There are states that are ignorable. South Carolina is unlikely to fill you with strong emotion, and Delaware is somewhere you’ll probably never go. Texas isn’t like that.
EVERYONE has an opinion about Texas, and Texas will be reckoned with.
I had my reckoning in 2007.
Having never been there, I’d always hated Texas. I knew it was full of bigoted people with stupid hats and boots who thumped Bibles and abused animals for sport. It was a wasteland of oil derricks and dusty roads where you likely get beaten up if you didn’t drive a pickup truck.
“Texas is missing an ‘s'” I would say, echoing the words of a passing stranger whose poetry stuck with me.
One night, I referred to the missing ‘s’ in the chatroom, not realizing that I was doing so within eyeshot of someone from Texas.
“You don’t know a damn thing about Texas.” She typed.
I considered. I’d spent a small bit of time in the Dallas area, and was unimpressed. But could that be an insufficient sampling?
“Well, I confess. I’ve only seen a small part of the state, but from what I hear, it’s all like that.”
“Have you heard that from someone who lives there?”
I considered again. Most of the people I’d heard talk about Texas had never been there. The poet I’d met in 1990 was a man who specialized in opening gay bars, and he’d only been there a week.
“OK, I have to admit. I don’t know much about Texas.”
The person who I’d offended happens to be Naomi, one of the “different” girls on this very blog. And she began to describe a state I’d never heard of. Easily large enough to be its own country, this place had rolling hills covered with flowers, vibrant cities with river walks and museums, and a diverse populace whose creativity and education can rival all of New England.
“I dare you to let me show you.”
“OK. I’ll do it.”
And a few weeks later, she had wrangled a car, hotels, and a couple of friends and we were all barreling through Texas.
Naomi describes this journey here, and it remains one of my favorite trips. We visited Dallas, Ft. Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Waco, Crawford, Luling and everywhere in between. I found out where a future president rode his horse into a bar and how Dr. Pepper is made. I learned what a Texas Ranger actually is, and how the best BBQ in the world is to be served with white bread and pickles. And the highlight of the trip: I got to sit in Gene Krantz’s chair and try to imagine bringing the crew of Apollo 13 to Earth.
THIS was Texas. I don’t think I saw a cowboy hat the entire time. The poet was wrong. There is no missing ‘s,’ he just hadn’t looked for it. Had he, he would have found:
- San Antonio, where the Alamo isn’t the most interesting thing.
- The Saturn V, which launched men to the moon.
- Six Flags flying over a land whose name means “friend.”
- Scenery with skies so big they make me dizzy.
- Swarms of bats flying out over the river.
- Stately hotels full of history.
- Spanish culture mixing with German and Russian and Polish and French and everything in between.
- Space to grow.
I learned a big lesson: withhold judgement until there is sufficient information to have an informed opinion. I have that now, thanks to some wonderful friends and my willingness to change my mind.
I stand by the idea that every place has a missing ‘s’, and it’s up to you find it. Some places hide them better than others, but they’re out there. To see what I mean, spend some time reading this excellent travel article regarding Battle Mountain, Nevada. You’ll notice no “s” at all in that name, but I promise you, it’s there.
Why Not the Worst? by Gene Weingarten