Sunday July 29th, after a decent sleep and an acceptable breakfast, we started out west to Dallas. I woke up feeling excited about the prospects of rejoining my colleagues after over a year away. It would be good to reconnect with the gang and to have people to talk to and collaborate with. Yes, to talk about sports, and politics (oh the politics….), and all the rest of the BS that goes with working in an office — it actually sounded fun.

By mid-afternoon, we sped onto the LBJ Beltway, named for president Lyndon Baines Johnson, and joined the stock car race that is the typical traffic situation in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, even on a Sunday. It immediately felt strange. But, if memory serves me, as we found our off-ramp and headed north to drop our daughter at her friend’s place in Frisco, neither of us said too much. It seemed so familiar. We had come home. And yet we were so detached from it. I felt almost numb, like I was going through the motions of checking off a necessary, but not so exciting milepost on the journey.

The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, like many large urban areas, is a series of smaller cities that have amalgamated with the influx of residents. The population was approaching the 7 million mark during our 8 years in the region. And it showed. The difference between Durham and the metroplex was startling.

This is a big city, with all the traffic, the skyline, and amenities that a large metropolitan region offers. While heading north, I thought of our many visits to the art museums, the shopping, our favorite eateries, the people we had gotten to know — all good memories.

Durham, in contrast, is a much smaller city, even with Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Cary thrown in. It can’t be expected to compete with the Dallas area, with all of its conveniences, activities, and distractions. I had grown to take this all for granted. Memories fade. Maybe I’m the only one who allows this to happen? After moving to Durham, it wasn’t long before I felt we had exhausted what was on offer.

For us, a good city contains a historic district, which Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill sort of have. There are multiple museums here and a strong ethnic food scene. There are three world class universities, and some of the best healthcare options available, if on the expensive side. The people seem friendly. The location, adjacent to the Interstate 95 corridor, the major north-south travel route from Maine in the northeast to Florida in the south, means easy access to some of the most entertaining destinations in the country.

North Carolina features a section of the Smoky Mountains, along with a lengthy portion of the Atlantic coast. Richmond, the capital of Virginia, is only a two-and-a-half-hour drive to the north, with its excellent museums and walkable downtown, along with riverside parks. And two hours further north is the nation’s capital Washington DC, with enough to keep even the most jaded of traveler occupied for years. We had visited three times.

Dallas and Fort Worth have excellent museum districts with multiple institutions holding thousands of works from antiquity to the modern age. And that’s not including the world class visiting exhibitions that Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum features on a regular basis. We visited these institutions repeatedly. I was ready for a change.

So maybe the problem was, and is, me? I would say “us.” But I can’t speak for my wife and daughter.

Regardless, we were back and were immediately reminded of what it was like to be in a large urban area again. I guess we had forgotten. For me, it helped put our time in Durham into perspective. It wasn’t so bad. It was quite good, actually. We just wanted more.

After dropping our daughter at her friend’s place in Frisco, we headed to our Airbnb in Richardson. We rented a room in a large home owned by a young couple who had recently relocated from an apartment in downtown Dallas.

Located in east Richardson, about a twenty-minute drive from my office in Plano, the property contains four bedrooms with a den / office and must be over 3,000 square feet, maybe closer to 4,000. It is a prototypically large north metroplex property, situated in the kind of development that my company specializes in.

My company is a smaller civil engineering consulting firm located in Plano, Texas. We are singularly responsible, or it feels like we are responsible, for the growth of the area between Frisco and Prosper to the north. The developers active in the region seem determined to fill in any open spaces with large homes and shopping centers; our firm’s client’s efforts in Prosper alone doubling the size of the city within a few years, or so it seems to me. I am exaggerating to be sure. But the growth is impressive, or alarming, depending on your perspective.

My job as a designer, is to take the information given to me; site surveys and preliminary site layouts, and turn them into a workable set of plans that conform to the standards of a given municipal district. And that has been my role for the past seven years – five years four months at the office, and now approaching two years remotely from North Carolina, with short stints around the country.

And now we were back in the city we had left just a little over a year ago. It seemed weird. That evening at the Airbnb, a growing feeling of apprehension was taking hold. But why? My standing with the company was solid. I had received permission for the road trip. I should be excited! What was my problem?

Photo Attributed To: Michael Barera                                                                                                                                                          Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license