Tag Archives: Texas

Goodbye, Texas. Hello, Chicago!

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.

My first glimpse of the Panhandle.

My first glimpse of the Panhandle.

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.

I drove this beautiful white Ford F-150 for four glorious weeks. I still miss it.

I drove this beautiful white Ford F-150 for four glorious weeks. I still miss it.

About Texans:

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.

This is what I mean by Big Sky.

This is what I mean by Big Sky.

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.

These flowers lasted the longest of any I bought.

These flowers lasted the longest of any I bought.

This looks like a crisp fall day, but it was actually 85 when I took this.

This looks like a crisp fall day, but it was actually 85 when I took this.

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.

But there's nothing wrong with a donut and a good book, either.

But there’s nothing wrong with a donut and a good book, either.

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.

Wild sky on one of my last nights in Texas.

Wild sky on one of my last nights in Texas.

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?

With love,

Gaby

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Cattle and Wind and Sky, Oh My

During my job search, I was focusing on just a few specific regions. I was primarily looking at Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC. Any other Eastern city- like Boston or Philadelphia- were also options. I was open to staying in Milwaukee for the right opportunity, and I knew that I could be happy in other Midwestern cities, like Minneapolis-St. Paul, Cleveland, and St. Louis. Miami ended up on the list, not because I love the idea of Miami (I don’t), but because it’s a major gateway city to Latin America, and therefore it had to be considered. 

I did not want to go to the West Coast. I did not look at jobs in California or Seattle. I also avoided the South. In the back of my mind, I knew I should be taking Texas a little more seriously, but my family had had various chances to relocate to Texas while I was growing up. We never did. I figured that was for a reason.

And now here I am, in Amarillo, the heart of the Texas Panhandle.

Amarillo sunsets are legendary. This isn't the best shot, but it's a start.

Amarillo sunsets are legendary. This isn’t the best shot, but it’s a start.

Texas happens to be in my office’s territory. Texas also has a lot of Spanish speakers- which is why I am here on this project and not somewhere else in the Central US. The way things are going…I could end up spending quite a bit of time in the Lone Star State.

Things I’ve observed so far:

People are friendly. SO friendly! In Wisconsin, I’m accustomed to greeting other runners/walkers/bikers/passersby with at least a smile and a nod, if not a full, “Hi! How are you?” We rival Minnesota in niceness. I had heard good things about Texans, but when I go to a new place, I typically don’t greet strangers. That’s something that would get me branded as crazy in Chicago or Boston or, God forbid, New York. 

Not here! I was sitting in a park yesterday reading, and everyone who passed by at least smiled. A couple people even said hello. One guy saw me twice and greeted me both times. The folks at the grocery store are exceptionally cheerful and chatty. It’s nice to be around nice people. I’m sure I’ll encounter a sour face now and again, but overall, it’s been much closer to my Wisconsin experience than I expected.

(Note: I’m not saying that people from the East Coast or other regions are not kind. You’re just not as open and warm with people you encounter on the street. That’s okay.)

I found green space! This park had plenty of grass and trees. It also looks into the Botanical Gardens.

I found green space! This park had plenty of grass and trees. It also looks into the Botanical Gardens.

Everyone and their mother has a pickup truck. That is a true stereotype. Sad news: they had to take my pickup truck away because someone else needed it. I now have another car. One advantage (well, besides fuel efficiency, which is no small thing) is that it is now much easier to find: a small maroon car stands out better than a white pickup truck. Except when it’s dwarfed in the sea of pickups and SUVs. 

The SKY. It is huge! Texas is indeed big sky country. None of my pictures really do it justice. One of these days I’ll take a good drive out towards one of the canyons and take some shots at a lookout point. It must be because of the flatness- there is almost nothing on the horizon. It is all sky.

An attempt to take pictures from the road.

An attempt to take pictures from the road.

The Texas Panhandle is one of the most important cattle and beef regions in the entire country. This means that it’s not unusual for the smell of cattle (aka, manure) to waft all over town. Amarillo doesn’t have any cattle ranches within the city limits, of course, but there are stockyards, where they auction and sell cattle. If the wind is right, well, you can smell the stockyards from just about anywhere.

I’ve also driven through Hereford a couple of times. Hereford is the self-proclaimed Beef Capital of the World. Who knows? It could be true. There was nothing but ranches and meatpacking plants for miles.

For real. They even have a sign.

For real. They even have a sign.

All of this beef of course means that I had my share of red meat during my first week or so. This is not a vegetarian or vegan-friendly town. If that’s you, go to Austin. Skip Amarillo.

This was my first real meal here. A green chile cheeseburger, with chili fries. So good. So impossible to eat all the time.

This was my first real meal here. A green chile cheeseburger, with chili fries. So good. So impossible to eat all the time.

When in Texas...

When in Texas…

The Panhandle is hot, but there’s usually a good breeze moving through. It’s so windy here that outside of town, wind turbines are going up all over the place. There’s oil in the Panhandle too, but it’s good to see an investment in renewable energy. Side note: a cotton dress with a full skirt is probably not what you want to wear while you’re pumping gas on a breezy day, you know?

This is beautiful country. It’s not quite as flat as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong- it’s FLAT, and there are no substantial bodies of water to speak of, but if you head east a little ways, all of a sudden it’s canyons and caprocks. The scenery isn’t half bad.

An attempt to capture Caprocks Canyon from the road. I'll try to get a better shot some other time.

An attempt to capture Caprocks Canyon from the road. I’ll try to get a better shot some other time.

So, what have we learned about the Panhandle so far?

People are friendly. Pickup trucks are for real. The scenery is actually gorgeous. Eat your steak. You’ll get used to the smell of cattle. 

Also, yes, people here actually do wear cowboy hats, as a real, functional, hat- not as part of a costume.

Have a beautiful week! Get out and see what’s special in your part of the world!

With love,

Gaby

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