From San Antonio to Seattle, There’s No Place Like Home

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Brian Rountree and Hugh Donagher visit their new casa in Seattle.

Brian Rountree and Hugh Donagher visit their new casa in Seattle.

When my husband Brian and I arrived in San Antonio on January 3rd of 2011, we stepped off the plane secure in the notion that whatever we encountered living in Texas, we would always have each other and we could weather anything together for a couple of years.

We had, of course, arrived in San Antonio with any number of preconceived notions about life in Texas — particularly as a gay couple — and with the Alamo and the River Walk as the primary defining elements of San Antonio.

As it turns out, our time in San Antonio has been very special. In 2013, while being interviewed for One Square Mile: Texas, Brian eloquently summarized our experience here when he said “San Antonio will surprise you if you just walk up the stairs from the River Walk and walk in any direction away from it.”

Click here to watch the One Square Mile: Texas episode about Southtown.

Leaving California and Silicon Valley was unexpected and happened very quickly as Brian was courted away from his job at Yahoo! to work for Rackspace building the next generation of cloud technologies. In a six-week period we went from interview, to offer, to acceptance, through a househunting trip, a household goods pack-and-move, and a holiday visit with family to arrive in San Antonio.

Click here for the story of how we landed in Southtown and what kept us there.

Imagine our surprise when life once again threw us a curve this year, taking us on a similar journey through an unexpected and quickly executed relocation. This time we landed in Seattle. Brian is now working on bringing cloud technology to the enterprise with Helion OpenStack at HP. (He is fond of saying that we’ve moved from the surface of the Sun to the lost city of Atlantis.)

Saying farewell to San Antonio – especially to Lavaca and Southtown – has been bittersweet, our excitement about the new adventure tempered by sadness about leaving our incredible tribe.

From our very first “Lavaca and Friends Happy Hour” at La Frite in January of 2011, we were drawn “all in” to the welcoming and vibrant Southtown scene. So much so that we feel a little guilty about not having explored the rest of San Antonio all that well; we didn’t often feel a need to leave the ‘hood, with so much going on there and the number of friends surrounding us.

Southtown Supper Club #7

Chefs Quealy Watson and Chris Cheatwood prepare a menu in our kitchen in Lavaca for the guests of Southtown Supper Club #7, which was filmed for One Square Mile: Texas. Photos courtesy of Brazos Film & Media.

We enjoyed watching and participating in the virtual explosion of the craft cocktail and foodie scenes in San Antonio, our arrival coinciding with the early stages of both. We met our very first friends in the city at the Bar at Bohanan’s, conveniently located close to the hotel where we spent our first few nights. It was their guidance that landed us in Southtown. A few months later, over drinks at Bohanan’s, we were advised to visit The Monterey for brunch. We did so the next day and our lives were forever altered.

The parade of new cocktail bars and restaurants that followed did draw us out of Southtown to support and enjoy the efforts of friends we had made as they found their wings and left the establishments where they got their starts, where we had met them. They are all doing amazing things in their new locations, and the supply of new and up-and-coming talent seems never-ending.

We were very lucky to be able to put together the Southtown Supper Club, which helped showcase so much talent in the San Antonio food scene. The 19 suppers we hosted are among our most treasured memories of San Antonio. The more than 100 alumni of those dinners represent an incredible cross-section of the city and include some of our closest friends and colleagues. We are excited that this venture will live on in our absence; it is a legacy we are proud of and we look forward to watching it evolve from afar. (It’s a good bet that we will show up for one sometime down the road.)

Fiesta San Antonio not only offered us the opportunity to party with our new-found friends, but served as a gateway to learning a lot of the city’s history. Fiesta Cornyation became our favorite event after we had the incredible opportunity to perform onstage as part of the Court of King Anchovy XLVII, Andrew Weissman. This year we enthusiastically supported our friends King Anchovy XLIX Steve Newman and the very first Queen Anchovy, Jody Newman. Three tables at the Tuesday night late show belong to us and the friends who have joined us at them made those nights truly memorable experiences. We may even return for Cornyation 2015.

One of Southtown’s great hallmarks is the willingness of its inhabitants to come together — often spontaneously — for any number of parties, events (both official and unofficial) and causes. Never more evident was this than when I threw out the idea of a New Year’s Day 5K in 2013. Over seventy people participated the first year, with a similar number showing up last year. Neighbors have picked up the torch and the 5K will continue this year. Join them if you can.

The list of friends and San Antonians who have profoundly affected us and changed the way we think about Texas is too long to begin naming. Y’all know who you are and I wouldn’t want to accidentally leave anyone out by trying.

Chico

Chico. Photo by Hugh Donagher.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that San Antonio gave us a wonderful gift to take with us: Chico, our Irish Setter mix, who has been a perfect addition to our family. He will be a daily reminder of our time in San Antonio. We will forever be grateful to his two mommies who made it possible for us to adopt him.

With such glowing memories of life in San Antonio, we turn to building our life and our tribe in Seattle with excitement and just a touch of apprehension. Will we be so lucky again?

It is still early days here – Brian’s been here since mid-October, I joined him in mid-November – but we are falling pretty hard and pretty fast for the Emerald City.

One benefit right off the bat: we now live in a state that recognizes our marriage. Seems like Texas will be joining that party in the not too distant future, but it’s nice to have unquestioned access to the protections of marriage today, not some day in the future.

Click here to read my Rivard Report essay “In Defense of All Marriages.”

We have been on a crazy ride since we arrived. HP has put us up in temporary housing downtown near the famed Pike Place Market; it’s a great place from which to explore downtown, but it’s a tiny high-rise apartment that is driving us a little stir crazy and bewildering Chico, who’s wondering where his backyard (and the sun!) went.

After a busy and challenging few weeks looking for a house in “the usual suspect” neighborhoods just north of downtown, principally Capitol Hill, First Hill, Queen Anne, Magnolia, and Ballard, we made an offer on a townhome in Magnolia. The day before Thanksgiving we learned that our offer had been bested. On Thanksgiving, new in town and with no plans and depressed that our offer had not been successful, we decided to grab a Zipcar and head over to West Seattle to drive by a few houses that had popped when widening our search parameters a bit.

We had been advised that West Seattle was isolated, like an island, because access to downtown is limited to one bridge, which gets clogged with rush hour traffic in the mornings and evenings. For that reason, some thought we should avoid it. In truth, however, it is a peninsula connected to downtown by the West Seattle Bridge over the Duwamish Waterway. It is served by the city’s public transit system, including the Rapid Ride line, which uses new hybrid buses in dedicated lanes to cut through traffic; even the bridge has a lane dedicated to the buses. Rapid Ride buses are clean and efficient, with free WiFi on board. A trip downtown takes about 20 minutes.

The third house we drove by on Thanksgiving Day was love at first sight. Not kidding. Brian wanted to make an offer on the spot. (As it turns out, it’s the house we will be closing on soon.) Since we couldn’t look inside until the next day, we turned our attention to learning about what was nearby. What we learned was that we’d been looking in all the wrong neighborhoods. For us, anyway. Sure, we’d seen houses we loved, but we hadn’t yet fallen in love with a place. This was about to change.

1921 Craftsman in West Seattle

1921 Craftsman in West Seattle. Photo by Hugh Donagher.

The 1921 Craftsman stands at the top of a hill on a residential street surrounded by lovely, well-maintained houses in a variety of architectural styles — Craftsman style being heavily represented. The residential nature of the area belies its location just three blocks from the junction of two major high streets: SW Alaska Street and California Avenue SW.

As we began to stroll down the hill, the business district known as the West Seattle Junction came into view. We realized that the house is just two blocks from not one, but two grocery stores — one of them open 24 hours. It is also three blocks from the closest Rapid Ride stop. (Brian’s office is three blocks from the closest stop on the other end; door-to-door his commute will take 30 minutes or less, even as rush-hour automobile traffic slows to a crawl on the bridge.)

Within the five block by six block district, you will find more than three dozen restaurants and a breathtaking diversity of retail shops and professional offices. As one of the residents put it: the only thing West Seattle doesn’t have is a hospital. For that you’d need to travel across the bridge to downtown, a few miles away. But doctors, dentists, veterinarians? Multiple options for each.

Toy store, bookstore, record store, wine shop, liquor store, bicycle shop, shoe store, post office, coffee houses, banks and ATMs? Check. Butcher? Two, both selling meat exclusively from Washington and Oregon. Farmer’s Market? Every Sunday, year-round. Drug store with pharmacy? Two.

There are even two hearing aid centers, and the Senior Center occupies a prime spot on the corner of California and Oregon. (They host an LGBT Senior group every Tuesday, so that bodes well for our future.)

The West Seattle branch of the Seattle Public Library is just a short walk away.

West Seattle & The Junction

West Seattle & The Junction

Every time we visit the neighborhood it gets better and better. This weekend we visited a kitchen supply store that rivals Sur La Table, but is independently owned and operated. Oh, yes, in most of these places we’ve visited we’ve met the owners or the family that operates the place.

If the Safeway and the QFC supermarkets down the street don’t have what we need, we can venture outside of the Junction to adjoining West Seattle neighborhoods: Metropolitan Market (a Central Market-like local chain store) is only two miles away; on the way there, you can also stop at PCC Natural Market (a Whole Foods-like local chain).

Costco, Home Depot, and all of downtown Seattle are just a ten-minute drive across the bridge. Besides having excellent public transit, Seattle is a city that has welcomed ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft with great success. The city is also well served by car sharing services like Zipcar and Car2Go. It is quite possible to live here without a car. In fact, we considered not bringing ours with us, but eventually decided to keep it. However, it will spend more time sitting in the car port than it ever did in San Antonio, and it will spend more time on weekend road trips out into the great Northwest than it ever does driving to the office.

When we first asked our Realtor what she thought about us looking in West Seattle, she told us that people who like West Seattle really love West Seattle. We seem to be joining that posse.

The West Seattle Junction is a model of what we wish for Southtown’s future. Blocks of residential streets dominated by single-family homes, situated just behind a vibrant business district featuring many locally owned establishments, served by efficient mult-modal transit systems that embrace and include new transportation models.

The key to all of this, of course, is density. Imagine Cesar Chavez, South Saint Mary’s, and South Presa lined with mixed use retail/commercial ground floor spaces with three to five floors of residential above. That kind of density drives the kind of services Southtown residents continually yearn for, and the lack of which keep many from buying in the area.

A Seattle Icon at Night

A Seattle icon at night. Photo by Hugh Donagher.

We will miss San Antonio, but we are excited about what life in Seattle has to offer. We look forward to visits from many San Antonio friends. We are so pleased to leave our Southtown house in the possession of a lovely young family who will be a great addition to the neighborhood. We had an agreement to sell the house to them before we even packed our belongings on the moving truck; such a robust housing market in Southtown is the result of so many great people living there; so many great things happening there; and so many exciting plans for future development.

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

*Featured/top image: Brian Rountree and Hugh Donagher visit their new casa in Seattle.

Related Stories:

Dear San Antonio: I’m Montana-Bound!

Why I’ll Always Want a San Antonio Christmas

Why I’m Stubborn About San Antonio

Stickin’ Around: Why I’m Staying in San Antonio

Left Behind: Why People Leave San Antonio

4 thoughts on “From San Antonio to Seattle, There’s No Place Like Home

  1. You guys are wonderful and will be missed. Seattle is all the better for having you guys. We will continue the Good fight here in SA and look forward to seeing y’all again soon.

    • Thank you, Andrew. You certainly helped lay the foundation for the restaurant scene that has developed in the Alamo City. Perhaps we’ll see you on a visit to the Emerald City one of these days!

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