Friday, September 17, 2010

Where you from?

Yo, this is commitment, I hammered this out at the airport hotel bar. It cost me sleep. No time to edit since I have 22 hours of flights tomorrow, so don't crush me on the grammar errors.

I’m no stranger to “home” trips. After all, I have more homes than John McCain. This one will be a little different though. I’ve done extensive travel in America, likely more than you, and I’ve taken more trips to Lawrence from some outside home than the Oklahoma Sooners have.

“Where are you from?” is a pretty basic question. It’s generally one I have difficulty answering. If I’m on the road in Korea and someone asks me that, I say Seoul. It’s as earnest an answer as any. If I’m in Seoul, I say America. This inevitably leads to the “where in America” question, which is where things get dicey. (On the flip side, when a Korean asks this question and forces me to narrow down to the square block that I may presume myself to be from, I’ll ask the same question in return, and their answer will invariably be “Korea.” No shit.)

I’ve long struggled with the “where I’m from” bit. I can be a dickhead and answer with “nowhere” or I can be a different kind of dickhead and answer with “everywhere.” I’ve been both kinds. See, I was born in a nowhere town in Illinois, and moved to another nowhere town in Illinois when I was still an infant. Clearly, I’m not “from” either locale, though I have an Illinois social security number. As noted last week, both my parents and all four of my grandparents are from Chicago. Also, I’ve always been in favor of the Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, Cubs, and Notre Dame, despite the fact that I didn’t actually live in Chicago until I was 24.

Obviously, there’s the Kansas thing. I moved to Kansas when I was a little kid, during preschool. I went to some pre-school and all of elementary school, junior high, high school, and most of college in Lawrence. I’ve spent more time in Lawrence than any other city. On the sports team test, the Kansas Basketball Jayhawks and the Chiefs are absolutely my favorite sports teams in the world and the Royals are certainly my favorite baseball team.

When I was a kid, in grade school and junior high, I hated Lawrence, hated Kansas, even while loving its sports teams. I always planned to get the hell out. I spent my freshman year in college at pretty much the farthest place from Kansas that I could get to. I hated Kansas history classes about John Brown and Charles Robinson in grade school, although I’ve spent the last 10 years boring countless non-Kansans with stories of Bleeding Kansas (also, this represents how horrible a bunch of my teachers may have been - how could they not get me excited about John Brown? I didn’t learn to love him until sophomore year of high school.) I attempted to move out of the state permanently several times, it didn’t take until the 4th time or so.

Strangely, the family the brought me to Lawrence left before I did. The Old Man lead the charge, splitting time in California for a couple years, leaving town for good in the late 90s. My younger brother stayed in state for college, but left Lawrence during the school year at the end of the 90s and permanently in the year 2000, when my mom moved out east. Suddenly, I was the last one standing in Lawrence.

In early 2006, I did a Euro trip. I’d been living in Chicago for a few years, and flew to Europe directly from there, and returned directly to there. The math was simple. Where you from? Chicago.

In late 2006, I moved to Seoul. I technically flew directly from Chicago, but I had been crashing at Mom’s in Baltimore for a few months. Where are you from? Well, clearly, I’m not from Baltimore, yet I no longer really hold it down for the Chi. “Chicago” was the easiest answer, but often with a disclaimer about how I’m from there and Kansas.

I started hanging out with Don. Don had a degree of dualism like myself. He’s from Tennessee. He spent a summer or two in Philly. He morphed into a hardcore Phillies fan (before they one the title) in a respectable way. Why not? There’s no MLB teams in Tennessee. Cheering for the Phillies was the way to go, the same way I would have done it. Like me, Don loved his adopted home and, as I did in my early days, hated the place he’d spent the majority of his life. Don and I would meet girls in bars (note to Don’s GF, should she read this - I’m talking about 2007 here.) and the girls would eventually ask where we were from, and we both had complicated stories.

I went home again. I came back again. I still hate the convoluted story. I got annoyed with Don rocking the same thing we’d always done. I got annoyed with myself. I love Chicago. I have deep Chicago roots. In a perfect world (that requires a better climate in the Chi) I’d live there forever. Don loves Philadelphia too. He only lived there a few months though. Despite sports allegiances, he’s not from there. I’m not from Chicago either.

I’m from Lawrence, Kansas. I’m Lawrence trash. My blood family isn’t there anymore. That doesn't mean I don’t have family there. I’m excited to see them tomorrow. It will be good to be home.


C. Cryn Johannsen said...

Wow! This post is great, Todd. I have dealt with a similar question. I was like you, I hated Kansas and couldn't wait to get out, but now I bore people about how I'm a true pro-Union gal because of the whole Bleeding Heart Kansas thing. Moreover, I have lived all over the U.S., so it's hard to give someone a straight answer. When I say this, "well, I've lived in Kansas - where I was born and grew up - but also in Germany, and Chicago, and then in Providence, RI, and finally D.C.," they always reply, "were you in the military?" Nope. It's not an easy thing to answer. Enjoy Jayhawkland!

Kev B. said...

I'm from Texas - born and raised for the first 24 years of my life. But I'm first generation, from a family of Cornhuskers, so I'm bereft of what is, truly, my birthright - a lilting, charismatic, irresistibly sexy Texas accent. I basically have no accent. And I left TX for KS for the next 8 years, which, at the time I left KS, constituted 1/4 of my whole life, about 1/3 of my conscious existence, and 1/2 of my real life (the part you live when things start to matter). Even during my 8-year KS sojourn I spent 4 months in Europe and 9 months in Chicago. Then it was off to Rhode Island with the bimbo above for 3 years, then DC for 1.5 years, now the ROK. I haven't traveled the US nearly as much as you have, but factoring in alcohol-induced aphasia (yours, not mine) I'm guessing that our experiences are about equal. I, too, have no home.

Oh yeah, and don't get me started on the suburbs, which is where I'm REALLY from. Maybe that's what I'll start saying. "Where are you from?" "The suburbs." "Which one?" "Is there more than one?" I like it.

Amandan said...

Same with me! I grew up in Estacada, Oregon, basically BFE. Lived in Portland, Oregon for 5 years, then Hawaii for awhile... then Europe. Yeah, it's hard to explain, so why bother? Love the post, I totally relate! I'm in Pennsylvania now, WTF am I from?

Paul said...

Is your Mom from Baltimore? Am I a Floridian? Although it is quite possible that I will die in St. Pete at some time in the future, I did graduate from a Mount Carmel in Chicago.

My career saw 16 very good years in KS. Soccer, the Beneteau, the Chiefs, LHS theater and Masters' Swimming were a big part of my life there. Not to be overly cliche, but it's not so much where you're from, but where you're going. I never claim W. Lafayette as my "home", but it certainly influenced my life.

I like the discussion, and think you're on to something here. I suspect you have friends who don't have to think very hard about their answer to this question . There was some weird statistic I recall hearing once that 10% of Chicagoans have never seen Lake Michigan in person. Having lived a block from the beast, I always wondered about that. Some things we just take for granted.

Go Bears, Chiefs, Ravens, Bucs, Orioles, Cubs, Royals and Rays!