Friends finally getting driven back home :)
Friends finally getting driven back home :)
Jacob Gamez

Running on Caffeine in Kansas City

By Cesar Baltazar

On April 4th, 2024, journalism and yearbook students boarded a flight from LAX airport to Kansas City, Missouri. For most it was their first time getting onto a plane. For those lucky enough to sleep on the plane, it was a short ride. Me, on the other hand? I never got any rest; I only had my coffee, cookies, and the sight of my sleeping friends beside and behind me. The instant we landed, we shifted from Pacific time to Central time. It was early morning in Kansas.

Me and my friends walking to a ramen spot 🙂 (


Day 1: Sleep Deprived

My body felt sleepy, but the coffee from the flight really helped. My colleagues looked sleepy as well, everyone looked out of energy and almost zombie-like. We entered the Westin Kansas City at Crown Center, the only way I can describe the place is expensive. It was a quiet place, before we got there, of course. We sat down in the lobby armchairs and couches and relaxed while Ms. Alyssa Moore, the journalism teacher, went to get our name badges and register us for the conference. Later on, we walked up the stairs to enter a room where colleges and vendors were advertising their journalism and yearbook programs. I took some souvenirs—threw them away once I got home but still took some souvenirs. I had fun walking around to see what the colleges were offering, and it seemed like my peers could agree. 

Later on, once we were starving, I was sent on a mission with Jonathan Barrea and Jacob Gamez to go help Ms. Moore bring the group pizza from a spot called Spin! Pizza. We sat down by the pizza spot waiting for Ms. Moore, just to realize the others were already chowing down on pizza without us three. We took a long walk back through “The Link,” a long, stuffy skybridge connecting the convention hotels, to see our peers having a good time. Not much happened for that day until later that night. When we reached our hotel, Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center. A great hotel, the rest of that day we took time to relax until later that night.

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That evening, after checking in with the chaperones we were given permission to travel in small groups and go to dinner within walking distance. Tiffany Renderos invited their friend group to go out to check out this ramen spot, Mama’s Ramen. Eros invited my friend Manuel Gaspar, so he decided to invite others as well. I walked down out of my hotel room to the hotel lobby to be surprised by a big group of my peers: Amaghee Kegler, Jonathan Barrera, Jacob Gamez, Tristan Aguirre, among others. Eros’ mother was nice enough to chaperone us for the visit to the ramen spot. 

For some, it was their first time eating ramen, which has surprised me. I ordered a bowl of ramen and egg rolls while others ordered shrimp fried rice, ramune soda, and boba. Everyone had a great time eating. A

After slurping up the ramen we took a quick trip to a gas station to get snacks

, in case anyone got the munchies late at night. I bought some water for my room since there was a mini fridge. We all safely got back to our hotel rooms and it was time to snooze. Day one concluded.

Friends writing their ramen orders down 🙂 (James Tzec)

Day 2: Is this what college feels like?

Next morning was a great, free breakfast for all of us who woke up early enough for it. It was a breakfast buffet heaven. Cereal, oatmeal, waffles, eggs, breakfast sausages, toast, bagels—you name it. Those fortunate enough to make it chowed down their breakfast and then we all walked down to the trolly. Think one of the Metro buses but much cleaner, better smelling, and more exciting. We got to the convention center to take our sessions. Some went to sessions with professionals in video work, photography, podcasting, sports photography. It was like an average Tuesday school schedule.

Though unlike school, in Kansas City we got to explore around, there was a mall center and food. I joined along with some friends of mine after spotting them at a barbecue spot, Burnt End Barbecue. It was probably the best barbecue I have eaten in my life. 10 out of 10, would recommend. I would always spot other classmates walking by, exploring the Crown Center mall alone or in packs—stores like Amy’s Hallmark, Legoland Discovery Center, and Toy Time. After sessions finished, we all headed back to the hotel on the trolley and got some precious time to relax. For a little while, anyway. There was more exploring for us to do.

Ms. Reyna had suggested for all of us to go out and check out KC’s Fridays night market. After Ms. Rivera and Ms. Moore gave us the okay, most of us went out as a group. We walked the streets of Kansas City, tables set up with artists proudly showcasing their work. Bracelets, artwork of chubby pigeons, miniature figurines for board games, candles with funny shapes. I bought a painting of a chubby pigeon and my friend Tristan bought a cool 3D printed dragon. While most of us went to the night market, others went to the mall. Ending the day off with food, some of the students went in groups to a location where a bunch of food trucks were serving food, pizza, tacos, and more. That wrapped up day two, everyone made it back to the hotel and snoozed.

Day 3: College burnout

Next morning, we were waking up to take on the world. Maybe not but it was another day of learning from professionals. Once we got to the convention center it was straight to the sessions. My first session sounded exciting but it ended up being a snoozefest. At least I got to understand color theory and how to properly use them in preferred pages for when making a yearbook. The second session was my favorite, Podcasting 101. I was with Tristan for that session, and he actually socialized with another student from another school. Getting to hear that others in the room learning actually have their own podcast was pretty neat, unfortunately I did not get to catch the names of the podcasts. Third session I was in a group with fellow staff members, and the teacher was a bundle of energy. He was charismatic, and made the session easier to pay attention to. Photoshopping 101 was great. We got to see live photoshopping as a volunteer was following instructions to fix photography errors. 

Finally, we headed to the last session with my same group, Sports Photography 101. I took the most advice from this session as I found interest in sports photography. When I took photos for a Hawkins football game, I had done most of the mistakes that the teacher had given advice against. If I ever study sports photography then I can always look back into this session as the start. After everyone got to attend their sessions we met up and headed back to the hotel. Later that day instead of heading out to explore KC like other students who went mini golfing, I decided to stay back and do some laundry with my friends, Johnathan and Manuel. This day was one of the best, being independent and walking around made me feel “important”, somewhat high class.

Friends walking over to the convention center to get our lessons done 🙂 (Jonathan Barrera)

Day 4: Back home

This day was calm despite the fact that we had to catch a flight later that day. We had plenty of time to pack our things and say our goodbyes to Kansas City. With a free schedule to ourselves I decided to go out with a group of friends to the mall. After our last day of shopping for souvenirs for our families back in California, we headed back to the hotel to rest until it was time to leave. Before our ride arrived at the hotel we also got some Starbucks—yum! The whole airport process was easy until the TSA lady treated us rudely—looks like someone woke up cranky. Group B’s flight ended up being delayed, Group A had already boarded their flight so my group was stuck waiting along with Group C. We boarded our flight, a long one. Again, no sleep for me, but everyone else sitting around me got to snooze. We took a connecting flight, and we finally caught our flight back home to California. When the plane landed, a large exhale heaved out of me. Finally the trip was over and my fear of flying was gone. Group A had already gotten home safely before groups B and C. My group boarded the bus to take us back to Hawkins along with group C. This trip despite being only four days felt longer, having a roommate, a community to hang out with, this trip felt like a college experience. Weeks after the trip, I can definitely say I miss KC. It felt like a second home to me. Nothing beats California though.

Friends finally getting driven back home 🙂 (James Tzec)

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