I’m in a Kansas City hotel, in town for my interview tomorrow. I just want to write some brief thoughts and impressions before they leave my mind. This is my first time to fly and stay in a hotel by myself. Cara’s roommate had once said that whenever she travels alone, she dresses nice so that she will look older and people will treat her better. I told my mom about this, and she agreed that it was a good idea, “You could just be any businesswoman traveling.” I even used her official looking Investor Life Insurance Company of North America bag as my carryon. I felt confidant as my dad dropped me off at the gate. Here I am, just another professional. Traveling for business, or pleasure? Business. I have an interview tomorrow. No one will bother me. Forget that I’m young with longish blonde hair, today I’m on business. Why does blonde hair seem unprofessional? As I came back to my gate after eating breakfast from the airport McDonalds (bypass Starbucks, I can’t use my discount at a licensed store), I began noticing all these people around me.
All of these people, traveling for different reasons. They could be anyone. Any of these people might be interesting to get to know. But the airport is a horrible place to meet someone. Everyone is on the go, somewhere to be, this is just a means to an end, not a place in and of itself. Even if you do meet someone, sit down and share coffee or breakfast and chat for 20 minutes, then what? You’ll never see that person again. You’ll go your way and he will go his. Maybe if you both travel a lot, by chance you’ll meet again in another airport. No, the airport is not a place to meet someone.
As soon as these thoughts were complete, I noticed a young bearded man, Middle Eastern looking. Five years ago, every passenger here would be needlessly scrutinizing this young man. As we came closer, recognition hit. “Reza?” It was my lab mate from a freshmen level psychology class, now bearded. He hugged me and we chatted briefly. He was traveling home to Chicago for spring break, and I told him about my interview in Kansas City. We parted, and I was astonished to run into a familiar face at all places, the airport this strange hub where people are shuffled off from one destination to the next.
Boarding the plane, I was disappointed with how empty it was. Having never flown by myself, I wanted to strike up a conversation with a stranger. We might just make some smalltalk and read our books and magazines, or he and she might be a talker. No such luck.
On the flight, I finished the second novella from Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days. Since reading The Hours a few weeks ago, he is quickly becoming a favorite author. This book is inspired by Walt Whitman poetry, with three novellas set in New York City’s past, present, and future centered around variations of three main characters – a man named Simon, a woman named Catherine, Cat, or Catareen, and a boy named Lucas or Luke. Finishing the second tale, I watched the plane descend into Kansas City. The first thing I noticed where the trees.
Trees, everywhere. Even without leaves, you can tell this is a beautiful place. No wonder people say that Texas is flat and ugly. I could make a life out here, outside of Texas. Not in New York City or California, but somewhere like this area. I could live among the trees, in that house with the big yard, outside of a city where I would commute to work. I could raise my children in a house like that, and read them Walt Whitman, and there would be snow in the winter for them to play in. Yes, I would be far from family, but I could fly them home to Texas every three months for them to see their grandparents. Flights aren’t as expensive to places like this as they are to DC or New York or Chicago. A couple of thousand dollars a year. And friends and family would come visit, of course. They’d love my house among the trees. They’d love seeing the life that I’d make in a place like this.
From the airport, I hopped aboard a shuttle to my hotel. There were three other passengers, a silent young business man working away on his laptop beside me, and a talkative Arizonan man and a woman who was on my flight in front of me. I listened to bits and pieces of their conversations. They were both teachers; he taught high school graphic design. I could marry a teacher and we could live in that house out there among the trees. I’ve always hoped that my husband would also be in a helping profession, a doctor, or teacher, or something. Not a businessman or a lawyer. Yet I’m often attracted to musicians, artists, poets, writers. Do musicians help others? Not in the way that teachers and doctors do, but they bring art, creativity, and expression to the world.
The driver asked if this was anyone’s first visit, and I told him that it was mine. He began pointing out different sights as we passed them. “Here’s the first glimpse of the downtown skyline; you could see it better if it weren’t hazy today . . . here’s the Missouri River, and on the other side is Kansas . . . we just passed the Folgers Coffee Plant. Can you smell it? They don’t grow it here, but they roast it and grind here . . . that monolith there is the country’s only World War I memorial, and that newer building next to it is the IRS headquarters . . . we’re now in the oldest part of town, where all the old trails out west used to intersect this town, the California Trail, the Oregon Trail . . .”
Kansas City could be any city. Parts of it remind me of Dallas, New York, San Francisco. Yet as a whole, it is none of those familiar places. Texas is Texas, but Kansas City is America. Kansas City is trees and hills and Walt Whitman and agriculture and Western expansion and the Industrial Revolution and skyscrapers and factories and monuments and two story Victorian homes with basements and the taste of steaks and the smell of coffee. By itself, Kansas City is completely unremarkable, but it represents the whole of America, or maybe just white America, the America we were taught in history. Kansas City could be any city, but today, for me, it is Every City.