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Best is a member of GenKC, a young-professionals networking group that coordinates with the various "young friends of" groups across the city, with the help of the Kansas City Area Development Council and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. She says the struggle of establishing yourself in Kansas City centers on knowing where the doors are, then figuring out which of them are open. Many Kansas Citians bond in sponsored networks: those "young friends of" as well as entities such as the Centurions Leadership Program.
Locals still join the Kansas City Club, an older-skewing site for local hobnobbery since 1882. But there are now even tinier social groups that court outright snobbery.
One such guild is the O.E. Ellis Society of Greater Kansas City, whose website announces: "The best way to be invited is: Don't ask to be invited." The site features a lot of photos of white guys wearing suits. "Nominees often must be 'Rushed' more than once in order to demonstrate their commitment, mettle, and that they are a good 'personality-fit,' " the site continues, as the scents of bourbon and leather seem to waft from the screen.
Are Kansas City women allowed in this club? It doesn't look like it, but perhaps that doesn't matter. After all, the club obviously benefits any woman lucky enough to have a man who joins. The site's unattributed "New Members" section advises: "The wives ('the O. "She" Ellis' underground) have curiously strong bonds with one another as well. And this author can honestly say that the O.E. Ellis wives and girlfriends are some of the absolute best quality women in the city."
Like the lonely Craiglist soldier back from war and cut off from his friends, O.E. Ellis didn't respond to me. (I asked for a comment for this story, not an invitation.) But that's fine. O.E. Ellis' members and I would probably agree that I'm not the kind of guy they're looking for. And not all clubs are worth joining.
So there's the obvious end to this story, and it's the way things go in every community you ever call home: It gets better. Not always a lot but always at least a little. Eventually everybody meets people, even if they're not the friends you intended to have.
Chel, 34, moved here from New York, an experience she says was like jumping from one genus of loneliness to another, each with its own quirks and mutations.
"We were all lost and alone," she says of being young in New York. "We were all lost and alone together. Every stranger was a potential friend. Every evening conversation could turn into a late-night conversation. I'm not talking about dating. I'm talking about finding your place, finding your people.
"In KC," she continues, "everyone is friendly to a fault, deeply kind. But the cutoff is: Everyone goes home to their families all the time. Kansas Citians will welcome you to their table — unless it's family night. And it's family night quite frequently."
But now she's at home here. She says that's because she made an effort to feel that way and "because I networked the shit out of this place."
I never did learn my neighbors' names, but I know the baristas at that Lattéland. I'm Facebook friends with more locals now, like that guy I met one night at a bar. He was drunk and he probably friended me so he could also friend the woman I was with, a college friend (visiting from London), whom he hit on when he met me. Still, I started to see him everywhere I went, and it was both a little nice and a lot like a sign: Person by person, my social life began to accrete human mass and then to exert its own gravitational pull. That's the kind of thing that keeps a person in one place, and every time I left town to work on an assignment or visit a friend, the social snowball brought me back.