We were living in one of my favorite cities, Washington, D.C., when my wife, Lindsey, suggested we should move to her parents’ farm in North Dakota.
I was not a fan.
As an almost 30 year-old, crashing with the in-laws didn’t seem very desirable to me, despite their being great. The main reason why that thought stung, however, was that leaving now would feel like admitting to the failure of our not-too-well-thought-out plan.
Lindsey had recently finished a fellowship with the National Academies of Science and I had left my job at Puma in Germany to be with her in the U.S. and start something new. But things weren’t falling into place and the imminent sequester, lurking through the streets of the capital like a poisonous fog, played its part.
We had just returned from looking at several soulless 500 sq. ft. studios priced at $1,500 a month or more, and were sitting in our little bedroom when I realized that she was right. We were chasing something we wouldn’t catch. So we bought an old Jeep that held our few belongings and drove 1,400 miles west.
I’ve always felt an inner restlessness as far back as I can remember. An unfounded urge to not get too comfortable, constantly keep watch for a way out, a chance to move on. And that, for me, literally meant moving – not climbing corporate ladders. After finishing high school in Germany, I lived in New Hampshire for a year, volunteering in a home for people suffering from epilepsy and autism. Then I went to university in Aachen, Germany, thereafter got into a graduate program in journalism, which required my relocating to a new city every two to three months, before I took jobs in Hamburg and Nuremberg that allowed (or forced) me to travel extensively.
Perhaps it’s in my genes, with a mother that left her family when she was 16 (she moved across the country to Berlin and job-hopped for a while), and a father that hitchhiked from Germany to Norway when he was 17 (he spent the summer picking strawberries). Both of them returned eventually, found each other, moved to France, came back, had two kids, lost each other, but nonetheless stayed in the small town neither of them was in love with. I guess, by migrating to places well over 5,000 miles away from home, my brother (who lives in China) and I took our parents’ roaming around a step further.
Arriving in North Dakota with our tails between our legs, Lindsey and I came up with a list of five cities that we’d focus our job hunt on. Our set of parameters was half analytical, half arbitrary, taking aspects like unemployment, crime rate, size, cost of living, and subjective gut feeling about these cities – most of which we’d never been to – into account.
After a couple of months of going between applying across the nation, and helping on the farm, where I proved to be not so much of a help after all, we had parallel job offers from two cities that were on our list: Raleigh and San Antonio. Luckily, we went with the latter.
From the day we arrived here in late July, this city has been generously good to us. I remember walking down South Alamo Street on our first First Friday, not really knowing what to expect and then pretty much being blown away by the vibrant energy and the genuine, good vibe that was going on.
As we continued exploring our new environment, the chilled places like The Luxury or The Cove reminded us of Lindsey’s neighborhood in East Berlin, the more stylish cocktail joints (e.g. Bar 1919 or The Brooklynite) of Hamburg, and the quirky spots in transitioning areas, the adorable little Overtime Theater for instance, made us think of Washington’s H Street Corridor, where hipsters offset the homeless.
Compared to the LAs, DCs, Portlands, and the New York Cities, it may take a little more effort in San Antonio to find the things that get your blood pumping. But that also has a very practical facet: creative new additions to the cityscape, for example a neat little apricot liquor distillery on South Flores, get the attention they deserve.
[Read more: “More Than Moonshine: Southtown Gets Its First Distillery“]
Within no time my wife and I have come to learn that people here are warm, sincere and uncontrived; San Antonio is not trying to be exclusive or elitist, which I find immensely appealing. I have yet to encounter any of that “Who do you know? Where do you work? How much money do you make?” type of idiocy that is so prevalent in D.C. and I wouldn’t mind if I never did again.
On the downside, I feel like San Antonio’s serenity might have been its own worst enemy over the past decades, the at times self-deprecating down-to-earthness obstructing the much needed progress. But now, it appears, things are moving in the right direction; lawmakers, business people, and civilians seem to be abuzz to tackle the problems and help shape a better city. With change being ever-present, the people of San Antonio become a part of its own renaissance by default. How exciting!
For the first few months in Texas, whenever someone asked me what I missed about Germany or Europe, I had no immediate answer other than “friends and family”, maybe “real bread.” Now that my naïve crush on San Antonio has made way for a more sober, albeit deep affection, I am capable of seeing the things I miss. San Antonio is 40 percent bigger than Hamburg in terms of surface area, but has 430,000 inhabitants less. Germany is about half the size of Texas, but has three times its population. I don’t miss Europe’s at times Manhattan-esque density, but I do miss the decent public transportation, the carless pedestrian zones, and the overall walkability that come with it.
Since we moved here without knowing our way around, we rented a Northwest apartment, which is neither too bad of a drive away from the Medical Center, where my wife works, nor from Downtown, where I work. But the only places within walking distance are storage units, body shops, fast food restaurants, and a Walgreen.
We’d certainly prefer the vicinity of downtown, Southtown, or the Pearl Brewery. Our plan is to move into one of those fringe areas, which have the urban perks that are important to us, without being gentrified enough to be overpriced. We’ll see if that plan turns out to be better thought-out than our D.C. adventure. It definitely feels right.
And those nomad genes, whose existence Lindsey (she’s a genetic counselor at the UT Health Science Center) finds highly doubtful – well, they’ve been rather inconspicuous here in San Antonio. Supposedly, after growing up in a region with a yearly median temperature of 47 Fahrenheit, any day above 80 degrees releases happiness hormones underneath my pale, vampiric skin. And why long for greener pastures, if the brain is programmed on vacation mode most of the time? I would also assume that my readiness to strike roots is at least somewhat related to that better half of mine, the one person that I can’t seem to ever get tired of.
But it’s also about this city. Exploring its so diverse neighborhoods, discovering new venues, and getting to know the locals and their culture better and better gives me great satisfaction. And the prospect of experiencing SA2020, UTSA’s Tier One Campaign, and the proclaimed “Decade of Downtown” firsthand makes me want to set up camp right in the middle of it all, sit back and watch it unfold. I’ll still always be looking forward to the next getaway, but isn’t traveling the most rewarding when you have a home base that you look forward to come home to?
Jean Luc Mette works as a Communications Coordinator for The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). Before moving to the United States, he lived in Germany, where he worked as a newspaper journalist and PR professional.