(Dallas skyline, above)
My recent, seemingly innocent post about New York very quickly generated some defensiveness from Texans. Well, from Dezmond.
And before I (slightly) stand up for what I like about the big ol' state with delusions of nationhood grandeur, I thought it would be a lot of fun to further fan the flames. (And to use alliteration.) So, here are two writers on Texas. The first is Bill Simmons, ESPN's "Sports Guy," who covered several big events in Houston a few years back, and wrote this after the final one:
In the past four years, I made four separate trips to Houston and spent a total of 24 days here. And you know why I did it? For you, the reader. I covered the Galleryfurniture.com Bowl, the Super Bowl, baseball's All-Star Game, and now, the NBA All-Star Game. And you know what? That's too much freaking time to spend in Houston. My editors just bleeped me, I don't care. Maybe Houston doesn't suck any more or less than 20 other major cities, and maybe the people are friendly and likable, but the fact remains, you would never come here for any reason, other than these three:But that's nothing compared to Edward Abbey, famed author and environmentalist -- and hardly a Yankee sympathizer -- and what he had to say about the entire state:
(1) For work.
(2) To gain weight.
(3) To get shot.
You just wouldn't. And yet, dating back to the Super Bowl XXXVIII in February 2004, three of the last eight major sporting events were held in Houston. Does this make any sense? There are 30 to 35 American cities that could host the Super Bowl and/or either of the All-Star Games ... and yet Houston pulled off the Ultimate Pro Sports Trifecta in a 24-month span, despite the fact that it's a sprawling city with traffic and safety problems (the three intangibles you always want to avoid for major sporting events). Here's what really frightens me: I have spent so much time here, I actually know my way around. Can I have this information removed from my brain? Is there a pill I can take?
Why does every American with any sensibility and wit despise Texas? Is it merely a joke, a national gag? Not at all -– there are good and sufficient reasons for this serious and widespread attitude. Why pick on Texas? Because it typifies, concentrates and exaggerates most everything that is rotten in America: it’s vulgar -– not only cultureless but anticultural; it’s rich in a brazen, vulgar, graceless way; it combines the bigotry and sheer animal ignorance of the Old South with the aggressive, ruthless, bustling dollar-crazy brutality of the Yankee East and then attempts to hide this ugliness under a façade of mock-western play clothes stolen from a way of life that was crushed by Texanism over half a century ago. The trouble with Texas: it’s ugly, noisy, mean-spirited, mediocre and false.That sound you just heard was Dezmond's head popping off from the rest of his body. So now that he's properly apoplectic, here's my take:
As Simmons' feelings indicate, Texas cities aren't great at first impressions. They're basically giant suburbs, with few satisfying hubs for communal life. With the exception of the hill country north of Austin, they're fairly flat and ugly, not particularly green or inviting. Abbey's anticultural comment was made a long time ago, and it's no longer fair -- Fort Worth, in particular, is home to several world-class museums and the relatively new Bass Performance Hall, which is universally praised. That said, no one's going to confuse Dallas for a bookish city. There's a lack of pretension that comes with that, but also, in my opinion, a lack of inspiration.
In short, Texas is not a destination. Despite a popular bumper sticker down there that reads, "I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could," people don't flock there on vacation and then decide to move, driving up real estate prices.
But in that way, it has the appeal (an appeal I find more significant with the passing of time) of a place that isn't descended upon by all stripes of hipsters and hangers-on, but manages to engender in its native population an abiding affection. (The irony of this affection, as illustrated by Dezmond, is that Texans are neck and neck with New Yorkers when it comes to hometown arrogance. I don't get the sense that Ohio or Minnesota is cranking out bumper stickers like the one mentioned above. New York might, though, if New Yorkers weren't so allergic to appearing to care about stuff.) Also, back to being nice, the flatness can provide incredible views at sunset, which views are also accompanied by a feeling of relief that it will get three... degrees... cooler when the damn fireball (it feels eerily more like an oven light on most days) finally falls past the horizon. What culture it does have values, among other things, live music and drinking beer on sunny weekend afternoons. Nothing wrong with that.
The thing I don't understand is Dezmond's (and others') insistence on disputing fairly objective facts. New York is different from Dallas and Houston in kind, not in degree, the same way those cities are different from Fargo. This is rooted in any number of historical and sociological factors that Dezmond, being a history buff, should revel in, not try to flatten.
Ultimately, though, Texas is like anywhere else that does its best to cobble together claims to fame, rather than gaudily and immediately seducing you like New York and only a handful of other places can. To a point my sister made in the comments, living somewhere long enough is a way of coming to love it. Unlike my siblings (one of whom spent almost no time there, and one of whom spent just enough to know she wanted out), and cheesy as it is to say, I pretty much became the person I am while living there. I fell in love for the first (and second) time; I befriended some of the funniest, smartest, most grounded people I've ever known (and am lucky to still know); I drove around the 635 loop in the wee hours of the morning listening to The Bends with the windows down and day(night?)dreaming about other places to live; I discussed Kant and Rawls with my high school debate friends until I could convincingly pretend I knew what I was talking about (a still-valuable skill, for sure); and I packed up and left after 12 years feeling much heavier of heart than I ever expected to.