Kansas and I have a love/hate relationship. I love it because it’s home. Things are familiar. I can take the backroads in Geary County with my eyes shut. The same goes with the streets in Junction City. The homes I grew up in still stand and they are constant reminders of where I’m coming from and where I want to go. Unfortunately, when you end up living in the area you grew up in, it can get slightly dull and become contentious to live there. I don’t live in Junction City any more, but I still feel it there. Looming in the distance. In the harsh reaction from people who hear that I’m from there. It can get a bit disheartening.
Right before Labor Day, I got into a really weird funk that was caused halfway by a breakup and halfway because of my general restless state. About a week before the holiday, I saved up enough money to travel down to Austin, Texas to visit my cousin, who lives there.
For those who have made that drive before, it’s 10 hours of basically nothing, except for hitting major metro areas such as Oklahoma City, Fort Worth and Waco, Texas. Along with more drivers, it also features construction and other fun things ... semis, for example.
This trip meant a lot more to me than I realized when I got behind the wheel at 5 a.m. that Friday. It was the first trip I had ever taken alone. It’s the first time I had ever driven that far and that long by myself. First time driving through metropolitan areas that weren’t Kansas City — you get the idea. It was also the first time this year I was getting out of Kansas and, at that point, I couldn’t have been more excited about it.
Austin was everything I expected it to be and more. I met a lot of my cousin’s friends and his roommates.
I alternated sleeping in a beanbag chair and a couch for five days. I realized that Austin has a lot of rooftop bars — which are really cool, by the way — where live music entices those wandering around the Sixth Street district. The parking was awful — the traffic 10 times worse. I swam in a mineral spring-fed river, then floated down another in San Marcos, Texas two days later. I ate at several good, cheap Mexican restaurants and one great burger joint, a bar that still allows smoking. I saw hipsters, stoners, music lovers, girls dressed in couture and everything in between.
Like I said, it was everything I expected, but around the end of Monday, I was pining for my home state. Which was weird, seeing that I was so excited to leave. But I think it comes back, ironically, to the same reason that Dorothy wants to go back to Kansas in “The Wizard of Oz.” There really is no place like home. I was sick of dealing with traffic, I was sick of seeing bright orange longhorns, I liked Sixth Street, but it was no Aggieville. Most of all, I wanted my own apartment that wasn’t filled with three, unkempt boys, and had my own bed.
I don’t know whether Kansas will always be home — at some point, it probably won’t be, given my circumstances — but something about Kansas will feel familiar and homey. I always comment on how Kansas smells. The air filled with pollen and freshness is something I ache for when I’m away for a long time. I went to the test-screening of the indie movie “Manhattan” on Friday and one of the lines from it was “Maybe I’m just in love with the idea of it,” ‘it’ of course, meaning Manhattan. Maybe I am too. I’m just in love with the idea of Manhattan and the idea of coming home.