I’ve been getting “the look” recently. I say I’m happy to be back in Austin. The other person nods, then stares at me intently. “Are you really happy to be back?” he or she will say. “Really?”
Yeah, really. Sure, I may look overwhelmed and ragged from all the unpacking, the settling in, the glitches. But I feel comfortable and right to be back here, like I’m where I belong.
Much of it has to do with Texas. I’m not one of those Austinites who write off the rest of the state as knuckle-dragging cavepeople. I’m a Texan, whether I like it or not (and, God knows, I have big problems with its politics, but remain forever, ridiculously optimistic).
I grew up in West Texas, with its broad, empty plains and extravagant skies, and that marked me forever, even if you couldn’t pay me enough money to live there again. I’ve lived in Dallas, where I was happy, and I don’t give a damn about the criticisms of Dallas (too glitzy, too materialistic, basically heartless). And yes, I have seen Dallas from a DC9 at night. I still like it, our son was born there, and some of my best friends are there. (Also — no lie — the shopping is peerless. Never underestimate the therapeutic benefit of occasional shopping.) As my husband always noted, Dallas was straightforward and unpretentious about its greed; lack of pretension goes a long way with both of us.
But Austin is something else. Like so many Texans, I fell in love with it when I was young and it’s tattooed on my soul. I fell especially hard, since — again — I was from West Texas, and the sight of trees and hills and lakes was magical. I could have sworn I’d stumbled into the Garden of Eden. I loved the humidity, the funkiness, the university, the state capitol, the liberalism, the music, the nightlife.
You can always tell someone who fell in love with Austin at such an early age, since we’re all wildly sentimental and profoundly inarticulate about it. We just get misty-eyed and blubbery about Austin, knowing that the other person either shares the feeling and understands — or doesn’t, so why waste your time?
I loved Austin in the 1970s, when it was allegedly at its peak, and I love it now, when it’s gotten bigger and more bustling. Nostalgia is a nice thing and all that — but I really prefer a larger city where you can get a good cup of coffee and an entree beyond enchiladas and barbecue.
I can’t really explain it better than this, except to say this place has its own quirky, insidious charm. When I talked to the woman from Israel who rented our house for her family, she told me they’d come here never expecting to like it much. But somehow, they’d fallen in love with it.
I’ve heard sentiments like this countless times over the years; this is a city you care passionately about. And yeah, we had one of the best years of our lives kicking up our heels in New York — but I mean it when I say I’m glad to be home.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about ghosts at the cafeteria
You are right, Ruth. There’s just something different about Austin that is hard to quantify. It’s kind of an oasis of liberalism dropped into a sea of abject conservatism.
At a writer’s conference cocktail party a couple of years ago, a frazzled literary agent from New York confided to me that she was absolutely terrified to come to Texas. She was sure that she was so liberal that she would immediately be run out of town and/or arrested. I patted her hand and told her not to worry. This was Austin and she would be embraced no matter how nuts she was!
You sound very devoted to where you live. It must be great to be home again.
Home is home, sometimes there’s no way of explaining why a place feels like the kind of locale you wanna curl up in and call your own.
Good for you for knowing where you feel like you belong and not apologizing for it. Really.
I hear you , Ruth. and I miss Austin. it is — and was — really one of a kind
Loved the term “extravagant skies.” My college roommate was from Texas City, and often spoke of her home in similar terms, so I get it.
Now that you’re back, Austin is an even better place to be.
This makes me want to visit Austin. I’ve never been. Hopefully someday. It’s great to read about how you basically seamlessly move between two places you call home.
You sure sound to be happy to be home to me. And it sounds like a wonderful place to be.
Would I rather live in NYC or Austin long term? Austin, hands down. Why shouldn’t you be happy to be back?!
I have friends who live in Austin, and I’m pretty sure it’s pretty peaking good these days too.
Ruth, you make me want to see Austin. And Dallas, for that matter.
What a good thing it is to like where you are and not be hankering to be somewhere else. You enjoyed New York, and are happy to be back in Austin. That’s great.
I’ve always heard that Austin is a wonderful place, both to live and visit. I’ve never been there but you’ve got Texas in your blood, girlfriend. I’m not surprised you’re glad to be back. Plus, NYC is a good thing. But too much of a good thing can get old quick…
I sure do understand the connection at the gut, heart and soul level with a place. I’ve said this before…when you write about Texas it makes me kinda wish I was from there, too. I think what I’m feeling is the “reverberation” from your authentic love of your Home.
Of course you are happy to be back. Some places are homes. Others are just places that we live. This is your home. Glad you are settling in.
I haven’t spent much time in Austin,But now I’m thinking I should.
Whenever I despair about Texas, I think of Austin, and whenever I think of Austin, I thank God for Ruth Pennebaker.
I’m sure that Austin missed you, too. New York always seemed to me to be a place to stay for a few months. My husband and I did a road trip through hill country last year, but since we were avoiding freeways and cities, we didn’t stop in Austin. Sounds like we need to return.
I’m so glad for you that you are truly happy to be home. One of the dangers of long-term travel, as I have discovered, is that it gets it your soul and changes you forever. Gues you are just a good, old Texas girl, born and bred. (I should be careful how I use the term old, hmm? But then again, I did call you a girl). 🙂
I share the feeling.
I’ve driven through Texas twice. The first time I stayed in Big Bend National Park. What a beautiful park! It is definately a trek, but worth it. The second time I stayed in Austin and fell in love with the city. As a very liberal New Englander, I had always thought myself to be open minded. Ironically, I vowed never to step foot in the lone star sate. I am glad I did because there is so much beauty.