Fresh Meat: Being New In Town

Despite traveling to many foreign countries alone, I had never moved somewhere without a social network in place. In Baltimore and Chicago and and New York and Prague and Bangkok, I was either part of an athletic or school program, and/or college or childhood friends lived there.

But, when I landed in Austin, I only knew of one girl (whom I saw like 5 times in the 3 years I lived there). I was a lost stranger in a brand new city I had never visited. My decision to move to Texas hinged completely on the promise of stifling heat and a city of bikers–only one promise turned out to be true.

Via Craigslist, I connected with my future landlord and roommate John and signed a 5-month lease (site unseen, except on FaceTime) to rent the backyard house, what John named the casita. The casita, located in the heart of Hyde Park, was a rectangular box that included a tiled shower/bathroom. No kitchen, no furniture–completely empty. The previous tenant left the floors and windows filthy, so my mom (who helped me fly my cat Koh from Chicago) spent an entire day with me, cleaning the place. Which only did so much, since 3 chickens roamed the backyard freely, shitting on every possible blade of dead grass and speck of dirt while simultaneously taunting my already-traumatized cat.

To my mom’s dismay, I furnished the casita with a blow-up bed topped with the mattress foam topper I stuffed into my red PT Cruiser from Chicago. (An acquaintance drove my car, stuffed to the brim with everything I didn’t toss, sell or give away.) Via Craigslist, a man delivered a dresser, and I called it a day. I didn’t need much, again, to my mom’s dismay.

Twenty feet from the casita door, the back porch led into the main house where I shared the kitchen with John and our other male roommate, both in their late 20s, both UT PhD students. The kitchen was filthy. And not just Sabrina-OCD filthy. I mean filthy. But my roommates were nice, in particular John who’d invite me to his swing dance classes and out with friends (though I rarely joined).

But I was lonely. People rarely talk about being lonely, but I’m not one of those people. I was FUCKING LONELY. I missed my friends in Chicago, in particular my best girlfriend there, and my best childhood friends and parents in Michigan. I also missed my normal Chicago routine: yoga and the Shoyu tofu at Whole Foods and skating Lake Shore Drive and sand volleyball at North Avenue Beach.

Slowly, I was making friends and acquaintances–some through the after-school program at which I worked in the afternoons, others at the coffeeshop a block away where I’d edit for clients and meet students to tutor. I was thankful for the immediate friendship I found in my girlfriend Stacy, 3 years my junior, who happened to be my boss at the after-school program.

Still, despite going to sleep most nights at 9 p.m., grinding hard to make my editing thing work since the after-school program basically robbed my bank account, I was enjoying the challenge of creating a new life in a new city.

But creating a new community from scratch is challenging. And that’s part of what I enjoy.

Women can often be standoffish, men always assume you’re hitting on them. (I’ll be honest, sometimes I am, other times I’m truly just being friendly.) At times I wish I drank, because it’d be a lot less awkward to sit at the bar, sipping a beer, striking up conversation with another local. “Can I get a water?” sounds pretty lame even to my non-drinking ass.

But, in December 2015, exactly 3 years after arriving in Austin, having tried to ignore the pull for a year, I made the conscious decision it was time for a new challenge. The unknown pushes you beyond your comfort level. I booked a one-way flight to San Diego and started all over again.

The way I explore a new town is quite predictable. Despite the new surroundings and new people, no matter the location, I’ll still fine the popular, hottest yoga studios. I’ll still find the grocery store that has bulk foods and fresh produce. I’ll still find the coffeeshop that is busy but not too loud and welcomes my dog. I’ll still bike around and explore, because nothing teaches you about a city better than biking its streets.

There’s a transition period, a period of loneliness, a moment or two of whoopsie-daisy-I-shouldn’t-have-hooked-up-with-that-guy, a moment of I-shouldn’t-have-moved-here, a moment of no-one-I’m-meeting-is-as-great-as-my-closest-friends.

And then suddenly, out of nowhere, it feels like home.

***

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