Differences

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We’ve been in Kansas City for 6 months.

Kyle and I have our routines now. We have our work schedules. We know where the grocery store is and how to get around to different places. We know how to pronounce the names of different towns (Olathe is o-lay-thuh) and we familiarized ourselves with local customs (waiters at restaurants always ask if you want separate checks). We are meeting people and making new friends.

But we are still discovering things about Kansas City. We are still adjusting to life in a different region. I’ve moved between apartments in Boston for the past decade, and expected the transition to a new city to be like that. But moving to Kansas City has been more like what it was like to move to Osaka. I’ve been surprised by all the ways I’ve needed to adopt to the differences here, even though I am still in America.

When we arrived, we were struck by the most obvious differences—the shape of the city: the urban sprawl that stretched from the highway to the horizon. The way, with the exception of the skyscrapers downtown, the buildings are low-rise structures.

The city is laid on a grid with names that suggest a different history from New England’s Puritan past. Back in Massachusetts, we have names that are reminiscent of English gentry—Dover, Fairfax, Gloucester. Here, there are boulevards and counties with names that sound like they are out of a Western movie—Wyandotte, Troost, Jackson.

In Kansas City, ‘old’ isn’t cobblestone walkways or wrought-iron details from our Colonial past. It’s the covered wagon in Westport, a reminder that the city served as the start of the Oregon Trail. Or it’s the Steamboat history museum. Many of the skyscrapers were built between the 1920’s and 1940’s, and stand with vintage grandeur. The storefronts on Main Street have art deco details. There are new developments and architectural marvels like the Kaufmann Center and a building designed by Frank Lloyed Wright—

—but the majority of the buildings seem trapped in the 60’s and 70’s, which sometimes makes the city feel like it’s the set to some B-movie. (I heard rumors that the city’s architecture was one of the reasons the World Sci-Fi Committee picked Kansas City for the site of this year’s World Con.)

I saw this city, which seemed stuck in time, and grabbed Kyle by the arm.
I asked him—What are we doing here?

I had forgotten how moving to a new place can be an assault on your senses—

The landscape looked different—with steep hills and trees that were fluffier and more low-hanging than New England’s stately oaks. The sky felt bigger and closer—like you could touch the rolling clouds.

 

Turn on the radio and the stations are a little more sparse on the dial, with more Country and Religion stations than there were in Boston. There were ads that relentlessly attacked Obamacare.

I stopped listening to the radio here.

The food at restaurants in Kansas City tastes better than in Boston. Even cheap dives here put Boston’s foodie scene to shame.

But, there are no Chinese restaurants. There is no Chinatown. Most of the time, when I go to a store or restaurant, I am the only person of Asian descent.

We started to notice the difference in the details: how parking garages that would cost $45 half a day in Boston were free, or how how there were many areas downtown that didn’t have parking meters.

How people said hello and smiled as they walked by in the street.

How grocery stores have signs that say “No Fire Arms Permitted.”

How dragonflies dart between cars stopped at red lights.

How everyone wears Blue for baseball season, and when Fall comes the crowds switch to bright red—the complete opposite from the Red Sox and Patriots.

I’ve only seen two Red Sox logos since we’ve moved here—and I’ve only seen one Yankee’s hat.

I’ve seen one Make America Great Again hat, one Jill Stein lawn sign, and countless Bernie bumper stickers.

We learned that the weather can shift from blue skied + sunny to dark + stormy and back to sunny again within an hour. We watched from our bedroom window as our street filled with water during a flash flood.

We learned that the 538 Blog did a study of weather patterns in cities across the country. Boston was ranked #8 for most unpredictable weather.

Kansas City was ranked #1.

As summer continued, we noticed how the sunset was later than in Boston, but as Fall came the sunrise was later too, and now we wake up in pitch black darkness.

This week it snowed in Kansas City. I watched the flurries from my bedroom window, and thought about how—even though I was surrounded by differences—there are basic things that we share across this country.

I wondered, what is life going to be like, in another 6 months? How will one year away from my hometown change the person I am or the way I see the world? What kind of country will we have, 6 months into a Trump presidency? How much more can we afford to be divided by our differences, before our country really begins to crack?