This August will mark my two-year anniversary living and working in Manhattan. The Little Apple really has become a second home to me. However, there are some things I haven’t gotten used to.
Before I came to Kansas, I spent four years at the University of Missouri. Before that, I spent my whole life in Chicagoland. As one might imagine, there are quite a few differences between the Second City and Sunflower State.
This weekend’s big event, Country Stampede, highlights the difference that sticks out in my mind the most: country music. It seems like most people I’ve met in Kansas enjoy country or, at the very least, are knowledgeable about the subject. Co-workers and acquaintances will rattle off the names of country singers and acts, which I’m expected to know, while I just sit stone-faced without a hint of recognition. This new world where people know and care about country is completely alien to me.
Now, I won’t go as far to say I hate country, but it certainly doesn’t appeal to me. It just wasn’t part of the culture where I grew up. My parents don’t particularly like country, and you would be hard pressed to find a country radio station in Chicago. In the 1990s and early 2000s, WKQX, better known as Q101, a pure alternative rock station, ruled the airwaves in the Windy City. Even if more country stations were available, I doubt I would have abandoned the coolest radio station east of Los Angeles’ KROQ to listen to Toby Keith.
Country music brings me to something I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing: people wearing cowboy boots seriously. See, where I’m from, there’s really no reason to wear cowboy boots. They don’t serve a practical purpose and don’t mesh with the culture of the area. The only time I ever saw someone wearing them was at Halloween or as a joke. Imagine my surprise when I came to Kansas and saw people wearing them pretty much everywhere.
Country Stampede also reminds me, albeit tangentially, of another thing I haven’t gotten used to: Kansas liquor laws. After I accepted the Mercury’s job offer, I drove to Manhattan shortly thereafter. My first night in town I sought out the nearest Walmart for the essentials — you know, chips, pop and beer.
In the beer aisle, I noticed something peculiar. In Illinois and Missouri, Walmarts have shelves full of booze opposite the beer cooler. The tower of hooch was conspicuously missing here. I asked an employee stocking a display at the end of the aisle, “Do you sell any hard liquor?” Without missing a beat he said, “Man, hell no.” He told me if I wanted anything stronger than 3.2 beer, I would have to go to a liquor store.
I went to a nearby liquor store out of curiosity more than anything else. I talked to the clerk there and learned more about Kansas’ strange liquor practices. He informed me that liquor stores can only sell beer, wine and liquor. Nothing else. The fact that you can’t even buy ice to chill your brews blew my mind. I also learned the cutoff for buying liquor on most days is 11 p.m., which seemed unnecessarily early to me. I was used to the cutoff being 1 a.m. I think I can say confidently if Illinois tried to institute any of these regulations, there would be riots.
And finally, I’m starting accept that whenever I’m in my car in Kansas I’ll be annoyed. Talk to anyone who learned to drive in the Chicago area and he or she will tell you that no one else in the country knows how to drive. On my initial journey to the state, I found myself thinking exactly that.
I was confounded by the number of people content to drive exactly at, or just below the 75-mile-per-hour speed limit.
But I suppose when you learn highway driving on the Dan Ryan Expressway, everything else seems a little slower.