A few weeks ago, I toured the Ranger Creek Brewery and Distillery. During the tour, the guide introduced me to a concept that I’d never heard of before. It’s called terroir. It’s kind of a complex term, but the guide explained it well: when a beverage or cheese’s flavor is affected by its environment, it has terroir. Anything from soil makeup to water hardness can contribute to a product’s terroir. According to our tour guide, any food or drink created in San Antonio owes it’s unique taste to San Antonio, Texas if it was made with San Antonio water or food grown in its soil.
I love this idea. The idea that tortillas made in San Antonio taste like San Antonio. But I don’t like to limit this idea to wine, cheese, and tortillas. Interestingly, many places in the States seem to have their signature twist on soda. Texas has Big Red. In Georgia and a large part of the south, we have Cheerwine and RC Cola. In Tennessee, they have Dr. Enuf. Don’t forget the regional snacks, either. In Idaho they have a candy bar called the Iowa Spud. The south? We’ve got MoonPies.
What do you crave the most when you’re far away from home? Probably the one thing you can only get in your home state, of course. Maybe because it tastes like home. Recently, I stumbled upon a box of MoonPies in the Dollar Tree near my house in San Antonio. My heart leapt up!
When I think about Savannah, I think about the food and drink. Service Brewing Company beer, Back in the Day Bakery Cupcakes, and Wang’s II Chinese food. I associate these flavors with home and I can’t seem to recreate them in San Antonio. Sure, I can find local beer in San Antonio. I can get cupcakes and Chinese food. But it just isn’t the same. Fried rice from Wang’s II is home. Fried rice from a rando takeout place in San Antonio might be delicious, but it isn’t home. Home is the terroir.
This got me thinking about people too. Do people have terroir? Do we “taste” like where we come from? Would I be the same person if I had been raised in Iowa instead of Georgia? Are we the sum of our experiences? Are we what we eat? Or are we who we are because of what we eat?
Before my senior year of high school, I wasn’t much of a driver. I only drove when my parents pressured me. “You’ve got to get more road experience,” they warned. Whatever. My fifteen-year-old self was convinced that I would drive when I felt “ready.” Well, I never felt “ready” until I turned 16 and it was, per social constructs, the age that I had to obtain my license or run the risk of looking emotionally stunted in front of my peers. So I guess when I say I “wasn’t much of a driver” I mean that I refused to drive at all until about 3 months before I took the test.
I passed my driver’s test by—well, I think I scared the man at the DMV. Something to do with the fact that I looked over my left shoulder when I backed out of parking spaces and braked on the freeway. I remember the bewildered look on the man’s face when I attempted to merge. “Land sakes, lady! Don’t brake!” He gripped the door handle like he was trapped on The Tower of Terror against his will instead of the passenger seat of my parents’ ‘99 Ford Taurus. He may have peed his pants. I was too nervous to notice. Anyway, the man passed me. For what reason beyond rattled nerves, I have no idea.
After passing the test, I still avoided driving most of the time. But when I enrolled in college…It kind of came with the package. I would have to take a math class and I would have to drive. College students drove unsupervised. They even drove their friends places. I couldn’t very well have my parents drive me to my classes. I’d seen enough John Hughes movies to know that wasn’t cool even in high school. It’d be social suicide in college. So I mapped out the easiest route to the downtown campus I could find; one that avoided left turns and highways. Highways had this way of triggering the brake pedal in my vehicle. My palms literally sweated when I had to merge. Merging was the worst.
The first few times I drove to campus it was terrifying. But each time I did it, I felt a little better. You know that adrenaline rush you get after riding a rollercoaster? I totally got that after the first several trips. By the time I finished grad school, the entire downtown college campus area was muscle memory. I could drive it half asleep. I probably did a few times during grad school.
Six years later, I decided to date this guy named Nick who happened to live an hour away from me. The only way I could visit him was by taking I-95. Oh, Nick. The loveable ukulele-player with a heart of gold. For this guy I would climb mountains, I’d undergo root canals…Mainly I just merged onto I-95 every other weekend to see his cute face. Look, you do a lot of extreme and dangerous things for Love. It took months, but I eventually came to view I-95 as a necessary evil.
But San Antonio highways? Those are a different animal. They all intersect at 80mph. I don’t know about you, but it kind of scares me to careen down a highway at 80mph when have I no idea where I’m going. Of course Siri tells me where to go. Sort of. Actually, Siri has this funny way of announcing “Take THE EXIT ON THE RIGHT” 5 seconds after insisting that I “KEEP LEFT. FOR TWO MILES KEEP LEFT.” Siri’s a fickle creature. I try to appease her but there’s usually a wall of F250s and Silverados standing between me and the “EXIT ON THE RIGHT.” One trick I’ve learned: you can ignore her for about for about 3 exits. Siri will reroute you eventually once she’s realized that she’s not going to get her way. Or, as punishment, she might take you past the same turn-around like 4 times before directing you to the right street. She likes to play games.
Since I work across town from where I live, I’ve had to get used to this driving situation real quick. I still use Siri (flaws and all) to get to work because I haven’t memorized the route. I just set the destination and “white knuckle it” the whole way. Last week I was feeling adventurous, though. I decided to explore The Alamo Heights neighborhood before going to a meeting. A Bird Bakery craving was worth the detour. When I took the detour down the Broadway Street exit, something clicked. I had by bearings. I knew how to get to downtown without even using Siri. Later during the weekend, Nick and I took his sister to Alamo Heights for dinner. Nick went to set the route to get home, but I stopped him. Because I already knew the way. And that felt amazing.
This weekend I realized how you get over your fears. You just face them. You drive to college. You take I-95 to your boyfriend’s house. You merge onto 410 without the GPS. You “white knuckle it” until you aren’t scared anymore. Until it feels familiar. Until you don’t leave sweat prints on the steering wheel. In the case of driving in San Antonio, specifically: You drive. You don’t die. You repeat.
“There’s a gun for everyone.” That’s what Nick assured me after he announced that we, along with a few friends from his class, would be attending a gun show.
I had reservations about going because guns aren’t exactly my thing. I didn’t share Nick’s sentiment. Unless by “everyone” he meant, “James Bond.” While Georgia is the South and maybe significantly more “conservative” than northern states, I come from a liberal part of the state. I went to art school. Moreover, my dad’s sister was killed in a gun-related accident. Guns make me uncomfortable. And Nick was asking me to willingly enter a warehouse filled with them. The fact that I went shows how much I trust this guy. But I also felt like I had to go. I told myself it was a Texas Cultural Event. Like The Rodeo or The Texas State Fair. Wasn’t it? I envisioned playing David Foster Wallace for the afternoon and then writing up some sort of essay about it. A brief foray with The Natives. Yes, I think I would attend The Gun Show.
In my two months living here, no event we’ve attended has been all that crowded. Save for the Pearl’s Saturday Farmers Market. Clearly, fresh vegetables weren’t the only hot ticket in this city. This Gun Show was packed. Or rather, the Saxet Trade Show was packed. Per the website, it’s a “one-stop shop” for guns, ammo, knifes and other weapon-related paraphernalia. Located in a large conference center off 410, the Saxet Gun Show must have attracted every gun enthusiast the county. Cars (mostly trucks, admittedly) were streaming into the complex. Some stopped at a red tent to pay for parking.
On the side of what I could only guess was the convention center, a yellow tarp with an inverted Texas logo and “Saxet Gun Show” stenciled across it rippled in the wind. It’s a stretch, but apparently when you draw Texas backwards it gives the vague impression of a gun holster. Convienent.
Next to the conference center an empty strip mall with a large sign read: “The Door”. Apparently, “The Door” led to some sort of Christian church or organization. The Door’s parking lot was carless, but many signs posted throughout the convention center complex warned, “Do not park at The Door.” Since we didn’t want to pay for parking, or get into trouble with The Door, we had to squeeze our Beetle between two F-250s and just inches away from a no parking sign. A few trucks sneaked into the nearby IHOP parking lot.
When we got to The Gun Show entrance, an NRA tent promised perks if you joined during the event. In the corridor of the conference center, a line had formed and shuffled forward as a blonde woman in a snug black t-shirt took up the $5 admission fee and stamped hands.
After a moment of standing in line, I realized that there were three lines. One for the stamp, one for the ATM, and another one. Near the admission line where Nick and I stood, a man in a denim jacket inspected a hunting rifle at a long folding table while other men stood waiting, rifles in hand. These men were checking in their rifles. My stomach tightened. They allow guns in the gun show. I don’t know why I was surprised. They allow pets in PetSmart, don’t they?
The convention center smelled like spiced nuts. Probably from the stand selling red and white paper bags of the confectionary nuts for the hungry shoppers at $2.95 a pop. Maybe it was the smell, but the whole event reminded me of a state fair or a flea market. Why hadn’t they made a musical about a gun show yet?
The State Fair of Guns: endless rows of tables and booths. Only instead of local farmers selling honey and homemade candles, men and women dressed in camo and Levis were selling everything from Glocks to Civil War Era rifles. Occasionally, I spied a wife setting up a Scentsy booth or few teenage girls gathered around sterling silver necklaces laid out in black velvet trays. But it was mostly guns and knives.
And of course there were t-shirts and bumper stickers for gun enthusiasts. One t-shirt I saw said something about “Guns and Starbucks.” It had a knock-off Starbucks logo printed across the chest. Maybe it was a band? Like Guns ‘N’ Roses? I pictured a firing range where people shot Starbucks cups instead of cans. Someone in aviators jamming on the bass in the background.
Probably the most horrifying of them all was a bumper sticker sold at several of the booths. “I voted for Trump and I carry a gun.” I blinked hard and tried to imagine what that might mean. In another universe, I suppose it was meant be funny. A dark joke.
I looked out at the rows of guns and patrons who moved like molasses through the aisles. Picking up guns. Turning them over. Feeling the weight of the unloaded weapon in their hands. An older man shuffled past me. He wore a military-issue backpack with a makeshift yardstick sign sticking out of the back pocket. A piece of white paper listing the guns he was selling was taped to the stick. I imagined they were real bargains.
For everyone woman in leggings and a vest I spied in the crowd, I saw three men in cowboy hats. At one point Nick and I lost our friends in the crowd. “Do you see them?” Nick said, standing on his tiptoes.
I scanned the masses. I tried hard to look at faces. I did. But the only thing I remembered was that Nick’s friend was wearing a camo baseball cap. When I looked up, more than a dozen camo hats bobbed in the crowd—a funhouse mirror—it was impossible to tell who was who. I’d fallen down the rabbit hole. This was Texasland.
The Gun Show was a fantasy world of extremes. Everyone there seemed to fit the “stereotypical” Texan I’d drawn up in my head. A man in a Stetson and cowboy boots with a gun on his hip. Teenagers who wore hunting gear to school. Anyone who worshiped John Wayne, voted for Trump, and probably knew how to ride a horse. But the truth is, these extremes were something I rarely saw on San Antonio streets. Texas is too big to fit in a box.
But more than any other time since I got to San Antonio, I felt like a tourist. A true outsider. I didn’t understand The Gun Show. I didn’t understand people who liked guns enough to attend a festival like this. I couldn’t relate.
“Don’t you want a gun?” Nick whispered in my ear. He likes to heckle me.
I’d given up on looking for his friend. I shook my head; my eyes had landed on another booth selling the Trump sticker. “I’m not Lara Croft. No one is threatening my life on a regular basis,” I replied. “I don’t see the point.”
I thought about all the other things I’d rather be doing. A craft brew fest. A coffee convention. A performance art exhibition. What had I gotten myself into? I’d stumbled into this gun show the way a loud-mouthed tourist might stumble into sacred temple in Bali. I hadn’t realized the seriousness of what I’d come to see. I was out of my depth. In my head, I scoffed at Nick’s earlier declaration: “There’s a gun for everyone.” Guns—this show wasn’t for me.
Turning away from the Trump booth, something caught my eye at another table. Something teal poking out from all the black, chrome, and camouflage that consumed the room. If you know me, you know I’m obsessed with the color teal. All my electronics and appliances are teal.
At closer inspection, I realized that what I saw was a gun. It was small, chrome, and teal with pearl overlay on the handle. A Kimber Special Edition for about $695. Nonetheless, it was the most beautiful gun I’d ever seen.
This gun knocked me on my ass (figuratively speaking, of course). Because I thought guns were supposed to be cold, gritty, and masculine. Accessories for characters in action movies. But this Kimber was gorgeous. Something to place in a shadow box and blog about on Pinterest. An exhibit piece in a vintage museum next to pastel 1950s refrigerators and mixers.
I couldn’t explain why. But I wanted this gun. Not to shoot cans or small animals. Just to have.
Don’t worry. This didn’t instantly transform me into a John Wayne-worshipping Trump supporter. But I did briefly entertain the fantasy of taking out a home intruder while mixing up a cake in the kitchen. When the window burst open, I’d whip my teal pistol from the pocket of my matching floral apron and shoot the intruder right in his nylon-stockinged face.
We left the gun show empty-handed and headed to lunch with our friends. But I couldn’t get the teal Kimber out of my head. Was it possible that no matter how lost I felt in the extremes of Texasland that I’d found some common ground? Something I could relate to, even if I didn’t agree with most of the gun show folks’ ideology? Before I saw the Kimber, I didn’t consider myself “the kind of person” who would appreciate a gun. And I’ll probably never be interested in using a gun. But Nick was right. There is a gun for everyone.
I read somewhere that you can literally die of homesickness. Isn’t that crazy? Well, I’ve been here for two months and I can say with confidence that I haven’t died yet. You know why? Because I’ve found a few simple, active ways to cope with being in an unfamiliar place. Of course this extends beyond the obvious, “get a job” and “make new friends.” Spoiler alert: making friends is much harder as a grown-ass adult. No, I’m talking about stuff you have control over and you can do right now.
Three Ways to Feel at Home in New Place
1. Find a coffee shop
I never liked working at home. I spent a lot of time writing in cafes. I just think better outside my own home. So it was important to find one as soon as I got to San Antonio. When I’m looking for a new coffee shop, it must meet the following requirements:
It must be five miles away or less and easy to get to (no crazy highway shenanigans)
It must be inviting
This means I feel comfortable spending time there. I can’t feel like the employees are judging me for going to this cafe three days in a row.
They must have free tea refills
I’m a tea-addict and I chain-drink tea when I’m concentrating. I’d be broke if I had to pay for each glass
It must be the kind of place where people spend time on their computers
I can’t be only one “loitering” (as Nick calls it) on my computer for hours on end. So not like a Whataburger. Sorry, I’m not that rogue!
Have I found this place yet? Well, I’m working on it. I have three contenders and I’ve been rotating which one I go to each week. While I haven’t singled out one, at least now I have three places where I feel comfortable going to write.
2. Find a default favorite restaurant
A default restaurant is essential. A place where I can slip into a booth and don’t even have to pick up a menu because I already know what I want. Life is crazy sometimes and I don’t want to think. I just want to sit and eat. In Savannah, that place was Wang’s II, a Chinese restaurant I’ve been going to since I was 12 years old. It was my dining room away from home. In San Antonio, that place is Whiskey Cake. It’s a farm to table place with a 1930’s industrial flair. I love it because it reminds me of Savannah. Locally sourced food is very big and Savannah, so I go to Whiskey Cake when I miss Savannah food. They have the yummiest salads. One has a fried poached egg on it. Need I say more? And the whiskey cake is hands-down the BEST restaurant dessert that I’ve ever eaten. It’s hard to feel homesick when you’re stuffing your face with cake.
3. Find a yoga studio/fitness class/church
My mom is a retired military wife. One of the first pieces of advice she gave me when I moved was “Find a church.” Church isn’t for everyone, but I understand what she meant. She meant: find a community of like-minded people. For me, that means finding a yoga studio. When I lived in Savannah, I practiced Yoga 3-4 times a week. It was my stress release. It was something to ground me during my stressful workload. It was a safe space.
In San Antonio, there are so many yoga studios it’s downright daunting. I’ve narrowed it down to two in my general neighborhood and I’ve tried one so far. While I’m not positive Half-Moon Power Yoga is going to be MY go-to yoga studio (only because they don’t have a shower and I’m totally spoiled from Savannah Power Yoga), it was welcoming and I got to talk about yoga with other yogis again. I still plan to try Southtown Yoga Loft and I’ll then I’ll be back to Half-Moon.
But here’s something I’ve had to come to terms with in the past couple weeks: I’m not going to find a yoga studio that is just like the one I left behind. It’s just not going to happen. For example, I practiced Baptiste yoga exclusively in Savannah. In San Antonio, I’m finding that very few of the studios are exclusive like that. You know what that means? I’m having to try something different. It’s a little scary at first but it kind of feels amazing. I’ve been going to this lunchtime class and it’s a slower flow than the Baptiste I’m used to. And they call different poses than I’m used to. So it’s not Savannah Power Yoga, but it still made me feel relaxed and centered at the end. And that’s kind of why I love yoga. It didn’t matter who the teacher was or where I was. It just mattered that I was on my mat. That part still felt like home.
Maybe yoga isn’t your thing. Maybe it’s CrossFit or maybe it’s Jesus. The point I’m trying to make here is: find a group of people that have the same interests as you. It doesn’t matter if you’re from different cities. Yoga is a universal language. So is Jesus. Find a commonality with people in your new city and you’ll feel more at home. I promise.
Isn’t there an easier way? I don’t want to leave my house
Another way to feel more at home in a new city is the “fake it till you make it” approach. In Texas that means you wear cowgirl boots everywhere you go. Casually name-drop popular Tex Mex restaurants in conversations with strangers. Boy, will you have them fooled! But of course the problem with that is that you’ll know you’re faking it. You’re the one who is still going to wake up in the morning and feel homesick. Even if you slept in a Texas t-shirt the night before. It just doesn’t work, trust me. It’s much better to find real, sustainable ways to make yourself feel more at home. For me, that’s finding safe spaces. Places I can go that, while new, feel at least a tiny bit familiar.
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.