This has been a long time coming.
When I got hired and learned that I’d be heading to Amarillo for my first project, I knew that moving to Texas- even temporarily- would be a big shift. It’s not easy to get back and forth between Amarillo and Milwaukee. It’s at least two expensive flights, with limited departure and arrival times to choose from. It was clear that, except for a few well-selected trips, I’d be settling into Texas for a little while.
I’ve already written about how it was different adjusting to life after college. There weren’t many people my age around. I mostly just saw the people I worked with. I lived in a hotel room- which had a kitchen, but eventually I got lazy and stopped working on how to cook interesting things for one person. When I finished work for the week, I tried to disconnect and just veg out.
So, maybe life wasn’t as interesting or exciting as I thought it was going to be. But I still learned a few things along the way- about Texans, about traveling, and about being by myself.
Texans are incredibly friendly and hospitable. I would argue that at least in the Panhandle, they rank with Upper Midwesterners in politeness, smiles, and courtesy. Strangers say hello to each other, which is always my benchmark for openness and hospitality. I had lots of offers from coworkers at the client and volunteers who invited me to eat with them, go to Mass with them, spend time at their homes, and so on. They do a lot to make you feel welcome!
Texans also have a powerful sense of identity and independence. There’s a reason they say Don’t Mess with Texas, and I can totally see how this state was once its own country. Amarillo is real Texas. Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio are big, American metropolises. Austin is a funky liberal hippie enclave. Amarillo is cattle ranches, and farms, and oil fields. These Texans love a good steak…or a chicken-fried steak…or a Tex-Mex plate of enchiladas with beans and rice. Forget the traffic and the hustle and bustle of the other cities. This is the heart of Big Sky Texas, the Yellow Rose of Texas. And they don’t want anybody changing that.
About traveling and living on the road:
When you don’t have the luxury of an apartment to make your own space, do whatever else you can to make your living arrangements your own. In a hotel room, maybe that means buying a cheap vase and filling it with flowers every week. Maybe you bring or buy one of your own blankets. There’s nothing wrong with getting some kind of air freshener to make the room smell less like a hotel and more like a real home. Candles would be ideal…but I’m pretty sure that would set off the smoke alarms, so I never tried it.
Get into a routine, and make sure that routine includes ways to work your body and your mind outside of your job. I started exercising almost every day, either in the fitness room, or by walking in a nearby park or the neighboring bike path. I also recently began studying Portuguese with Duolingo. Find ways to unwind that don’t just involve sitting in the room watching TV.
About being by yourself:
All of that said, maybe you’ve spent so much time around people that all you really want to do is watch TV and read and veg out. I get that. I did plenty of that. The most important thing is to do what you need to do to be happy. If that means you’re going to travel every other weekend, and you can afford it, go do it! If that means you go see a new movie each week, or try a new restaurant, there you go! If that means you just need to be by yourself, or you need to be around a whole bunch of people to recharge, then there’s your ticket.
You have to learn how to listen to yourself and be content with making your own decisions just for you, not based on what other people think you should be doing. Your experiences are entirely your own. Ultimately, only you can decide what you want to get out of your travels and your time in a place that is not your home. Do you want to make it your home? Is it just where you are during the week, but you jet out on the weekend? Or is it something in between, a way station of sorts?
This was a great way for me to start this job. I worked on a team, so I was never really completely alone. But, I wasn’t close to home, so there were some things that I just had to learn by myself. I had to learn just how to be by myself, for long periods of time. There is a lot of value in that. Especially in a world where we have put such a premium on constant connectedness, it’s becoming more and more rare that we have to be by ourselves and fill our time on our own. In that sense, I was very glad for this experience.
That said, I’m in Chicago and already loving it. If Texas taught me anything besides the lessons above, it’s that I am a city girl through and through. I felt instantly reenergized just by walking down the street and being surrounded by all the people and buildings and lights. This is my kind of environment- everything within reach, within walking distance, within a train ride.
On top of that, I’m much closer to home- heck, I could commute here for a short time if I had to. I’m also close to various friends living in and around the Windy City. Almost everything I felt like I was missing before, I think I’m getting it back again.
I have an apartment. I have a gas stove and a granite island and ample cabinet space for all kinds of baking goodies. I have an incredible balcony which is going to provide endless sparkly pictures. And I’m surrounded by a giant city, a city of fantastically diverse neighborhoods.
Let’s keep exploring, shall we?