Happy birthday, Kansas! On this day in 1861, my homeland became the 34th state, entering the union as a free state. When I tell people I’m from Kansas, people around here make the same “yeesh, sorry to hear that” face. But I assure you, Kansas is a great place. In honor of Kansas Day and the Border War game coming up this week, I’ve decided to indulge my homesickness. Here’s what I love and miss about Kansas.
1. Pop, not soda
People argue about what to call carbonated soft drinks, but in Texas (and most of the South) it’s an argument of Coke vs. soda. It’s like calling all facial tissue Kleenex: A lot of people do it, and a lot of other people find it deeply annoying — and let’s face it, using a brand name to refer to all similar products in general is less accurate — but everyone knows what both terms mean. But “pop” is so quintessentially midwestern that many Texans don’t immediately know what I mean when I say it. In fact, it’s so midwestern that I didn’t even notice I said it until I moved here and became the only one who did. So now when I miss home, I drink a pop, not a soda.
2. Crazy weather
The first tornado warning of the year is always a telling moment for college students living in the dorms. It’s suddenly very easy to tell who’s from Kansas and who’s not. Anyone who goes to the basement before the sirens go off is likely from California or something. The people standing outside watching the storm are probably from Kansas City or Wichita, or maybe a bordering state (but not Colorado). The crazies who get into their car and go storm chasing are almost definitely from rural Kansas.
The first snow of the year is a similar experience: The guy wearing shorts and flip-flops is always, always from Minnesota. But I don’t love or miss snow because snow is terrible. What I really miss about Kansas winters is the unseasonably warm day, something the state should really look into trademarking. Just when you think this is the year winter finally kills you, a 60-degree day comes along in January to remind you spring is coming (eventually).
3. The Chicago accent
Kansans don’t really have an accent, except my friend Cortney from southwest Kansas insists that “creek” is pronounced “crick.” And my fiancé says “dearing” instead of “during.” And, OK, I’m pretty sure I once heard him say “warsh.” For the most part, though, Kansas sound just like people on TV.
So why do I find the Chicago accent so soothing? Because it reminds me of college. About 23 percent of KU students are from out of state, and Chicago is a top recruiting city for the university. The Chicago accent (“Maaahm, I need some bahhby pins”) is so common around Lawrence and so absent from Texas that I’ve come to associate it with home. And I’ve never even been to Chicago.
4. Almost no traffic
Kansas is ranked 15th in size, but only 34th in population. That means there’s a lot of space for the relatively few lucky people who live in Kansas. Ever notice that midwesterners tend to describe distance in travel time instead of in miles? That’s because traffic is rarely a factor in how long it takes us to get somewhere. Wichita and Kansas City have rush hours that look like Dallas traffic at midnight on a Wednesday. No other city in the state even has rush hour. I never appreciated this blissful lifestyle until I hit Houston’s 610 loop around 6 p.m. and wanted to drive off a cliff.
5. College basketball
The first basketball coach at the University of Kansas was James Naismith, the inventor of the game. So we pretty much invented college basketball. Naismith coached Phog Allen, who then coached Kansas natives and legendary college basketball coaches Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith. You’re welcome, Kentucky and North Carolina.