Gettin’ Messed With By Texas

by Flynn Washburne, November 1, 2017

When I moved to Texas back in 1981, the first thing that struck me about the state, after the stifling heat, humidity, and lack of any distinguishing natural features, was its pervasive and thoroughgoing lack of humility. Like a burnt-orange, longhorned virus, self-referential markers teemed and infested the commercial and physical landscape. I felt assailed, as if someone were constantly shoving me and saying, "Do you know where you are? Texas! TEX-A-A-A-AS!!" It's Texas this and Lone Star that and Alamo the other, and lest you forget the contours of their disproportionately extensive slab of real estate, the silhouette of their map profile adorns every available surface. Puffed up and preening, Texas is a prideful, strutting egomaniac, despite being, once you get past all the bluster and hyperbole, nothing more than a couple million square miles of dust. Yes, it's big, insanely, unnecessarily so, and if there were any inherent value in largeness I might understand the collective ego-trip the entire population seems afflicted with. But the nearest parallel I can conjure is the fattest man in the world proclaiming himself the shit on the basis of sheer skin acreage alone, “the shit” being a modern iteration of “the cat's pajamas.” He can claim shithood all he likes but he'll still be shunned by the rest of the world.

As is often the case with individual humans, Texas's blustering braggadocio is in inverse proportion to its actual value, oil reserves notwithstanding. Oil has no intrinsic value and without the technology to apply it to, it’s just gunk. The less you have, or are, the louder and more insistently you trumpet the claim of your superiority.Those who really have it don't have this pathological need to tell everyone how great they are. Their existence speaks for itself.

For instance, I moved to Texas from a place so abundant in natural wonder, Colorado's Front Range, that we didn't even charge for it. Every day I'd wake up in the shadow of features tourists would travel thousands of miles to stand and gawk at, and never think a thing of it. "Yawn," I'd say. "Any beer left?"

If Texas had a tenth of Colorado's beauty they'd fence off the entire state and charge admission. As evidence of this claim, I offer the example of Barton Springs, a lovely, cool, spring-fed rock pool in Austin that they fenced off and charge admission to.

Colorado knows it's the shit, as does California. California literally has it all, which is why Texans harbor such deep-seated resentment toward us, despite traveling here in droves to soak up Disneyland and Hollywood and beaches where you don't have to undergo decontamination after swimming. All Texans who can afford it travel extensively, because they can't stand the sight of the blighted landscape they profess to love so much. Those who can't stay home and perpetuate the fiction that they actually live in a place they can be proud of. "Ain't we lucky," they say, "to live here in Texas, the greatest state in all the union?"

"Well, if my trucker hat, T-shirt, belt buckle, dog sweater, and beer cozy didn't convince you, then let me vocally reiterate that yes, I fully subscribe to the notion of Texan superiority, and I do have a loyalty oath on file," they answer.

Every summer, once the morning sun starts flash-frying unprotected skin and the humidity levels approximate those at the bottom of the ocean, Texans disseminate themselves into the farthest reaches of the nation in a mass ejaculation of garishly outfitted, overly nourished yokels impeding traffic flow in their wheeled living rooms. Some of them even make it up into the Northern California hinterlands, which is a little odd given that NorCal's entire gestalt is antithetical to the Texan weltanschauung, but they're probably attracted by the big trees. Texans have a boner for anything big, and especially “the biggest” so they can look at it and say "I've seen bigger." Which they haven't — trees in Texas are mostly mesquite and scrub oak — but the Texan ego is unparalleled in its capacity for self-delusion.

I think we can all agree that an infestation of Texans into the sylvan fastness of Mendocino is a bad thing and they should be redirected to someplace more simpatico to their unique natures. Tourists we love, we'd just rather they be from Portland or France, someplace cool like that. Texans shed lameness wherever they go.

I try to steer clear of Lone Star representatives when I encounter them, having had my fill of the species when I lived there, but sometimes circumstances get in the way of our intentions and our orbit unfortunately intersects with them.

Driving from Fort Bragg to Ukiah on Highway 20, you will encounter several types of drivers and driving styles, based primarily on localness, road familiarity, degree of intoxication, vehicle type, and mission. One type is the anxious, sweating, junkie (me) in a fast sports car trying to get to where the drugs are (Ukiah) as quickly as possible as his navigator (Will Hawk) plies him with various palliatives (beer, marijuana) in order to facilitate the journey.

Another would be the rolling behemoth veering from shoulder to shoulder as the dumbstruck prairie­billie behind the wheel takes in the scenery at speeds in the teens, straddling the center line when he's not slaloming and refusing to politely pull into a turnout and let us pass, regardless how much we honk and ride his ass. With Texas plates. That's who we found ourselves behind.

"Ram him!" Will cried at one point.

"Will, we're in a Miata, that thing would just absorb us like the Blob," I said. "Whose car is this again, by the way?"

"Dog, I honestly don't remember, but it's all good. Okay, I got a plan. Get right up on his bumper and I'll crawl out onto the hood, up his ladder, slither across his roof to the front and then hang down in front of the windshield and scare the shit out of him. It'll be fuckin' EPIC!"

"Will, I really don't think that's a good idea," I said. I had to take the suggestion at face value and seriously dismiss it, for had I thrown my support behind it, facetiously or otherwise, he'd've been scampering up that ladder like a squirrel and there'd be a Winnie full of dead Texans at the bottom of the valley. He would've come out of it like a Kennedy, though, hanging from a tree limb at the side of the road as the RV tumbled down the hillside. "We just have to somehow communicate to this asshole a couple of things, like the importance of our mission and the local custom of pulling over to allow faster vehicles to go by. Although I don't see how I can make it any plainer than what we're doing," which was tailgating, honking, and, when possible, getting to his left and yelling obscenities out the windows. Nothing seemed to be getting through to him as he blithely and creepingly described his raggedly serpentine way up the hill.

At one point it actually looked like there was enough daylight for me to overtake him as he maintained proper laneage for a moment, and nothing immediately oncoming, but right as I downshifted and stomped on it, eliciting a "Shoot the moon, dog!"from Will, the Texan angled his rolling environmental crime sharply to the left and came to a stop, blocking the entire road.

"Uh-oh," I said. "Showdown at the OK Corral."

Famous last words. The Winnie pilot alit from his land-barge with a cellphone in one hand and a pistol in the other, phone to his ear and gat pointed right at our windshield. "Don't you move," he said to us. "Margaret, I can't get through to the nine-one-one," he said, turning back to his vehicle, accenting the nine. "Try your phone."

"No reception up here," I said.

"What the hell are you jokers up to? You trying to carjack us?"

"Carjack? Dude, we're just trying to get you to let us pass. That's how we do it around here, that's what those dirt spots at the side of the road are for. You're going ten miles an hour and I got someplace to be. Please put that gun away. I assure you I have no designs on your Winnebago."

"Well, that's as may be, but goddammit, you got my wife scared spitless. I'm gonna get back in my vehicle and leave, but I want you boys to wait awhile so's I can put some distance between us. My wife wants me to shoot you, but I think I can convince her you're harmless, less'n she sees you again in the rearview. We clear?"

"Crystal. Welcome to California and God bless Texas."

"Alright, then. You boys have a nice day."

"Backatcha, Tex."

Tex returned to his vehicle and the great beast lumbered off like the dinosaur it had become analogous to, excruciatingly slowly and swerving indirectly. What with the innately serpentine nature of Highway 20 and this dingus's tortuous meanderings, I'm surprised the two factors didn't combine to propel him into an alternate universe, or at least off the side of the road.

We bided long enough for the leviathan to recede into the distance, 20 minutes or so, and then found a likely spot by the side of the road to give him time to get to Willits and permanently out of our sphere. I cracked a beer and tilted my seat back, but Will was incensed and bent on revenge. "Let's get him! We can't let him get away with this shit!" he shouted.

"We can and we will, Will. Will you just listen to the voice of reason and experience for a moment? See, in Texas, he'd be allowed to shoot people like us without fear of reprisal. To him, we're nothing more than varmints."

"That doesn't seem right. What's a varmint?"

"Basically anything not cute or useful enough to merit protection under the law and which it is permissible  to kill with impunity — rats, coyotes, possums, and in Texas, tweakers, illegals, and other undesirables. He doesn't know that Governor Brown and the legislature loves us and affords us our due respect as human beings and children of God. Back home, we're just a nuisance to be disposed of without even a dog's rights."

Will got a worried look on his face. "I don't ever want to leave Mendo, dog," he said, voice cracking.

"And you never shall, except maybe to do a little time. Don't worry, Texas is far, far away and if you should see a license plate with a cow on it, give it a wide berth and go the other way. Now, hit this joint and repeat after me: there's no place like home… no place like home…"

2 Responses to Gettin’ Messed With By Texas

  1. Zeke Krahlin Reply

    November 3, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    Another outstanding piece of prose, Mr. Washburne! Like every other tale you’ve written, since I’ve started listening to Marco McClean’s “Memo of the Air” every Friday night in early March.

  2. Paul Modic Reply

    November 6, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    That was hilarious! Send it to the Austin Chronicle or Texas Monthly–see if they have a sense of humor about themselves.

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