We’d just finished packing, shipping our belongings, and cleaning our apartment in Staten Island the previous day. Our last night in NYC we turned in our keys and schlepped over to Brooklyn. We had dinner at a semi-fancy restaurant in Crown Heights. I had lamb chili and fried green tomatoes. We spent way too much money considering we were now jobless and homeless, but figured it was our last hurrah, so cast caution and our wallets to the wind.
We spent that night in Brooklyn on Carlos’s co-worker’s floor. As soon as we spread the mattress out to sleep, I started sneezing uncontrollably with allergies which contributed to my sleeplessness. That morning we got dressed in the dark and carried our bags down the steps to catch the subway to the airport. I had to use the restroom, and the only bathroom at his co-worker’s place was in the co-worker’s bedroom, and not wanting to disturb him, I held it. Once we were walking to the subway, I couldn’t hold it any longer. But despite being the city that never sleeps, everything around was closed, so I ended up peeing in someone’s yard in Brooklyn.
As we waited for the subway, I sat on the floor of the terminal feeling like I was going to be sick. Carlos carried all of our luggage, worried that I was going to upchuck. When the train came, I sat with my hat in my hands in case I needed to vomit into it. Luckily we made it to the airport without incident.
At the airport, security made me empty my bag which I’d carefully packed, and I couldn’t get it to close again after their thorough inspection. At our gate, I realized my hard drive, tablet, and computer were missing, so we went back to security where I found them sitting in a little gray container where I’d left them.
We flew to Chicago as a mini vacation on the first leg of our journey from New York to start our new life in Austin. He held my hand when the plane took off. I drifted in and out of sleep on our early morning flight. When the flight attendant came with snacks, I gave Carlos my cookies.
His friend Steven met us at the airport. Having had a nap and some caffeine I was feeling rejuvenated, so we dropped off our bags and set out to explore Chicago. After NYC, we couldn’t get over how quiet Chicago was, how clean and how much space there was everywhere. There was actually room to move without being jostled by tourists.
A friendly lesbian served us Empanadas. Steven’s boyfriend Scott met up with us, and we walked through second hand stores singing 80s tunes. We took a train to Lake Michigan and walked down to the beach. The lake spread out beautiful and blue. It looked like the Pacific Ocean. We marveled at how clear it was. We burned our feet on hot, white sand, and waded in the lake. We looked for rocks, and Carlos and Scott tried to catch some of the tiny fish that swam by. At the “gay” beach, muscled guys in skimpy underwear posed, but we kept walking, along the water to the cool shade of a nearby park.
We were only in Chicago for a couple of days and it was a whirlwind of good food, Chicago hot dogs, deep dish pizza (better than the pizza in NYC), and the best pie we’ve ever eaten at a place called Hoosier Mama. We walked downtown and marveled at the architecture. We took pictures of ourselves reflected in The Bean. On the train an older, retired teacher who sat beside me gave us a tour and history lessons of the beautiful old buildings that we passed. He told us we made a nice pair. Everyone was friendly in a polite, Midwestern kind of way.
The night before we left we went to see some improv at the iO Theater. Hand puppets did improv with a Star Wars theme. Carlos took his picture in front of a nearby sports stadium that I forget the name of, but that other people seemed impressed by. When it was time to go we didn’t want to leave.
On the third day Steven and Scott dropped us off at the train station. When we’d planned our escape from New York it had seemed like a brilliant idea to take a train from Chicago to Austin. We’d sit in the observation car and look at the beautiful, scenic countryside. It would be an adventure! So we were unduly excited as we boarded the Texas Eagle.
Our excitement was short-lived. There was no beautiful scenery between Chicago and Austin to see, and the only people who take the train are poor people and crazy people. (Which kind of explains us taking the train). Crazy people love trains. I sat in my seat and listened to the people behind me make endless phone calls in Spanish, and to the gentlemen in front of me who traded conspiracy theories. We got overpriced train food, microwaved pizza, and cold, dry sandwiches. We never went to the observation car.
We shivered in our seats in the cold, air conditioned car, unable to sleep. Because NYC had wiped us out financially, we were too poor to spring for a sleeper car, so we covered our cold legs with shirts from Carlos’s suitcase, reclined our seats and tried our best to get some sleep.
The next day I read a book while Carlos watched Absolutely Fabulous episodes on his iPad. The whole train ride was supposed to last 28 hours, but there was a two hour delay in Fort Worth. By the time the train started moving again, we were delirious and couldn’t wait to get off. I sat, longing for a shower, a bed, and a real meal. As we passed through the flat, brown expanse of Texas, I worried that Carlos was going to hate Austin and want to leave.
For that matter, I worried that I’d hate it too. After 10 years away, I no longer felt like a Texan. The culture shock was just as strong for me as it was for him. (Well maybe not just as much, but close).
Bryan picked us up from the train station. We piled our bags into his car. All of our other belongings had been shipped to my mother’s place until we have an apartment of our own to put them in. We traveled with the bare minimum, or anyway, our bare minimum.
As Bryan drove us from the station, I watched the rolling hills of Austin, more beautiful than I remembered. Everything was hilly and green and beautiful, and I was relieved that it was even prettier there than I’d remembered. The sky in Texas is huge and full of stars. We sat, me in the front with Bryan, and Carlos in the back seat, staring out of our respective windows at the gorgeous town shining in the rust red dusk.
We drove up Lamar and all of my familiar haunts passed by in the rearview mirror. Most of them changed to new places with unfamiliar names. The city was both familiar and strange all at once, but most importantly, it wasn’t New York City. The car drove on, and we turned toward a new life together in the fourth state we’ve lived in four years. For now we’re happy for some stillness. For a quiet life, for a while. Until our next bold move sends us across the country once again.