Monday, April 02, 2007

Trying to Cozy Up to Texas

I am trying to be a little more open minded about Texas. I love, really love Austin. I'm even learning just how interesting Texas is. But every time I see some bumper sticker that says 'Native Texan' or someone tells me you can't really be Texan unless you are born here, I think, 'thank God.' I can't get over my knee jerk Texas prejudice.

I can't say it's because the image of Texas is often rural and conservative. Even though I don't want to live there, I have a deep fondness for rural Kentucky (which often shows up in my writing.) Kentucky people can be conservative, narrow hicks whose idea of a really good time is The Golden Corral (and that's just some of my relatives) but I still have this deep sympathy with the people and the landscape.

Driving across Texas with the Blue Bonnets out--Texas kicks ass when it comes to wild flowers. The mix of European, Central American and Asian influence? Coolest thing ever. I mean, I had Texas kolaches for breakfast and Bob will possibly have Vietnamese for lunch. Texas is just layered with societies and cultures. It's history is supremely weirder than the Alamo. In fact, the Alamo is pretty damn strange. And that's so cool.

But driving through towns where the largest cultural gathering is the Friday night high school football game just makes me feel 13 and misunderstood all over again. I keep telling myself that Texas is not the stereotype, and it isn't. But a lot of the stereotype exists because those behaviors are here. And sometimes they're large. We pass a billboard telling you where you can get a vasectomy reversal and I shudder. I associate Texas with swagger. With a peculiar arrogance. I want really badly to get beyond that and I think I might be starting to. But then I see some piece of furniture with a Lone Star on it and I realize I'm still wincing.

14 Comments:

Blogger Stefan said...

I lived in Dallas for a year in the mid nineties. As a European, things felt more strange and less weird at the same time. As long as I remembered that I really was in a different country, I was ok. But then I stayed a foreigner of course.

What do I remember from our introductory course?

Drive or Jog, don't walk. If you walk beside the road people will stop and ask you if you need help.

Never talk about religion.

Yellow traffic lights are an indicator to just floor it. Expect someone crossing during your first seconds of green light.

I really enjoyed my year in Texas. Was a great time.

April 03, 2007 6:46 AM  
Anonymous austin k said...

Well, I've been meaning to e-mail you, but it looks like Meg and I are moving to Austin. She got a fantastic offer from the UT architecture department for her masters degree, so we're going where the money is...

(Not that we aren't real excited about the sun, music, mexican food, bbq, bats, and 3 dachschund rescues around town...)

In Austin I felt right at home. It was the Dallas airport that scared the crap out of me.

April 03, 2007 9:35 AM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Austin in Austin?!?! That's so cool!

April 03, 2007 9:47 AM  
Anonymous austin k said...

yeah! i actually think that'd be a funny blog title: austin in austin

we might have to set up a cleveland ex-pat group

April 03, 2007 10:27 AM  
Anonymous Adrienne said...

Now would be the perfect time to go to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (http://www.wildflower.org/), if you've not already been.

I never did cozy all the way up to Texas. Loved Austin, tho -- it was Texas qua Texas that always stuck in my craw.

April 03, 2007 10:43 AM  
Anonymous Anne Harris said...

We have those vasectomy reversal signs in Michigan too and they bug me a lot.

I applaud you for trying to get past your anti-Texas prejudice. I have it too and haven't made such efforts -- but I'm pretty pissed at the state because of the Bushes. And then there's the whole thing where whenever the economy in Michigan gets bad, everyone seems to go to Texas.

Would like to visit Austin sometime, though.

April 03, 2007 7:29 PM  
Anonymous tacithydra said...

I'm about to move to Austin, actually - I have received several reassurances that "It's nothing like the rest of Texas, really!" so my hopes are high.

- Jen

April 03, 2007 8:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So...

How do we get this Austin phage to spread?

A.Z.

April 03, 2007 8:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maureen,

I've never been able to get past the fact that Texas funds social services, education, and public health at third world levels and Texans are proud of it.

Our real Texas moment happened three years ago when we had just bought our property east of Manor. We stopped in at the Cafe 290 one May evening. The good old boys were sittin' around in their gimme caps eatin' chicken fried steak. It turned out that it was prom night and after we had been there about thirty minutes the high school kids started drifting in dressed in their formals and tuxes. It felt like we had been sucked into a showing of the Last Picture Show. Howard Waldrop should write a story about it.

Manor also gives you a chance to see the rough edges of Texas rural poverty. Poor old black ladies living in ramshackle trailers on their pityful social security checks. These are the people that George Bush wants to have the opportunity to risk what little security they have in pursuit of bigger returns. They have already learned all they need to about the unequal distribution of risk in our society.

Stuart

April 03, 2007 9:18 PM  
Anonymous Bill said...

Hey! I don't mind "conservative, narrow hicks" but don't be makin' fun of the The Golden Corral

April 03, 2007 10:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now, now folks. If I can embrace this strange culture here in Ohio; and the dirty air and all that and the little concrete ducks in the front yards that wear bonnets and dresses and the acres of quickly built new homes set smack in the flood plains and still love this place, I bet you can catch on too.

Of course the thing that really bugs people about Texans is that they truly, really care about what you think (don't you like me?) and just as truly don't give a shit whether you do or not. How annoying is that?

Laura
PS: And just wait, you've not even had a summer to get through yet. Be sure your air conditioning is in good shape--you gonna sweat, baby. Here? Yesterday it was 80 degrees; today it's snowing again. I love it, really, I do love it.

April 04, 2007 10:35 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

But Laura, you've never been in some state like, say, New Hampshire, and seen a car with a bumper sticker that says, Don't Mess With Ohio (Or New Jersey or California, or Florida or even Montana or Wyoming).

It's not that the culture is weird. I lived in New York. I lived in China. All the states are weird and none of the them are perfect--but when I see that bumper sticker it feels to me like the person displaying it is trying to pick a fight. 'Don't mess with me or I'll kick your ass.' Why does Texas celebrate that? How do I live in a state that celebrates that?

I'm trying. I am genuinely trying. I love Austin. But then this weird, aggressive challenging chauvanism rears it's head and I just feel myself go, ewwww. They don't mean it that way, I tell myself. 'Don't Mess With Texas' started as an anti-littering slogan. But nobody with that on their truck in, say, California, means don't litter Texas Highways. They mean, I'm Texas, I'm Proud of that fact even though it may be true for reasons I may have nothing to do with anything but chance (accident of birth, for example) I am associated with this place, and if I feel as if you're not respecting that, even though you're doing nothing but driving behind me, I will mess with you. And feel compelled to tell you that because it's really important to me.

I am trying. God, I live here, and I may live here the rest of my life. But I also want to apologize to people when I say I live in Texas and say, 'But I'm not really like that.'

April 06, 2007 9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Got it, Maureen. Well, I wish you'd move back to Ohio anyway--for whatever reason.
And, here's the truth: I not only had a "Don't Mess with Texas" sticker on my red suburban (full of kids)when I lived there, I also got one for a friend in PA who asked for one.

Maybe Ohio NEEDS a "Don't Mess with Ohio" sticker, huh? (Of course, I'd rather not have a political bumper sticker (& that might be one)--but it is amusing to see all the fuss now that we've had a big change in the Ohio Gov's office and elsewhere.

It's OK, you know, lots of Texans don't like Texas (in fact, you're sounding pretty Texan right about now).

Laura
PS: When I make chicken stew/soup I just leave the bone on the chicken and pick it out later or just let it fall off--adds richness, I think.

April 09, 2007 11:14 PM  
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^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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