God it’s hot. Wasn’t it meant to be cold? A book. Shouldn’t take long to get a book. I could get the bus. Only losers get the bus. Only losers get the book. You tell people you get the bus and they’re horrified; they want to save you from mixing with people who get the bus, with Black people - so they offer you lifts to wherever you want to go so you won’t have to go through an experience they’ve never had.
How can you live in a city and never - I mean absolutely never - get on a bus? They might complain about petrol doubling its price in a year, but they know it’s still dirt cheap compared to the rest of the world. Or to orange juice. And they’re not giving up their car.
I watched a local make conversation with a stranger last summer. Complained about petrol prices. The stranger said he was from Canada - Don’t tell me your gas is expensive! Conversation over.
And now they have the Max - a pet name for a bus. But just one route. Links the White parts of town together, the parts that were already very well served by existing buses. But they were underused.
Lived in midtown before - and got the bus further out to go drinking one night - just so Kansas City would feel like a real city. In any city you should be able to go out for a night using public transport. There were two of us. People said you can’t do that - they offered us rides. It was lost on them that we wanted to do this.
So we got our bus and paid our fares and then being Irish we had the challenge of leaving the pub to catch the last bus back. Back in Dublin you don’t stop drinking. The pub stops you drinking and then you get a bus, or a taxi, or you walk.
We impressed ourselves by stopping. Close to midnight we put our hands out for the bus. Forty miles an hour it passed us by. And then the brakes. When we caught up with the bus he apologized. I’ve never seen anyone at that bus-stop before. We took our seats on a completely empty bus.
But now the Max, and people who never got the bus before tell you how great it is. They were always heated in winter and cooled in summer. They always had seats. There’s not much else to a bus when you think of it. Yes they’re a different model but that just means they’re blue on the outside. Oh no honey, let’s get a blue one. Okay and yes they have clocks at the bus-stops but a year on do you know how often they are wrong? Very wrong? At least with no clock you had no expectation.
Only losers get the bus. I’ll cycle. It’s an easy five miles, Kansas City being mostly a gentle saucer shape with a few ruffles. If you really want to, you can go around the ruffles. People in Kansas City call where I live the suburbs. Well it is. But they call midtown the city, as in, I live in the city. But to Irish eyes they are just more suburbs. This is not midtown Manhattan. Gardens. Fences. Big houses.
Kansas City is in fact nothing but suburbs. It’s the American model of a city. A concrete sleeping bag. A hundred years ago American city centres - downtowns - looked like city centres in the rest of the world. Then somebody invented cars and all the White people drove away. Far away. To suburbs with walls and gates and other White people. And they left a gap behind. So American cities are now like doughnuts, with the center being the hole. Nothing there but skyscrapers and tax benefits. And playgrounds for politicians. The whole downtown is like a three-dimensional mural.
I pass shamrocks on my way. I remember the first time. Wow a shamrock! I wonder what it means? It didn’t mean anything. Not anymore. Car parts. It meant something to somebody I suppose. But car parts are car parts. A church has a banner. Green and white. White shamrocks. Treasure your future it tells you as you take your eye off the road. Try to imagine American Eagles on signs all over Ireland. Or Europe. Maybe they’d look just like German Eagles.
Go past an Irish pub. And another and another. Shamrocks on the outside. Some smaller than others. No Irish people on the inside. Like the Oliver St John Gogarty in Dublin. I’ve never seen actual shamrock in Ireland except on Paddy’s Day. And then only when you’re a kid and your mother pins it to you. Made it kind of mythical. Like the tooth fairy.
In America people show me a shamrock plant and it’s huge. With big angular leaves. Like ivy almost. I’m supposed to like it. To bond with this plant I’ve never seen before. It’d be like bonding with a Triffid. Wish we had grass as the national symbol. Be careful what you wish for.
I miss grass in Kansas City. Yes there is grass here. And it is green. But only in spring and autumn. Brown mostly. Look at KC from an airplane and all you see is brown. Sprinklers are on even in the wet months sprinkling money on the perfect lawns of some people. In spring you have to cut your grass every five days. The city can give you a citation. There’s hundreds of thousands of people without proper health coverage and a city cares about the length of your grass. Grows too fast. And the rabbits make it impossible to keep nice. That’s why people run their mowers over rabbits. It’s revenge for being not rich enough to have a nice lawn.
Sky is blue. Again. Grey is too rare. For all its violence the weather in the midwest is rarely vibrant. Mostly plods along with perfect sun, and then a life-threatening storm whizzes through like a bad personality at a party. Grey days are treats.
Cars have stickers like everywhere in the world that has cars. I’ve long learned that somebody with an IRL sticker is not somebody from Ireland. Or somebody who has been to Ireland. I see IRL stickers every day. I see Irish tricolours flying every day. In front gardens up poles or coming out of the porch or a window.
But cars here also have other country stickers. Well no they don’t. It’s a jokey trend thing. They have stickers for local areas in the style of international stickers. BKS is Brookside. I hate these stickers.
Leaves have started falling. Soon there will be so many leaves on the ground that the people of Kansas City will not do anything social. Events will be under-attended. They will flop. Phonecalls will be made. What is wrong? We had a big crowd last year - and the weather is perfect? And finally the calls come back. The weather is indeed perfect. It is in fact the first perfect day for raking leaves. So thousands of people don’t go shopping. Or to fairs or festivals. They rake leaves.
A city rakes leaves together. But then they all get drunk together on Paddy’s Day. Like the weather there is nothing, nothing, nothing, and then en masse a nation goes out and gets drunk. It seems when you have a Northern European work ethic you have a clock built into your system. The same clock as everybody else. And Kansas City is mostly Northern European. They are worse than the English. So their rush hour really is an hour. If even.
Spot a GB sticker on a car. There are only a handful in the city. You know it’s a British person inside the car. Envious. Are Irish people the only immigrant group who have no means of identifying themselves to each other?
The roads are perfect. Even the bad ones. Cycling on them is so gentle on the bike. The only time it is rough is when they are digging them up to lay a new perfect surface. Not absolutely perfect. No, for that you have to go a mile west and cross into the state of Kansas. But they dig up their roads even more often over there. Here in Missouri they drop steel plates over holes and leave them for over a year. Some of them aren’t over holes. I know this. Some of them are just steel plates that fell off trucks.
Irish flags on license plates. Kansas plates not Missouri ones. In Kansas you only have to have a license plate on the back of your vehicle. In Missouri, front and back. So in Kansas people put anything and nothing on the front. A lot of Irish flags.
But I wanted a book. At the third bookshop I find it. The girl at the desk has a large slogan on her t-shirt. It’s impossible not to be given t-shirts here. And people seem to want to advertise anything on their person. They love getting them. How can you wear seventy-three t-shirts? I wear mine inside out now. This girl’s shirt said she loved Irish boys. Irish was the biggest word. Across her chest. You had to look. I stared.
What to do? My turn to speak. But with my Irish accent? Has she even heard one in town before? There aren’t that many of us. I could put on some fake accent but if I get it wrong she might think I’m putting on an Irish accent. I wish she wasn’t pretty. She might think I’m faking my accent anyway. God. Does she have to put up with men wearing I love American girls t-shirts in Europe? Maybe she won’t love me. I whisper. In one swoop I am neither a man nor have I an accent. I wish she wasn’t pretty.
Get on the sidewalk, a man in a truck yells. Giant trees do some serious damage to footpaths. Cycling on them is like cycling straight into kerbs. Except in Kansas. There, where nobody walks they have some perfect footpaths. And they have perfectly aligned bump-free access ramps for crossing streets - for all the people in wheelchairs presumably. I’ve never seen a wheelchair in the suburbs of Kansas City
And what does he need a truck for anyway? There was nothing in the back of it. I ask people this question periodically. There’s a lot of trucks in the midwest. They are not being driven by farmers. It’s handy for moving big pieces of wood, they say. But I’ve only ever seen you move a big piece of wood once? Yeh, and it was handy that time. What does the rest of the world do with its big pieces of wood?
I count six other bikes. Used to take days to see six bikes. Maybe it’s the petrol cost. More likely Lance. Most people who cycle are kitted in full cycling regalia. Where are they going? Do they need a backpack of water to cycle to the shops?
I count three public clocks. That’s not many. You need people outside, out of their cars, to care about clocks. Public clocks are part of what define a city. I don’t count the Max stops. They have digital clocks, but they are too small to be read from anywhere but standing in front of them. And they’re probably wrong.
My neighbourhood is called Waldo. Flags line the Trolley Track Trail. Has a trolley car as its symbol on the flags. Doesn’t have a trolley car though. If the area likes trolley cars enough to put them on flags, should it not be embarassed that it no longer has the actual trolley cars? Too embarassed to put them on flags?
It’s hotter than an Irish summer but too cold for the natives to swim. Stop off for milk. Remember the milk. Remember the Alamo. My shop only has gallon cartons. Seems excessive. I go through three gallons a week. I’m excessive. Something called Irish Cheese. From New York. Expensive. And Irish Sausages. Frozen. From Chicago. With a shamrock on the packet.
Cycle over the broken beer bottles and I’m almost there. Sirens. Always sirens. A car alarm goes off. I hear them so rarely here. And there’s my house. The grass needs cutting.