Texpert in Training

“We’re from Texas.” Europeans say they are always rather surprised that, except for Texans, most Americans reply “U.S.A.” when asked where they’re from. 

Thinking back to all the places we’ve moved, Texas might be the only place where we felt embraced on arrival and much like country fried steak and cream gravy, we were only too happy to soak it up. 

Known as “The Friendly State,” Texans are approachable and welcoming, known to strike up a conversation just about anywhere. That explains a deep discussion with a beautiful, young waitress at Austin’s Lamberts Downtown Barbeque as to whether she should permanently remove any of her full body tattoos and a conversation with a breeder, at my first armadillo race, about his special rearing techniques. 

Neighborly seems to take on a new meaning here. Having resided in cities where eye contact was a novelty and neighbors’ names were a mystery, you quickly settle into a pleasant flow of greeting and conversing with everyone you meet, waving hello to each car that passes by and smiling a lot. Neighbors open their homes, their garages and their gardens to you and you, likewise return the favors, wondering why life wasn’t like this all along.

Don’t blame Texas for its boldness. It’s a big state (second largest after Alaska) and can’t help its outsized persona: big personalities, big trucks, big steaks. Suffice to say, there’s not much in the petite category here. 

There’s something unique about Texas and I’ve whole heartedly accepted its invitations to experience its distinctive vibe:

Chicken S**t Bingo
Where else can you spend a Sunday afternoon that includes chickens, chicken feed and what happens after chickens eat? The band was loud, the beer cold and the Little Longhorn Saloon was packed. The $2 ticket had a number on it and gave you one chance on the giant plywood bingo table. As luck would have it, the chicken left her “mark” on my number and I was the winner of $115 in cash!

Weird homes Tour
By the end of the day, we had driven 90 miles all-around Austin, exploring homes that put the “E” in eccentricity. Whether it was a series of domes rumored to have special healing powers or the royal blue cosmic room featuring a 100” flat-screen TV (most guys did not get past this point and just stood there, gaping at the TV), we were not sure if it was the police car hood with working sirens on the ceiling, the doll heads under glass, a hollowed-out armadillo holding guest towels or the enthusiastic homeowners that we’d remember the most.

We arrived at Indra’s Awarehouse for the after-party, a large metal roofed warehouse, filled to the brim with the owner’s art and collections of oddities. As scantily dressed acro-yoginis glided up yards of silk fabric and performed above our heads, we learned from the more adventurous guests that anything crunchy with a barbecue flavor (crickets and mealy worms) were edible after some of Austin’s handmade Tito’s Vodka. 

Live music
Famous for its music venues, you soon learn that whether it’s a renovated gas station, a timeworn dance hall or a bar; in Texas, an old wooden table, a band and some cold beer leads to toe tapping. Under the watchful eye of the sassy owner’s daughter, we took a dance class at The Broken Spoke (one of the aforementioned dance halls) and are now able to two-step alongside cowboys, wondering how we waited this long for a dose of honky-tonk. 

Food, fun and fame
The drive to HEB, the local grocery store, always puts a smile on my face. Passing the open fields on each side of the road, the only traffic you notice might be the cows vying for the same sweet spot of grass. 

Pronounced as H-E-B, it stands for Herbert E. Butt, its founder’s initials. Recently, HEB was named the top U.S. grocery store retailer by Dunnhumby, a global leader in data science (sorry, Trader Joes and Amazon!). With a Chief Medical Officer, a medical board and a pandemic plan already in place, once the coronavirus hit, they quickly contacted top retailers in China and Europe to gain insight as to how the illness had progressed and its effects on employees, the supply chain and shopping behavior. All this combined with its state shaped novelty items and locally sourced products, led many Texans to joke that maybe H.E.B. should run for President!

While I’m not sure that I was actually on the lookout for a state to call my own, I can honestly say that I’m in a blissful state of mind and feeling pretty comfortable in my cowboy hat and boots, ordering my BBQ “fatty,” making sure we have yearly tickets to the rodeo and even adding “Y’all” to a sentence now and then. 

While moving may come with its share of disappointments, my only regret is that our community association has put the nix on the Tuff Shed that I dreamed about in our backyard, a little haven that would’ve served as a writer’s retreat/guest house. Nevertheless, I have decided to use that fortitude that Texans are known for in order to research stealth technology, thereby making both any frustrations and the Tuff Shed less visible.

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