Before I start sharing observations about life in Kansas City today, let me give you a look at what my experience here was like prior to the election--or even before 2016.
Missouri is not an unfamiliar place to me.
Some of my parents closest friends live in Kansas City and its surrounding suburbs. We visited them every summer for the 4th of July, sometimes staying for two weeks at a time. My memories of this place are as Quintessential Childhood Summer as you can get: being slathered in sunscreen and told to go play outside; finding relief from the heat in the shade of tall trees; pushing my brother and our friends on a tire swing or playing pretend games on a hammock; swimming in creeks and lakes; plucking honeysuckles and imagining drinking magic elixer from their stems; catching fireflies and eating frozen custard on balmy summer nights.
When Kyle and I arrived in Missouri last May, we rolled down our windows as dusk fell on the highway and the smell of the air--an earthy smell, a smell of warmth mixed with Skin So Soft and burning firecrackers--felt like coming home, even though I was 1,000 miles away from Boston.
It was night when we arrived at my parents' house in Independence. Friends and followers by now already know that my parents left Boston and moved to Independence in November 2015. Kyle and I didn't choose to come here simply to join them. We spent a lot of time considering the financial burden of living in Boston. Kyle is a massage therapist and had his own practice in Jamaica Plain, where he grew up and where we lived together throughout our relationship. For the sake of full disclosure: between our rent/living expenses and his business expenses, it cost us on average $4000 per month to live in our hometown. This was a lot to maintain as a small business owner and an artist with a part-time job. I didn't want to give up writing, and Kyle wanted to get more training in his field, so we decided to move to Kansas City, where his mentor (our family friend with the hammock and the tire swing) lives and where the cost of living is considerably less expensive.
We woke up here on May 30, Kyle's birthday, and moved into our apartment the next day.
As we drove from my parents house to our new apartment, I tried to keep an open mind and see this city in a new light.
Even though my family visited Kansas City every summer, we didn't spend too much time in the downtown area. Mostly our time was spent at friends houses in the surrounding neighborhoods or 4 hours away in Springfield. I have lots of happy memories of childhood summers here, but I never thought I would move to Missouri. Especially, as I grew up and became more aware of the divide between Red vs. Blue and Coasts vs. Midwest, I was skeptical--and resistant--to relocating here.
Deciding to move was not an easy choice.
We knew that we couldn't afford to stay in Boston--or many other progressive cities where we would be comfortable--but I wasn't sure that Missouri was the solution. I had suggested Twin Cities, or one of those free houses for writers that they were offering in Detroit, but Kyle was insistent that he wanted to get more training in Kansas City. To me, I felt like I would be giving up the years worth of work I had put in to being an artist in Boston--sacrificing my hard work and extensive connections--in favor of his career. I wanted him to become an excellent massage therapist, but not at the expense of my work. And I wasn't convinced that as a couple of mixed-race, tree hugging, anime-watching progressives we would find like-minded people. There were many nights where we would hit an impasse, and I would bite my lip as I looked at him, not knowing if our marriage would make it through this decision.
I had told Kyle: "I'll give you one year. One year of training and living in Kansas City. If I hate it, or if it doesn't benefit both of our careers--then we have to move on to a new place."
He had agreed, but said: "Well, you have to at least give it a chance."
We drove into the city, and I did my best to suspend my judgements.
One of the first days after we arrived, I walked to a cafe not far from our apartment. This was my first test to see how well this city would stand up to my lifestyle. My life has changed in many ways since I was a student in Amherst, MA, but writing in the morning at a local cafe has been fairly consistent (although I brew my own coffee at home these days). I got my iced coffee and sat outside and started writing in my journal. There were people seated inside and on the patio, and there was steady foot traffic going in and out of the cafe, but it was still early enough that people weren't having loud conversations--except for two girls.
They used to be roommates, and they were talking about their new living arrangements. One of them had recently bought her first home. I thought about how very few of my friends in Boston could afford to become homeowners.
One of the girls mentioned that a mutual friend was moving back to Kansas City.
The second girl said: "Have you noticed how so many people are moving here from other cities?"
(This of course grabbed my attention).
The first girl agreed, and they started talking about these different bars/clubs that I probably should have paid closer attention to as a newcomer. But they rambled on a bit about what was happening around town, the ways the city was under appreciated. How it was hidden, and they liked it that way.
The first girl said: "I just want to them--Stop. Go. Away."
The second girl: "They're going to ruin it."
I almost had to smile, listening to this conversation, because I had this same kind of conversation with my own friends. We would complain over drinks about how people from Jersey were getting the good jobs or how buyers from China were scooping up housing with cash in hand. We wanted everyone to go away, for Boston to be ours again. Except, by the time we were having these conversations, the city was already too expensive. We were being driven out.
The girls' conversation pivoted to other things, but I was still mulling over their comments, wondering if Kansas City was really that cool. If there were more "Pro's" to this place beyond the cost of living.
I hoped that they were right.