Savannah is like Coldplay and San Antonio isn’t the same as black nail polish

Savannah is like Coldplay and San Antonio isn’t the same as black nail polish

Flying in an airplane gives you a lot of perspective on things. Like exactly just how many people own swimming pools. From the air, it seems like quite a few people do. My flight(s) from Savannah to Austin took place at that magical twilight hour. The clouds were those puffy cotton candy clouds that seem like Bob Ross might have painted them. And the sunset was a dreamy lavender color. Like pastel bakery frosting. It would have been easy to pretend I was riding on the back of a Pegasus instead of inside a 747.

But the reality of the situation was that I was on an ill-advised redeye trip back to Texas after spending a week in my hometown. Never again will I try to save money. Direct flights are always best. The $50 cheaper tickets always seem like a good idea when you’re snuggled in bed and booking the trip on your fully-charged laptop. They will become a horrible mistake when you’re waiting to exit an overheated airplane, and the flight attendant is scolding your fellow passengers for “dilly-dallying.”  When you’re watching your iPhone slowly and inexplicably drain as you gallop across the Dallas airport to make your 4th and final connection of the evening. Your mind will suddenly go to dark places. Like what would happen if your phone dies and you can’t remember your husband’s phone number? Or worse, he’s died on the way to pick you up, and the people at the hospital can’t reach you? Or what would happen if your phone died and you couldn’t use the Starbuck’s app to pay for your drink?

If all those terrifying possibilities don’t convince you of the err of your penny-pinching ways…Trust me, you’ll know in your heart that the extra $50 wasn’t worth it when finding yourself seated at Charlotte’s “authentic” airport “cantina” and the drink prices aren’t listed on the menu. You will wonder if the Mango Colada Margarita is indeed an authentic Mexican beverage and therefore actually worth anywhere between $9-$19 it inevitably costs. Plus a tip, mind you. You’ll know in your heart that wouldn’t need to purchase this Mexican beverage of questionable authenticity at an undetermined but surely unreasonable price point if you’d simply splurged on the direct flight.

Four airports later, I finally landed in Austin. I was weary with regret. It was 11:30. I wanted a hotel room and Whataburger. What at least an hour’s drive back to San Antonio. The hotel and fast food would certainly cost more than the $50 I saved on the ticket. All those months ago, I had thought I was booking an inexpensive trip to Savannah. What I had gotten was a cross-country tour of American airports.

And was it all worth it for a Savannah/Christen reunion? I love Savannah, y’all. I love the trees that drip with Spanish moss. The sound of cicadas and smell of freshly cut grass. I spent so much of my trip walking around my parent’s neighborhood just sniffing the air and admiring how southern it all was. The landscape is just so different from Texas. So is the landscaping. I’m pretty sure they don’t have magenta azaleas in Texas.

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When I returned to Savannah, I thought it would feel different. I thought it would feel like I had been gone for a long time. Honestly, it didn’t feel like I had been gone at all. I was expecting this dramatic “reunion feeling.” But it just felt like I had been transported back to my old life. Like San Antonio was a mystical fairytale city where time didn’t exist. Like I had fallen asleep and woke up Rip Van Winkle style. Had I actually been gone for 6 months? I felt like I had just returned from a short vacation.

I’d spent 17 years of my life in Savannah. The city had been as much as a friend to me as any of my close friends. I had spent many a night in City Market grabbing drinks with friends. Or wandering alone with my earbuds in, blasting Deathcab on rainy fall evenings. I had met my husband in the Broughton Street World of Beer. Savannah was the city of first kisses and first heart breaks. It was college and grad school. So many of my favorite memories took place in downtown Savannah.

I dragged my sister downtown on one of the last nights of my visit. Or rather, she played Uber for the evening. I was car-less, but I wanted to go see my old haunts before I flew back to San Antonio indefinitely. As my sister navigated the grid of the city, I felt myself longing to drive. I knew the way. She didn’t. She kept asking me where to turn. Or where Coffee Fox was located. That’s when I realized that she didn’t know Savannah like I knew Savannah. It was like when a friend decides to start watching your favorite TV show in the middle of the season, and they keep asking all these questions.

Downtown Savannah is my Savannah. It’s my favorite show. My sister didn’t love it liked I love it. Cue The Yeah Yeahs Yeahs song. Maaaappps, wait. They don’t love you like I love you….

She just didn’t understand.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve memorized the city. Flaws and all. As I walked down Broughton Street (Savannah’s main drag for local shops) with my sister last week, I noticed that a few of the local shops had closed on Broughton Street. And they’d added a few more commercial ones to the mix of existing local businesses. After they had opened, McDonald’s, followed by the Victoria’s Secret on Broughton Street a while back, a part of me had died inside. I knew at the time that Savannah was changing, but not in a good way. I liked her for the quirky local spots. The places that actually felt like a secret. The new Ben and Jerry’s I spotted was proof that the city hadn’t stopped changing in my absence. I can’t say I was surprised.  The Savannah I loved was Coldplay’s Parachutes album. This changing Savannah was a weird new duet with Rihanna. More commercial. More top 40/stadium anthem, and less mixtape/record store gem.

Sure, I think part of me will always be an angsty teenage fangirl for Savannah. Telling all my friends that I liked it before it was cool. Before Victoria’s Secret, H&M, and Blick swooped in and replaced the funkier local shops. I was one of Foxy Loxy’s first customers!

But I think I was right to start seeing other cities. Since I left Savannah in October, I think I’ve been telling myself that San Antonio is a fling. Like my misguided foray into black nail polish in 2008, San Antonio is something new. Something surprising. Something a little dangerous. I keep telling myself I’ll return to safer colors like blue and pink. Safer southern cities like Savannah or Charleston. But I’m beginning to think that San Antonio isn’t a fling. Maybe I like it as something more. Did this bit of perspective make my airport nightmare worth it? You bet it did.

all the puffy tacos in the world couldn’t cure this feeling

all the puffy tacos in the world couldn’t cure this feeling

I’m going to be honest. Since March, I’ve been battling the homesickness like crazy. It’s not that I hate Texas. I really love it. But it’s just harder here. In fact, writing for this blog has been harder because I know I’m “supposed” to be writing about all the “Texas” things but I’ve felt uninspired.

I know it all sounds babyish. But everything here is really is harder than it was in Georgia.

Excuse me while I whine for a minute or Why Texas Sucks

In Georgia, my commute to work was five minutes. And I was almost never faced with my own morality on the way to work. Here in San Antonio, my commute is almost an hour. And I almost always almost die en route. These roads are treacherous, people! And not just the people in the cars on the roads. I mean the actual roads. “Everything is bigger in Texas” and so are the potholes. I have this reoccurring anxiety. What if I blow a tire in the middle of the highway because of a pothole? What will happen? I figure I will most certainly die. I mean, obviously, we are all going to die one day, unless we find some magic water like in Tuck Everlasting…Dying will happen. But I don’t like thinking about it all the time. And I don’t want to die via Texas pothole.

My yoga studio here doesn’t have a shower which makes pre-work yoga classes a no-go. I realize this isn’t a life or death situation. And oh yes, this is definitely a first-world problem. But how else am I supposed to work off all those tortillas?

Making friends here is freaking hard, too. I mean, it doesn’t help that I’m 27 and most people in my profession are in their mid to late 30s or older. What about the military wives, you ask? I’m generally 3 or more years older than most military wives I know. Most of them have/want kids. I have an MFA and a semi-healthy herb garden that would be dead if my husband didn’t remind me to water it. It’s all I can handle for the foreseeable future and I can barely handle it. For these reasons, I feel like an outsider. But that’s just how I feel about my life in general. So maybe that’s just a Christen problem and not a Texas/Georgia issue?

Culture shock is real. In Savannah, there was one Mexican bakery. I explained this to my Mexican-American students and their eyes widened in mix of shock and disgust. There’s probably a dozen Mexican bakeries on Zarzamora street alone. I’m not saying my Savannah upbringing makes me completely clueless. I grew up in a family that always appreciated international cuisine. And Nick’s Mexican heritage certainly helps; I know the difference between carne asada and carne guisada. But I’ve never had a paleta and my students schooled me on chamoy and mangonada last week.

But the Pollyanna inside me keeps telling me I should be optimistic despite all these things. So here you go:

Five Reasons Why I Like San Antonio

1. San Antonio has way more quality local coffee shops and bakeries than Savannah. If you know me, bakeries and coffee shops are my jam. Here, I have access to Local Coffee, Bakery Lorraine, The Breadbox, and Bird Bakery.

2. San Antonio has more than one Barnes and Noble. And a Half-Price Books where you can sell and buy used books. Yes, please!

3. My yoga studio in San Antonio is very much community-centered. They ask you to introduce yourselves and often hold socials. I could possibly make a friend there one day.

4. San Antonio has two Trader Joe’s stores. I will be depressed if ever have to leave Texas for a state that does not have a Trader Joe’s. Plus, whenever I feel friendless, I can always go talk to a TJ cashier. They care about me. I can tell by the way they always ask what I’ve got going on. One of the cashiers actually sang to me the other day. If it’s possible to be BFFs with grocery store, then I pick Trader Joe’s.

5. Less than a month after moving here, I somehow managed to land my dream job at a university people have actually heard of.

6. Texas has Tex Mex cuisine. And Lord, does San Antonio have it in ample supply. In fact, I recently witnessed the miracle that is Oscar’s Taco House’s puffy tacos. Puffy tacos are exclusive to this part of the country and it’s a damn shame. Not to be confused with a crispy taco, these Tex-Mex delights are a cross between a crispy taco, a Taco Bell gordita tortilla, and corn tortilla. A little bit crunchy, a little bit fluffy, and a little bit chewy. They will change your taco Tuesday game forever. Plus, you can get a plate of them for like $5.

So you see, I have endless coffee shop options, a friendly, shower-less yoga studio, grocery store friends, a great job, and puffy tacos. I shouldn’t be homesick at all. But it’s not that simple. Sometimes you just miss home.

I’ve planned a Mother’s Day trip back to Georgia next week. And I’m not sure if that will hurt or help. With homesickness are you supposed to just quit home cold turkey like you do with cigarettes or a break-up? What if I want to break up with Georgia but I want to still be friends? How does that work? Will seeing Georgia again bring back the old feelings? Will it cause some out-of-control peach cobbler binge? Will I feel the intense need to drunkenly karaoke John Mayer’s “Why Georgia”? Or will returning to Georgia make me realize that leaving Georgia was for the best? Here’s hoping for the latter.

Taste Like Home

Taste Like Home

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.

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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?

Ticket to Texasland: Saxet Gun Show

Ticket to Texasland: Saxet Gun Show

“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.

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Trump Sticker

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.

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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.

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The Teal Kimber

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.

3 Ways to Feel at Home in a New City

3 Ways to Feel at Home in a New City

 

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!

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Bird Bakery (totally a favorite, but not close enough to home to make the cut)

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. 

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Warm Kale Salad at Whiskey 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. 

San Antonio, TX: A vast, hungry, and unknowable city.

San Antonio, TX: A vast, hungry, and unknowable city.

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.

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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.