Texas, Explained # 1 : The Basics

Texas, like any other place on this earth, is complicated. It is so large- France is only 2/3 the size of Texas - that it contains wide diversity in its geography, climes, cultures, religions, social classes, and ethnicities. Just as with any other vast sprawling land, you can't summarize it in only a few words. Our media saturated world depicts cliched images of cowboys, oil rigs, rednecks, beauty queens, football, sprawling cities, monster trucks, rodeos, astronauts, movie stars, oil magnates. Think about where you live : is there a stereotype? Is it true for everyone? Movies about Texas simplify and romanticize various aspects : "Giant", "Urban Cowboy", "Steel Magnolias", "Friday Night Lights", "Dallas", "Last Picture Show", "Hope Floats" and other popular iconic images abound.

Recently, while traveling through Europe with a large group of Canadians, Greeks, Brits, and companions of other nationalities, many questions were asked of me as to what Texas is like, and what it is like to live here. My students were repeatedly asked if we ride horses to school every day, dress like cowboys, live on ranches, are rich from oil wells. My first answer is always : Dallas is hot, flat, brown, and ugly.
Urban vs Rural
Like many places in the United States, Texas was once a largely rural society, containing farms and ranches and dotted with small towns. It was not that much different from Ohio, California, Maine, Florida, Virginia, or Germany , Italy, or England - just hotter. Waves of immigrants came to Texas in the 1600's-1900's, just as they did to other parts of the new world: Spanish, French, English, German, Vietnamese, and Mexican peoples filled the land.

In the 20th century, Texas has grown at break-neck pace - due to the arrival of railroads at the end of cattle trails in the 1880's, discovery of oil in the 1920's, placement of military bases in the 1940's, invention of air conditioning in the 1950's, building of NASA in the 1960's. Our cities have exploded in population seemingly over night, and like much of America, the small towns and rural areas are shrinking in population at a rapid rate, as the cities grow. There are entire counties (governmental regions larger than small European nations) that do not have a store, or doctor, or school of their own, but must consolidate together and share these important services - due to population decreases. Because Texas is mostly flat lands and rolling prairie, there are no impediments to city geographical size, such as mountains or rivers. The cities in Texas sprawl outward, not upward, which makes them more like Los Angeles than New York. Texas contains four cities that are in the "Top Ten" of American cities, by population : Houston, San Antonio, Dallas/Ft Worth, and Austin. The triangle formed by these cities is now classified a megalopolis, much like the eastern seaboard of the US (Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, New York, Boston.)

Because we have a traditional history that is rural, and because the distances are so great, and because our large population has been large only in the past 50 years, the cities in Texas are only connected at this point in time by highways/interstates/freeways, not by trains or other mass transit. (There is talk of a French style bullet train from Dallas to Houston....) Everyone drives, and we live in a"car culture".

Most of Texas has a hot, dry, arid climate. It is very similar to southern Italy, France, Spain or Greece. Not as temperate as the Mediterranean regions, and colder (windy, dry, ice in the winters) in the northern half of the state. Hot and moist and humid along the coast. Sunny more often than not. It's very similar to southern California - only not as pretty. It could be as charming as the south of France, if only we knew how to live the way the French do. But we don't.

Texas is considerably less expensive to live in than most places in the USA or western world (My friends often say, "The only place cheaper is Oklahoma, and no one wants to live there."). As I say, most of Texas is hot , flat, brown and ugly - but the cost of living is so cheap, you can have a large home, drive a nice car, and blast the air conditioning in both, all the day long. Jobs are plentiful; we barely noticed the last great recession, and our real estate is bouncing back.(No, I am not a business person, real estate agent, member of any chamber of commerce or "booster" of any kind.) Everything is cheaper in Texas than on either the east or the west coast of America : homes, gas, food, home heating/cooling, taxes, etc. It has to be cheap to lure folks here, due to the climate. (Think : India during the Raj.) People have a lot of extra money to shop and travel, and that's pretty much what they do.

Texans love to get away, when we can. Our favorite places : Colorado and New Mexico - higher elevation, drier cooler climate, beautiful green mountains, skiing in winter, snow. New Orleans : a 400 year old city full of  Southern gothic charm and fabulous restaurants, the Mississippi . South Padre Island : beaches, sun and surf. Thanks to DFW airport,many wonderful places are just a hop-skip-and a-jump short flight away : the Caribbean, NYC......

1 comment:

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