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Months later, one ad still stands out to me: "Married soldier here in need of friends, I came back from overseas and everything is different nothing is the same at home and with friends," the post read. "Lots of my friends wont talk to me anymore, due to their views of my job and why i had to go. My best friend hates my guts, my wife cant stand me sometimes I just need some one to chat on here or meet for lunch once in a while."
I messaged him. He never wrote back.
Most Kansas Citians — most people everywhere — don't make friends on Craigslist. So why were some people slumming it?
Here I'm thinking about a 21-year-old named Taryn, who posted a request "to fucking pet a cat." It oozed hipster aloofness. She probably already knew somebody with a cat — because, come on — so I asked her why she'd posted.
"I think the more important question is why NOT craigslist?" she replied. "It's the mecca of all things weird and awesome/creepy. In short, craigslist is like the online version of Walmart."
She's not wrong. On the Internet, as in Walmart, you can get most of what's on your list for relatively little trouble, and you bump into a lot of human randomness as you fill your cart.
The Web has changed the way we can meet strangers, whether through Craigslist or via online dating or on Facebook, in a way that removes the old filters of family or work, and channels our preferences through personality-profile algorithms and shared likes and detours into niche subcategories. It took the Internet, for example, to give us a name for the male fans of My Little Pony whom we now know as "bronies."
Social media makes it more likely that we'll connect with people similar to us, in other places, rather than with the townies who live next door and may be a little more dissimilar. Instead of living vertically, in one city, we can live horizontally, across many cities. I have friends in New York, for example, and so the fire hose of my Facebook and Google news feeds sometimes means that I'm more aware of what's happening in Brooklyn than what's going on in Brookside. That's a great way to keep up with faraway friends but a problem when you're heading for drinks in Westport and not the East Village.
And getting a grip on the social ladder in Kansas City requires a more old-school approach. If, for instance, you've moved here for work, networking is probably a priority — and you've probably discovered that Kansas City isn't the easiest place for people to plug into.
"If you don't have somebody to show you around, it's an intimidating city," says Jessica Best, 30, who grew up in Independence and landed back in the city about five years ago. "Where are you supposed to go? Where's the nightlife? There's sort of this strip downtown instead of this central location where people go. Instead, you say you're going out to Westport or to Café Trio on the Plaza, or 'I'm gonna go to P&L' or, hell, the Crossroads. If you're not from here, how would you know that? How would you know what you're missing or what's going on?"