Our Man INKC: A Day at the Spa and a Memorable Weekend

Damian Lair at Sojourn Spa. Photo by Michael Robinson Photography

A Solitary Sojourn

Sojourn /sō-jərn / noun 1. a temporary stay.

If you were to escape somewhere, temporarily, where might it be? What about a place of stillness . . . of peace, quiet, and healing?

I had the immense pleasure of experiencing the sparkling new Sojourn Spa as its doors at the (also new) Cascade Hotel on the Country Club Plaza were ready to open. I have been forever waiting for a gorgeous destination resort spa in Kansas City. Some people plea to the universe for another Super Bowl win (which I’m grateful for!)—but this is my plight.

Perhaps I should begin by disclosing my outsized, irrational love for hotels, generally. Specifically, fine hotels. I’ve managed to experience a handful of the grand icons, yet I keep a handy mental list of those yet to be checked off. It’s the ultimate wish list—some obvious (Ritz Paris; Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc; Villa d’Este) and others more far-flung (Amankora in Bhutan; La Mamounia in Marrakesh). There’s something otherworldly about being cocooned in masterful attentiveness—the vulnerable act of allowing yourself to be taken care of.

Most of our days are nobly spent doing the opposite—caring for others. Whether it’s family, work, or volunteer commitments—we spend a great deal of our lives attending to the needs of others. Perhaps this is why casting all that aside for even a few hours can feel so liberating and fuel us for more good work ahead.

Contrary to my waxing on about self-care, it’s something I pursue remarkably little. Rather, it seems to be an extravagance reserved for scattered vacations when a multitude of tantalizing services are offered on a silver hotel platter. Facials, massages, mud baths—Yes, I’m on vacation! But what if that hotel + spa were here?

Sojourn is a calming repast for the eyes. The minimal, curvilinear space, bound by sleek plaster walls, is a sculptural shell of sophistication. Wide-plank white-oak floors ground the space, and elevated furnishings, such as sofas upholstered in ivory bouclé and camel-colored suede leather, offer comfort and glamour. Floor-to-ceiling windows sheathed in sheer, ripple-fold draperies flood the space with filtered light. And installations by local powerhouse Porter Teleo—which I enjoy in my own home—punctuate the space with refined restraint. Not merely a breath of fresh air; this is a satisfying mouthful. The harmonized aesthetic was accomplished by its proprietor, Ashley McClellan, partnering with local talent Six Twenty One for architecture and design and Kristen Ridler Design for furniture and finishings.

Alas, what good is svelte simplicity if the services fail to deliver? I arrived early on a Saturday morning, with roughly half the day scheduled for relaxation. DL-maxim: What gets calendared gets accomplished.

Overheard “He has to sneak around when he’s in town. There’s an active warrant for his arrest.”

After slipping out of my comfortable weekend joggers and into an even more comfortable plush robe, I was ushered to the relaxation room for some crystal-infused water and hot tea. After settling in, I was ready for my sauna time. Here, you have two options. And since I had the place virtually to myself, I dabbled in both. The infrared sauna (a topic I’ve covered in these pages previously) heats your body via infrared light through your core. The more traditional dry heat sauna transfers heat radiantly via warm air. I love the new-age modernity of an infrared sauna. Sojourn’s is extra-hyped with a touch screen to choose among six wellness experiences: detoxification, anti-aging, weight loss, pain relief, cardiovascular, and relaxation. But on a bitterly cold winter day, nothing hits quite like the old-school version. Take your pick!

Having reached the perfect level of toasty, it was time for the Himalayan salt-stone massage I selected. The massage and healing technique uses warm salt crystal stones to ground and balance the body’s electromagnetic field and central nervous system. The Himalayan hand-carved massage stones gently soothe away an accumulation of stress, tension, and pollutants, bringing the mind, body, and spirit into balance. As a huge fan of crystals-anything, this was positively perfect for me. Other massage options include sports recovery, mother-to-be, couples, area-specific, and fully custom. And there are lots of add-on enhancements like hand, foot, and hair treatments.

In addition to the massage and bodywork menu, Sojourn also offers a robust skincare offering. I opted for the top-of-the-line 80-minute “Fifth Avenue Ultimate Anti-Aging Facial.” “Fifth Avenue” because this complexion-perfecting powerhouse is the most popular and coveted treatment in famed dermatologist Dr. Gross’s (Fifth Avenue) practice. This signature Alpha Beta Professional Peel immediately delivers smoother, more flawless skin and restores a youthful glow with just one treatment. Fine lines, enlarged pores, and discoloration are no match.

This is not your run-of-the-mill cleanse/tone/extract/moisturize facial. It is a laborious set of layered treatments—the most intense I’ve ever experienced. Some of the steps included are: a gentle-yet-effective peel, retinol infusion, LED light therapy, LED lip plumping, and eye and serum treatments based on client concerns and needs.

My favorite component, however, was the capstone hyaluronic marine modeling face mask that penetrates the (naturally derived) fluorescent blue algae into your skin until it forms a soft, rubber cushion that’s later peeled away It’s carefully applied like a decadent cake icing and is transformative oceanic bliss.

In capping off my day, I retreated to the solitude room where curved chaise longues beckon, and silence is the rule. In a world where information is ever-incoming, a blocked period of silence can indeed be golden.

Valet parking for spa guests is complimentary, so coming and going is also a breeze—tying up the experience in a tidy little bow. I’ve already booked my next appointment, including the Sojourn healing body ritual—a sea salt and botanical body scrub that exfoliates dull skin, followed by a healing marine body mask. It will be the perfect way to slough myself of the lingering remnants of winter in preparation for sunny days ahead.

Hot Gossip: Who arrived home from vacation and found an intruder asleep on her sofa?

One Weekend; Two Dream Dinners

For an even more action-packed weekend than typical, I kicked things off by co-hosting and organizing a “friend-raising” happy hour event for the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, as the organization eases into celebrating its 40th anniversary. The occasion coincided with the legendary NPR All Things Considered former co-host, Michele Norris, being in Kansas City.

Michele was in town at the outset of her book tour and graciously agreed to headline our gathering before her official Rainy Day Books event at Unity Temple. Michele has previously extolled that KCFAA is “one of the best examples of bridge building across cultures and communities that I have ever seen . . . where Black and white residents join forces every year to support Alvin Ailey. They work together. They learn from each other. They have good fun together (dancing is key at all of their events!). And, they set a magnificent example for the next generation.”  Given that these themes of diverse bridge-building directly connected to her new book, it was the most serendipitous matchup.

Our Hidden Conversations (Simon & Schuster)

Michele’s book, Our Hidden Conversations | What Americans Really Think About Race and Identity is the culmination of learnings derived from her decade-long work at The Race Card Project. The project began with modest instructions on a postcard:

“Race. Your Thoughts. Six Words. Please Send.” 

The responses have been much more complex. More than half a million people have submitted to the project, and the six-word mini-essays can be shocking in their depth and candor, spanning the full spectrum of race, ethnicity, identity, and class. Some provoking submissions include: “Lady, I don’t want your purse.” “My ancestors massacred Indians near here.” “Grandma, we can’t say that anymore.” “Urban living has made me racist.” “You probably think I look Jewish.” “I’m not intimidating; you’re intimidated.”  Michele’s substantive tome is a collection of select submissions and the more fulsome stories behind them.

Following the book event, I was honored to join Michele and a few others for dinner at Grand Street Cafe. It was the occasion for one of the most engaging conversations I’ve had in recent memory, and it felt powerful to discuss race with roughly a dozen equally represented Black and white friends. It was also uncomfortable, particularly because the topic is considered taboo and off-limits for formal dinner gatherings such as this.  And maybe that’s why it felt so necessary. How can we ever expect to find common ground on a topic such as this if we collectively sidestep the conversation?

If also seated at that table, you might have asked Michelle (as I did) what has most genuinely surprised her across this work. Her response: the large proportion of race card submissions made by white respondents, who’ve expressed their own feelings of frustration, confusion, guilt, and anger. Fortunately, that unanticipated outpouring has provided her work (and book) with a rare, multidimensional view of how Americans candidly see themselves and one another.

Oh, and one more surprise, which came via a call to Michele that evening: her book had just landed on The New York Times’s coveted bestseller list. A deserving recognition for this ongoing project.


For dinner number two, I was invited by Amy Embry to join an incredible adventure.  Months earlier, she purchased a silent auction item at the Kansas City Symphony’s annual ball—a dinner donated by Ed Milbank at his Chillicothe home. We gathered in the late afternoon at Amy’s home for Champagne and boarding the provided sprinter van that would whisk us to and fro.

Roughly two hours later, we arrived at Ed’s charming home, with its lattice paned-glass windows fogged over due to the chilly temps and snow cover. Inside, a fire roared, and we were warmed by Ed’s equally glowing cheer and hospitality. We enjoyed passed appetizers and a full array of cocktails (no driving!) and later received a tour of his home.  It was touching to witness the pride and attachment he exhibited when answering questions about some of the more interesting items scattering his abode.

Eventually, our group of 12 gathered at his stately and carefully outfitted dining room table.  Silver, china, and crystal—it was all there and gleaming. We made our way through the refined five-course meal, which included dishes such as oyster soup, salmon mousse, and pork loin. Hardly a dinner party-host novice—having given well over a hundred similar dinners for various charities across the decades—Ed had some conversation starters in mind. Among them (and ones I’m sure to borrow):  What is your first Christmas memory?  Another: If you could travel anywhere in the world (new or return trip), where would it be?  And finally: Describe your mother’s kitchen. At first blush, a set of questions sprinkled across dinner might feel rigid, or even a little hokey. But for a group where most knew just a handful of the other guests—and because the topics were so revealing and thoughtful—it was completely enchanting. Maybe try it?

Following dinner, we enjoyed coffee and pastries back in the living room. More conversation ensued, and before we knew it, we’d well overstayed our planned departure time. Time flies . . .. We cued up a spontaneous, group-effort playlist for the sprinter ride home. Arriving back to Kansas City at nearly 1 a.m., we were still laughing and singing with not a tired look among us. It was the best evening and a reminder of how fun it can be to bid on and purchase (or throw!) a dinner party for your favorite charity. The memories may well outlast that set of concert tickets or trip to Cancun. I’ll cherish these.

Overheard: “Her husband’s out of town, and she’s crankin’ Les Misérables in the driveway.”

In Memory

A few years ago, I wrote about attending Operation Breakthrough’s 50th Anniversary event. I learned about—and came to genuinely appreciate and admire—the work of its co-founders, Sister Corita Bussanmas and Sister Berta Sailer. Sister Berta died this past month.  I never met her, but I felt like I had. I also felt the urge to recognize—again—her life’s work in these pages. What began as caring for four children in their home ultimately expanded to an organization that today serves 700 children every weekday. Thousands of lives and families have since been altered for good. Gifts in Sister Berta’s memory can be made to Operation Breakthrough.

Hot Gossip: Who was crowdsourcing for a free ride to the Super Bowl?

So, KC—where do you want to go? XO

email: dlair@inkansascity.com  | Instagram: @damianlair #OurManINKC

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