An article in The Pitch just got passed around my social circles like wildfire (Can’t a guy just make some friends around here? Maybe., 11/6/12) and as someone who moved to Kansas City as an adult with no partner coming along, no acquaintances and no connections to the city, I feel compelled to respond. Everyone’s experience is different – but this guy’s experience is by no means the rule, and may even be the exception. Instead of going point-by-point refuting the article (his experience was what it was, why bother?), I’ll just write my own.
I moved to Kansas City from the Detroit area in January 2007. I got a job at a local TV station and had roughly 4 weeks to find a place, move and start work. The weekend I came down with my dad to look for a place, there was a giant ice storm – I ended up getting to see approximately 3 apartments and rented a tiny one-bedroom in Merriam, KS. I knew no one here, no one I knew knew anyone here, and I was moving by myself. To say it was a rough period is an understatement, but technology made it possible to stay in touch with friends and make the transition easier.
That said – you have to make friends. Working nightside in TV meant I was working during all the hours when normal people go on dates, go to happy hour and generally hang out anywhere. I met a lot of great people at the TV station, though, who understood my hours and the stresses of the business, which was nice. I also got a retail job at Oak Park Mall a few mornings a week, where I met some great people who I never saw outside of the mall, but felt like part of something when we’d put out new displays all bleary-eyed at 8am. I tried to meet people through some early-morning workout classes at the community center, but finally had to admit to myself that I didn’t want to meet anyone at 5:30am.
A year and a half later, I moved on from the TV station to a new job with normal hours and went a little nuts joining things. Over time, I’ve picked up a lot of activities – pickup soccer, teaching dance, playing in a community band, a serving job, started grad school, Sporting KC season tickets, went to library lectures, started both running and volunteering at runs, did a few bike races, and a number of other things that I dipped my toe in but never stuck. But through all these things, I’ve met a huge number of people who were all passionate about something – there’s a lot of passion in KC. It’s incredible to know people from so many walks of life from the various activities, and to meet people, all you have to do is show up.
I guess that’s the key – you have to show up. I wasn’t invited to do 90% of the things I mentioned above. I looked at community calendars, found things that sounded interesting and just did them. Sometimes you go and don’t meet anyone – it happens. But the only way to meet anyone is to put yourself in a position to do so.
Another thing – I used to think the social scene in Kansas City was tiny. Turns out, the entire world is a tiny place. I’ve met people here who know friends of mine from high school in Michigan through mutual friends in New York. I’ve shown up to a work event only to find out that another attendee is a friend from pickup soccer. I’ve blindly joined a community band only to find that a handful of the members are former coworkers from that retail job at Oak Park Mall from several years earlier. The random connections are everywhere, and the quirky conversations that happen because of them can only take place if you put yourself out there and make an effort.
I’m still a relative newbie in Kansas City; I didn’t grow up here, I didn’t go to college anywhere close and I have no family connection to the city. Like any city, you have to find a niche and start there – I’ve met some of my favorite people in this city through cold calling a modern dance company and asking if I could start a tap ensemble in their studio space, or creating facebook/twitter accounts for the weekly soccer kickarounds and inviting whoever managed to stumble across the pages to come play. If you’re not interested in anything, nothing you do will make people magically show up on your doorstep and ask if you want to go grab a drink. This is not unique to Kansas City – try that crap in Chicago or New York and you won’t get any farther.
I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out. After a somewhat rocky start, the city has embraced me and I’ve given it a big old hug right back. Let’s not blame Kansas City for not making friends – it’s not her fault. And if you’re truly feeling like the gentleman who wrote the article, find me at @angraor on twitter and we’ll go grab a drink.