A one-way Greyhound bus ticket to Clinton, Missouri, is not the most auspicious sign of a prosperous new year.
As part of my journey through home-free(-less)ness, to celebrate the new year, I returned to the darkest parts of my past – dysfunctional family meals and rural Missouri. If the past few years of my life have been typified by running – perhaps away from these very things – on this trip, I would run smack into them, but from the rear, and then right on through.
While I have grown to understand eating as a sacred act of self-actualization and community engagement, I was not raised this way. Food, especially good food, in the culture in which I got my start, is the one indulgent desire allowed, though care is taken not to linger too long or care too much. It’s like smoking or drinking or dancing, but perhaps not quite as dangerous. Now that I (and my brother, too) linger very long and care very much, however, opportunities for understanding and creation are rife if you know where to look. If you don’t, well, it’s just indulgent.
At dinner at one of Kansas City’s long-standing dining institutions, I became physically ill as the weight of multiple fried chickens (I doubt they ever saw a range or knew freedom), platters of gizzards, french fries, cottage fries, mashed potatoes, and green beans was multiplied by the arrival of a dozen cinnamon rolls. The abundance was gross, rather than enlivening; masking care, rather than expanding it.
According to the restaurant’s celebrated written history: “Men in buckskin and confederate gray danced here with their girls in calico, silk, and homespun. Slaves hurried among the guests with platters of biscuits and breads baked in the fireplace while turkeys and venison were roasting over an open fire.”
It’s too bad prices have gone up in recent years. Not being able to use slave labor really cuts into profit margins. Imagine if they had to pay for health care too?
The next morning, New Year’s Eve morning, I’d further defile my privileged status by attempting in the middle of a blizzard to take the city bus to catch the Greyhound bus. No educated white male should dream of doing such a thing, and I will say it took an uneducated, toothless black man who’d been riding the bus his whole life to explain to me how the city buses worked. I ended up calling a taxi.
At the Greyhound station, it became apparent that I was likely the only passenger without a criminal history. (I’ve since heard stories of passengers decapitating each other en route.) For the hour and a half journey from Kansas City to Clinton I paid $25. It’s $15 from Boston to New York on the Fung Wah, and much less scary.
I learned in Clinton from those who had lived their whole lives here that they had no idea it was possible to travel from Kansas City to Clinton by bus.
As the snow and temperature continued to fall throughout the day, cancellations started to call in. The friends visiting from England were concerned about the snow and driving in it on the other side of the road. The friend coming after he finished his hours at clinic was called in for longer hours. The friend driving from Branson got nervous as she saw cars on the side of the road.
In the end, for our countdown dinner, we’d have a native Minnesotan fresh in from Singapore who drove eight hours through the blizzard, myself and my own harrowing story, and some Clinton townies to share an hors d‘oeuvre and sparkling cocktail at each hour. My favorite course: the organic, free-range (i.e. wild, and shot by the man of the house) duck sliders. I contributed black eyed peas and bloody marys at one in the morning.
It was a night filled with creation and thoughtfulness. History and hope. We lingered over each hour’s course, and took care in its preparation and presentation, creating and expanding relational communities.
All good things to take with me in the new year: creation, thoughtfulness, history, hope, lingering, care, expansion, and community.
I’m leaving behind: privilege, fear, abundance, safety, and security.