I wanted to live somewhere warm. That was what drove my job search after college. When I found an opportunity in San Antonio, Texas, I jumped for it–despite having never been to Texas. I knew San Antonio had a basketball team, and was relatively sure that the Alamo was there. Had I not gotten the job, my next interview was in Phoenix.
San Antonio and I were an awkward fit from the start–an arranged marriage of circumstance and opportunity. For one thing, city is a strong word to describe San Antonio. It’s the 7th largest in the U.S. by population, but I’ve referred to it as the country’s biggest small town. The population is spread across a sprawling mass of suburban enclaves, old neighborhoods, and strip centers. There is no metropolitan area–it’s all San Antonio (with exceptions). Despite the size, San Antonio didn’t offer the trappings of urban life. Few people lived near downtown. The Riverwalk was a tourist trap; the locals went nowhere near it. Rush hour meant adding ten minutes to my commute. People lived close by–or with–their parents. There wasn’t much ambition to get out of San Antonio.
Of course, getting out of San Antonio is physically challenging. Anyone who advocates a national 55 mph speed limit has never driven through Texas. The land is made for driving fast–flat, with the occasional rolling hill, no reason for the highways to be anything but straight and wide. The distance between places is staggering. It can take more than half an hour to get between points in San Antonio. In the time it takes to get from San Antonio to Dallas, I could drive from Virginia to New York, passing through Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey. And there isn’t anything to see along the way. Just vast, endless space.
When asked my favorite thing about San Antonio, my reply is Austin. An hour north on I-35 lies what was a hidden gem of a city. When I first moved here, I was vaguely aware of the existence of a place called Austin, and that there was probably more to it than a state capital. That is a gross understatement. The city is bursting at the seams with life today. 6th Street has to be seen to be believed. It’s like a Hunter Thompson story come to life. Just block after block of bars, filled with drunken mayhem.
One year I went to the Austin City Limits music festival, pushing through the crowd–and crushing some poor girl’s purse–to get a view of Arcade Fire. I drove to Austin for weeknight concerts, often getting home after 2 am, still waking for work the next day at 6 am. There were hockey tournaments with fantastic stories, including the origin story of our adult team logo (which is decidedly NSFW). I took and passed my PE exam in Austin, then celebrated by waiting in line for six hours just to get a taste of Franklin Barbecue (absolutely worth it, would never do it again).
After four years, I was ready to leave San Antonio. But I didn’t. I grew comfortable. Some might say stagnant. And the city began to change. Some inspired developers began reimagining the old, run down parts near downtown. Architects took a concrete eyesore and turned it into a hip apartment complex with a 4th floor pool overlooking the city skyline. The Pearl Brewery came back to life as a trendy district filled with shops, restaurants, and nightlife. As Austin grew more expensive and overcrowded, San Antonio seemed to adopt a more progressive outlook. Example: San Antonio has Uber and Lyft. Austin currently does not.
Coming from Washington, it’s odd to be in a place that only has one major league sports team (even weirder, that team actually wins). Yes, there are Cowboys fans everywhere (yuck), but the city doesn’t rally around them quite like the Spurs. Being here for the 2014 NBA championship was an unforgettable experience. I moved into the aforementioned concrete eyesore the year before. The night the Spurs won the title, I was treated to a line of cars backed up so far down Broadway that I couldn’t reach the entrance to my parking garage. It took me ten minutes to go the last twenty feet, but it wasn’t like I could honk my horn or shout at anyone. Everyone was honking their horns and shouting. They would have assumed I was celebrating too.
Time passed, and the city’s quirks that I found frustrating became increasingly charming. The Riverwalk is still a tourist trap, but outside of downtown it becomes a cool path lined with plants and trees, and offers some relief from the Texas sun. Old neighborhoods means the chance to see houses and architecture from another era. I’m not a hunter, but the best pulled pork I ever had was homemade, from a hog that had been shot that morning. There are more high-end restaurants; my favorites remain either the countless barbecue places, or the hole-in-the-wall taco shops. Some things I will never understand–I moved 1,600 miles to get here, so it still confuses me when someone says they would rather stay close to home.
After eight years, it’s time for me to move on. I’m only 30, but it feels like I’ve spent a lifetime in San Antonio. I think it’s because this was a city of so many firsts for me. The first time I was truly out on my own. My first job. My first apartment. Friendships, heartbreaks, successes, failures–I felt the good and the bad of life in San Antonio. Thank you to all the people who made it so special for me. I hope I don’t need to call you out by name.
I look forward to seeing San Antonio in the future. To not recognizing the old neighborhoods. To beginning sentences with, “I remember when…” I prefer not to look back, but I can’t stop the nostalgia right now. There is only one conclusion: I’m going to miss this town.