I hadn’t been motivated to write throughout the entire month of September. The trip’s over, I’m back in Hawaii, and I have three more states to write about. Let the freewriting begin!
PS: As always, bonus points if you caught the title’s reference.
August 15 – 23
Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Lubbock, TEXAS
Texas is big. We spent a lot of time in a lot of places, making it impossible to concoct a single-themed story. I decided, instead, to just pick and choose random memories from our time within the Lone Star State.
And so, I give you. . .
THE TOP TEN TAKEAWAYS FROM TEXAS
1) Spatially, Houston is a lot like Los Angeles.
Houston is a big city. And not in a towering-skyscrapers-and-bustling-crowds kind of way, but in a damn-this-covers-a-lot-of-land kind of way. Like Los Angeles, it’s spread out over a huge area with no real city center or notable downtown. Unlike Los Angeles, however, it is actually just one city. Everything was a car drive away, so we did a lot of nothing, which was fine by our CouchSurfing host, Brett, because he didn’t want to go out either. We just lounged in his air conditioned house all day and played video games while his friends dropped in every now and then. He was exactly the host we wanted at that moment.
2) Houston is home to the best breakfast diner, hands down.
The only time we went out during the day was to a breakfast place. Wait, let me rephrase that: to THE breakfast place! Brett introduced us to local hotspot and diners’ delight The Breakfast Club, whose towering and tasty breakfast dishes are outshined only by its impeccable service. This was an order-at-the-counter type place. All they had to do was have one person at the register to place my order and I’d have been satisfied. Instead, there was a greeter at the door to manage the line outside, walk through the menu with the newcomers, and hug all the regulars. There were several people behind the register to take your order, suggest meals if you’re still unsure, and start a little small talk. A manager came around to every table to make sure everything was okay. Even the food runners and bussers took care of you. And they all did it with a genuine smile. I’d have enjoyed the experience even if my food was mediocre. Thankfully, it was a generous portion of taste bud euphoria.
3) Lone Star is Texas’ version of PBR.
Seeing as Houston was so spread out, it made sense that there would be a niche neighborhood for every type of person. And seeing as our channel for meeting people was an international culture-sharing online community, it came as no surprise that we found the hipster pocket of Houston. We spent our first night drinking cheap beer at an outdoor bar with guys in skinny jeans. Believe it or not, Texas has hipsters, and hipster Texans have Lone Star beer. Of course, you can still get Pabst Blue Ribbon in Texas, but you’d be remiss not to grab a 16 oz. tallboy of Lone Star for one dollar.
And as we followed the trail from the hipster pocket of Houston to the hipster haven of Austin, so too did we follow the trail of that cheap, ironically popular beer. We found Lone Star all along Sixth Street, and they were all still just one dollar. It wasn’t bad tasting, per se, but I had about five before I was even the slightest bit tipsy. I’d rather spend the same amount of money and save stomach room by buying one old fashioned and getting the same effect. I guess I ain’t a hipster.
4) If you like being outdoors and hate spending money, Austin is the place for you!
I was low on money by the time we rolled into Texas, and though worth the price, my meal at The Breakfast Club in Houston hit the bank relatively hard. So imagine how happy I was that my number one destination in Texas had much to offer in free, outdoor activities. There’s a place called Barton Springs near a giant park close to the University where people can swim in natural, fresh water springs. Of course, there’s also a sectioned-off portion that was made into a pool, but why pay the $3 entry free when you can gallivant in the same water for free?
That nearby giant park is called Zilker Park and is the location of Austin’s summer-long concert series Blues on the Green. It’s a free, outdoor music festival that happens every Wednesday for six weeks of the summer. We happened to catch the last night of the series, the headlining act being Los Lonely Boys. It was surprising and soul-satisfying to see a city provide such a professional show for tens of thousands of people, free of charge. Of course, the food vendors that lined each side of the park made bank off us, but it is easy to justify overpriced barbecue with free live music.
5) If you love movies but hate the typical movie-goer, Austin is the place for you!
The Alamo Drafthouse is a haven for movie buffs who are fed up with today’s plot-discussing, question-asking, not-so-subtly-texting, idiotic, movie-going crowd. They aren’t only known for kicking people out of the theater for talking or texting, they pride themselves in doing so! There’s a well-known ad they play before each movie of a real voicemail they received from an angry customer who felt unjustly victimized because she “didn’t know that she wasn’t allowed to text in a movie theater.” (Idiot.) She sarcastically thanked them for being assholes. They’re response: “You’re welcome.”
I couldn’t wait to go!
Not only does the Alamo Drafthouse play major blockbusters as well as indie flicks, but they show a lot of old films, too, and usually with some sort of accompanying activity: sing-along, quote-along, live comedian commentaries, etc. We chose the Action Pack Thursday showing of Starship Troopers (1997), one of my favorite cheesy sci-fi flicks. Included with the price of admission was a live pyrotechnic show that coincided with the on-screen explosions and a toy cap gun we could use to shoot at the alien bugs (though most exhausted their ammo shooting at Denise Richards)!
On top of all that, the Alamo Drafthouse serves restaurant-level food and house-brewed beer to your seat in the theater! Servers come around to take order while they play old movie trailers. Why aren’t you already on a plane for Austin?!
6) “The Six Flags of Texas” is an interesting tidbit of information elsewhere, but an oft hammered-in history lesson in Texas.
While in a bar in Hawaii months before the start of my trip, I was quizzed by an older gentleman about the origin of the term “Six Flags,” as in the amusement park franchise. He revealed that it started with a single amusement park called “Six Flags Over Texas” and stood for the six different countries that at one point in history ruled–and hence flew their flag over– what is now Texas. I correctly guessed five of them (Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, and the United States of America), but failed to guess the sixth (the Confederate States of America). I found it to be an interesting piece of trivia and fun conversation starter wherever you are. . . as long as it’s not Texas. Texans love their own history and since the Six Flags are flown everywhere in the state, they wouldn’t find the question challenging.
SIDENOTE: Ian and I agree that if a Southerner wanted to represent their heritage, the First National Flag of the Confederate States of America (shown in the bottom left) would be a worthy banner, historically more accurate and definitely less controversial than the more well-known Confederate Battle Flag, a.k.a. the “rebel” or “Dixie” flag, which never officially represented the CSA as a nation. All the pride of the South without the stigma of racial insensitivity.
7) The Alamo is, unexpectedly, in the heart of downtown San Antonio.
When I envisioned the Alamo–the last stand of slave-owning rebels who, actually, weren’t American–I saw in my mind a Spanish-style mission in the middle of a deserted Texas plain, somewhere on the outskirts of San Antonio. We followed our GPS unit through downtown San Antonio until we realized. . . we weren’t going through downtown, we were stopping in it. Our end destination was a bustling tourist street with chain restaurants and a Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Across the street was a Spanish-style mission and the materialization of my disappointment in the tourism of historical sites. The Alamo. . . THE Alamo, was but only one stop between the movie theater and the Five & Dime on a San Antonio tourists’ itinerary. We entered the Alamo out of equal parts obligation and pity. . .
Five minutes later, we were done and hungry. Place was boring. Show a video! Have historical reenactors! A small-scale display and well-manicured garden doesn’t cut it. The Alamo doesn’t stand a chance amongst all the modern day distractions.
We beelined it to San Antonio’s other tourist attraction: the Riverwalk. Talk about a saving grace! I really wanted to stay and eat along the river, but both time and money were running low, so we hightailed it to Lubbock.
8 ) A friend of your aunt is your aunt, and she will spoil you, too.
Sometime near the beginning of the road trip–I think it was in Colorado–I got a message from a woman named Donna through this blog. Turned out she was a friend of my aunt and a follower of my blog. Donna saw that we were planning on stopping in Lubbock and offered us a couple rooms in her house.
Our response was an obvious yes.
As I posted blog entries and photo albums from around the country, Donna was there every step of the way with a comment, and sometimes a plug for Lubbock. She seemed just as excited to host us as we were to crash there. It would have been much harder to leave Austin if it weren’t for the promise of giant beds and home-cooked barbecue. When we got there, those promises were just the tip of the iceberg.
Ian and I got our own rooms with the aforementioned giant beds, as well as our own televisions with digital cable. The home-cooked meals were big and plentiful. And free. Our hosts were truly hospitable and eager to please. Donna’s niece Rachelle even took us around town, playing tour guide to Texas Tech, the Buddy Holly statue, and the many bars and nightclubs she frequents. Rachelle couldn’t understand why we didn’t drink that much; I don’t think anybody truly understood just how broke we were by that leg of the trip. That fact just made us appreciate the comfort of Donna’s home even more.
It’s ironic: the city where I felt the most like a foreigner (see below) had a host that made me feel truly at home.
9) Never have I felt more like a foreigner in my own country than in West Texas.
Although I felt right at home at Donna’s place, we’d go out to one of Rachelle’s bars and I’d feel like a visitor in a foreign land. The locals have their own dance, and they ALL know how to do it (Google “two-stepping”), they have their own songs, and they ALL know all the words (Google Kevin Fowler’s “Pound Sign”), and they carry themselves differently in a social setting (I have no idea what you should Google for that). I felt like I was uncovering a new culture every step of the way. . . or should I say, every TWO-step of the way!
I already feel bad for that pun.
I’m not complaining, mind you. I just found it all very interesting how citizens of the same country can belong to such vastly different cultures. I don’t know how to describe it without sounding narrow-minded, biased, or suggestively cynical, so instead I implore you to go out and discover the foreign cultures in your own backyard, so to speak. I mean, while it’s still in your own backyard. . .
10) Texas seems ready to secede as soon as they have a chance.
Despite Texas being a breeding ground for uber-patriotic Americans, I sensed this underlying feeling that Texans just want Texas to be its own country again. In addition to having their own cultural nuances (see above), they fly their flag at the same height as the US flag (and more often), refer to themselves as Texans first (though I do the same as a Californian), and never let anyone forget about how they were once the Republic of Texas. You know that stereotype about how New Yorkers don’t shut up about being from New York City? You can see a statewide version of that pride everywhere in the state, from plaques with famous Texas quotes in every gift shop (“You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas!” – Davey Crockett), to state-shaped decals on every truck, to oversized Lone Star flags on every front porch. Texas isn’t the West. Texas isn’t the South. Texas is Texas, period.
The only other state I’ve seen with that much pride and desire for sovereignty is Hawaii.
I don’t know what it is about regional pride, but it makes me very happy. Maybe to see people so in love with their state justifies–or excuses–my own pride in California. The whole trip, but Texas especially, made me yearn to be back in the Golden State.
We just had to get through the Southwest first.