And I really don’t mind sleeping on the floor
But I couldn’t sleep after what I saw
I wrote this letter to tell you the way I feel.
Oh I wish you were here
Oh I wish you were here
To see what I could see
And I wish you were here.
– U2, “Stranger in a Strange Land”
Texas was once its own country. It’s the only state that joined the union as an independent nation. (Technically, I suppose one could argue that following the American Revolution all of the original 13 British colonies that formed the first American government under the Articles of Confederation were each independent states or countries and joined the union/adopted the Constitution as such, but I am not going to argue this point with a Texan.)
Moving to Texas has been like moving to another a country. It has had a dreamlike quality to it. Everything is strangely familiar, yet somehow off and different. The only experience I have to relate it to is all the time I’ve spent in Canada, where Tina’s family is from, and to where they and we return quite often. Everything is the same there – the language (except where they speak French and even that has strange parallels to moving to Texas), the houses, the streets, the cars, the cell phones, the talk (politics, sports, pop culture, gossip, family, the weather, health) the stores (for the most part), sports. And yet for all the similarity you know you are in a completely different place. The way people act, talk, think, their mannerisms, their way of doing business, their customs and their culture is different. In Canada, I am easily marked as an American. I am more brash, louder, faster, more direct, less prone to engage strangers, I think hockey is a bore, my O vowels sound different, I don’t obey traffic signals while walking (and sometimes while driving).
I haven’t yet been asked outright if I am from out of town by a Texan, but I’m positive some folks must have been wondering. I am in a hurry compared to most people. Nothing gets done quickly here. Opening bank accounts took over an hour. Don’t get me wrong. This was a pleasant experience in many ways. It was social. We were offered cold soft drinks, had a great conversation with the Asst. Manager and Head Teller and got a free home tool kit and a piggy bank for Zack. Yet from our perspective it took f-o-r-e-v-e-r. This type of personal business errand back in New England would have been far more impersonal, but we would have been in and out of the bank in 15 minutes, 20 tops, especially when you figure in that we were the only customers in the bank. Even had we not been, we would have been treated the same way with the refreshments and conversation. Our first trip to get groceries took two hours, not counting the hour getting lost coming home to my own house because the wonderfully social woman checking us out engaged me in a conversation, was the checker and bagger and stopped to include Zack on a number of occasions. I was certain the woman behind me in line must be getting steamed that my turn through the register was taking forever and I apologized when I was finally finished. It took her five full seconds to comprehend what I was apologizing for as she hadn’t taken any notice of it whatsoever.
We must seem downright cold to people. I am not used to people just coming up to me and starting conversations in the supermarket or hardware store out of the blue. It’s friendly and for the most part, quite pleasant. It does however slow you down when you’ve already put in five hours of painting on the new house and you just want a 3-inch roller and a brush for the trim and to get back to finish working because you’re so tired you could fall asleep where you stand and the ten minutes of social conversation and neighborly advice on paintbrushes is keeping you from just being done, clean, showered and fed. You just can’t “run errands” errands in Texas. You “leisurely stroll” errands. Don’t try to get a lot done, just budget the extra time in and accept it. Even Canadians would find it slow. It’s deceptive too. You start off Saturday afternoon with four or five things to do, then it’s time to be at your dinner engagement and you find you’ve only done two or three of your five things because each errand was so much slower than your New England inner clock ever imagined. Eventually, I think I will come to like this, but trying to get myself moved into a house where I must have a proof of address and a bank account to get the next thing and I must have car insurance and a car inspection to get a Texas driver’s license, the social hospitality aspect slowing down the average speed of just getting things done has really taken some getting used to this week. (The exception to this was our experience at the Apple store, which by comparison was shorter, but our salesperson was originally from Seattle, so that made sense.)
For all the southern Texas neighborly-ness, Texans drive like insane, possessed people. They make Boston drivers seem like little old ladies on a Sunday afraid to approach the speed limit in a residential neighborhood.
We do not have the budget to eat out a lot, but are foodies at heart and really enjoy it, except we do not live in the heart of Fort Worth or Dallas. We live in the Metroplex which as far as we can tell seems to have banned fine dinning and legislated that only mediocre to horrible national chain restaurants will be allowed to buy or rent space in the ubiquitous strip malls. We have found an independent deli near our house that also makes great smoothies. The search goes on for locally grown produce. It’s sad that we live on land that was once farms and go to supermarkets that sell produce from New Zealand and Chile (and we wonder why gas prices are so high).
Bucking the trend of the wonderfully hospitable, however lengthy, in-person customer server experience was what I am coming to refer to at the TELECOM WAR. Only two Cable/Internet/Phone Companies sever our neighborhood (sigh, I STILL can’t get FIOS!). Charter and ATT have been, unbeknownst to them in an Olympic sized competition to see who could provide the least bad customer service and thus wring money out of me.
In one corner, the company we were told to stay away from, the incumbent and neighborhood bully, known for poor service, Charter. Charter offered a competitive price for a bundle of phone, Internet and TV, BUT they couldn’t start service until the person with the current service canceled. The interesting part? That person was not the person we bought the house from as they had ATT. The person with the Charter service at my new address just started it in June and according to the people we bought our house from, have and had no connection to the property. Did this make any difference to Charter? If you said no, You guessed right. Ultimately I had to fax a couple of pages from the purchase and sale agreement of the home proving I owned the property, who it was purchased from and no one involved was this third person that Charter claimed had to cancel service before they would come set us up to the wired world.
In the other corner, with higher speed TV, higher prices, but possibly fewer hurdles, the up and coming challenger in these parts with their U-verse package, ATT. Hey, I like ATT, right? They handle my iPhone. Folks at the Apple store talked them up (but then again they handle the iPhone exclusively- I’m not blind). So, having trouble with Charter, I go to their competition. Lovely conversation (as was the one with Charter – again, these conversations are pleasant and L-O-N-G and chatty), but when the time comes to put the order through – OOPS, it seems there’s an ATT delinquent account associated with my Social Security Number that must be paid first. Impossible. I get through to ATT accounts. The account in question is to an address I used to live at, but for dates BEFORE I lived there and to a phone a number that is one digit short of being a ten digit phone number. The ATT accounts person tells me there is no problem with any account associated with my SSN. Thanks, I could have told them that. I get pumped back to customer service and have to repeat the order, but the same issues happens all over again – don’t these departments have the ability to communicate with each other? I guess not.
After three hours on the phone ATT will not start phone service. I decided to wait them both out and see which one resolves their issue first.
Sunday afternoon, Aug. 10 Charter won. They called to confirm they could start service Tuesday the 12th. Even if ATT had “approved” me they wouldn’t have started until Aug. 19th. Funnier still? A bill comes to our house addressed to this mysterious Charter customer informing him in bold letters on the front of the envelope “Change of Address Requested.” The only problem is, he doesn’t live here. Even funnier, on Monday, the 11th, the day before Charter is scheduled to install our service, a Charter tech comes to remove the mystery customer’s Charter cable box and is baffled there’s no box. So I tell him the story so he won’t think I’ve swiped the box. I’m posting this blog entry over my nice Charter high speed Internet service while ESPN is running in the background on my new Charter cable TV. Thank you, Charter.
On the positive side, the folks who came to clean our carpet from United Carpet Clean were fantastic, friendly, on time, and didn’t try to sell us services with didn’t need. We bought a refrigerator from Home Depot and it was delivered and installed, also in a most friendly manner and on time.
We are still obviously from out of town. We don’t say y’all. We get lost regularly. We’re still looking for things like fair trade coffee and the locally owned, non-franchised restaurant, and locally grown produce. Yet, it’s good to be home.
I laid down on the empty floor of my new house yesterday, practically in tears and if Zack wasn’t around and I wasn’t worried whether or not it would have upset him, I think might have just started sobbing. That’s how happy I was to be HOME. Home in Texas. I have felt displaced over the last month, living with family, with members of my congregation, with no place or no space to call my own. It didn’t matter much every day, but over time, it has certainly grown on me and the stress from it has certainly accumulated. I can only begin to imagine what true refugees go through. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s truly like to be homeless. It’s renewed my commitment to do what I can combat both. Even a monk in his or her cell or on his or her matt has some space or some little space of their own, that is full of and committed to their energy. Each of us should and can have that.
The kitchen is fully unpacked and functioning, as is Zackary’s room, the guest room and the living room (from where I blog this evening). Tomorrow I work on the bathrooms, our bedroom and the library/sitting area. There’s an ozone alert here for tomorrow. I need to finish setting up home base so I get back to nurturing spirits (including my own) and healing the world.