look kids, Olathe is throwing us a welcome party,” Jim announced when we rolled into town and came upon the crowds in the heart of Olathe. Our welcome party was actually Fourth Fridays—a monthly celebration in, and of, downtown Olathe. As if on cue, my stomach rumbled when we walked past the food trucks. In a unanimous decision—which says a lot because I wanted to shop at the local shops open late for the event—we decided to get food first.
I cheated on my diet with crawfish mac and cheese at the Beauty of the Bistro truck, and the kids reminded us why they play offense in soccer by sprinting to the Ohana’s Shave Ice truck. “Island treats on Olathe streets!” Taylor said, grinning at his rhyming ability, and no doubt in the early stages of a sugar high.
“You know how I tell people you make the best barbecue?” Jim said in between bites of brisket from the KC BBQ Truck. I nodded, proud of my Texas’ grandmother’s popular recipe. “I’ve been lying,” he said, handing me his sandwich for an explanatory bite. Tomato met molasses and meat so tender it melted in my mouth. I couldn’t believe it. On a Friday night in Olathe, Kansas, in my mid-30s, I became a Kansas City-style barbecue convert.
After visiting most of the food trucks in the KC Food Truck Mafia fleet, the kids got in line for free face painting. Then Taylor unleashed his inner Picasso at Pinot’s Palette art station while his sister embraced her inner mad scientist at the Mad Science of Greater Kansas City make-and-take booth. Jim even channelled his inner Jimmy Buffet and sang along with the band, Old School Kansas City, rocking the main stage.
As Jim crooned about an island somewhere, I complimented Taylor on the abstract pumpkin painting he was proudly showing off to anyone who wasn’t dancing. “Nice work!” said a woman standing next to us. Taylor told her Halloween was his favorite holiday before running off to show Jade. The woman, a longtime Olathe resident, and I started talking.
“You’ll have to come back this fall for KC Pumpkin Patch,” said Julie, half of the husband-and-wife team behind KC Wine Co. which owns the popular seasonal destination. With zip lines, bowling, barrel trains, hayrack rides, duck races, a jumping pillow and a corn maze for the kids, it sounded like a carnival, but not overwhelming.
I mentally cleared my calendar for Columbus Day weekend. We’d have to come on a weekend if we wanted to watch pumpkins careening through the crisp fall air.
“On Saturdays and Sundays we get out the gourd gun,” Julie said, describing how they launch the pumpkins that don’t make the cut to sell or use for their pumpkin dishes and desserts. I thanked her for the recommendation/invitation and imagined how perfect a pumpkin spice-themed food truck would be in the fall.
“It’s like island hopping, except we’re park hopping,” Jim explained the next morning. Jade’s team had lost, so we decided to walk the Olathe Heritage Trail that connected several community parks. Our strategy was to start in Black Bob Park for its Saturday morning farmers market, and follow the trail two miles south to Heritage Park where we could watch the tournament finals.
“May I please have a cake-pop?” Jade asked, eyeing the Sugar Rush booth at the farmers market. My own sweet tooth was awakened by the aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls. We happily satisfied those cravings. Jim and Taylor, however, were lured by the scent and sound of corn popping.
“Caramel and cheddar, together?” I questioned when they returned with a bag.
“Try it,” Jim said. Sweet and savory simultaneously exploded in my mouth. Jade tossed a piece of popcorn into the air and caught it on her tongue. “Mmm!” she said, approvingly.
After sampling goodies made from locally grown ingredients, we hit the trail. Knowing Kansas isn’t famous for its forests, we were pleasantly surprised that the first portion had tree cover. As asphalt trail turned into a wooden boardwalk crossing marshy wetlands, I forgot we were within city limits. The kids looked for frogs while Jim embraced his inner birder, pointing out a belted kingfisher.
“This would be the coolest backyard because I could bike here with no traffic,” Taylor said when the trail rounded a corner by a residential neighborhood.
“No, this would be the coolest backyard,” Jade argued when the trail ended in Heritage Park. It was a huge expanse of green—and deep blue, thanks to nearby Heritage Lake.
“Look,” Jim said, laughing. He pointed to an island on the lake. The trail continued out over the water toward a red brick silo marked “Black Bob Island.”
An island? It was an amusing coincidence. After all, everything we’d experienced in Olathe had been more than expected. I figured now was a good time to enlist the family in what I’d decided on that first night at Fourth Fridays.
“Don’t say ‘yes’ to anything during the first weekend in October,” I said. “We already have plans.”