Tales of a Trailing Spouse - All roads lead to Rome
This idiom was used as early as the 1100’s and pointed to all paths or activities leading to the center of things. In our case, being associated with the oil and gas industry it means HOUSTON.
THE SPACE CITY
Houston received its official nickname in 1967 being home to NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center.
At first I wanted to use the heading
“Houston, Angela has landed” from the famous announcement by Neil Armstrong to Nasa’s Mission Control base in July 1963 – The Eagle has landed. But then I thought that was a bit pompous of me!!
As we were starting our decent into Houston International Airport I was able to look out of the window; imagining the heat and dense humidity and knowing exactly where we were. We had lived just up north from the Airport in Kingwood for 6 years in 2000. Immigration was a breeze, efficient and friendly, our bags were delivered swiftly. 45 minutes after touch down we were standing at our Car Rental desk. Welcome to the only country I know where efficiency and service cannot be surpassed. Oh, no. How can I forget? Singapore is on par. Chris, the fast nonstop talking Airport Shuttle Bus driver made our Texas welcome fine and dandy. His continuous chattering put a smile on even the most wary traveller. I was certainly the only non-American on the bus, the others knew not to look up in his direction and feel compelled to answer questions of “where are you from”!
Although we felt confident of how to get to our hotel; felt driving into the city would to be a peace of cake; we completely forgot about the 5 or at times 6 lane highway with fast moving trucks and passing cars from right to left with no apparent rules. I kept on shouting “careful” “slower” “we are going to die”. Poor HH; he had enjoyed the services of a personal driver for the past 4 years and now was back behind the wheel with cowboy drivers on the road and a jumpy back seat driver.
The fact that we had previous credentials, valid documentations and being seasoned expats, bolstered our accomplishment of finding and signing the lease of an apartment, buying a car, buying a yellow leather couch made in Italy, as well as having our new banking requirements arranged in one week. Yes, one week. Even our electricity/internet/cell phones and cable TV network was set up in this time. Where in the world would you be able to do this? Only in your dreams and in Houston!
Before we knew it, it was time for us to fly to New York. BB was graduating with a Mechanical Engineering Degree. I am sure many of you know the feelings of pride and relief on this special day. An extraordinary experience for our family; sitting with thousands of proud family members in the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn, trying to find your child/sister in the sea of graduates. Another highlight was the Bridal Shower arranged for BC by her American Bridesmaids and friends. A private room was reserved at Freeman’s Restaurant down a small cobbled alley in Manhattan. It was such a pleasure to see these young women again, some of them 10 years after they had attended boarding school in Switzerland together. Both BC and myself were very touched by their efforts and attention to detail.
In that moment, looking at my two delightful and accomplished daughters, my HH of 32 years; I felt such gratification that in spite of the life we choose, the many ups and downs, our family is a solid, caring, close but above all loving unit.
After the celebrations came the big reality check. BB had lived for 4 years in New York and now needed to leave. My decision of driving her to Houston was the right one. During the weeks after her final exams and graduation there was no time or emotional motivation to sort out her accumulated possessions. Farewells and coming to terms with another chapter of her life ending was hard.
When booking the one way car rental, the difference in price between a Sedan and SUV was huge; needless to say HH booked the sedan and muttered, “How much stuff can she have”. You know how much she has; you are the one always spoiling the little darlings! But hey, HH was back at work and I was left to deal with it. I kept on trying to keep calm; repeating to myself that we will just have to leave it all behind. And then a lucky break. The young man took pity on me at the Car Rental Office and offered me a SUV for $15 more a day. WHAT – AND I can have a choice? I told him I was a foreigner and needed his help. He advised me to take the one with the USB outlet – thank goodness, as we only had Google Maps on our cell phone to guide us south.
I had never driven in Brooklyn. It is a one-way system and at every corner road works had closed off roads. A 10-minute trip took me 2 hours that morning. My Italian driving skills helped me; I ignored all rules of the road but it still did not get me there much faster!! Having walked in the area on our previous visits helped me figure it out as Google Maps kept insisting I turn around! The smile on BB’s face was priceless when she saw the SUV. The stuff kept coming and the years of packing practice came in handy. 3 hours later the car was packed to the rafters. We managed to cross over the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey before the evening traffic began.
Another achievement under my belt – I had driven through New York and lived to tell the tale!
2625 kms, 10 States (NY/NJ/PA/VA/TN/GA/AL/MS/LA/TX) and three hotel stopovers later we made it to Houston. Leaving New York was stressful for both mother and daughter, but thankfully we fell into a comfortable togetherness after the first day on the road. Bianca shared music originating in each state as we drove through them. I enjoyed Willie Nelson again. Our family song: “On the road again” - going places that I’ve never been, seeing things that I may never see again – has been with us for a long time. Unpacking the car felt sad. Somehow there was a comfort in that confined space and the two of us did not want this closeness to end.
Houston is a big concrete jungle, hot and humid. Flash flooding seems to be the new norm. The first time the flood-warning signal came over my cell phone I nearly jumped out of my skin. The i-phone tried to jump off the table, the sound was so loud and scary it felt like I had landed in a war zone! I am going to have to get used to living with permanent air conditioning. I am also going to have to remember not to respond to the friendly greeting of “How are you” whenever I enter a store. They do not need or expect a lengthy reply. I am going to adjust to the overwhelming choice of merchandise. I will try to tune out the constant advertisements; everywhere you find screens in all sizes, even while pumping gas. I am going to have to get used to the drivers not letting me into their lane. Their trucks are bigger and will not stop. Being forced to concede on the road is new to me!
In conclusion, one could not find friendlier or more helpful people in this city. It has a vibrant atmosphere and something for everyone. You will always find parking. You can buy anything your heart desires. If you need a cold bottle of champagne for a sudden celebration you can have it cooled in 7 minutes in a special container. You can have drive-through anything: banking, laundry, coffee, medication, and food.
I will embrace these opportunities and enjoy my stay in Houston with my “old” and soon to be new friends.
And I will have no problem getting used to the cheap gas prices!
*HH - Handsome Husband
*BC - First born
*BB - Second born