Here’s the thing about the Kansas-Missouri border:
That line in the street/river changes us here in the Kansas City area. It affects our relationships. It imprints our souls. It turns us into an emotionally confused population that trusts no one at face value. It turns us into law-breakers.
You think I overstate?
Well, I speak from experience.
My troubled tale begins 40 years ago, when my family moved here from Boston in 1974. (I shared this story recently as part of a ‘Going to Kansas City’ feature.) Despite many people urging my mom and dad to move to Johnson County, they never even looked there. I just don’t think they could come to grips with the idea of living in Kansas, the land of the barren plain and menacing black-and-white twisters. So they settled into a lovely three-bedroom, 2 ½ bath split level in the Northland. And my mother drove my father (he never needed a driver’s license in Boston) to and from work … in Kansas.
How many days and nights I spent in that car, crossing the Fairfax Bridge, I cannot tell you. But it isn’t a fond memory. My view of Kansas at the time was as a flat industrial black hole. With black-and-white twisters, for sure. We even had to pay a 25 cent toll to get back to Missouri. That seemed a measure of worth.
My view expanded in high school, though. Because back then, the drinking age in Kansas was 18 for the "light" stuff. And while I was in my teens, I was part of a massive weekend migration from Missouri into Kansas. Pogos and Wild Bill Cody’s for dancing. Shakey’s Pizza for 3.2 beer. I wasn’t even 18, but it didn’t matter in the wild west of Kansas. I have some hazy memories of Kansas that I am not willing to share at this moment.
So back to Missouri … where I was proud. I thrived. The state gave me a scholarship to attend the University of Missouri – Columbia. Best journalism school in the country. I loved Mizzou, like any good undergrad. But my pride in place always seemed about the state as much of the school. Something about the name, I guess.
And I confess, I bought into it completely. Missouri clothed me, after all, in black and gold, before and after graduation.
At age 21, I knew Missouri was superior to everywhere else on the planet … but ESPECIALLY Kansas, where the Jayhawk is a ridiculous, pretentious fake bird.
Then I landed my first journalism job … and it’s in Kansas! Even though I was commuting from parents’ home in the Northland, I should have known that would be trouble. Working on College Boulevard, I got to know Johnson County. It felt like exciting things were happening. There was so much to do. I made friends with Kansans — even some who attended the University of Kansas. It was a blast hating each other and our indoctrinated beliefs.
But first, a pause. I got married (to a Mizzou grad) and moved to Omaha, Neb., for about eight months. We didn’t like too much - even though it also was on a state line. Not divisive enough, maybe. Or just too cold.
We moved back to the Kansas City area. And you had to know this was coming: We leased an apartment in Kansas. I don’t know why exactly. Yes, my job was there, but my husband’s was in Missouri. I recall casual, obvious conversations about raising children and the feeling that Kansas had great schools and a suburban feel that was grown up and weirdly exciting. Within a couple years, we bought a little house in Prairie Village — just like we’re supposed to in the guidelines for a typical Kansas life. Oh, the shame of it.
But it was a much more profound turning point for us. As I learned from a third grade teacher many years later, being born in Kansas makes you a Jayhawk. Like it’s a definition or a law or something. So it turns out I gave birth to two Jayhawks.
So we raised our Jayhawks, and did our best to force-feed them the Missouri mantra. All the grandparents were there! And isn’t a Tiger special? One Halloween we dressed them up as Tigers and went door-to-door in Lenexa. We flouted and growled our disregard of Kansas pride with adorable protection by our side.
Kansas got its revenge, of course. We made friends. We belonged. I was enticed to pursue my MBA at the University of Kansas. And the state gave my son a scholarship to attend KU, which he did, and he has prospered by it. Now, he is a strange Tiger-Jayhawk hybrid that ventures uniquely in the world, careful how he shares his stripes and wings. My daughter lives in Colorado -- but she learned her Kansas lessons well and has absolutely no affinity for Missouri. And that really doesn’t hurt me. Too much.
My husband and I have since moved back to Missouri, to be closer to my parents. And for the first time since we were teenagers, we pay state taxes to only one state. I am an official Missourian again, though I have to admit, it doesn’t quite feel like home. Somewhere over the years, Kansas won me over.
Forty years later, I am chagrined by the impact of this state line on my life. It truly has been a dividing and uniting force that I treasure as part of my identity.
This look at Missouri and Kansas is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.
We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them. Be a source for Beyond Our Borders: Share your perspective and experiences on the state line with KCUR.