Sunday, October 25, 2009

Where the Other Half Lives, part I


I received my Master's degree from the University of Missouri in Columbia, or Mizzou for short.  Part of the fun of that degree involved being at a "college" for the first time.  Rather, it felt like what a college should feel like, based on watching movies and TV series about the college experience.  There are fancy stone buildings, a long history filled with bizarre traditions and rivalries, and an on-campus McDonald's.

This week, I made my first visit to Lawrence, Kansas -- the home of the Mizzou's perennial rival, the University of Kansas.

Coming to Mizzou as a graduate student doesn't really provide the same experience that the people get right out of high school.  I wasn't given a tour.  Nobody ever really talked to me about Greek life.  I didn't live in the dorms.  And I was disconnected from the usual music student association with popular things: as a rule, grad students don't join the marching band for football season and they don't play in the pep band for basketball season.  I attended two or three football games in my two years there, though I followed the team in the papers, humphing haughtily when they won and exclaiming when they lost.

To say that Mizzou has a long rivalry with the University of Kansas is an understatement.  Since 1891, the two universities have jousted on the football field as the second-longest-running football contest in the U.S.  Some believe that it has roots in the unrest surrounding the Civil War, as an expression of armed frustration they turned to ... football.  Or something.

Digressing for a moment, I don't understand why Missouri is informally known as "MU".  To me, that would suggest "Missouri University", which definitely ISN'T the university's name.  The University of Kansas has the same weirdness, being known informally as "KU".  I'm also amused that Mizzou has now "officially" dropped the "-Columbia" part of its name, not wanting to be confused for a "regional" institution.  Part of the rash of university re-branding in the last 20 years here in Missouri, turning Northeast Missouri into Truman State, Southwest Missouri into Missouri State, and UM-Rolla into Missouri S & T (surely closer to being a bank than a school name).

Let me further my tale.

One of my friends finished his Master's in tuba at UM-KC a couple of years ago.  He relocated to Lawrence, KS for his doctorate, and last Thursday he gave a recital on campus.  I decided that now was as good a time as any to visit KU.

Not that I avoided it out of any loyalty to my alma secunda mater.  It was simply that I had no reason to ever go to Lawrence.  All the people I know in Kansas City live in Kansas City.  Any social ties to Lawrence have only emerged as friends (one friend) have moved there, or my recent acquaintance with the KU tuba professor.  It's thirty-five miles west of me, when everything I commonly deal with lies north and east of me.

The journey to Lawrence is simple.  It lies some 35 miles directly west of me, on basically the same highway that runs by my house.  The recital started at 7:30pm, so I left somewhere around 5:30, expecting traffic and bad weather.  We were in the middle of one of the autumn drizzles that closely resembles living in a cloud: constant accretion of water on every surface, low visibility, and no wind.  Heading into a city for the first time -- at night and in inclement weather -- led me to leave plenty of time.

I arrived in Lawrence and stopped at the local Burger King for dinner.  Can't forget where I am in HERE -- everything is done in KU's team colors of blue and red, with little Jayhawks (their mascot) sprinkled on most flat surface.  Waiting near the counter are several "college" guys, dressed in KU apparel.  Long mesh athletic shorts with a Jayhawk emblazoned.  One guy is wearing a shirt which says "MUCK FIZZOU" in big block letters.  I'm gripped with a regret that I didn't wear my free "Mizzou Recruiter" t-shirt.  A missed opportunity to get french fries thrown at my head. 

At the recital (which was excellent), a large portion of the audience is done up in team colors.  Alas, no giant foam fingers.

[I split this entry into two parts because I wanted to get this out the door, but still had more to say.]

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