Dear Kansas City,
Thank you for being the most welcoming city I’ve ever known. I moved here fourteen years ago, and granted, I’ve never lived outside the Midwest, but I have to say, you had me at “Hello.”
Because that’s what people do here. They say “Hello!” or, like I was just greeted at Price Chopper by a fellow shopper on Thanksgiving Morning, “Happy Thanksgiving, you have a great day!” and even if you’re in line at the bank and you can’t remember the name of the movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone and it was sci-fi, what was it? The couple in the car next to you will listen to your question without a strange look on their faces, and answer, “Total Recall?” and smile and wave and laugh as you exclaim happily, “OH YEAHHHH!”
I’ve lived in a tiny town, where my father knew before I even got home that I’d left the gym during the basketball game and went to a classmate’s house. I’ve lived in the frozen tundra of the Twin Cities, still dear to my heart, but the Norwegian spirit is strong there, and everyone is a lot happier if you stay at arm’s length and just talk about the weather..if you have to talk at all. I even did a short stint in Des Moines, which is probably a great place to be white, straight, married and work in insurance, and a couple years in St. Louis, where it’s more important to know what high school you went to than what you accomplished since you left that chapter in your life. St. Louis was probably the loneliest city for me – at least the arm’s length of Minnesota was less present in my social circles there, and many of my college alumni were there, providing something of an instant connection.
So then I came to Kansas City, where people were friendlier than I’d seen before, and a co-worker (Greg!) invited me to a party with his friends, and another co-worker invited me to her party, and you had the sense that this was a city that was comfortable in its own skin. Nobody needed to see your pedigree, know what your parents did, determine if your job was successful enough to be part of their circle. Spotted someone on the outskirts, looking like they want to come in? Pull up a chair, friend. There’s plenty on the table. We’re not fancy, or elitist, or consumed with fame or movie stars. We like a matching track suit, maybe a nice watch. Comfortable shoes, thanks. We’ve worked hard to get what we have, and we enjoy -and take pride in- the fact we’ve got a nice assortment of international and national companies who call this area their home. (Sprint, Hallmark, H&R Block, Cerner, Interstate Bakeries, DST Systems, AMC Movies, Crayola, Bushnell, HNTB, just to name a few.)
Despite the fact I hated small-town life and the nosiness and sameness of a small circle of people, I love the fact that Kansas City “gets smaller” every year. I know the name of my favorite bagger at my grocery store. I can walk into a restaurant, and run into someone I know. Faces grow familiar. The sense of community is strong. Yet I can look out our big picture window, see only a giant hackberry framed in the stark November light, and feel comfortably isolated from the rest of the world. We’re tried and true, salt of the earth, perhaps kept in check by our Midwestern roots, open to new …everything. People, tastes, foods, stores, adventures, all of it. I met my husband here, we’ve raised our dogs here, built a community of like-minded friends who love tomatoes and (or) knitting, loads of memories and experiences intertwined with this location.
So when I heard this piece on NPR the other morning, talking about the profitable & successful Sprint Center as a contrast to the stadium woes currently being felt around the country due to the NBA lockout, I felt a lot of pride in this town where I’ve put down roots. People I know through the internet sometimes dismiss our midwestern style, they eye our jeans and college sports sweatshirts and think to themselves how quaint we must be, as they pat us on the head and mutter, “Fly-over country.” What’s funny (and keeps us from punching them) is that they don’t realize we know they think this. And because we were raised to be self-sufficient, hospitable and arguably, stoic, we just bite our tongues, and tell them to pull up a chair, join us at the table, while they wait to get somewhere seemingly more important.