© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
KCUR's Gina Kaufmann brings you personal essays about how we're all adapting to a very different world.

#G5QS Has Been Lighting Up Kansas City Twitter For A Decade. That Ends With The New Year.

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Gene Willis is a proud Kansas City, Kansas, native and marketing professional who has given his Tuesday nights to strangers online for an entire decade.

Every Tuesday night, a guy by the name of Gene Willis asks five random questions on Twitter using the hashtag #G5QS. In 2020, it provided the hangout Kansas Citians desperately needed.

Kansas City marketing guru Gene Willis has a lot of questions — and he's not afraid to put them out there. In fact, he's made a ritual of posting five questions on Twitter every Tuesday night. His questions run the gamut, but they're usually not too flashy or provocative.

What are the two best condiments to put on a biscuit?

What's your favorite period-piece show or movie, based in the past 100 years?

What's the last new thing that you attempted to cook?

Lately, a lot of Willis's questions have to do with 2020.

Will the pandemic change your socializing habits?

This year was rough. Brag on yourself a bit! What did you accomplish this year?

After posting all five questions, Willis tells his followers to "light up the night." And they do. Most Tuesdays, #G5QS is trending in Kansas City. It's like a citywide happy hour, only regulars aren't perched on barstools. They form a constellation of glowing cellphones all over town, with Willis acting as remote bartender, chatting people up, making everyone feel included.

And when someone says, for example, that their favorite Christmas song is 'Baby It's Cold Outside,' Willis, ever the attentive moderator, jumps in before anyone else can: "You know that all of these Twitter folks are going to give you hell for your choice," he writes, masterfully acknowledging what he knows his community is thinking, keeping it playful and light.

This has been going on for a decade. Willis had planned to call it quits back in the fall, at the true ten-year mark.

"I'm married, you know. I wanna see my person," he confesses. "I wanna love on my dogs. Sometimes I have to work late."

But when the pandemic hit, suddenly, this weekly questionnaire wasn't just a complement to an otherwise active social life where people stopped to ponder a few questions between trivia nights and ball games and banter sessions at the water cooler. Trivia nights evaporated. The Royals traded in live fans for cardboard cutouts at the K. All the water coolers ran dry. In 2020, getting online and sharing pictures of the celebrities who captured your essence (lots of Leslie Knopes out there) or comparing notes on the places you longed to visit was a social life.

As in, all of it.

So Willis decided to keep the #G5QS community going until the end of 2020.

But now, here we are: Just one more Tuesday to "light up the darkness" before it's over.

2020 was the year I discovered #G5QS. That's probably because this has been the most online year of my life. I'm sure plenty of people in my Twitter feed were playing along before the pandemic hit. I just wasn't paying attention because I was still "doing things" back then.

And while I am hoping to be a little less online in 2021, I've been amazed by the way this deceptively simple ritual really did light up a few very dark Tuesday nights in 2020. Its popularity in a particularly dreary time slot pushed fever-pitch discourse out of its usual top billing. Instead, when my hands anxiously darted to my phone in search of who-really-knows-what, I encountered innocent banter about the things people in my community want or need, don't want or don't need, hope or fear.

At a time when everything feels big, small talk is refreshing. You don't miss your water till your water cooler runs dry.

"Social media, particularly the past four to five years has been incredibly salacious. I think it's the overcorrection of people not having a voice to, now, everyone having a megaphone," Willis says. "But this hasn't become a bully session," he marvels.

That's partly because Willis has adhered to an informal set of rules for engagement to keep the scene free of toxicity.

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3

"Don't ask a question that might be asked on someone's security account. Do not ask about someone's biggest fears or traumas, because there are people out there who will provoke those things," Willis explains, saying the innocence of the forums is possible because of all the work he puts in "back of house, so that people can enjoy the show."

Willis remembers when he first got on Twitter in 2009. It was not an auspicious start.

"I put my first tweet out there and it fell into the ether. I didn't hear anything back because I had no followers," he recalls. "I felt like, nope, not gonna do this anymore."

But then a year later, he returned. And this time, as Willis puts it, he found his people. He started asking questions on Tuesday nights just to see who might respond, and the enthusiasm this time around surprised him even more than the silence just a year before.

"I've had people tell me through direct messaging that this has improved their relationship or their marriage, because it gives them something new to talk about with their person. They've told me that it's helped them out of their depression because they have a different tether to the world."

A new tether to the world is exactly what people have needed while hunkering down at home, with headlines cobbling together a bleak picture of what the rest of humanity has been up to in their absence.

"There's so much out there that will take a piece of you in this world if you allow it," Willis says. "I hoped that these five little questions would add some light to something and build a community."

And that's what he hopes to leave people with as the tradition comes to an end. A reminder that another kind of conversation is possible, even now.

Which is not to say people shouldn't be mad about things.

"There's a lot to be angry about this year and I'm angry, too," he says. "But also I think there's a time where anger can only do so much. Every day can't be angry."

As Willis has shown, with some deliberate effort, you can devote one day out of seven to not being emotionally jerked around by news so preposterous that outrage is a baseline condition. As I recently learned from a yoga video for small children (have I mentioned this has been a strange year?), thoughts are like busses pulling up to the bus stop; you don't have to get on all of them.

In 2021, Gene Willis will host the occasional #G5QS popup, sometimes enlisting guest hosts so he can just get it going then chill out. But there will be nothing regularly scheduled. Which means maybe a good resolution for those of us who follow him would be learning how to light up our own darkness.

Happy New Year, friends.

People don't make cameos in news stories; the human story is the story, with characters affected by news events, not defined by them. As a columnist and podcaster, I want to acknowledge what it feels like to live through this time in Kansas City, one vantage point at a time. Together, these weekly vignettes form a collage of daily life in Kansas City as it changes in some ways, and stubbornly resists change in others. You can follow me on Twitter @GinaKCUR or email me at gina@kcur.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.