When you come to Texas it can be easy to forget that you’re walking on a mass grave, but you are. Since scads of dinosaurs had the foresight to meet their doom right here where Texas would someday be, generations of oilmen have become filthy rich sucking the hydrocarbon byproduct of their mass extinction from thousands of feet below the surface and making it into black soup that drives mini-vans, lawnmowers, and dune buggies. Let’s hear it for dead dinosaurs.
Texas isn’t just about oil. There’s cattle and other livestock, technology, commerce, aeronautics, and tourism. Every year, according to the people charged with counting these things, more than five billion visits are made to the state. They visit the Alamo, Six Flags amusement parks, museums, gun shows and airshows, rodeos, cattle ranches, the boardwalk in San Antonio, and much more.
They see the offbeat, as well. There’s a snake farm, the washing machine museum, and a house made from beer cans (located in downtown Houston). Texans like to think they can do everything better. They have their own versions of Stonehenge and Easter Island (yes, really).
Of course there are big things too. This is Texas. The world’s largest fire hydrant, the world’s largest jackrabbit, the biggest wooden carriage, and something called the world’s largest water garden can be found here. If it’s big, they’ve got it.
The skies of Texas are decorated with their State flag, which famously features one Lone Star. Texans – the proudest of all Americans – are so intoxicated with pride that they passed a law which allows their flag to be flown at the same height as the American flag, the only state to do so. All over Houston you’ll see twin giant sheets of cloth competing to wave in the wind. You get the feeling that if the Texas flag gobbled up all the wind and the U.S. flag went limp, Texans below would give a yelp and fire their six-shooters. Towering iron flag poles – shiny phallic symbols – rise from the ground into the wide Texas sky. Like enormous middle fingers they warn, “Don’t fuck with us.”
Texas was a country long before it was a State, something only Hawaii can also claim. In many ways, folks here still see it that way. Economically it functions like one. If Texas were a country it would rank 11th in gross domestic product among all nations of the world. It’s a bustling place, and a friendly one. The name “Texas” comes from the term for “friends” or “allies” in Caddo, a Native American language that maybe six people speak now.
And speaking of speaking, there’s a uniquely Texan way of turning a phrase. On my second day here, as we drove into downtown Houston, the skyline was blanketed with fog. Or, it was “so foggy that the birds are walking”. The fella sitting next to me in the airplane, returning to his home state after a business trip, was “happier than a clam at high-tide”. He was married to a woman from New Mexico, but she took to Texas “like a buzzard to guts.” Yummy.
Some delightfully morbid natives will tell you that Texas has four seasons: drought, flood, blizzard, and twister. But my stay was warm, occasionally sunny, and sticky at times. I confess I was disappointed that it never got “hotter than a pot of neck bones”.
If you’re in Texas long enough (say, five minutes) you’re bound to run into someone with classic Texas character. One evening, my host invited me to have dinner with one of her co-workers and her husband. We fed at a place called Enchilada Willie’s. I consumed a plate full of the enchiladas. I never saw Willie. The co-worker’s husband was a man named Earl. He was Texas in human form. He looked like he perspired oil. He wore nut-tight jeans and sturdy cowboy boots, and he had a belt that seemed to brag “my belt buckle could beat up your belt buckle.” He wore a thick, brushy mustache, and when I joked that perhaps there were pieces of men he had killed in the hairy beast above his lip, Earl smiled politely but he didn’t laugh. He looked like he could kill me with his belly button lint.
As I was leaving Texas I saw something in the Houston airport that I’d never seen before. A woman was lugging something heavy in her arms as she walked through the terminal. As I moved closer I realized she was holding a leather saddle. I wasn’t sure if it was her carry-on item or if she planned on strapping it on top of the plane so she could gallop to her next destination in style. In Texas, you never know.