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Arts My way or the freeway 

Home on the Range – A former New Yorker’s guide to the texas adjustment

One of the first times I visited Texas, about 15 years ago, my husband and I spent a couple of nights in Austin. We wanted to check out some live music at Antone’s, which was probably the equivalent of 10 New York City blocks from where we were staying. So we decided to walk — I mean, why risk driving drunk if you don’t have to, right? Feh. Such a quaint Yankee notion. As we hoofed it down the road, a passing car slowed and its occupants shouted, “Get a job!” before speeding off into the night. It took us a minute before we realized they were recommending that we seek gainful employment so we could buy a car and drive drunk 10 blocks like every other self-respecting Texan.

I laughed it off. At the time, I wasn’t even pretending to try to be a Texan. I was a New Yorker, and I had never owned a car — I didn’t even have a driver’s license. The only reason I considered getting a license was so I wouldn’t have to carry my passport as an ID (in post-9/11 NYC that was especially inconvenient since I suddenly needed a legit photo ID to do everything, even to go to the dentist).

Obviously, my attitude changed quickly when I found myself transplanted to San Antonio in August ’04. Life as a pedestrian here is not pretty. The lack of sidewalks in residential neighborhoods strongly discourages any wanton strolling (sad when the only set of wheels I had was my daughter’s jog stroller). Bus stops are very, very hot. And in case you hadn’t noticed, there’s no subway. It’s a problem. So within two months and after two failed road tests, I was the licensed driver of my very own car.

Over the past year, I’ve made a lot of progress as a driver. Perhaps even my husband would agree. I’ve driven downtown without mishap, though on my maiden voyage I did find myself doing Indy 500-style laps around the Alamo until I figured out how to get home. I can hand a sippy cup and bag of Rainbow Goldfish back to my 2-year-old, and feel around on the floor behind me for her dropped toys, all while keeping at least one hand on the wheel. Much to the amazement of my East Coast friends who are not so familiar with the words “self-service,” I can pump my own gas — without referring to the annotated “14 steps to pumping your own gas” crib sheet that my husband made for me.

I have also learned that here red means “go,” so I should never approach a green light at an intersection without looking both ways several times. I know that a road is considered two lanes if I feel like passing someone. I know the center turning lane is actually the fast lane. I know that putting my blinker on only encourages other drivers to speed up, so I should never use it. I know that the directional arrows painted on parking lots are merely decorative. And I know never to do the speed limit or I’ll get run off the road, most likely by a car that’s much, much bigger than mine.

But there have been speed bumps along the way. I can’t talk on my cell phone while driving. Maybe because that’s illegal in New York and I feel like I might get busted. I still haven’t attempted to pick up anyone at the airport — too complicated. And while I can drive on roads with multiple lanes like San Pedro or Austin Highway, I have yet to brave the actual freeway (OK, except for I-10, north of 1604, on a Sunday morning when everyone’s in church, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count).

Confessing my freeway phobia generally elicits one of two responses. There are the incredulous folks who gently explain that freeways aren’t so bad — except for 1604, which is “death highway,” and I-10, where they’re doing all the construction — and wouldn’t it be better not to fritter my life away at the light at Blanco and 410? Then there are the ones who sweetly assure me that they know people who’ve lived in San Antonio all of their lives who never, ever drive on the freeway, and that I shouldn’t be ashamed of the circuitous routes I take to get from point A to point B. I’ve never met any of my fellow kings of the access roads. I have a feeling that they’re distinguished seniors who have not ventured outside the Loop since Nixon was in the White House. But if you’re really out there, I’d love to compare notes on the shortest lights in town and bitch about the potholes on Lockhill-Selma.

By Gillian Fassel


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