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Last fall, I also spent a lot of time in downtown Cairo, which was like living inside a human beehive. The crush of people packed into small spaces, combined with more outgoing social norms between strangers, means that every time you step outside is a trip into the unexpected. It's almost impossible not to meet people. To live in Cairo is to share in a high-density experience, one in which all the human molecules jostle together to create a kind of social friction you rarely see in Kansas City. I thought about all the times I'd walked along Roanoke Parkway without passing another person on foot.
But you don't have to travel abroad to know that the way we live in Kansas City — by ourselves, in spread-out homes, often away from our families and detached from our friends, wedged into our cars — is a historical aberration and exceptional compared with many other parts of the world. And in recent years, various media outlets have singled us out for some embarrassing stats, telling the rest of the country what we already knew about ourselves. In 2009, for example, Forbes crunched population data for America's 40 largest metropolitan areas and ranked Kansas City dead last for the number of single people. Perhaps correspondingly, KC's number of bars, restaurants and nightclubs per capita didn't rank much better.
That same year, according to U.S. Census data, more than 30 percent of American 20-somethings moved. No other age group uproots itself as frequently. We move because of new jobs or new relationships, and we arrive with few attachments. We're looking for those bars and restaurants and clubs, and the ongoing renaissance of KC's downtown offers some encouragement that life for young, urban-minded people is getting a little more vibrant.
So maybe, I thought, it was time to look for some new friends. But when I set out to do that, I found that my fellow Kansas Citians were feeling all kinds of lonely. And some weren't shy about admitting it.
At least, that's what I learned from Craigslist.
What's the deal with the picture thing?" I wrote Dave in an e-mail. "Why do people trade them?"
Dave's Craigslist ad was listed under the site's "strictly platonic" heading, which I decided to visit as an experiment. He said he was looking for a biking buddy so he could get in shape. When I responded to it, he immediately asked for my photo. With some apprehension, I passed along a Facebook snap.
"lot of weird people.... lol" he responded in his e-mail.
Then he asked me if I was gay or straight: "the reason I am asking is have a few people answer my add asking how hung am i, can I ride your cock. shit like that. I am gay but looking for a riding partner...BIKE RIDDING...lol."
"Haha I'm straight," I responded.
Dave's ad was still far less odd than most of the others I'd seen. I'd just eyed a post for two "40-something-but-fit" businessmen who were looking for young, beautiful women to go camping with them. It's totally not a sexual thing, of course, but maybe if things get sexual, we're open to that too. We're just looking for a little fun, went part of the plea.