The Great Hipster Experiment is about to come to an end. Read about it here if you missed the story of how my wife Robin and I came to live in a tiny loft apartment in downtown Kansas City.
What an experience!
We’ve done the things that inner-city hipsters do. We’ve hopped on streetcars, dined at hole-in-the-wall restaurants and diners, attended street festivals and art shows, frequented farmer’s markets, and listened to live jazz. Last week, I tried one of those rental scooters that are left at the curb. That was fun. I’ve done our laundry in the basement laundromat. That’s not so fun, especially when you find left-behind socks and underwear in the dryer.
We’ve discovered how beautiful and full of history Kansas City is. It’s a true renaissance town. Old buildings are being restored to their former glory, many becoming condominiums and lofts that meet the increasing demand for downtown living space. Old neighborhoods, like Columbus Park and the West Side, are becoming vibrant again. And because it’s Kansas City, there are the fountains. So many fountains.
More than anything, I’ve discovered that a small-town feeling can be found in the inner-city. Kansas City’s urban population is nearly a half million people, but among them are a few friendly faces I’ve come to know. They include the bakery owner who has my Diet Coke on the counter when I come in, the attendant at the Grand Avenue parking garage who yells out a cheerful hello when I pass on my morning walks, and the security guard at the public library who encourages me to get my work done. I’ll miss them. They are my community.
Among the observations I’ve made… people in shorts and blue jeans say hello and smile more than people in business attire. Friends’ warnings to “be safe,” while appreciated, proved unnecessary. Over the twenty-five miles I walk each week I’ve never felt threatened. Quite the contrary, I’ve been greeted as warmly on “those streets” as on my walks in the suburbs.
On a sad note, I’ve witnessed mental illness. And homelessness. The two often go hand-in-hand. The Kansas City Public Library is open to all, and many homeless men and women take advantage of the air conditioning and soft chairs to rest during the day. They often bring along their possessions: bags of clothes, rolling carts, and even pop-up tents. I often wondered where they went at night, then a couple weeks ago, on a morning walk, Robin and I came across a settlement beneath an overpass. I’ll think about them in a few weeks when the temperatures drop and sleeping outside becomes difficult.
In conclusion, the biggest difference between suburban and city life is how open the latter is to public view. In the suburbs, we can hide our problems by remaining in our air-conditioned homes, cars, and cubicles. Down here, in the city, it’s a lot harder to conceal those things we might not want others to see. That panhandler on the corner of Broadway and Independence is two feet away, and there’s no rolling up the car window or turning up the radio to avoid him. The woman on the streetcar who smells bad and looks like she’s been sleeping under a bridge will pass my way again. And again. If not her, someone like her, reminding me that there’s so much good remaining to be done.
But, for now, as we prepare to move south, I say a heartfelt thanks to Kansas City. I’ll miss you. Several people have asked if I would do it again, live in the heart of the city.
I’d do it in a heartbeat.
Only next time, I want my own washer and dryer.