Mike Joseph graduated from Staples High School in 1971. Life has taken him far from Westport.
He still feels connected to his hometown. But naturally, his perspective has changed. He writes:
A regular reader of “06880,” I love keeping up with the ins, outs and general machinations of life back in Westport.
Like so many kids who grew up there in the ’60s, I took off for college and never looked back. Other than several close childhood friends still surviving the town’s urbanization, the ties that bind have grown decidedly tenuous.
Of course I’d love to return to Westport for all the reasons you know and love, but, um, there’s the affordability factor. It’s out of bounds for anyone calibrated to reality from out in America.
I’m now tuned for the Midwest. I live on Kansas City’s Kansas side in a very Fairfield County-like suburb, not in pot-legal but personal freedom-denied Missouri.
Our enlightened purple county is separate from the rest of the traditionally red- as-a-ruby state, with a Democratic gay American Indian congresswoman. But to my coastal friends, I’m sequestered in a flyover state.
I bought my first house here in the ‘90s — a nice little 1,500-square foot, 3 bedroom ranch – for $78,500. Really.
That was after living on an 11-acre property in a big modern farmhouse with a barn, stable, 4-car garage and a dock on a Michigan river: $120,000. Mid-America is affordable.
My current custom 5,000-square foot cedar and stone ranch was in the $200s. It’s now inflated to $450,000 – and I fight the appraisal every year. That noted, my Southern California realtor friend says it would sell for $5 million-plus there today.
What was once a narrow 2-lane gravel road is not isolated anymore. I’m 8 minutes from the I-435 ring road, and 20 from downtown KC. Rush hour traffic moves at 70 with no delays.
The freeways are empty on weekends; we’re very spread out, an hour’s drive from corner to corner. My sailboat is 30 minutes away. Life’s tough.
The bad news? Sadly, developers have gotten as thick as Wisconsin mosquitos, squeezing in houses – or multi-family residential units — on every piece of former grazing land they can extort. New rooftops now stretch to the (flat) horizon.
Some NIMBY and last-one-in-close-the-door goes on, but my lovely fellow Midwesterners are often too polite to fight it. Of course I stand out, as you’d expect from any New York City media-exposed East Coaster. There’s that.
So I begrudgingly portend that my peaceful country living is slowly eroding. Blame the mass exodus away from the corners and into the middle, instigated by ever-declining coastal weather conditions and the pandemic, the isolation migration driver.
Our red state pols of course TIF the corporations before they fund Medicaid, continuing to wave the trickle-down flag. But even that’s changing … ever so slowly.
More good? We have over 20 excellent restaurants within a 10-minute drive, half ethnic, with 5 mega-sized full-service grocery stores just as close. No, they still don’t sell alcohol; we were a dry state when I moved here, and you couldn’t use credit cards for liquor until recently, so… improvement?
In my quiet and hidden 38-home HOA (with its $45 annual fee), we have forests and nature; our backyard is a deer thruway to the big county park across the road. I can’t see any neighbors in the summer. We’re gifted with dozens of miles of creek-side bicycle trails.
Of course, there’s the obvious huge plus: cost of living. That’s the big one. We have incomes that match yours, but the COL is one-third. Cheap gas all year long, lower insurance rates, food prices that never really went up. No egg shortages either.
But property taxes are climbing fast. It’s the pressure of compression, with high population influx and behind-the-curve housing options even with the explosive build rate. 10 to 15% property increases are now the norm.
That’s still cheap compared to California, New York or Connecticut, but a shocking dose of join-the-world-reality for aging residents used to paying $2,500 for their large $300,000 homes. We’re funding infrastructure that the developers need. (I can smell the back-room stogies from here…).
It’s a good place to live with some of the best public schools in the country, mild winters, and all the perks of cultured urbanity — a world-class symphony, a new $2 billion dollar airport terminal, large convention and performance centers, art galleries, museums, vibrant jazz clubs, and a rabid sporting fan base.
Let’s not forget BBQ, of course. I’ll also mention the 3 digital comm service providers hooked up to the house, 2 via direct fiber optic. I’m probably more wired than 95% of America. No pun.
With climate confusion, the tornadoes have even moved elsewhere. Dorothy has left the building, and Toto rides around in a Platinum Land Rover these days. Is that good? Just checking…
It seems our little oasis out in the prairie has been discovered. Existentially, many feel like they’re drowning in rabid development, with increasing home values and bipolar political agita. We ain’t so red anymore, with the inclusive influx of different ideologic colors and flavors.
What’s the psychological temp here? Pretty damn good. Change is happening, but it’s only relative; we’re still well differentiated from the coasts. Importantly for us aging juveniles, we’re retiring with all the benefits of a good life while keeping our fiscal heads above water. Big plus.
So, greetings from a flyover state. It’s probably not what you’ve been hearing. In fact, it’s not so bad out here at all.
I do miss salt water, though …