So, you’ve decided to move to Texas and become a Texas transplant. Me too! That’s right: I’m not from Texas, but according to Lyle Lovett, Texas wants me anyway. And I hope so, because here I am. And, as it turns out, I love it here.
There are a lot of guides extolling the culture and virtues of this city, so I do not need to reiterate those here. A business-friendly city and a military town, San Antonio has a lot of people coming and going. Many people move to, return to, or stay in San Antonio due to its family-friendly feel. There is culture, good dining, and an accessible cost of living. And people seem to be pretty content here—and contentment, apparently, makes for fairly pleasant communities.
I moved to Texas with my husband and six-month-old daughter almost three years ago. All things considered, it was a pretty soft landing. Like a lot of people who are not from Texas, I had some preconceived notions of what living here would be like. A few of my ideas were almost accurate, but I had more than a few surprises. There is a very interesting blend going on in San Antonio these days: you might find a young hipster and an old cowboy in the same bar, and they will be wearing identical belt buckles. Neat.
However, there are a few things you should know about living here, things the guidebooks won’t bother to tell you. Here are a few items that you may or may not already know, and while you certainly would learn them eventually, consider this your head start just in case. [Please note: This is not advice, as I am not an expert on much of anything and therefore have no business distributing advice. Rather, these are observations made during my own settlement here in the Lone Star State that others might find useful. Or not.]
First and foremost, mosquitos. Not like regular mosquitos, Texas ones are ninja-esque. You usually don’t even notice they are there: no buzzing or tickles on your arm to give their presence away. But when you walk back inside, your arm has 14 red welts and suddenly you want to scratch your skin off like one of those aliens from V. To be fair, the mosquitos are only really bad during the spring, summer, fall, and winter. (Seriously! I squished a biter this past December in my bathroom! They don’t even take off for the winter holidays!). If you feel strongly about using non-chemical insect repellent on your children, you might want to check that at the city limits. Sorry, but the bugs around here drink that citronella stuff with their breakfast (their breakfast, of course, consisting of you!). I was au natural too, for a while. But the hours of sleep my kids lost due to itching slowly swayed me. Save your kids the scars—go ahead and use Off. Keep it on their clothing and shoes if you want to be a little extra careful. And if you’re sure to wash it all off before bed, they should be okay.
Other bugs. OK, I never considered myself to be all that squeamish, but the bug life here is ridiculous. Like, stand-on-a-chair-and-scream ridiculous. Scorpions, tarantulas, poisonous centipedes (!!!), flying cockroaches, and more are enough to keep you on your toes. Get yourself a good bug guy right away. Oh, and check your shoes before putting them on, just to be safe…
Get a zoo membership. It’s the only place in town that’s open 365 days a year. You will ALWAYS have a place to go. So many of my early interactions with other mothers in this town happened at the zoo. It’s nice to be able to go for an hour and then leave when the kids start to whine about wanting more popcorn or having to walk on their own two legs and you have had enough “getting out of the house” for one day.
Home team sports. Repeat after me: GO, SPURS, GO! The team colors are black and silver, and people wear their Spurs gear on game days regardless of whether they are going to the game. This town roots for their team through the good and the bad; no fair-weather fans here!
Freeways to know. I-35 goes to Austin and is your route to the closest Ikea; 410 is referred to as the inner loop and serves as demarcation of “the bubble”; 1604 is the outer loop, which goes to Sea World and La Cantera; 281 goes from downtown to Stone Oak, and north of 1604 the traffic on it is just as nasty as the traffic you thought you were leaving behind when you left wherever it was you were (but only at rush hour); I-10 will take you back to L.A. by way of Phoenix, and here in town it goes north-south-ish, even though it is an east-west freeway.
Other roads. Just a heads up here: don’t expect the roads in S.A. to follow any sort of grid or pattern. They don’t. A street map of the city will show you a jumble of winding roads that somehow cross back and forth over each other at multiple points. Someone once told me that many of the roads of San Antonio are old cow paths that were eventually paved over and widened and then widened some more. I have not yet been able to confirm or deny this, but it would explain a lot. It would make for a wonderful research project (for someone without young children hanging on them all day)!
San Antonio is the seventh most populous city in the U.S. With more than 1.3 million people living here, it is probably the biggest small town in the world. Why do I think it is a “small town,” you ask? Because, since we’ve moved here, my husband keeps running into (“I swear they were only”) friends from high school. And his graduating class was only around 60 people! Statistically, that’s pretty amazing, right?
Boots. Everyone has a pair of cowboy boots, and they can be worn anywhere, whether running a quick errand or out to a fancy dinner. They never go out of style or season around here, so go ahead and find a pair you like. It is a solid investment.
Breakfast tacos. These consist of scrambled eggs, with bacon or potato or chorizo or beans or whatever, folded into a tortilla, salsa on the side. My kids love them, but only if they are served in the tin foil in which they usually come. If I make them at home and serve them on (gasp!) plates, they are never well received. It might be some kind of law here to eat breakfast tacos on a regular basis, but I’ll have to look into that more.
Native wildlife. There are a ton of animals around the Alamo City, and herds of deer wander around pooping right where your kids will want to play. I think it is pretty cool to have so much wildlife around, and I like the idea of exposing the kids to nature, even in their own front yard. However, an unfortunate side effect of having so much nature clashing closely with urban and suburban life is that there is a shocking amount of roadkill. I have had to distract the kids with a cloud that looks like Olaf more than once to keep them from catching sight of a used-to-be-deer or squished armadillo. I find myself being super-duper cautious in areas where I regularly see deer, since I do not want to be the one responsible for my kids’ first “do animals go to heaven?” conversation.
There are two Phil Hardberger parks. I don’t know why, but I suspect it probably has to do with the placement of a cow path. If you have planned to meet for a play date at Hardberger Park, be sure to clarify which location: Phil Hardberger Park East (on 13202 Blanco Rd.) or Phil Hardberger Park West (at 8400 NW Military Hwy.).
San Antonio is located in the South, but still manages to have four (kinda five) distinct seasons:
Back-to-school: Also known as fall, this season is most prominently marked by the return to normalcy as kids of all ages go back to the classroom. Traffic becomes noticeably heavier.
Cold-and-flu/allergy: This winter-ish season has everyone wiping snot for one reason or another. And it is completely unavoidable, especially with children. The weather, though not prone to blizzards or anything, can be cold and wet and not ideal for letting the kids run it off outside. The alternatives are to stay cooped up at home (which does not last for more than a day at our house) or to venture out to indoor places where other petri dishes—er, I mean children—are also congregating.
Fiesta: This is a citywide celebration that lasts somewhere between two to six weeks on and around April 21st (I can never figure it out exactly). People hang flower wreaths on their front doors and talk a lot about going “down to the River” to partake in some kind of revelry, but then something always comes up and they aren’t able to get there this year. As I understand it, Fiesta translates to “being drunk in public,” but originated from a dramatic reenactment honoring the heroes of the Alamo and the battle of San Jacinto, a ceremony where small children pelted each other with flowers. This tradition has grown and now has activities, parades, and parties, all which have mandatory cascarones, which translates to “you’ll be finding eggshells and confetti in your hair until Christmas.”
Bluebonnet: This season overlaps with Fiesta to make up San Antonio’s spring. This is the time of year when wildflowers all over town bloom and everyone has to take pictures of their family rolling around in the grass. Don’t be surprised to see photoshoots taking place in the medians of 1604 and other busy roads.
Hot As Balls: Seriously. It gets hot. But don’t worry, it’s a dry heat. Wait, no—no, it’s not. Sorry, I meant hot and humid as hell. This season lasts from April through September (or October or November), and it is not unheard of for temperatures to remain in the high 90s all night long.
A word about the humidity: Um, it gets really humid. I suppose I could warn about the detriment to one’s hairstyle due to the humidity, but I haven’t done my hair in years, so that hasn’t been the biggest problem for me. My personal meteorological/culture shock presented itself through my laundry: specifically, towels. While living in arid Los Angeles, I never had to battle with that moldy towel smell. And now I feel like every time I take a “clean” towel out of the linen closet it goes right back into the dirty clothes pile due to stinkification. I highly recommend investing in “quick-dry” towels, hanging up anything slightly moist (do not be tempted to shove it into an enclosed hamper space!), and letting your washer air out between loads. That moldy smell can, and will, relocate onto everything!
An additional word about allergies: Allergies here are no joke. San Antonio was recently ranked #9 on a list of the worst cities to live in for allergy-sufferers. We’re in the top 10, ladies and gentlemen! People here call in sick to work for allergies. People become bedridden due to allergies. “Cedar fever” is like the flu, only you get it from tree pollen. Tree pollen. (Are you kidding me?!) The amount of pollen oozing off these trees is so dense it can, at times, look like billowing smoke. You might not think you have allergies, but just wait: when the particles of pollen outnumber the oxygen molecules in the air, you might find yourself calling in sick with “cedar fever” too. But that’s OK, everyone here will understand.
Visiting. People here “visit.” I don’t know where this tradition started, but people here like to talk to each other, often about things like weather, allergies, and zoo memberships. You can expect to take part in this activity while standing in line, walking past someone on the street, sitting at a restaurant, or really, anywhere there are people. This particular folkway is likely the culprit for why things move along at a slower pace around here, but it feels so darn nice to connect with other humans that you won’t mind at all. Don’t be surprised if a quick errand, like handing over some mis-delivered mail to your neighbor, turns into a 20-minute chat about lawn care. Plan accordingly.
Everything is closed on Sundays. OK, not everything. But that one errand you didn’t get to do on Saturday and desperately need to do before Monday? Yeah, that place is totally closed on Sunday. I think the practice originates in the Christian idea of resting on the seventh day, but no matter what your religious beliefs, embrace the idea! Spend time with your family, read a book, go to church if that is your thing, take the time to rest, and don’t be angry that others are resting on their Sunday too.
Trucks. A lot of people drive trucks here. Big ones. If you do not have a big truck, be aware that they are everywhere. I like to adhere to the Law of Mass Tonnage: if it is bigger than I am, it gets to go first.
The Alamo: There is no basement. But go ahead and keep asking. No one gets tired of that joke. Really.
Y’all. It is Texan for “you all,” and now that you live here you are free to use it in conversations, texts, and social media posts. No one can give you a hard time about it because hey, you live in Texas! And, to be sure you are using the word from a place of knowledge, please refer to the Wiktionary.com explanation below:
In the past, y’all was never used as a proper singular, but it may have been used where there is an implied plural, e.g. “you [and your team],” “you [and your coworkers],” “you [and your family].” Due to a cultural shift in the United States by non-Southerners using the word, it is sometimes used as a singular you.
Notwithstanding its etymology, the all in y’all is merely a plural marker, not a quantifier. Thus, just as us may refer either to some of us or all of us in standard English, y’all may refer either to some of y’all or to all [of] y’all.
Y’all got that? Good.
And that’s where I will leave it for now. This is not meant as a list of complaints—far from it. Rather, these are some of the peculiarities of the region I now call home, and I find them endearing. Now go out there and embrace your new home with all its mosquitos and humidity, and I assure you, it will hug you back. Welcome to San Antonio, y’all!
“You say you’re not from Texas
Man as if I couldn’t tell
You think you pull your boots on right
And wear your hat so well
So pardon me my laughter
‘Cause I sure do understand
Even Moses got excited
When he saw the Promised Land
That’s right you’re not from Texas
That’s right you’re not from Texas
That’s right you’re not from Texas
But Texas wants you anyway”