The city of San Antonio is a set of Russian dolls. Only in reverse. The further you go, the bigger everything seems to get. I’ve been here for two months and I’m surrounded by Targets and Super Targets. Strip malls unroll along the sides of the freeways like a runaway spool of ribbon. The Official Grocery Store of Texas seems to be the HEB as they are ubiquitous. If you haven’t been lucky enough to encounter one, an HEB is a mix between a Kroger and an Ingles for you fellow east-coasters.
HEB is a San Antonio landscape staple. Don’t worry if you miss your turn on the way to HEB, there’ll likely be another in two traffic lights. And if two HEBs within 6 miles isn’t enough, there’s the mecca of grocery goods: The HEB Plus! The only thing differentiating them from the regular HEB is the promise of more excitement. Hence the exclamation mark. They say everything is bigger in Texas but so far I can only tell that everyone is hungrier. Texans are consumers. They gotta get the stuff. Every neighborhood in San Antonio gets its own Starbucks, HEB, and a select variety of shops and restaurants: A Taco Cabana, Whataburger, token chain Italian restaurant, and maybe a Barnes and Noble or an Ulta if you’re lucky.
This is an occurrence you won’t find in Savannah. If you want to go the Barnes and Noble, you drive to the side town where there’s a Barnes and Noble. You go to the goods. Not the other way around. Why is it different in San Antonio?
It’s probably because of the roads. After living in San Antonio for one month, I finally got up the courage to drive on I-10. Of course there are about a half a dozen other freeways looping and snaking over and under this major highway. In fact, if you punch the “avoid highways” option into Maps on iPhone, it’s going to get very confused. The highways are the arteries of this city. They’re all connected. If you don’t take a highway you’re basically telling Maps that you want the best route via hot air balloon or Ostrich-back. Trust me, if those were actual transportation options, I’d take one. Because you will have a near death experience every time you get on I-10.
I drive a tiny Honda Civic that can barely accelerate to 70 mph without hesitation. Everyone else in the surrounding lanes? They’re driving Monster Trucks. And they like to drive them aggressively.
Since taking up driving in this city (it truly is unavoidable if you’re employed), I’ve had this overwhelming sense that I could die in this city. On a highway specifically. Granted, I’ve come to terms with my own mortality before. But not on a daily basis. It’s peak rush hour and I get a Starbucks craving. Do I go? Is it worth the risk? Do I really want to die today in the pursuit of a Venti sized beverage? Maybe it’s time to start drawing up a will.
I know San Antonio isn’t as overwhelming as I can make it sound…But it really is. I try to think back when I first moved to Savannah as a preteen. Did Savannah feel so strange? How did I get to know it so well? How do I know all the shortcuts? Where to eat on a Friday night. Where to get my haircut. Where to take out-of- town guests for touristy fun. I don’t know how I know all this stuff about Savannah. I just do.
I want to wake up one morning and know all of this about San Antonio, too but I feel like I’m on a bad speed-date. And it’s been like 15 years since I’ve been on a date. I’m grasping at straws. Whenever I pass a rack of San Antonio magazines and food guides at HEB, I’m always tempted to grab a whole stack. I feel like I need to study up. I need to learn everything I can and then maybe I can rid myself of this Dorothy-in-Oz feeling I’ve had since the second I got here.
But I know it’s not that simple. You can’t just read magazines on a city and expect to understand it, just like you can’t just read someone’s dating profile and suddenly know their whole life story. You should just be there. Explore as much as you can. Even if you accidentally get lost or almost die on the freeway. I’m sure if I keep doing that I’ll eventually find San Antonio. And suddenly, it won’t seem nearly as big as I thought it was.