Thursday, July 30, 2009

This Little Yankee Went to Austin… (just for a visit)

The State of Texas was kind enough to do the interview over a teleconference where Brian would be in a room in Philadelphia and the interviewers would be in a room in Austin. And I knew that they would want Brian to come down to Texas at some point. Yes, he was “young” for the position for which he applied, but Brian has a unique skill set of knowledge and passion for public health that people find mesmerizing. Having worked with him for the last year and a half, I’ve seen first-hand how he can speak to people and remind them why they chose to work in public health. They leave the room with the wide-eyed excitement of a 20 year old who feels they can change the world.

As I predicted, his interview was successful. And before I move on, let me take a minute to explain to you an interview with the Texas Department of State Health Services. You arrive 15 minutes before the interview (whether teleconference or in-person) and you are handed the questions that will be asked of you. You can take those 15 minutes to read over the questions and prepare answers or do whatever one does when locked in a conference room all alone. You are then seated in front of typically 3 interviewers, all of whom have the questions you just studied sitting in front of them. Everyone smiles at you, introductions all around, and then the “lead” interviewer explains to you how this will work. Basically, the “lead” interviewer will read you a question and you respond. While you respond, everyone will be taking copious notes and making very little, if any, eye contact. Once you have completed your response, the next question is read to you, you answer, everyone takes notes. This continues until all questions have been asked and answered. At no point are there follow-up questions from the interviewers, very little opportunity for you to showcase your humor and charm the interviewers. Instead, it’s kind of like being questioned at a Senate Hearing. Think “Anita Hill” only there are no accusations of wrongdoing involved. The people who succeed in these interviews are people that 1) like to talk, and 2) like to talk about themselves. Brian scored off the charts.

So, my husband comes home, tells me he has this opportunity to take a job in Austin, Texas, it’s a promotion and an opportunity that won’t come around often. We have what I remember to be a very composed conversation about the pros and cons of moving to a new state and a new job and I ask him for one favor – that before he makes any decision to let me see Austin. We plan our trip.

Now, all of that sounds very civil and logical and not at all what was going on in my mind. My brain was having a more stream of consciousness chatter which jumped from fear, to anxiety, to just plain crazy. It sounded a little like this:

I can’t move to Texas. Texas isn’t New Jersey and all I know is New Jersey. Sure I lived in Boston for college but Boston was just Philly with more white people. And I lived in Italy for a year and didn’t speak the language, but that had an end date, I knew I was coming home. Is Texas even in the United States? I’ve only ever met one person from Texas, people must not leave the state which I’m sure means people don’t want me in their state. How could I possibly move furniture and cats to Texas? Who does this sort of thing? What if I hate it? But Brian looked so excited when he told me about it and it’s been too long since he looked like that over his career. Oh my God, I’m going to Texas.

And so I boarded a plane for a long weekend with my husband. And he was so excited and giddy about this new job that I swore to myself that unless there was some reason I couldn’t live in Texas – like if we had to ride a horse to and from work – that we were going to move.
We had a layover in Houston. Walking around the Houston airport was a but surreal for me. The only other place where I’d seen so many cowboy hats and boots was when we would go skiing in Colorado. However, in Colorado I had convinced myself that the hat and boot wearing men were the visitors – playing cowboy for the vacation. In Houston, these were real cowboys. I could tell by the scuffs in their boots and the creases in their jeans.

Then we got to Austin. I braced myself and walked off the plane. The first thing I noticed was how warm it was. It was February, which in Philly meant snow and temperatures in the 40s. In Austin it was breezy and in the 70s. That I could deal with. Then I noticed the people. I saw aging hippies, rock star wannabes, yuppies from the west coast, and only the occasional cowboy hat. So far so good.

We rented a car and we were off to our hotel. I was mesmerized. I still felt like I was in the United States but in a special corner of it. The sky was wide open and blue, on every corner there was what looked to be a locally owned bar or diner, and people seemed happy (only someone who grew up outside Philly can really understand what that means).

We got to our hotel, right on Town Lake, and went out to investigate. We walked around 6th street (apparently the hip place to be full of bars with live music) and took a horse and buggy ride. We ate the best Tex-Mex food I had ever had (up to that point) and I was okay. There was still the anxiety of moving, but that was more anxiety associated with the act of moving and not moving to specific location.

That night we talked. Tomorrow Brian would go and tell Fouad (his soon-to-be boss) that he would take the job and we had contacted a real estate agent just to see what was available and the pricing. And I felt okay, I really felt that this was going to be as good as it gets.

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