I left! And then I panicked, quietly.

So after months of planning, we finally did it! A week ago, we packed up our little blue station wagon and drove out of New York. Saying goodbye to our cozy apartment was a tad emotional; saying goodbye to Brooklyn and Manhattan was, disappointingly, anti-climactic. I felt like there should have been a parade guiding us on our way, or fireworks greeting us when we emerged from the tunnel in Jersey - but alas, there were not. I think such fanfare would have made leaving feel more real, more final. As it was, it just felt like we were going on vacation.


We did the drive from NYC to Austin in 4 days. We spent the first night in a hotel in Roanoke, VA. Waking up to a foggy autumn morning, I felt like a fugitive, like NYC was where I was supposed to be, and I had made the rash decision to escape - at any moment it would arrive to gather me up and take me back. J, on the other hand, said he felt free. I wondered if these feelings were the same or opposite.

We spent the next night in Nashville, TN with my friend Hilda. While we waited for her to get off of work, we took a stroll down Broadway, which Hilda told us later is known as Honky Tonk Row. This is the part of our trip where my New Yorker superiority complex kicked in big time. Honky Tonk Row, it turns out, is my own personal cultural hell. A little strip of a few blocks where live country music spills out from every bar, and people with no lassoing experience wear cowboy boots and hats. I've always had a distaste for this stuff, even though (or because) I grew up in a rural area, among actual cowboys and hicks, so I couldn't get out of there fast enough. Luckily, Hilda lives near Vanderbilt, and we had dinner at a fun place. She explained that Honky Tonk Row is really only for tourists. Turns out I made a mistake similar to judging NYC by Times Square.

The next night, I was reminded again not to judge a small city by its downtown alone. We stayed with J's cousin in Little Rock, AR. The downtown was small, sleepy, and sweet; but I wondered how people managed to entertain themselves in such a small place. Then, seeing their lovely little neighborhood 10 minutes outside of downtown, I understood the charm. We hung out with dogs, cats, babies, nephews, and trick-or-treating neighborhood kids, and had a fantastic meal picked up from a local restaurant. It certainly wasn't boring.


Still, this is the night where I started panicking. The reality that we had left New York, and would be living somewhere new very soon, was slowly settling in. And it was accompanied by a creeping sense of dread. All of these smaller cities seemed, somehow, fakes - imposters. Life seemed too quiet and tame - not an ounce of grit was to be found. I missed the authenticity of New York - the sense that what you see is what you get. NYC may not be polished, but at least it's real.

However, this is not something you can bring up in polite conversation with your old college friends, or your boyfriend's relatives, as they share their towns and homes with you. So I kept my thoughts to myself, and chalked it up to that jittery feeling New Yorkers have for the first few days of a vacation, that sense that you're not doing enough, that everywhere outside of NYC is basically Disneyland. And I hoped and hoped that the feeling would pass once we got settled in Austin...

To be continued!

Views: 23

Comment by Mari Brown on November 4, 2009 at 1:00pm
This is great, Anna. I was struck by "turns out I made a mistake similar to judging NYC by Times Square." The trip was an interesting place for you to get a lot of first impressions. And now, in Austin, you're starting to get second, and third, and fourth impressions. Perhaps it would be interesting for you to remember your other first impressions of NYC to hold up to your current experience. I loved reading this!
Comment by Bill Raddatz on November 4, 2009 at 2:34pm
Very interesting, Anna. The best part is that you are brave enough to go to a completely new environment and smart enough to choose your own path - not taking the easiest route in life, which would be to stay in the same place - like a vegetable. Plus, you can always go back to NYC if you want to. But, I definitely applaud your adventurous spirit
Comment by Susan Kirby-Smith on November 4, 2009 at 10:30pm
Wow. I felt many of the same feelings when leaving, both times I left. I had a month-long vacation-maybe-permanent-no-vacation from New York and then returned. I basically felt the panic really badly and ran back, only to realize several months later that I really wanted to leave, so I kind of left twice, panicking a little less on the second try. I think it will be hard for a while, but you have to love the difference as much as you can.....! Can't wait to hear about your experience in the "small town" -- I would LOVE to live in Austin. I bet there's great food and bands and farmer's markets, and there's the great university.
Comment by Adit Nathan on November 5, 2009 at 6:40pm
I love Austin. Good luck with settling in. It took me about 8 months to feel like I wasn't wasting away in nowheresville. But winter in Seattle will do that to you, I guess. Austin will be warm and sunny. Waaaaaarm and suuuunnnny. *sigh*

Hey, I'm going to be in Dallas for a few days later this month. Maybe I'll get my sister to drive me down?
Comment by Anna on November 5, 2009 at 7:55pm
Adit, yes, absolutely! Come visit!
Comment by Alexa Scott-Flaherty on November 23, 2009 at 2:04pm
Sorry I am only commenting now, I am catching up on everything after a busy month! When my (now) husband and I left NYC I can still remember this same mix of feelings. I had HUGE surges of panic. We actually drove off the road in a white-out blizzard and ended up getting towed out on our way out of nyc... sometimes fanfare can go both ways! It did feel appropriate somehow though... after 9 years in nyc i felt it was only appropriate nyc should make it difficult to leave

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