Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Texas' Turn

(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:

(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?
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:
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.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a quote from, well, me: It doesn't matter where you grew up as long as you grew out of it. Meaning, it's one thing to grow up in a certain place and live there all your life; it's quite another to move away and get nostalgic for it from time to time, or even move back after a healthy amount of time away (and by healthy, I'm talking at least five years). Texas, in my mind, is generally a horrible place -- but to the Michigan kid I was at 15, so was New York, and now I live here, and love it, and don't think I could leave here. I know I could live in Texas and be quite happy, despite the perception I carry. The oven-light sun you describe sounds pretty awesome to me. Bill Simmons is almost always to be trusted, however.

1:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Texas should absolutely secede.

I'm glad you're proud of your size, but size isn't everything. New York crams more geographic diversity and beauty than Texas could ever dream of in roughly 1/5 of the space, which means you don't have to drive 900 miles to see it.

But I don't want to get into comparing scenery. I abhor Texas for its politics, not its oppressive heat and monotonous landscape.

12:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever all that open space does to the collective psyche down there, it clearly hasn't had a net positive effect.

You're right that I shouldn't talk about Texas geography. Yes, I did a little bit of wandering outside my North Dallas suburb, but I certainly haven't seen the state anywhere near as thoroughly as you have. But let me reemphasize my major point: Texas could boast rainbow-colored rivers flowing through lush green meadows filled with unicorns and magical dandelions, and I still wouldn't want to live there. The people (not all of them, but enough) and the politics are enough to keep me from messin' with Texas ever again.

And yes, I'm sure there are many other states with politics I'd find repugnant. That doesn't mean I can't disdain Texas individually. As JMW pointed out, no other state strikes me as being quite as proud of their backwardness. It seems appropriate, then, that they receive a greater share of the backlash.

1:31 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

Also, Dezmond, how much time have you ever spent in New York? Having spent 12 years of my life in Texas, having chosen to attend college there, etc., I feel like you're at a real credibility disadvantage here. I'd hate for that to be the case. (Ha.)

2:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What 'backwardness'?" An excellent question. Thank you for asking. The first thing that springs to mind is your state's love affair with the death penalty. If you believe the death penalty's all right, then by all means, live in Texas, but if you don't, it's a big blow against the state.

I did a rudimentary internet search for some backup here, and this article seems like a good overview:

Granted, the article is not just anti-Texas but anti-America. I think that the direction (backwards) that Texas and like-minded states would have the country go in IS anti-American, though. It's a damn shame that it's become the side of America that other countries think typifies us.

[I'm not just talking about some small embarrassing 'underclass' in Texas--I'm actually impugning the political leanings of most of the population (outside of Austin, of course). I just want to be clear on that. =) ]

3:11 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

I think you're most hurt at our dismissal of "your" place in particular. (We don't just stand at the edges of NYC spraying fire.) I guess what I'm saying is, after 12 years, I felt ambivalent (deeply) about the state. That's ok, right, for a person to not unconditionally love a place after living there for a while? (I certainly don't unconditionally love NY.) I mean, the adamancy of your defensiveness is telling.

But look, I'm with you on one count -- when I moved to Texas, my 14-year-old NY friends asked if I was going to "ride a cow to school." I'm not kidding. Needless to say, the TX suburb I moved to was much more modern in some ways than the one I left behind in NY. So, I have no Deliverance-like misconceptions, and trust me, I defend Texas against them all the time up here. LFW should as well, given some of the people she knows down there, but she's tougher than I am. (And if I may direct some friendly fire at her to keep this interesting, I think she stereotypes people -- and places -- based on their politics much more than I do. I think most people are defined very hazily, at best, by their broad, poll-phrased political opinions.)

But the more personal this gets, the more we should take it to a private roundtable. Don't you think? ASWOBA readers get a close enough view of my navel as it is.

3:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, nice stretch. Did you pull something?

I just want to address one thing:

"I definitely don't think we ought to pause in making decisions we feel are right just because the French might disapprove."

I'm talking about pausing in making decisions *I*, and other patriotic Americans, feel are wrong, not the French.

4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’ll try and break this up a little, but I’m late to the conversation and I’ve got a lot to respond to.

“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.”

You’ve got it exactly backwards. Over the past 15+ years, 3 states have led the US in population growth: California, Florida, and Texas. New York has actually been getting smaller. Here’s a quote from the US census bureau:

Three states — Florida, California and Texas — would account for nearly one-half (46 percent) of total U.S. population growth between 2000 and 2030, according to Census Bureau state population projections released today. Consequently, Florida, now the fourth most populous state, would edge past New York into third place in total population by 2011; California and Texas would continue to rank first and second, respectively, in 2030.

9:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have lived in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and West Texas. And my older brother went to Rice and now would not live anywhere but Houston. So my Texas credentials are pretty bona fide.

Bill Simmons was talking about Houston, not Texas. In a later mailbag, he clarified this fact and complimented Austin. And I think he was right. I think Houston stinks and Austin is great.

Edward Abbey was either joking or he’s a moron. Anyone who thinks (or in Abbey’s case, thought) Texans dress like something out of a Western play has undoubtedly never actually met any Texans. And seeing Oklahoma! doesn't count.

Texas is the 2nd largest state in the nation in both land size and population. And like any large group spread over a large plot of land, its people are incredibly diverse. Yes, we’ve got some bad people (I think NY may have a few of those, too), but overall, Texans run the gamut of humanity.

Anyone who feels they can tell you what Texans are like, and what’s wrong with them, is probably also the kind of person who can tell you what Puerto Ricans are like, and what Irish people are like, and what women are like. Generalizations are dangerous because they may or may not be true generally, but they’re almost never true specifically.

-- Comish (both this post and the preceding)

9:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I believe I've told jmw, NYC is the current center of Western civilization, and Western civilization is the light of the modern world. There's really only one, maybe two, cities that compare to it globally: Paris and maybe Hong Kong. That's it.

Now, I've only been there once, for 24 hours, and it was shortly after 9/11, and my whirlwind trip included a visit to Ground Zero and watching the Yankees win a World Series game against the D-Backs on an extra inning home run (I just got chills typing that), so maybe NYC has been mythologized in my mind. But the city is amazing. It's filled with energy; it's constantly churning; and every corner is like walking into a new world. I’ve always thought that it was a pock-mark on my character that I’ve never lived in NY.

The fact is that NYers seem to hate the same things about Texans that Texans hate about NYers: the pride that each has in their own state and the things that make it great. And each state is proud enough and large enough that it takes on the appearance of its own little world. Thus, Pauline Kael – former film critic for the New Yorker – is supposed to have wondered how Nixon could have won in 1972 because no one she knew voted for him. And thus, Leigh is able to chastise Texans for their “backwards” use of the death penalty (1st, NY still has the death penalty, so maybe you should check your own eye for motes. 2nd, the vast majority of Americans support the death penalty, so maybe you should be more considerate in your use of the word “backwards.”).

So while NY may be the center of Western civ, it's not the only place that matters.

-- Comish

9:42 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

Well said all around, Comish (as always).

I don't know if you're the one who posted about populations, but I assume you are. I'll just quickly say that I'm talking about the appeal of cities, not statewide population stats. I'm sure NY, as a state, is shrinking. Many areas of the state are pretty depressed (it's a pretty huge state itself, with the city comprising maybe .000001% of it.) From 2000 to 2004, though, Manhattan's population increased by almost four percent. And that's after 9/11. My point was only that there are apartment complexes in Houston that offer the first two or three months rent-free, they're so desperate for tenants. Some of that is due to land mass, obviously, but I'm just saying that Boston, San Fran, NY and a couple of other places ATTRACT people in a way that other places don't. (And having moved to Dallas in '88, I know that a lot of Texas expansion is due to corporations moving there to save money on space, etc., and dragging sometimes reluctant employees with them. My dad's company lost a lot of people at the time who wouldn't move from New York to Plano. Go figure.)

But about the rest, you're spot on. In terms of people and experience, both NY and Texas offer a diverse array of ways to both have a great time and to learn to despise your fellow man. In this sense, they have something in common with Every Place on Earth.

Glad you had such a great time here. Even after living here almost six years, it's still possible to mythologize it, which is a great feeling. (It sometimes takes a few days away to reburnish the myth, but still.)

And I can't believe you went to a World Series game that year. Starting to write about that series (and that fall) would get me going for another 5,000 words, so I'll shut up now.

11:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


# of people Texas has executed since 1976: 362
# of people on death row in Texas: 409

# of people New York has executed since 1976: 0
# of people on death row in New York: 1

In 2004, New York’s Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?scid=38&did=1066

Meanwhile, Texas’ handiwork can be viewed here: http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/stat/executedoffenders.htm

So my eye feels pretty mote-free on that issue.

And, to your other point, if 99.9% of people in this country supported the death penalty, I still wouldn’t agree with them. And I consider state-sanctioned execution a backwards practice, so I would deem at least their support of it backwards as well. If that’s inconsiderate, I’m pretty sure that I don’t care. Why should someone ever have to apologize for her beliefs?

Otherwise, I loved your posts. I do apologize if it sounded like I was insulting all Texans. I’m certainly not arguing that all New Yorkers are wonderful people, and people who choose to live anywhere else suck. In every big city and in every small burg, people run the gamut. Taking fierce pride in your city or state is only a negative thing if it precludes you from seeing value in other places.

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I consider state-sanctioned execution a backwards practice, so I would deem at least their support of it backwards as well. If that’s inconsiderate, I’m pretty sure that I don’t care. Why should someone ever have to apologize for her beliefs?

Fair enough. And by the same token, neither I nor Texas apologize for our belief in the effectiveness and morality of the death penalty.

When you called Texans backwards, I assumed that there was something for which we should either apologize or feel ashamed. I appreciate the clarification.

I also appreciate the education on NY's death penalty. (However, I'm curious if there's a typo or some outdated info there. Why would 1 person be on death row if the death penalty has been declared unconstitutional?) Regardless, I appreciate you clearing up my obvious ignorance in this area. Only about 6 bajillion more areas and I'll be able to carry on a conversation without using the word "dude."

jmw, I'm afraid I'm not smart enough to tell why property is so much cheaper in Dallas than San Fran or NYC. But lessened costs is one of the reasons people flock to places like Texas. For the same amount of money, you can enjoy a higher standard of living. Yes, you'll miss this season's run of Cats, but you don't have to work 2 jobs and have 3 roommates. (True story -- I dated a girl who had been a stewardess flying out of NYC, and she shared a 3 bedroom apartment with 7 roommates. When I imagine what that place was like, I hear harps playing in the background.)

Again, I haven't been in NYC myself enough to know what it's actually like, but the folks I know that moved from NYC to somewhere else usually say it's great, but it's hard living. You can only get shoved by someone trying to grab your seat on the subway so many times before you get a little calloused.

To which my response is, "Yeah, but you're in New Freakin' York. So having a few callouses is a small price to pay."

The point is that there are trade-offs for every city. Yes, the culture is dampened down a bit here, but there are also mild winters and no one is going to call you and/or your girlfriend "Toots."

And the World Series game was surreal. My friend and I actually sat next to a fireman who had lost buddies in the WTC. When the Yankees won, the fireman grabbed my buddy and started hugging him, and in between sobs (literally, sobs) started yelling, "This city will never die! This team will never die!" And after the team had left the field, they kept playing "New York, New York" over the PA system and everyone stood on their chairs and sang.


-- Comish

4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, the NY death penalty thing is confusing. as far as i can tell, though the court did rule it was unconstitutional, it hasn't been formally repealed. if you read that article i linked to, you can get the gist. and as far as that one lonely dude on death row here, i guess he was already there before that ruling and they haven't decided what to do with him....? or else he's no longer on death row and i found an outdated statistic.

i haven't been called "toots" once since i've lived in the City... i feel kind of sad about that.

also, "cats" closed more than 5 years ago, and while it was running, i'd say 90% of those in attendance were non-new yorkers. besides, broadway theatre, unfortunately, is no longer the jewel in the crown of new york's cultural offerings.

5:17 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

You're all very funny, and I'm glad you're pretending to get along. You're a bunch of lunatics, my readers, but I love you. I have to -- if you weren't here, I'd just be talking to myself at length. Scary.

11:00 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

Oh, and Comish, I think you're smart enough to figure out the property thing. It's Economics 101: Supply and demand. In this case, I think both dovetail with "location, location, location." People like oceanic coasts, for one thing. So, there's some demand. And the supply issue partly goes to the centralized thing we've talked about -- for mostly geographical water-based reasons, NY and San Fran are both limited in how they can sprawl, so supply is (fairly) static compared to, say, Houston, which is bordered to its west by the Pacific, to its East by the Atlantic, and to its north by Minneapolis. Lots of room.

11:04 PM  
Blogger lmha said...

Ugh. Too many generalizations and false statements to counter. I can't think of when a series of blog comments has pissed me off more.

First of all, not all Texans are pro-death penalty. That may be the stupidest thing I've ever heard. I'm vehemently not, Dezmond (apparently a Texan) is not, most of my friends are not. I've actually represented someone on death row. Have you, LMW? Or do you just whine about things that you don't understand. I am, however, beginning to think that New Yorkers ARE in fact rude.


What an arrogant, ignorant statement to make. I'd gladly challenge any of you NY-ers to a battle of wits or a line by line comparison of higher education degrees or resumes. I don't know ANYONE here who likes George Bush. Even my father, who was pretty conservative most of his life, hates Bush. So don't blame me, blame Ohio.

Texas isn't always hot. In fact, when you're shivering your whiny asses off, it's a balmy 50 or 60 degrees. And guess what, it's around 70 degrees in Austin at least 6 months out of the whole damn year. And I believe a recent post from JMW said that his apartment was 125 degrees. Uh huh. Sounds refreshing. Austin isn't flat, either. In fact, there's a whole vast section of Texas called, notably, THE HILL COUNTRY. There are mountains in Texas. Beaches. Plains. Lakes. Rivers. Wildflowers. Forests. Farmland. Ranches. Space--something you definitely DON'T have in NY.

As for art and culture, yes, in fact, we do have plenty of both thank you. In fact, we have the NUMBER ONE hotel restaurant according to Zagats in 2006 (the French Room at the Adolphus). There are so many museums in Austin alone. Which, by the way is the LIVE MUSIC CAPITOL OF THE WORLD. We have salsa that's actually spicy--in fact, it's called by it's proper name, HOT SAUCE. It's not ketchup by another name.

We have given the world Buddy Holly, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson, Lyle Lovett, Janis Joplin, Willie Nelson, John Henry Faulk, J. Frank Dobie, Molly Ivins, Ann Richards, LBJ (Gee--LIBERALS--imagine that...) Neiman Marcus, The Cowboys, the largest army base in the country (which you can thank for guarding your freedom, regardless of your political leanings) good food (BBQ, Tex-Mex, and Southern food), South by Southwest, Austin City Limits, Barton Springs, The University of Texas (National Champions, thank you very much). And we were a country, dammit.

LMW, have you even BEEN to Austin? Even heard of it for that matter? Or are your impressions of Texas limited to looking out of your parent's house in your affluent Dallas suburb? Look, if you don't understand Texas, please, just stay out. I don't care if you ever come back. I'm tired of explaning it. It's like trying to explain to my 3 year old why he should enjoy a gourmet, 5-star meal. You just aren't gonna get it, and frankly, my dears (and I mean that endearment with all sarcasm I can possibly muster), I don't give a damn. I'm full of Southern hospitality, but only for people who deserve it, and that list begins and ends with people who don't call me stupid. Austin is forever in the top ten list of places to move (also contrary to the post about how no one comes here by choice). The population is ALWAYS growing. I don't need it to grow by a bunch of whiny, rude phillistines. You think NY is the only place in the US where there's any culture at all, and you're dead wrong.

And just for the record, all of us backwards people in the land where no one wants to live lined up for blocks to donate blood and money on 9/11. I attempted to do so myself even though I was scared to leave my apartment, not having a clue what might happen next. But I went. The wait was longer than 8 hours and the lines were so long, they were turning people away for days. The main streets in Austin all had "I LOVE NY" t-shirts on all of the mannequins for weeks. Would Texans get a similar reaction in NYC if the tables were turned? I wonder. I don't wonder, I almost feel certain it would NOT happen. Regardless, just leave me to my Eden. You don't have to like it and with some of these comments, I almost am glad that you don't like it. I, on the other hand, happen to appreciate NY. I've been twice, enjoyed it both times, will go back again. I could never live there in a billion years. But I don't go around disparaging it.

And finally, Texans have much better manners (see previous sentence) and are MUCH better looking.

Yes, I am pissed off by these comments. Yes, I am taking them too personally. Texas is a huge part of my identity. And somehow John has managed to tolerate my presence lo these past 16 years.

12:17 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

Better late than never, Laurie. :) I'm glad someone is checking these old archives, anyway.

As I hope you could tell from my original post, I don't disagree strongly with anything you say -- I can't really understand how anyone who's ever lived in more than one place can believe wholly positive or wholly negative things about any place.

I will say that your very humanist views, Laurie, are incubated very nicely in Austin, but I don't think you can deny the larger conservative strand in the state, especially in the past couple of decades. Not that I even care that much, but Austin is definitely an oasis or a blight, depending on your politics, but not really representative of the state as a whole either way.

You ask my sis if she's ever been to Austin; she has. But that's kind of my point -- when you have to continually hold up Austin (a tiny part of the state, all things considered), it doesn't speak well for the rest of the giant place. I like Dallas myself, but it's also true that when I go back now, I notice more than ever the great number of steakhouses and strip clubs that make up its culture. Don't jump down my throat -- I'm not saying that's all there is, but it's prominent in a way that it's not in a lot of other places. And I'm not just talking about NYC. I'm not a NYC Kool-Aid drinker. NYC is great, for thousands of reasons, but it's also a cesspool for a thousand reasons.

Weather-wise: Personally, I like to shiver, but I'm willing to admit that I might be a lunatic. Or I'm descended from polar bears. One or the other.

As for tolerating you -- oh, darlin', please. Don't even be sarcastic about that.

1:27 AM  

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