My first memory of Texas is from when I was a child. It’s the only time I remember any overtly anti-Semitic action against myself or my family. We were walking down the street somewhere, not sure what part of the Lone Star State, but nowhere too rural as my parents were close enough to generations of persecution that they wouldn’t have taken the rural South risk at that point.
I remember another family was coming towards us, and that either the mom or the dad looked at us with sneering contempt.
“JEW.” they spit at my father, and then yanked the family across the street from us.
My second memory of Texas is returning from crossing the border into Mexico on that same trip. I remember I was told we could not drink the water in Mexico, and how stressed out that made me as a five year old. I remember being relieved once we got back into the US, at not having to vigilantly avoid that which gives life.
After that I didn’t return to Texas for at least thirty years. It wasn’t until I was on my first Roadtrip Walkabout around the US that I decided to make the longitudinal drive through Texas, stopping in Houston to visit a friend.
Understatement: Texas is not an exciting state to drive through.
It’s flat and boring as hell. The only interesting places in Texas are in the middle of the state, so driving through means endless hours of boredom punctuated for just a skinny minute by a cluster of cities once you get to the heart of it.
West Texas is rangeland and oil rigs. I am surprised that it still lives up to my cowboy/prospector stereotypes. I am surprised just how many stereotypes that Texas does unapologetically embody.
One of these is signs on the highway warning against littering that say “Don’t Mess With Texas”. They do have a certain humorous self-awareness I find attractive in a State.
I try to only get out of the car to fill up on gas, but driving West Texas the winds are so powerful that I get exhausted pulling the wheel against them, and decide to stop off for a bottle of water and to stretch my legs and arms.
I pull off at a gas station in bumfuck West Texas. Again that noise that they make in Westerns of the piercing bird cry that’s supposed to indicate there’s no one around but you. Desolate. But there are other people around, just not many of them, and most of them are locals. I brace myself.
Getting out of the car the winds are so strong they slam the door back shut on me. Pieces of paper and tumbleweed dance across the parking lot.
I walk into the gas station/mini-market and jangle the bell attached to the door. Everyone freezes and stares at me. I pause, catching their eyes then casting mine down. Spend a while walking around the store until the heat is off of me. I hear people slowly start up their chatter again and am glad that no one seems coming to lynch me or spit “Jew” in my face.
While standing in line to pay for my water, the people in front of me are an odd couple of a toothless, toothpick of a husband and a morbidly obese, bald woman in a muu muu and chemo cap. She is buying two king-sized Butterfinger candy bars. I frown at this knowing that sugar feeds cancer, but I also have never had chemo so who am I to judge.
“Little ol’ lady has always had her a sweet tooth.” drawls the hubbie to the cashier, smiling.
I pay for my water and walk outside just behind the couple. In one motion, the woman unwraps both candy bars and shoves them whole into her mouth while releasing the wrappers into the wind that immediately takes them far out of sight.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had a Butterfinger, but they are not easy to chew. What she did was no small feat, and I’ll never forget the gluttonous, devil-may-care motion of it.
“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in California anymore.” I whisper to myself.
On arriving at my friend’s place we get a little gussied up to go out to the local Honky Tonk. He’s a drinker and likes to, well, drink, and I am not much of one but I love the idea of seeing what the local scene is like. And so we do.
It’s a down-home Texas honky tonk. Line dancing and all. My buddy buys me all the booze and plays wingman to me the entire night.
I dance with him, which is weird because he’s my buddy and it makes me rigid. Then I dance with a bonafide cowboy named Rex who comes from 7 generations of cattle ranchers, a Mexican guy in a Stetson, and a redneck who has been in and out of jail all of his life and proudly tells me
“I ain’t never met no Jew before”.
We close out the honky tonk and my friend drives us home blind drunk. I make out with one of the three black guys the parking lot on the way out. He puts my hand on his dick to show me what I do to him, but I don’t really care, it all seems like a zoo to me at this point, so I just laugh and laugh and leave.
The next morning my friend polishes up his 9mm and takes me to the George H.W. Bush shooting range.
We both buy our own ammo and take turns shooting at still targets. I’m a decent shot when I’m shooting at a still target. Moving targets, though, I am useless, which is why I know better than to own a gun for any practical purposes.
This is not my first or last time shooting a handgun. It’s enjoyable and good practice, but I’m not focusing on it too heavily and instead am taking in the scene. A guy abandons his post next to me and my buddy, and it’s taken up by a man and his adorable, blonde, four year old daughter wearing very expensive ear and eye protection.
I watch him load up some clips and then pick up one of those tiny guns that women keep in their purses. Then, he grabs a nearby stack of wooden boxes that are used to create tables for ammo or change the height of the shooter, and he stands his little girl up on them.
He hands her the gun and then stands behind her with his hands over hers.
“You remember what I told you?” he asks, in a thick Texas accent.
“YES DADDY!” she squeals and assumes the stance he must have taught her.
I look on in amazement as he gives his four year old daughter tips and pointers on safe shooting. Tears pour down my face.
“Now here we go baby girl, we’re gonna pull the trigger, okay? Daddy’s gonna make sure nothing ever happens to you.” he says, while I choke back sobs at the strange USAmerican beauty of this scene unfolding before me.
Before leaving Texas I take his words to heart and think about buying a gun for my own personal safety. I’m leafing through the local paper and there’s an insert full of ads, one of them shows a photo of an adorable pink gun.
“PINK GUN.” I say to my buddy, unable to say anything else, and show him the photo.
“You know you can just go down to Walmart and buy that.” he says. “No wait time in Texas.”
“I know, but I’m leaving the state and that would mean I’m carrying both a Taser and a gun.” I reply.
“At least they’d match.” he says, knowing that my Taser is pink as well. Fucking Canadians.
He makes a fair point, but I still don’t see that the gun will protect me more than it will put me at harm, which ends up being a wise choice.
Houston is a great town, and surprises me by it’s similarity to Los Angeles in many ways. The physical layout is spread out and largely served by freeways. It’s driven by the a single industry (oil) and that industry ends up attracting people from everywhere who want to be involved in it. I am surprised and pleased by the diversity I find in Houston, and feel pretty comfortable in the city.
The next two times I’m in Texas are Austin and Amarillo respectively. Amarillo residents love that I know about Bomb City – for many years the US made nukes there. Both places have me with progressive exceptions to the Texas vibe. Hippies and freaks. It’s comforting to know that Texas has a place for these too.