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Archive for Saturday, August 11, 2007

Alumna savors crimson and blue sightings on West Coast

August 11, 2007

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I run into Jayhawks in the darndest places. I've come across them at the La Brea tar pits. I ate dessert for free in a Minneapolis restaurant because the owner was an alum. My physical therapist here in Eugene, Ore., was raised in Hutch. I even recently chatted with a married couple on a plane ride from Denver to Eugene who walked down the Hill before World War II. And everywhere I'm greeted with the same words: "Rock Chalk Jayhawk!" Yep' Jayhawks get around.

I moved from my hometown of Lawrence to Eugene nearly a year ago, and despite the similarities between the two "hippie college towns," it's only recently begun to feel like home. Finding Kansas connections has become a hobby of mine. I never thought I'd get excited at seeing a Nebraska license plate go by, but I do. I even found myself grinning when I passed a fellow jogger on the river trail who was wearing a K-State shirt. I know - how could I feel camaraderie with a Wildcat? But it's these little echoes of home that helped ease the transition to a new town and reminded me that, even though technically the distance is 1,831 miles, Kansas isn't so far away.

Moving to a new town is scary, especially when it's halfway across the country from everything you know. Culture shock (and sticker shock) is to be expected. Life on the West Coast is just different. I'm beginning to adjust to some of those differences: People don't smile at strangers as they pass by. Not recycling here is considered a Class 1 felony, and the drivers could definitely learn a thing or two from a trip down Interstate 435 during rush hour. But mostly I'm beginning to appreciate the way of life back in Kansas. Sure, the pace is slower, which may not suit the Type A's, but I love how the open countryside with its golden grass and brilliant blue sky is just a short drive away. I miss walking downtown and running into friends I haven't seen in a while, catching up on what's new and chuckling about the fact that everyone from high school seems to still live in Lawrence. Every time I come home for a visit I make sure to eat at Free State Brewery, get a double Snickers at Java Break and take a leisurely drive across campus. Lawrence is a special place that has a soul all its own, and being a native Lawrencian is a source of pride.

So despite the Oregonian label I now bear, I think my Kansas roots are stronger than they were when I was still a resident. I can't count the number of times the guy at the local gas pump, upon seeing my plates, said, "You're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy." And I've had my share of evolution-related questions from curious co-workers. But despite the good-natured teasing and sometimes harsh misconceptions about my home state, I think back on 25 years of sweltering Sidewalk Sales, frigid winters with bruised backsides from sledding down Campanile Hill and grueling treks up Mount Oread for class, and I can honestly say "there's no place like home."

Lawrence native and KU alumna Sarah Tongier now lives in Eugene, Ore.

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