Home on the Range

A former New Yorker’s guide to the Texas adjustment

“And all over the world, strangers talk only about the weather. All over the world, it’s the same, it’s the same, it’s the same.”

-Tom Waits

For the past week, there’s been much in the news about a Major Heat Wave that has gripped our nation. Living in San Antonio as long as I have (a week shy of two years), I feel I’ve earned the right to dismiss it. When you spend the eternal summer months waking up to the KSAT weather guy’s chirpy promise of “another sizzler,” your life starts to feel like Groundhog Day and you lose patience with the plaintive cries of East Coasters enduring 90-degree temperatures. Wusses! I emailed as much to a friend in New York, but she put me in my place: “Yes, it is hotter in Texas, but you are equipped to deal with it. NYC is so Third-World.”

Fair enough. I remember the days when my apartment resembled a magical forest of oscillating fans. When a “WE HAVE AC” sign in the window of an otherwise crappy restaurant pretty much guaranteed that I’d be eating there. So how can I complain? I may live on the surface of the sun, but at least I’ve got central air. Still, no one can deny that the San Antonio summer is a soul-sucking experience, and whoever came up with that “If you don’t like the weather in Texas, wait five minutes — it’ll change” line must not have spent any time in the Alamo City. Here, a more apt slogan might be “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes — it gets worse.” Or, “wait five years — you’ll get used to it and start doing weird things like wearing jeans in July.”

Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Last summer I went to a backyard cocktail party and it was as hot and horrible as you might expect, particularly since San Antonio’s famous “breeze” was doing what all sensible residents are doing at this time of year — vacationing in Vancouver. Prepared for the worst, I dressed accordingly, in a sundress and flip-flops, though I knew well enough that nothing short of encasement in a human-sized beer Koozie (the kind you keep in the freezer) would make the slightest bit of difference in my suffering. I met two fellow New York City transplants at this party, who were fresh off the boat and obviously already broken by the heat. These two innocents were wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts. I pitied their haplessness. They didn’t seem to understand that a child-friendly backyard cocktail party really would be held in the backyard because that’s where the playscape and small motorized vehicles were located. And though I’ve seen suburbanites attempt to transform their backyards into “extensions of their indoor living spaces” by installing fancy outdoor kitchens, ceiling fans, and mysterious mosquito-eradication systems, I have yet to see a backyard that is actually air-conditioned.

If you don’t like the weather, wait five years -you’ll get used to it.

At the time of this sweaty cocktail party, I’d lived in SA for a year and thought I knew the secret to dressing for success in a bi-seasonal climate: Wear as little clothing as is dignified and always have a cardigan on hand for the meat-locker temperatures generally found indoors. But after another year of anthropological fieldwork, I’ve made this perplexing discovery: It’s actually the tourists and transplants who wear shorts and T-shirts in summer; the natives all seem to wear long pants and long sleeves. And when the calendar autumn begins and the thermometer holds steady in the upper 90s, real San Antonians bust out their tweedy jackets and cashmere turtlenecks. Back east, I would call this “back-to-school syndrome”- the uncontrollable urge to wear a Fair Isle sweater the Tuesday following Labor Day no matter the temperature. But here I just call it crazy.

I recently confronted a seemingly rational friend on this subject. She hails from a frigid northern state, but has lived in Texas for 20 years. When I met up with her on a typically insufferable Friday night in July, she was wearing a long-sleeved cotton shirt, and, more vexingly, jeans — form-fitting, custom-made jeans. I was jealous. How can you stand it? I asked. I mean, is there anything stickier and more heat-trapping than denim? She just laughed and said she figured that her blood had finally thinned to the point where she could say she’d truly turned Texan.

Sweating in my summer uniform of skirt/camisole/flip-flops/cardigan-stuffed-in-a-bag, I wondered if my blood would ever thin — and whether that would be a good thing. Did I want to turn Texan? It would be nice to wear jeans for more than two or three months out of the year. It would be nice to wear the 70 percent of my wardrobe that’s been mothballed since I moved to San Antonio. I used to think that the moment I would know I’d finally reconciled myself to living here permanently would be when I decide to sell all my vintage overcoats, Icelandic sweaters, and furry hats on eBay. But I’m starting to see things more clearly: If I’m here for the long haul, I don’t need to sell a thing. And only when I can wear boots and cute woolly tights on a sultry day in September will I be able to call myself a real San Antonian.

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