Thursday, May 8, 2014

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Texas has this funny place in America. Or maybe its me that feels funny about Texas. Its this over confident, grossly huge state that dotes on gun ownership, purchases of massive, fuel-guzzling vehicles, and sees American football as something next to godliness (but praise Jesus! this is God's country, brim full of Christians, Amen!). This kind of labeling on the package doesn't really pique my appetite, and I'm not one to shy away from new or varied tastes. In all honesty, I'd have been more quickly sold on the state had the original Texans not been escorted across the Rio Grande, if only for the culinary traditions....

But Texas is the current home of a best and beautiful friend of mine and it was due time to pay a visit.   Plus, the native Texans left something of a stamp on local culinary traditions and I was promised glimpses of sun and warmer weather (not too difficult to beat the soaring -30C temps Chicago was registering around the holidays...), live music, and drool-worthy BBQ .  And Lyle Lovett told me many years ago I'd always be welcome in the land of big oil, big trucks, and big bucks.

I hopped a flight two hours south of Chicago and landed in Austin, quickly finding myself elbow-deep in home smoked ribs and glass of local beer. Not bad. Annette's tallied four years in Austin, and much in the way I followed lingering dreams of small streets, cozy bars, and high-speed trains, she was lured south by sunshine and a strong local economy.  It was her turn to show me her local haunts and daily jaunts, and I was all too happy to ride shotgun. Lucky for us, another partner joined our rodeo, and four short days turned into a mini-reunion for a few best friends from college.

We spent more time in a car than I had in the last year combined, but the agenda was deep and, quite frankly, Texas is ridiculously enormous.  Texas, namely Austin, surprised me. I fell for that southern charm. People are polite. Life is affordable.  There are nooks and crannies to be uncovered in the city, but there are quiet corners tucked away, too. Life is diverse, both in terms of cultural makeup and the activities on hand to satisfy the masses. Even the geographical landscape was more varied than expected- a sort of gateway to Texas Hill Country, Austin is nestled along the Colorado River and a strand of land dot the countryside in the surrounding area. A guy- nee, a gentleman- bought me a drink for the first time in seven years (a whiskey, at that! good man!).  And of course, I will always be floored by any locale boasting a 3 meter-wide, wood-fired BBQ pit that serves up the most succulent turkey, sausages, beef ribs, and brisket known to man kind (<-- an="" are="" dreams="" exaggeration="" is="" made="" nbsp="" not="" of="" p="" sorry="" stuff="" the="" this="" vegetarians="">

Leaving your home (if you're lucky enough to have a place you know to be home) is difficult to explain to others. Each reason is unique and special and meaningful. And sometimes, its unfathomable for anyone else to understand the rationale behind the decision. And that's okay. I never expect my decision to stay in Belgium- gray, rainy, cold Belgium- to sound logical, and frankly, moving here and staying here just kind of happened. I try to spin see Brussels' bureaucratic nightmares as lessons in patience, diligence, and communication, for example, but in the end, I've made a life for myself here and I want visitors- especially best friends and family members- to see a city for what its taught me, how its enriched my life, and (hopefully) helped me settle into this funny little thing called adulthood. Annette could call Austin or Atlanta or Albuquerque or Azerbaijan home, it wouldn't matter. She's made a home for herself, built a life, and that's hard work. Seeing that first hand was worth its weight in gold- I couldn't be more proud or impressed by all she's accomplished. And that makes any place more special, Chuck Norris connotations or not.