Friday, January 7, 2011

"Wow, Texas!"

I get this a lot. From both sides. My friends in the Northeast, some of whom I haven't "seen" in years (excluding the photos they choose to share with their Facebook world) write it in their e-mails and photo comments. "What's that like?" Images of John Wayne, oil wells and cattle probably fill their heads. I wonder if they picture me strolling in blue jeans and pointy-toed boots underneath big skies. The other "side" I referred to is made up of the people I meet here who, when they hear I moved my little family all the way from New York say things like, "You don't have an accent." "I will if you get me mad enough," has become my stock answer. With a smile, of course.

We've been here for about two and a half years now, and the most common question both Jeanette and I get is "How do you like it in Texas?" Often there's an inflection or a squint of the eye that suggests we wouldn't, being New Yorkers. I think this is because of all the preconceived notions both places have bundled up with them. After all, if you think about Hollywood, this country's leading producer of preconceptions, I'll bet there are more films set in Texas and New York City than anywhere else, with the possible exception of California.

Rather than unravel all of THAT, the short answer I tend to give is something like, "Great. We love it here." And we do. But just let me clarify something: Austin is a little different than the Texas you see in the movies. There is no desert here, and the only tumbleweeds I see are the ones in Lubbock, where the rental car people warn you about them because they can leave your car worse off than them if you hit them at speeds.

Austin is an erudite, cosmopolitan, laid-back and beautiful city of about 800,000 inhabitants. That "metropolitan area" population bloats to almost 2 million once you include the neighboring suburbs. It's a university town, so you're just as likely to meet people from somewhere else as you are to meet a "native" Texan. The cliche is that UT students love Austin so much that they never leave, so that there's a glut of waiters and bartenders with advanced degrees from the University of Texas.

We live in Manor, (pronounced "Mainer") a town just east of the city. (Don't ask me why it's pronounced that way. Why do New Yorkers pronounce Houston Street "HOW-stin"?) It's small, and you do sometimes see fellers with cowboy hats and big belt buckles lazing around in front of the Manor Hotel on the four-storefront strip that makes up "downtown" Manor. They wave to you as you pass. There's a lot of waving. Which I like.

I won't speak for Jeanette, but I do remember her coming home from work one day early on in our time here, throwing down her car keys and saying, "Why can't I just go into a store, get what I need, and get the hell out, without having to hear someone's life story." I know, it sounds like a typical New-Yorker response, and it is. But to be fair, these days I have to hurry Jeanette along, because she gets into long, meandering small-talk with people everywhere we go now. She's given in. That one wasn't so new to me, because the maternal side of my tree is pure South. My mom graduated from Texas Women's University in Denton.

The other things that get under her skin are "y'all" and football. She has given up trying to correct our boys on the former; Jackson spent most of the winter break asking, "Are y'all getting me a dog for Christmas." (We didn't give in, by the way, cute though he is.) Like my mother before her, Jeanette is prohiting football, which I agree with. I'm doing my best to steer them toward the sports that conflict with the football season and don't generally leave you with head and knee injuries -- golf, tennis, soccer.

But I'll tell you, it's a lot easier to hide football from boys in New York than it is in Texas. As someone corrected me recently, "No, it's not a religion. It's more than a religion."

What I do miss are the people I love who we left behind in New York. There are a lot of them. Family and friends. When you're a couple with two young kids, making new friends takes time, so we still feel isolated and lonely at times. The kids are making their friends, and thriving. Austin is a great town for kids: Massive parks, lots of playgrounds, and "Kids-Eat-Free" deals on every day of the week.

Professionally, we're both doing well. Diego and Jackson like their school. We are, in a word, happy.

One thing they say about Texas is true: It is BIG. And I could say a lot more about it, and probably will. Some other time.

So, for those of you who have taken the time to mosey on down to the Old-School and check out my blog, I won't say thank you.

I'll say, "Y'all come back and see me, y'hear?"

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