My wife, Kristi, and I are both city people. We love the energy of big cities, the culture, the diversity, the amenities. In the three decades we’ve been married, we never considered living or raising our sons in some suburban taupeville full of cul-de-sacs. Just the thought of it makes me queasy.
Still, there’s something to be said for staying in touch with nature. That’s what’s great about our neighborhood, Shady Oaks, nestled on the east side of U.S. Highway 281 between Brook Hollow and Thousand Oaks. People started building houses here in the late 1950s when this area was considered the outskirts of civilization. San Antonio’s growth has long since caught up with and run past Shady Oaks, but the neighborhood still has its mid-century ranch-style houses on big lots with plenty of legacy live oak trees. The thick, winding greenbelts are perfect for kids to explore, and deer and other wildlife roam through the yards.
All of this nature is 20 minutes from downtown and less than 10 minutes from the airport. When visitors fly in, we tell them to call us when they get to baggage claim; we usually arrive to pick them up before they’ve collected their bags.
This wasn’t the first place we lived in San Antonio. We spent our first four years here in a smaller house in a newer but much more traditional neighborhood abutting Loop 1604. As our then-elementary-school-age boys got bigger, both the house and the neighborhood seemed to shrink. At the same time, I was commuting to a job downtown and longed to avoid at least some traffic by moving closer to the city center.
Kristi, working with a real estate agent friend of hers, found Shady Oaks. When they told me to drive by a house for sale there, they warned me to watch out for deer. I had never heard of Shady Oaks and was skeptical until I turned the corner into the neighborhood. I couldn’t believe this gem of an area still existed in a city of a million people.
We were able to get a good deal on our house and moved our two boys from a 1,500-square-foot house with a tiny yard to a 2,800-square-foot house with a yard that surpasses an acre. The nearby schools were good, and my commute got cut in half.
All of us fell in love with the neighborhood. Besides the ever-present deer, we’ve seen coyotes, foxes, skunks, raccoons, opossums, and armadillos prowling around. Hummingbirds visit the flowers growing just outside our living room window. On cool nights, we like to go outside and listen to owls hooting to each other.
If I need a few groceries, the Brookhollow H-E-B is within easy walking distance. To gas up the lawnmower, I tote my 1-gallon can up to the Circle K. Before I became so middle-aged, I would ride my mountain bike over to McAllister Park and do a circuit of the trails there. When we have concert tickets or go see the Spurs, it’s a matter of a quick car trip rather than an ordeal in traffic. Our favorite restaurants are all nearby.
The boys are grown now and have moved away (each to a big city, which tells me we raised them right). Taking care of our gigantic yard has become my job. Altogether, the front and back take about four hours to mow, which definitely is a hassle, but I think my neighbors would tell you my level of lawn-care effort is “minimal at best.” Besides, it’s good for 20,000 steps on my pedometer, so I’m saving money both on a lawn service and a gym.
Any time we consider downsizing, I’m reminded of a phone call I got shortly after we moved into Shady Oaks. I was working at the San Antonio Express-News at the time, and a recruiter wanted to talk to me about an editing job at a New York-based magazine. We discussed salary and cost of living, and I explained that my family and I had just moved into a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house on an acre of land with more than 70 trees on it, just 20 minutes from downtown. How much would something like that cost in New York City?
After several seconds of silence, the recruiter told me that didn’t exist in the city, and if a place like that was available at all, it would be out on Long Island, and it would cost “a couple million dollars.” I replied that my house had cost less than one-tenth of “a couple million dollars,” and thanks very much, but I was happy where I was.
And I still am.