Miracle Miles

I’ve always maintained that the best way to explore a neighborhood is a bar tour, and a recent trip through Mission and Shawnee didn’t prove me wrong. Along Johnson Drive through these two cities, my friends and I witnessed a near catfight and heard a touching story about a barroom’s healing powers.

Before I heard about the Miracle Man of Shawnee, I met Research Assistants Cat, Eli and Scott in Mission at J.J.’s Other Place, a smoky little neighborhood bar across the street from Lucky Brewgrille. We found a table, ordered $6 Bud Light pitchers from the friendly server and scoped out the place. Five dartboards stood behind the front windows, which were festooned with neon beer signs. The wood-paneled walls were dotted with pictures of local sports celebs as well as a framed photo of a naked baby (one of the owner’s kids) flanked by signed photos of Tom Watson and Roy Williams. In the back was another room with a pool table. A touch-screen jukebox blasted out random classics such as Poison’s “Unskinny Bop” and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

J.J.’s attracted an intriguingly varied crowd. It reminded Scott of being in a bar back in his hometown of Ottumwa, Iowa. A trio of boisterous older ladies occupied the table next to us. Nearby, a couple of grizzled, tattooed guys with ponytails played trivia while another guy with a long wallet chain and chiseled sideburns threw darts. Over by the door, a young group monopolized the Silver Strike Bowling machine. Most everyone seemed to be happily buzzed — especially the vocal ladies at the table closest to ours.

I started chatting with them and met Kathy, Denise and Carole, regulars in their mid-40s. Kathy and Carole have known each other for 18 years. Sitting on their table was a stuffed purple teddy bear wearing a shiny iridescent vest. They weren’t sure why it was there; another patron had given it to them without explanation. What other random things had happened at J.J.’s? Once, Carole said, some women took off their shirts and traded tops with a group of guys.

“Were they wearing bras?”

“Yes. The boys weren’t,” she said matter-of-factly.

I needed to interview a woman named Stephanie, Carole informed me. She took me to another table to meet 58-year-old Stephanie, another regular. She and her friends were sharing a table with Paul, 35, an off-duty J.J.’s bartender. Stephanie and her husband moved from Overland Park to Mission to be closer to the bar.

That’s when we overheard a blonde in a bright-pink T-shirt yell to her friend, “No shit, farmgirl!”

The blonde turned out to be an extremely fast talker. Immediately, she launched into a story about how a chick at the next table had called her a whore.

“Most women think I’m a whore, since I’ve got bright blond hair, big boobs and frosted lips,” she told me. “But I can make her feel like shit with my mouth. Not in a sexual way.”

That was my introduction to Dana, who described herself as “27 going on 40.” She’s from Pulaski County, Missouri (home of Fort Leonard Wood), and proud of her country-girl status.

She claimed that her accuser had screamed “whore” three times just to get attention. In any event, the accuser seemed wasted and quieted down.

The smoke had started to sting our eyes, so I decided it was probably time to hit the next stop.

We drove down the street to the Court of Appeals. Located across from Shawnee’s City Hall, the bar announced itself with a sign like an Irish flag, the name written “Court Of aPpealS” — COPS. A number of Texas hold ’em tables took up the front portion of the bar. Heather, the amiable bartender-slash-server — who sported a T-shirt that read “Beer is cheaper than therapy” — pointed us to a more comfortable table in the back, away from the cardplayers.

We ordered a $7.25 pitcher of Olathe-brewed Flying Monkey. Irish paraphernalia lined the walls in the rectangular, drop-ceiling room, and disk-shaped lamps hung over the tables. The crowd was pretty tame, give or take the wastoidal woman who passed by on her way to the back patio.

“I’m drunk,” she slurred as she clung to her friend for support. Cat’s shiny fingernails caught her attention, and she mumbled that she liked the red polish. “But not as much as I like that,” she said, stroking Eli’s arm. We figured out that she was referring to a faint scar on his forearm.

Our fellow drinkers ranged from the backward-baseball-cap-wearing duders playing pool to the 50ish regulars who gathered at the bar. At the very corner of the bar sat a woman in a cushy brown armchair.

That was Joann, the 62-year-old owner. I asked how she came up with the bar’s name.

She said her husband, Forrest, had once been shot. He’d been working a second job at a liquor store in Grandview when a kid came in and got angry when Forrest asked for ID. The underage boy went home and got a gun, then came back, said “How’s this for ID?” and shot Forrest 10 times. Despite getting hit twice in the head, twice in the butt, five times in the abdomen and once in the left shoulder, he survived. The folks at St. Joseph Hospital called him a miracle man.

Workers’ compensation denied the case, but they won the appeal, hence the bar’s name.

Having the place has been great rehab for him, Joann said. “When it opened, he didn’t know his own name half the time. Now he knows 90 percent of the customers’ names. Everyone loves him.”

Cheers to that. And cheers to the little neighborhood bars on Johnson Drive.

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