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Swimming in Brush Creek
By Jack Cashill
As August settles on Kansas City like a steaming Oshibori, I would recommend that readers seeking relief chill out along Kansas City’s great under-appreciated attraction, Brush Creek.
For those not paying attention, the nicely refurbished walkway and waterway now extends from the Country Club Plaza eastwards several miles and has made the phrase “ East Plaza” much more than a euphemism for “inner city.”
OK, I understand. My boosterish claims fall on many a deaf ear. The more antiseptic among our readers would no sooner stroll Brush Creek than they would bob for apples in the Love Canal.
Not me. I have not just walked the Creek. I have swum it. And I have survived to tell the tale that follows.
One pleasant Saturday morning about a year ago, I happened to be walking along the creek when I saw a dog vainly trying to scramble out of the water.
As I continued to walk, it dawned on me that if I did not do something the dog would likely drown. Good citizen that I am, I called 911 on my cell, and the dispatcher referred me to Animal Control.
When I called Animal Control, however, I was told that it was Saturday, and Animal Control doesn’t do Saturdays. When I explained that the dog would drown without help, I was reminded that Animal Control doesn’t do Saturdays. Who runs this department, I wonder in retrospect. Michael Vick?
Given the Brush Creek-phobia among my fellow citizens, there was no one else in sight. With the Animal Control department on weekend leave, I figured if I didn’t save the dog, no one would.
Plus, as I will explain soon enough, I had a favor to return.
Rescuing drowning dogs is much easier said than done. The dog was large and wet and desperate, and the creek level was about two feet below the level of the walkway. So I lay flat on the concrete, reached down to the dog with my right hand, and tried to pull him out by the paw.
That wasn’t happening. So on the next swipe I grabbed his chain and tried to yank him. Alas, the dog panicked at the chain yank, reached around, and attacked my right hand like a leftover strip steak.
Time to call Animal Control again. “Yo,” I told the dispatcher, “now you have got to send someone. Otherwise, I’ve got to get rabies shots or you’ve got to drain the creek.”
Grudgingly, Animal Control consented. While waiting, I walked up to Starbucks to grab a cup of coffee and to protest its hegemonic control of global markets, there being no Wal*Mart available.
While I was still at Starbucks, Animal Control called me back to tell me that someone had managed to rescue the dog and an Animal Control officer was on the way.
Sure enough, when I got back to the creek, a couple had just plucked a big, shivering dog out of the water. But this dog was on the opposite side of the Creek, the more accessible side. Plus, he was brown, and I could have sworn mine was black.
When I spotted the dog’s leather collar, I knew for sure he wasn’t the biter. Mine had a chain for a collar. That I remembered well. It seemed that Brush Creek had turned into a veritable Sea World for clueless dogs.
Still concerned, I looked around the Creek for my dog and saw him, now floundering about 100 yards away under the Main Street Bridge. At that moment, another guy was trying to rescue him.
“Be careful,” I yelled out. “He bites.”
Too late. At that very second, the flailing pooch took a chunk out of this Good Samaritan’s hand. The dog may just have been suffering stomach cramps from eating so much.
Now, Animal Control called again. Their officer could not find our location. “Where are you?” he asked.
“We are on Brush Creek,” I answered, “under the Main Street Bridge.” This direction flummoxed the guy. To him, Brush Creek was a street. How could someone be on a street and under a street. One of the more squeamish Kansas Citians, he had no concept of the creek itself.
As I walked towards the black dog and a small cluster of would-be rescuers, I continued to talk the officer in to our site the way they do amateur pilots in a bad Airport sequel. He was close but had no clue where he was going.
Time was slipping away. Our pup was actually drowning, and it pained us all to watch. We could not wait any longer. “It is either you or me,” I said to the other pre-bitten fellow. “We’ve got to get shots anyhow.”
The reader can be forgiven for thinking that this is when I went swimming in Brush Creek. I was certainly prepared to do so at any rate, certainly in the retelling.
But that is not what happened. The other fellow said to me, “Stay with the phone.” He reached down, grabbed the exhausted dog by the collar, and hauled him out in one mighty heave. It was an unexpectedly emotional moment.
I told this story to a few people, and my wife was particularly taken by it. She would occasionally ask me to retell it. On one occasion, after I had had a few beers with friends, she suggested I tell “the Brush Creek story.”
Without thinking, I proceeded to tell “a” Brush Creek story but not “the” Brush Creek story. I told how one early winter day, as I was walking along the edge of the creek Tom Sawyer-style, I lost track of what I was doing and, well, fell fully clothed into Brush Creek.
“You what?” my wife said.
“Didn’t I tell you about this?” I asked disingenuously.
“No, you didn’t.”
Of course, I didn’t. This story was just too plain stupid to tell. To make the story stupider, I had boots and sweats on when I fell in and couldn’t lift my leg out high enough to reach the walkway.
As I hung on the side of the creek, I thought, “What if I drowned here?” I had to laugh. I had just written a controversial book on TWA Flight 800. No one would ever believe that the drowning was an accident. Books would be written about my demise.
I had not quite worked out the conspiratorial details of my own undoing, when, out of nowhere, a large gentleman came strolling by. In December, on this underused riverwalk, his appearance was a borderline miracle.
“Hey, Mac,” I said, “Could you give me a hand here?” Lord knows what he was thinking when he saw me, but he obliged.
And happily for both of us, I refrained from biting him.