WIth folks like this, Texas can’t be all bad, right? (Image courtesy of UT Arlington)
I was a Navy brat, so whenever someone asks where I’m from, I always hesitate. I was born in Connecticut, but I have no memories of it save the times we visited my maternal grandmother there on Long Island Sound during the summers and at Christmas time. I’ve lived in New Hampshire, on Long Island, in Northern Virginia for my Elementary School years, and the San Francisco East Bay for middle and high school. I went to college in Santa Cruz and lived there another 7 years afterwards, and then in San Jose for 10 before my current 11 year sojourn in Austin. So I usually just say, “Santa Cruz”, knowing that it doesn’t really cover it but also knowing very few people really want to know; they just want some data so they can start filing Doug Info in their memories.
Forgive the digression. The thing is, when I tell people Not From Texas that I live in Austin, they have a certain set of assumptions about the place based on a complete lack of any real data. As did I, because even though I’m from Nowhere in Particular, I thought of Texas as, ya know, Texas. With gun racks and yahoos wearing bolo ties and cowboy boots and ten gallon hats, even with business suits. Oil. “Dallas”. Twangy accents and Willie Nelson and Lone Star Republic successionist idiots. Big trucks and big belt buckles and football–sorry, FOOTBALL. You know: Texas.
And there’s some truth to all these cliches. But as you might expect, it’s so much more.
Lets get the obvious out of the way: Texas is, indeed, stuffed to the brim with small-minded, right-wing, bigoted boneheads. No question. Of the top 10 best-selling cars in Texas, 8 of them are trucks. There are plenty of gun racks; there are almost certainly more Texas state flags flying around the state than American flags; lots of people do indeed wear bolo ties and big hats and have big belt buckles. Our governor is a grandstanding idiot, and a big percentage of our state government is run by backwards boneheads who want to do things like take away sex education and force teachers to teach students things that are demonstrably not true, like “creation science”. The Christianity of the state is pervasive; if having Christmas carols sung in public schools outrages you, this is not the place for you. Football is indeed a big deal.
But by contrast, those schools–despite difficulties and the kind of budgetary problems all states have nowadays–are well-funded, the teacher-to-student ratios are quite good, and we still have things like school nurses and drama programs and art classes that disappeared from (say) most California public schools 30 years ago or more. Our governor may be a lunkhead, but he did sign a bill requiring the government to submit a warrant before they tap your phone. People may drive trucks, but they are polite and respectful, waving you into traffic in places where in California they would cut you off (and in Boston attempt vehicular homicide). Sure there are rude fucks, just like everywhere, but they’re fewer here.
You know what they say about people in the south, that they’re polite? They are. It’s true. People here hold doors for you; they offer to help you with your bags, and in a way that makes it clear they’re really willing to help instead of simply making polite noises; they let parents juggling kids go first; they offer to give you directions if you look lost; they don’t glare at you if you make a boneheaded maneuver on the roads. They’re polite here. And you may not believe it, but it’s amazing how much more pleasant that makes life, even if you’re surrounded by people who don’t share your religious/political/economic/sexual/whatever beliefs. After all, I don’t want to have sex with them; I just want to live peacefully with them, and politeness makes that infinitely easier.
The weather, yes, is indeed lousy. But it is not, despite the assumptions of almost anyone I talk to who live Elsewhere, humid. It is humid in Houston, or Corpus Christie; here in Austin it is simply hot, blisteringly, horribly, often unbearably hot, reliably getting above 100 for weeks (literally weeks) at a time. Hell, a few summers ago it stayed above 100 for 84 consecutive days. Which is basically the entire summer. Yes, it’s a “dry heat”, but trust me: Even a dry heat wears you out quickly when it’s over 100.
And Austin, of course, is anomalous for Texas (though with immigration, not for all that much longer). Austin went for Kerry by about 60%-40% in 2004. Austin’s representative in Congress is the awesome Lloyd Doggett. The District Attorney for the county of Travis, of which Austin is a part, is the one who managed to put Tom Delay behind bars–not some federal guy, but a Texas state guy. Willie Nelson lives here, driving his bio-diesel-fueled bus around town. There is a large leather community; a large GLBT community; and a very large artistic–especially musical–community.
I’m not trying to get you to live in Austin. If I had my druthers, I’d be back in Santa Cruz, enjoying the summertime evening fog and eating sushi at Mobos and slices from Pizza My Heart regularly. (I used to order the same thing from them so often–half pesto, half Pizza Prima–that they took to calling it “The Doug Moran Special”.) But it’s also not the humid, right-wing horror show so many folks seem to think it must be since it’s “in Texas”. Yup, we’ve got problems, but truly, it’s a good place to be, and I genuinely like it. And it wearies me whenever people get on the news and talk about Yet Another Boneheaded Rick Perry Utterance, and tar all of Texas with the “right-wing ignorant nuts” brush. Cuz folks, we aren’t. And there are less of them and more of us every year.
So don’t write us off. And the next time you hear someone grousing about Texas, just remember the nutty things your state has done (Gov. Schwarzenegger, anyone?), and think how you’d feel if everyone judged you just by that. And give us some consideration. Austin and I thank you.