“I don’t think I believe you,” she says semi-playfully, although I have no doubt she is serious.
I’m on a first date at Benjy’s in the Village. It’s going extremely well. She wants to know how I ended up living in Houston. (A fair question.) I tell her. That’s her answer.
“Nope, I really don’t believe you,” she insists. “Nobody just moves to Houston for no reason.” But I did.
Three years ago I crammed most of my earthly possessions into my car, said goodbye to my tearful parents, put the frozen hills of New England in the rear view mirror (where they belong) and moved to Houston with no job, no apartment, and no real idea of what the hell was going on. You can do this when you’re 24 years old.
So why move to Houston, then? Well, I don’t really have a good answer to that question. I was young and impulsive. I do, however, know why I stayed:
The weather. I HATE to be cold. I distinctly recall one frosty April afternoon in Maine during college when I had to scrape the inside of my car windshield before heading down to a baseball game. I said to myself, “Jeremy, somewhere in this country right now there are people who are not doing this. You need to find those people, and then move to wherever it is that they are.”
I don’t care that it’s hot here in the summer. Understand this: Where I grew up in Massachusetts, it gets just as hot and humid in August as it does here, and it’s a swamp just like Houston is, but there’s no a/c anywhere. The port-o-johns in Houston are climate controlled, for God’s sake. Stop complaining.
Houston’s bizarre aversion to zoning. Other American cities aren’t like this. Houston is kind of like Amsterdam, where you’ll find a McDonald’s sandwiched between an all-night gay porno theater and Le Sex Shoppe. It’s like that song from Sesame Street: “One of These Things is Not Like the Others.” That’s Houston real estate in a nutshell. The no zoning thing is weird, but in a fun way.
The first time I came to Houston for a cousin’s wedding in summer 2006, my best friend, Jay (a Houston native and St. John’s graduate), took me to Lizzard’s Pub, a dive bar poorly disguised as a house surrounded by actual homes. Since it was an off night, Lizzard’s was relatively free of the fratbag crowd that makes it nearly impossible to get efficiently drunk there on a Friday night. Three and a half years later, it remains one of my guilty pleasures.
An almost complete lack of public transportation. Houston is known nationally for being a “driving city,” as though that were a bad thing. I’ve spent enough time riding New York City subways and Boston’s T to know that sharing close quarters with a bunch of grizzled strangers in urine-soaked subway cars is not the most comfortable way to get from point A to point B. It’s not that I’m opposed to public transportation in theory (Europeans seem to like it), I’m just happy that Houston’s public transportation system is so lousy that nobody can justifiably guilt me into using it. Besides, my hybrid gets kickass gas mileage thanks to Houston’s super flatness.
Eight months of women in sundresses. Why did I go to school in Maine, again? When you’re a post-pubescent, hormone-addled coed, puffy coats are not your friend.
The word “y’all.” I love the word “y’all.” It’s a whole new contraction that allows me to talk even faster, much to the chagrin—mind you—of many a Houstonian who must already think I’m nursing a serious cocaine addiction. Not only that, but my whiney New England accent remains intact, so my frequent use of the regional colloquialism comes across as particularly misplaced. Admittedly, it’s a word I used to make fun of, as up until recently my entire perception of The South was shaped by Dukes of Hazzard reruns.
Aside from its southern origins, nobody is quite sure how the word came to exist in the Southern vernacular. The most obvious candidate is a contraction of “you all.” Other possibilities include an evolution of the Scotch-Irish term “ye aw” (they did settle the South, after all) or a variation of the Irish second person plural pronoun “yous,” a word still used back east by Boston Mayor Tom “Mumbles” Menino. Although hizzoner pronounces it “yase.”
Western heeled cowboy boots. Because you can always be taller.
“So would you ever think about moving back home?” she asks near the end of our date.
“I am home,” I reply without hesitating. Even I’m surprised by the quickness of my response.