First, let’s get it out of the way: So, how y’all doing?
I had to start this week’s column with y’all, you see, because it is about Texas, which is where I was recently.
Texans say “y’all” about as often as Canadians say “eh?” – that is, about once a year. However, some years ago, a Texan made the mistake of saying it in a movie, and so now everyone knows that people from Texas say y’all in every sentence. Sometimes twice.
So, having dispelled that myth, I’m now going to start another: what Texans really do is eat a lot of jalapeno peppers. You can find them everywhere – in chili sauce, in rice dishes, your morning coffee, and in the chocolate cake. Texans eat so many of these hot peppers that I’d bet cash that it’s the Official State Vegetable. [Okay, so that's easy money: the only other vegetable ever served in Texas is refried beans, so I've got 50/50 odds there.]
The extensive use of jalapenos means that food in Texas comes in just two flavours: Thermonuclear Tex Mex and Blow Your Taste Buds Out Barbecue. This makes perfect sense because Texas has hot weather all year round, so obviously the one thing you want to do when sitting down to a meal is sweat some more. [Actually, it seems to be a natural law that hot regions have hot cuisine. You would never, for example, find a Hot N' Spicy Reindeer Burger on the menu in say, northern Finland, where it might actually do you some good. See also India vs. Iceland or Mexico vs. Russia.]
Another myth about Texas is that everything is big. Coming from Canada as I do, where just one of our provinces is bigger than the countries of France and Spain combined, I have a slightly different sense of the word “big.” But I will say that Texas, and in particular the city Houston is “sprawling.” It was so sprawled, in fact, that for my conference at the new George Brown convention centre, I needed both a day’s rations and a GPS unit to make it from one end of the exhibition hall to the other. At some point, Texas architects are going to have to learn how to build “up” instead of “out.”
This is not to say that Houston is all ugly and urban. Unlike other cities I could name (which I won’t name, but will call by the pseudonym “Detroit”), Houston is making a real effort to beautify the streets and bring in some greenery. Unfortunately, municipal workers are doing this with such enthusiasm that if you stand still for more than two minutes on a bare patch of ground, you risk being drilled with a tree planter, and stuffed under a sapling.
The other problem with all this arboreal exuberance is that Houstonites have not chosen their tree species wisely. The tree roots tend to grow “out” instead of “down” (see also Texas architecture, above), which means that you need a pair of sturdy hiking boots to climb over sidewalk paving slabs that have been shoved up at 45 degree angles in all directions. It’s really only a matter of time before someone trips and falls. If they are holding a coffee and a burger at the time, given the legal history of the US, I predict a massive lawsuit involving unsafe sidewalks, traumatic coffee burns and corporate enforced obesity.
Assuming of course, that the plaintiffs don’t try to travel to the courthouse by train. In a moment of foolish romantic travel idealism, I had decided to see a bit of the US on my way to Houston and booked a trip by rail. What I did not realize was that the US train system consistently operates in its own time zone, which is Local Time + 1 or 2 hour delay. This meant that I sprinted across several states just trying to catch missed connections.
The other fun bit was that major metropolitan train stations in America are apparently, by law, placed in hard to find and incredibly rough neighbourhoods and then made to close on weekends. This ensures that you get to meet the locals, even if you try to look inconspicuous and just want to be in a Lonestar State of Mind. After a couple of nervous hours, you’ll feel that All the Eyes of Texas Are Upon You.
Which is why I was glad to get back, All The Way From Texas.