College Station Is A Long Way From Home

Bob Levey

FYI, I am an Englishman that is here in Aggieland writing a book about Texas A&M. Straight off the bat, I’ll put my cards on the table. Quite simply, College Station is unlike any place I’ve ever been to. People often ask me whether it is anything like my homeland. My response is always the same. The only similarities is that the sky is blue and we both breathe air. And even that’s a bit of a lie. Technically, at home, the sky is usually grey.

Before I made the trip to Texas, I was a little nervous.

I was heading to a town that I knew very little about. Yes, I had done a little research here and there but I genuinely had no idea what to expect. The few times I slapped ‘College Station’ into Google brought conflicting reviews. Some were very positive, some were negative (especially about a certain place or person called Bryan). Who or what was Bryan? I had no idea.

There were some odd things that said as long as you say ‘gig em’ and put your thumb up now and then, you will be fine. I sat there struggling to comprehend this. I’d probably only used my thumb as a greeting maybe once or twice in my life. And it was probably when drunk.

Likewise, when I visited an Aggies message board, people were passionately arguing the pros and cons of having a Waffle House in College Station. At first, I thought this would be a tourist attraction and would be an actual house made out of waffles. Only later did I realize that it was a popular breakfast franchise.

As you can probably tell, I was already woefully out of my depth.

I wasn’t going to give up though. I had made my bed. It was time to lie in it.

My first day here was certainly memorable. After getting off the plane, it was time to jump onto a van and head to the promised land of Aggie Football.

I was understandably excited. All I wanted to do was chant fight songs, sing about Johnny Manziel and drink cheap American lager from stereotypical red cups. Even after being awake for 26 straight hours. Unfortunately, my compadres on the van were having none of it. Silence.

Finally, we made it to ‘C Stat’. It was time to check into my gloriously cheap travel inn.

To my surprise, there was a queue to check-in. A couple who were peacekeepers from Qatar were chatting to the person at reception. I stood there for what seemed an eternity. By this point, I was shattered to the extreme. In fact, looking back, it could have quite possibly been the first time in my life where I fell asleep standing up.

Anyway, it was finally my turn to be allowed access to the accommodation. I just wanted the key and the ability to go on my merry way.

Two words. Wishful thinking.

‘Oh my God, you’re British!’

I weakly nodded.

‘London 2012 was the most amazing thing ever. Tell me all about it!’

For the next thirty five minutes, I had to tell of my whole experience of the Olympics. The ironic thing was that it was the exact same experience she had. I was sat on my couch for all of it. And yet, that didn’t seem to matter. Medal tables, future hosts and whether Usain Bolt will retire or not were all discussed at length. She was the first person I’d met and I could already tell this place was different. Even though at the time, I didn’t particularly welcome the chat because of exhaustion, she was just being nice.

This would be a theme that would run through the population of CS. Well apart from one man who works at the university, who claimed I couldn’t write my book about A&M without their permission, but I won’t waste any time on that.

Checking in at the travel inn was a couple of months ago now. Since then, I’ve been able to gauge a more accurate picture of College Station.

Moreover, I’ve got over the slight frustration of people not being able to understand my accent/getting ID’d everywhere for alcohol. Only yesterday at the local HEB, it took three store managers to verify that a British passport is in fact an accepted form of identification. Circus.

On the subject of supermarkets, I can’t believe how empty they always are. At home, they are like a battlefield. People weaving through the tightest gaps, fighting over the same box of cereal etc. Here though, I’ve had trips where I’ve been one of about a dozen people in the whole store.

I think I know why. No, not because I smell.

Because eating out is just so damn good. Why cook when you can eat out? It’s less effort, more social and in some places, cheaper. Plus the service you get here is first class. This is something I’m not accustomed to at home. There is a tipping culture here. That doesn’t exist in England. Instead, we just get mopey/depressed waiters that just stand there staring at the clock waiting for their shift to end. Because they get a fixed wage, they have no motivation to go that extra mile.

Maths isn’t my strong point. Luckily, I’ve managed to work out what 15% is so far. Well, when I say that, it means I haven’t had any waiters or bartenders kick off at me yet. I take that as a good sign.

Food here is more authentic. As there is so much competition around, your grub has to be either really good, or really cheap. So everyone is a winner.

I’ve seen some harrowing things though. Once at Kyle Field, I saw someone eating what I can only describe as a ‘slop of meat’ plastered onto the top of some nachos. I’d easily say that it was one of the least appetizing things I’ve ever seen. And yet, I couldn’t take my eyes off this person eating it. He wolfed it down without a care in the world. On the surface, I was wincing. But deep down, I was impressed. If someone put that on a plate in front of me and said they’d give me a thousand bucks if I ate it all, I’m not sure I could.

Away from food, something that has really stood out is how when you walk past someone on the sidewalk or anywhere in public, they will either smile at you, or say hello.

Back in England, if you did this to a member of the general public, they would think you’re either a ‘weirdo’ or making a sexual advance. Or both.

Here though, it’s the norm. I even had what I’m about 80% sure was a mormon say howdy to me on George Bush Drive. I thought I was dreaming.

Don’t get me wrong, we have some unique things in England. But a mormon sighting would be as rare as sharing a cup of tea with the Lochness Monster.

To finish, I will leave you with something that I saw at the Post Oak Mall shortly after I got here. It confirmed that I’d come to a place that is nothing like I’m used to.

The Puppy Station.

When I came across it, my jaw hit the floor. You can buy a puppy in a shopping center?

Puppies? In a shopping center?

The lunacy of it made me chuckle out loud. Back in England, you’d only buy a dog from either a breeding kennel or a family that’s dog has had pups and then put an advert in the newspaper.

Here though, you could say to your wife: ‘come on darling, let’s pop down to the mall, we need a new toaster. Oh, and if you’re really lucky, we may come home with a poodle!’

Amazing.

Read the blog of the author = Footballosophy: The Journey of An Englishman in Aggieland

Follow the author on Twitter: @GigEmNation

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