Garden Stater finds Kansas far from home
Whenever I tell Kansans that I am from New Jersey, it generally elicits the same hackneyed, corny response: "Really? Wow, you sure are a long way from home."
While the wise guy in me wants to remind these folks that it is, after all, only a three-hour plane flight from Newark to KCI, I've come to realize that it isn't the difference in mileage they are referring to (roughly 1,200), but the supposed difference in ideologies between the East Coast and the Midwest.
The common stereotypes are obvious to anyone who can read or has a television set. The Midwest is plain, slow, friendly and conservative. The East Coast is brash, fast, rude and liberal. Now that I have lived in both places for a substantial enough amount of time, I feel I can perhaps shed some light on these notions and possibly break down, or re-enforce, the conventional wisdom.
If there is one thing that people from both the East and the Midwest have in common, it is that they pretty much don't know anything about one another's origins. In order to break this query down, it is important to establish the four key areas in which both regions are typically stereotyped: friendliness of the people, pace of life, scenery and political views.
For the four years that I have been in Kansas, I honestly cannot say that people here are any friendlier in an outward manner than those from my home state. I have learned that just about everywhere, you are going to come across some nice people, some jerks and then some people that will key obscenities onto the hood of your car for no apparent reason. It really isn't region-specific.
I don't think the stereotype about The Garden State comes from the fact that people there are constantly looking for fights. It is simply that New Jerseyans are more likely than Kansans to say something when they are slighted. I think back to all of the times I have used my car horn while driving. Granted, I use my horn quite often. But every time I use it in Kansas, other drivers look at me with bewilderment. I've only been given "the bird" in Kansas once (it was her fault), while I am not even sure if there is enough room on this page to recount every time I have been flipped off in New Jersey.
The difference between the pace of life in Kansas and New Jersey is noticeable. It isn't that it is necessarily slow here in the Midwest, however. It is only natural that in places Back East where the population is so dense people have to move fast so they don't get left behind. The pace gets even quicker for those who take the train into New York City every day for work. The concept of a "casual stroll" just doesn't exist in The Big Apple.
One annoyance of going to school in Kansas is that some - not all - people from the East Coast still think the area is one big farm. If a visitor drove around I-435 once, they would find out that Kansas City is not still using covered wagons and oil lamps, though the city isn't doing much to rid itself of the misconception by placing its major metropolitan airport in the middle of a massive field. I'll admit it doesn't leave the greatest first impression (unless you like that sort of thing).
Unfortunately, I must say that I do recognize many of the landmarks from the opening credits of "The Sopranos." Contrary to popular belief, New Jersey is not mainly comprised of strip clubs and sewage plants, though I have some friends who could only wish to be so lucky.
The eastern half of northern New Jersey can pretty much be considered one big city/suburb. Unlike in Kansas, all of the towns are connected to one another as opposed to being spread out by farmland. Go 30 miles west of New York City, however, and you will be surprised to find a landscape of rolling hills and grassland. It's almost like eastern Kansas, but with more trees.
When it comes to political beliefs, there is probably no need to explain this one. Put bluntly, the stereotype runs true to form. Sure, there are conservatives living in New Jersey and liberals living in Kansas, and both places have pockets of each denomination.
I hope I have dispelled some popular notions about why places like New Jersey and Kansas are so different. At the end of the day, I suppose its just different strokes for different folks. I have figured out one way to get someone from the Midwest angry, though. Just tell them you're a Yankees fan.
Tom Slaughter is a University of Kansas journalism student and will be contributing articles this semester to The Current.