After I moved to the socialist paradise that is Canada, I did as the Romans did. I joined the free healthcare club, drank Molson products, and bundled up in expensive North Face fare when Yukon decided we were too warm. But the longer I was up there, and even the more I enjoyed Alberta (“North Texas” my wife and I joked to our friends) there was more and more that I missed about Texas. As we move back we are becoming reacquainted with the things we love in no short supply. Calgary being the largest city in a thousand miles in four directions, we began to reminisce about the simple things you could not get and as we’re back I remember that regardless of being forced to leave my adopted land, I remind myself that my first thirty-four years in Texas went perfectly fine.
There is no replacing Tex-Mex food. It is not Mexican food. It is not a taco truck. It is not meat and cheese thrown into a tortilla. It is a culinary art. Have you ever eaten in a Chinese restaurant and not seen people of Chinese descent running the place? Well, in Canada it’s much the same with “Mexican food.” I’m not just talking about that lime flavored goodness that is the steak fajitas at Lupe Tortillas, or even the small chain of Mamacitas that serve that ENORMOUS beef burrito that I had to stop ordering all those years ago for the sake of my stomach lining. I’m really talking about the Taquerias I would raid in college or in the middle of the night coming home from a bar. The “Tamale Man” who would park off FM 2351 and the Gulf Freeway. I’m talking about the small store fronts all across the city with signs that say “Dos Mas” and “El Gato Negro” that just PROMISE the experience of saying “holy shit, that was good. Get me another one!” The only thing I miss about teaching were those random times my students, the overwhelming majority of which were Latino, would come to my classroom with a brown bag full of whatever they helped their mother make the night before. Tamales. Enchiladas. Breakfast burritos. Empanadas. Sopapias. And I would graciously thank them while trying not to embarrass myself by scarfing it down in front of them. There is no hiding it. “Mexican food” in Canada sucks.
There were more Vietnamese in my high school than black kids, all of whom I knew personally. When you graduate in a class of 200 you pretty much know everyone. Trang. Jason. The Castillo Family. The Brown brothers. I come from a super white family but I went to a pretty diverse suburban high school and my college brought me into contact with Arabs, Jews, Brazilians, Caribs, and Africans of every stripe. Canada is becoming a pretty diverse place but its diversity is mainly South Asian and East African. The Chinese are already there. They’re not Chinese anymore. They’re Canadian. But Texas is filled with generations of ethnic groups that have been here more than long enough to say ‘ya’ll’, drink a Tecate, and bitch about the heat. Immigrants are everywhere, and trying to stim the tide is a joke, but I missed the color palate of my State, the hues of cool, the cultural experience of growing up together, going to school together, learning new shit together, because we were all Texans regardless of where our parents were from: South Vietnam or West Texas. There were more mosques in Calgary than Southern Baptist Churches, and that felt odd. Not because I have anything against Muslims, but because I grew up with a SHITLOAD of Southern Baptists.. and though I’m not a Christian… I did miss them.
Sometimes I would stand at the Target at Bay Area and just marvel at the rows and rows of shit. Neosporin. A-1 Steak Sauce. Forty types of Gatorade. Wolf Brand Chili (NO BEANS!). Canada has a content law for just about everything. It’s another way of tariff protection. The Canadian dollar keeps most people out anyway. Best Buy squeezed in by purchasing the Canadian knock-off Future Shop. But there were tons of things missing in Alberta. A lot of it was the population – there are more people in Texas than in all of Canada and more people in Houston than in all of Alberta. The demand just wasn’t there and trends likely took something off the shelves that you really liked. Living in a consumer country of 300 million ensures that no matter what I want, I can get it, and now, for just a price. I hated driving across town in the middle of the night looking for that one pharmacy that was 24 hours. How do pregnant women cope with no supermarkets open past nine PM? You’d be hard pressed to find a Walgreens here that’s not open to midnight and finding a 24 hour CVS is just not a problem. Even some Walmart’s ever close their doors. Service here is an opportunity. People are happy to work because they view it as something to take them somewhere. In Canada, it’s a fucking drag, and they don’t owe you anything for that fifteen percent tip. I once had to return a car multiple times for servicing the same problem. I didn’t have to pay. It was never about the money. And it wasn’t incompetence. It’s just that they didn’t care. Whereas in Texas, if it isn’t fixed the first time, the earth will be moved to satisfy the customer. That kind of service, the service I give my clients and the service I expect, is just not present north of the border, and they’re fine with that.
A real beach. Movie tickets that are only seven bucks – four bucks on a matinee (which does not exist north of the 49th Parallel). Going down the river in the summer. State Universities. But above all else, my family. I really missed my family. Even those who don’t like me.