A Very Texan New Year: Part 1

Of all the places that I hoped to see before I leave this great blue marble, Texas never ranked high on my list. In my mind, the Lone Star state occupied nothing more than a great span of desert connecting the South to the Southwest, Florida to California, the terrain between Disney World and Disney Land. Of course much of my knowledge stems mostly from John Wayne movies and that film last year with that air-gun wielding French guy.  Clearly my own knowledge is limited to some extent.

However, consider the national landmarks on your own list: the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Niagra Falls.  Consider the states themselves: Oregon endows itself with great forests of pine and spruce; Montana crowns its borders with snow-tipped peaks; Maine dines upon lobster and adorns its landscape with snow packed forests. Hawaii. For the love of all that is holy, consider Hawaii.

Yet the herds of long-horned cattle, rodeos, and dry plains did little to encourage my interest: the stench of cattle cause me to retch, the excitement of rodeos cause me to yawn, and the dry plains give me sunstroke. The very thought makes my face perspire and my mouth dry and sandy. Ugh . . . hold on while I go grab some chocolate milk . . .

Ah much better! Nectar of the gods. Now in all fairness, my own state of Maryland has little to recommend it. Baltimore possesses the highest murder rate in the nation; in 1998 Baltimore led the nation in cases of gonorrhea. Years ago the park benches proudly displayed the city’s motto: Baltimore the City that Reads. It took nearly a day for that slogan to transform into something a little more accurate: Baltimore the City that Breeds. Our own sea-side tourist trap, Ocean City, is the fifth most dangerous city in the States.  Clint Eastwood and John Wayne never had to contend with college teenagers during Senior Week.

However despite the stats, rankings, and bucket lists, we flew down to Texas two days after Christmas. Charlie’s parents lived in a heavily wooded community of sandy-stone Mcmansion-eque homes – which quite surprised me seeing as I had no idea Texas possessed woodlands of any kind. Apparently many of the neighbors were also transients: uprooted residents, who having relocated for work-related reasons created this cross-road for migrant corporate workers. Therefore many of our neighbors were not native-born Texans. Throughout the entire week, I encountered a single solitary Texan accent: at Walmart. Scouring the shelves for DVDs, Mom sought the aid of a three-dimensional Boomhauer, who – to Mom’s horror – had never heard of Hilary Swank’s “PS I Love You.”

“Donnever‘eardovdat,” he muttered barely opening his mouth.

On the second day of our trip, I encountered the Taco Man. Much like the ice cream truck of the Eastern suburbs with its ringing bells, playing pied-piper to neighborhood children, the Texan counterpart circled our suburban maze, bringing tacos and other meals to workmen who were building new homes in the adjacent cul-de-sac.

The truck arrived one morning flying around the corner to the tune of “La Cucharacha,” which we could hear from inside the house. However, for our own part, no one in the house pleaded for money and rushed outside. Somehow the prospect of grabbing greasy Mexican food from the back of a truck did little to incite our appetites – with or without the lively song.

Violence at the Gas-pump

a true story

The man held out the knife just as Dad left the gas station market.  His hands filled with a bag of pistachios and a sugar-free iced tea — one of those wonderfully bitter varieties that refuses to overwhelm the taste buds with fructose and lemon extract.  His hands fumbled with the car keys in his pocket, when the kid strode up behind him fingering a small pen-knife.

"Gimme all your cash, man."

"Gimme all your cash, man."

“Gimme all your cash, man!  Out with it now!”

Dad turned around while the woman beside him jumped hurriedly in her car.  Dad’s eyes flit to the small pen-knife, while he cracks open a shelled nut, popping one into his mouth.  The sound of electronic locks sound behind him.

“You gotta be kidding me,” Dad sighed.  The boy nervously turns the knife.

“Now, man.  All your cash.  Or else.”

“Son, ” Dad says staring hard at the boy.  “Hell no.  You try and do anything and I’ll shove that tiny blade so far up your ass that you’ll be shittin’ dimes into next year.”

The boy does not seem quite sure what to do at this point.  He puts away the knife and shuffles away.

“Jesus mister, you don’t have to be so violent.”


“What happened then, Dad?”  Katie asks in the kitchen few hours later.  Tears stream down her face from the laughter.  Sean is nearly rolling on the floor.

“I got in my car,” Dad shrugged, “and drove to campus to pick up the boys.”

Mom can only shake her head:  pride, worry, and astonishment mingle together among her smiles and laughter.

“It’s a shame though,” he sighed.  “If he would have only asked for a few bucks, I probably would have given it to him.  Looking at the size of that knife, I almost felt sorry for him . . .”