Dallas and Houston (and to some extent, Austin) walk around with noses in the air, either sincerely believing that they are all that and a bag of chips, or wanting everyone else to think that…or probably both.
But pride indeed goeth before the fall, verdad? Truth is, these cities aren’t so great. Plagued by aggressive drivers, frustrating traffic congestion, horrible water treatment, choking smelly air, and alpha-male temporal lobe-dominant attitude, it’s getting to the point where you couldn’t pay me to live there. At least, not anymore.
Enter San Antonio. San Antonio edged itself into my life by way of a combination of intuition, logical natural progression, the egging on from other people, and some basic research. San Antonio is cool for all the reasons the wrong people say it’s uncool. I’ve encountered several people who, well-meaning as they may have been, have expressed a disgusted surprise when we answered their post-grad questions with “San Antonio”. They genuinely wonder why we would want to go there. How badly I wanted to answer, “because people like you say things like that”.
You see, I want to go exist in peace, where the alpha-types couldn’t stand to be, because that means they won’t be there.
In all actuality, San Antonio, with its un-flashy humble pride (an oxymoron that only San Antonio can pull off successfully), quietly kicks the ass of any other US city, especially those cities that think they’re all that, like Dallas, Houston, Chicago, LA, and practically any other city on either coast, especially the west coast. Sorry, that’s just the way it is. My physical body returned from San Antonio just today, although I swear my brain is still down there, somewhere on Blanco. Said notes are shared henceforth…
The People. You’ve gotta be a real special snowflake asshole to not like the people here. They’re friendly and commonsense, with an uncanny ability to walk a delicate line between proud/loyal and respectful/humble. They’re friendly, with a long fuse and a tendency to give you a break or at least the benefit of the doubt. They’ll let you in on the freeway, even when it’s obvious you don’t know where you’re going. They don’t sit on your ass, kissing your back bumper. They don’t keep a trigger finger on the horn, waiting for you to make the slightest mistake. They actually use their turn signals and they give you plenty of room after they’ve passed you before they try to merge back in your lane again. The servers at the restaurants smile, help you out with the menu, and don’t try to practically push you out of the table by bringing your bill before you’re completely finished with dinner.
Even Black-freakin’ Friday at the golldang mall was surprisingly benign, polite, and non-electric. No need to go in with boxing gloves on, ready to swing. It was a delightfully painless experience. And no, I didn’t need a traffic report on the radio to warn me about how full the mall parking lot was; there was plenty of parking.
The Culture. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) it’s not for everyone. That’s not saying anything bad about SA, that’s saying something bad about the rest of the people everywhere else. The culture is a laid-back amalgam of a vast array of ethnic backgrounds, all seemingly dwelling together in amicable coexistence, without so much as a skirmish. Mexican, German, Asian (especially Vietnamese), and Native American are all represented.
What’s especially cool is, these cultures weave together, remaining strong and pure, without compromising themselves. They don’t tiptoe around some timid political correctness, they just are what they are and they’re not hiding, afraid to be and express what they are. Despite this, comes the coolest part of all: there’s hardly any racism. No matter what you are or where you come from, as long as you don’t walk around like a pompous prick and make an ass of yourself, you’re welcome here and you can just be yourself.
There is also a more thorough integration of classes in SA. When driving through a particular part of town, you can’t write off a whole neighborhood by having seen only one street, you have to consider each building or house individually, evaluating the area on a house-by-house (or building-by-building) basis.
The part that is not for everyone is that it is very laid-back, and very simple-minded (which I mean as a compliment!) small town, with simple priorities and philosophies. There’s not much nightlife. Aside from the Alamo, the Riverwalk, and a handful of other tourist attractions scattered around downtown, there aren’t that many highlights (although the attractions we have simply just plain rock). It’s a small town, with every quality that a small town has–it’s just that it’s a small town dozens of times over, a bunch of small towns laid end-to-end so that together, they form a large spread out area. But it’s not a fast-moving, flashy, happening, A-list type of place with hip, trendy digs at every turn. You don’t have to be on the guest list, because all there are are some neighborhood hangouts.
Some people want more action than this. Some people want to play, to patronize dance clubs and arenas. Some want to meet hot singles and play. San Antonio is a calm family town full of people whose priorities are more mature.
Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty to do here, and a lot of it is low cost or free altogether. But it’s not the kind of town that values shallow status symbols. Put the I-want-to-impress-everyone-at-the-office-water-cooler conversation away, because it’ll get you limited mileage here.
The Scenery/Environment. Like the people and the culture, the physical surroundings rock. Many parts are full of hills and trees, and people from Dallas and Houston will experience a nice surprise: they can breathe here.
Because the brown layer that hovers over the horizon in Dallas (which sits in a bowl, and I haven’t heard anything better about Houston, either) is refreshingly absent in San Antonio. Maybe this’s why we can actually fill the truck up with real gas here–the pollution is low enough that the EPA hasn’t put the smackdown on the city/county to force less-than-real gas upon us. The scenic views can vary from excellent to non-existent in the hilly parts, and the terrain can be flat and treeless in certain parts of town. But for the most part, it’s twisty-windy streets, a tree canopy over the yards and roads, and relatively decent air.
The water is awesome, too. Why our north Dallas suburb water (which is supposed to be quite well-to-do) literally reeks the second you turn on the faucet, of both mold and chlorine at the same time, I will never know. It takes an act of something special to pull that off. San Antonio, though, tastes no worse what you’d expect city-treated water to taste like. And it doesn’t stink.
The Infrastructure. I spend an obscene amount of my life behind the wheel and as such, it’s important that I evaluate the infrastructure. One of my greatest stresses is traffic, and bad drivers top my list of pet peeves. It’s a blessing that SA has, for the most part, decent drivers who are generally waaaay more courteous than practically any other major city. This is more than I can say for Dallas. Thirty minutes in Dallas traffic is more stressful than 3 days of nonstop all-day driving in San Antonio or even a week of the same in Saskatoon, Canada.
As for SA? This city had a bright idea: let’s build infrastructure to actually match the traffic it’s going to hold. How’s that for an idea? Bonus points: SA’s freeways don’t even need an HOV lane, because traffic doesn’t back up quite that bad on quite that regular of a basis. And yeah, you heard me…freeways. There are no tollways–at least, not yet.
The Atmosphere. It’s interesting. Malls? There are a few of them, and they have a good mix of the national staple chain stores and those few-of-a-kind dives that the tourists don’t recognize. Parking is plentiful and most stores don’t try to nab you for every upsell (except maybe New York & Company, which was as annoying as a Disney DVD in which you have to get through 15 minutes of preceding ads before you actually get to the real movie), and for the most part, the kiosk salespeople behaved themselves.
Restaurants? There are plenty of them. They’re generally one-of-a-kind or close to it, and they often make their food from scratch and sell a decent portion for a reasonable (or even downright cheap) price. The ambiance is fine, and you can almost always carry on a normal conversation. One restaurant even has an celiac-friendly menu, complete with all the appropriate substitutions so that someone with Celiac Disease can eat out without worry, and enjoy it, without having to make all kinds of picky substitutions.
Other entertainment? Tons, and it’s affordable. There are a gazillion places to go bowling or mini golfing. There are dollar theaters, too, a couple of gyms (although no Massage Envys or other discount massage facilities, (yet) thankfully), and some decent neighborhood parks. Like I said, these are simple people (and I mean that strictly as a compliment, by the way). They are low-maintenance and don’t need to be constantly entertained throughout life.
Other miscellaneous ways that San Antonio whips Dallas’s ass:
* SA is actually trying to revitalize their more rundown areas.
* SA has the Spurs, and not the Mavericks or the Cowboys.
* Evangelists do not have nearly the stronghold on SA that they do in Dallas.
* SA is known for its thunderstorms…and not its tornadoes.
* SA generally displays “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers instead of Obama ’08 ones.
* Bexar County is infinitely more animal-friendly than Dallas county ever was.
* In SA, shopping is not a powersport.
* I did not have the “Green” movement shoved down my throat in SA like I do in Dallas.
* SA drivers favor common-sensible cars and trucks instead of BMW and Mercedes.
* In SA, you can watch the restaurant server make your guacamole fresh at your table. And, get this–it’s priced very reasonably!
* Even the Fox affiliate is less flashy and obnoxious in SA. Now that takes an act of God(dess)!