COLUMBIA — Usually, it doesn’t take me longer than a 24-hour visit to a big city before I remember why I don’t want to live in one. I feel immediately overwhelmed in places like Chicago, Cleveland or Atlanta. For many years, I felt differently about Kansas City, probably because I spent some of my growing-up years, went to school and worked there during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Over the years, I’ve always told people that if I had to be stranded any place in America, I hoped it would be in Kansas City because it was the kind of place where somebody would always volunteer to help you out. For instance, I remember arriving there one New Year’s Eve by bus, in the middle of a huge snowstorm to find no taxis available and was kindly driven to my destination in an airport limousine. I got back to the bus station courtesy of an empty Metro bus that the female driver was returning to the depot because the heater was broken.
I spent some time in the city a couple of weeks ago, and I realized that I no longer feel at home there. And when I thought about it, I haven’t felt at home there in a long time.
Of course, progress has brought about many changes, and the whole face of the place is different. Like many cities, it’s difficult to find a neighborhood where some kind of development project is not under way. And as it is, seemingly, in every nook and cranny of the country, traffic is completely out-of-hand. Still, it is not the physical environment that I find off-putting. It’s that the people don’t seem to be as friendly and relaxed as I remember they were. To be sure, I don’t think that’s a Kansas City problem as much as it is a universal one. I notice it more there because of all of the warm memories I have of the city.
When I listen to the news broadcasts and hear about the unrelenting violence in the streets, I find it hard to square that with the fact that when I was growing up during the hot summers, my family and several other families in my neighborhood spent many nights sleeping on blankets in the park. For two years, my sister and I lived alone in a boarding house, and I can’t remember that we were ever afraid because the other boarders looked after us as though we were family. It makes me sad that, as is often the case, material progress comes at such a high price that the quality of life suffers so greatly.
Even though when I went to schools there, they were segregated, the schools were excellent and the teachers outstanding. Of course, our attitudes toward education were different because we fully understood the role it played in the attainment of our future life goals. As my mother put it, “getting a good education is the business of a child.”
I have many fond memories of the Kansas City Public Library. Getting my first library card represented a major event in my life. For years, I spent every Saturday morning there. Sunday afternoons we would either visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art or ride the bus to the end of the line or people-watch at the Union Station as the trains arrived and departed. In later years, it was the stroll through the Country Club Plaza with my son and his godparents that added to the storehouse of my good memories.
I’m glad that the time I spent in the city was during the good years when people still sat on their porches, and using public transportation afforded me the opportunity to share exciting adventures with my pals. Those were the days when people spent less time alone and more time with family and friends.
In any case, I miss those warm, fuzzy feelings I used to get when I stepped off the plane, bus or train in Kansas City. Nowadays, it’s just like Anyplace, U.S.A.
You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at email@example.com.