Texas is known as the land of big things. It has the world's biggest rocking chair, gingerbread house, flea market, pair of cowboy boots, fire hydrant (yes, you read that correctly. Unfortunately, Clifford doesn't reside in the same town) and BBQ smoker.
You can order and consume a 72-ounce steak and instead of being ridiculed for ingesting a gross amount of meat, you'll be paraded through towns atop a longhorn while cowboy hats are continually thrown in your general direction.
The inherent bigness of Texas was the source of much bemusement from my peers when my husband, Mike, and I announced that we would be relocating from North Dakota to Texas at the end of May 2014.
One response to this announcement loosely read: "...and in one fell swoop, Lisa has single-handedly destroyed the timeless cliche that everything is bigger in Texas". This statement, while mean, is actually correct, as I will, for obvious reasons, not go down in history as the tallest woman to ever move to Texas.
My dreams dashed, I endeavored to rise above nonetheless and live life as only one can when one stands 4'10 3/8.
It's been more than a year since Texas became home. In that time, I've amassed a good amount of life experiences that one can only collect if said individual is living in West Texas.
Hence, without further adieu, please enjoy the
Writing Huntress' Guide to West Texas Living (Vol. 1)
1. While living in Texas, you eat only Blue Bell.
If you're from upstate New York, you know that grocery store preference boils down to two main camps of thought: Wegmans and Tops (also known as You're Wrong). Therefore, I'm a connoisseur when it comes to edifices of food obtainment. This explains why I was entirely too overjoyed when I first walked into the nearest HEB.
It's a lovely mecca of food, albeit not even in the same league, nay stadium or even sport of Wegmans.
During my first visit, I yearned for ice cream since West Texas' average summer temperature equals that of the sun. When I reached into the freezer containing gelato, I heard a distinct tsk tsk from behind me. A woman, clad head-to-toe in red Ts (a symbol I would much later associate with football, and not a repetitive lesson in the 18th letter of the alphabet) and her associated offspring collectively looked at me like I had longhorns growing out of my head and began shuffling, sideways to the Blue Bell freezer. I, much afraid of inciting a riot among the locals, followed suit and bought my first quart.
It's ice cream, very good ice cream. Would I walk to the ends of the world for it? No. But would I ever buy anything else from HEB? That's also a big no.
When the Blue Bell recall began earlier this summer, I noticed that instead of filling the shelves with Ben and Jerry's, a lone note, written more like a eulogy than a simple apology notice, was taped to the door amidst a backdrop of rows and rows of empty shelves. I honestly heard people, in muffled tones reserved only for churches or holy sanctuaries, speak of the day Blue Bell returned. No one bought any other brand, no one could--because here in Texas, the Bell reigns supreme.
2. There is no iced tea.
I have no tolerance for things with a lot of sugar or for caffeine. Which, in many small towns in Texas would sentence me to life of being shunned at best, thrown bodily from the edge of the community like a 1950s Western at worst. That being said, I'm not a fan of sweet tea. However, although I don't drink the stuff, I've found I've adopted a Texas-esque aversion to places that don't serve it.
Case in point--I recently dined at a restaurant with my husband in Louisiana. The food looked delicious but the evening began on a sour note when Mike asked for a sweet tea and was told, in a snide manner, that all they had was iced tea. And it was unsweetened.
As soon as the unfortunate waiter sauntered back to his station, we, adopted Texans, began to seriously consider leaving the restaurant.
Behind massive menus, we muttered, "Iced Tea? ICED TEA? And it's unsweetened? What is that?"
While we were obviously wounded, Mike more than I, the waiter came back with a small tray of sweeteners.
He, believing he had won the war, proudly proclaimed, "We have sweetener. That's the same thing, right?"
"We're from Texas," I replied, assuming this would excuse away the sorry glass of liquefied, non-sweetened Tea leaves.
"And...?" said the waiter, his eyebrows disappearing beneath his blond choppy bowl cut.
Sighing, I realized this was a losing battle, smiled broadly, and said, "Well bless your heart, water's just fine. "
3. It's Football, I don't understand it but man do I hate A&M.
It became extremely clear to me, quite quickly, that Texans take football seriously. I, believing I knew everything that was to know about Texas football from watching Friday Night Lights and Varsity Blues, was a little blindsided to find I actually knew nothing at all about my adopted home's love for the game that involves seemingly overweight men running around, hugging one another tightly and chasing a ball made of pig skin.
I know hockey, therefore if a sport can be translated into puck terms, I understand it. Football cannot be translated thus so I'm SOL when it comes to conversing about it at length.
To save myself the embarrassment of calling the field goal "that big fork thing they kick the ball through" and every single player the quarterback, I attempted to skirt the issue whenever brought up--a near impossibility in Texas.
At my first job, on my first day, I was the Yankee sideshow. I was bombarded with questions about my Yankee life, how I say certain things, what it's like to be able to confidently drive through snow and all inclement weather; all things southerners don't understand about us northerners. When the subject inevitably circled to football, I did my best to claw to the ceiling when the empty stares turned my way after I proclaimed my loyalty to the long-suffering, always disappointing Buffalo Bills.
When college football was brought up, it became clear that everyone here in West Texas loves Tech. They tailgate before games, follow the player's careers and long after they've graduated, still associate the "Wreck 'em Tech, Guns Up" pose in all photographs, including weddings, christenings, and even funerals. All this hoopla surrounding a school I never went to, nor ever visited, seemed odd to me but one thing became clear: to survive in any job in West Texas, you must vow allegiance to Tech and swear to hate A&M and the Longhorns with every fiber of your being until the end of time.
The caveat of this strict policy is that if any of the above teams are playing any team outside Texas, you must cheer for that team because Texans support their own above all else.
So am I a Tech fan? You betcha. Does my lack of football knowledge confound and amuse my Texas coworkers and acquaintances? Yes sir. But does any of that matter so long as I laugh along with Aggie jokes and make fun of the Longhorns?
The answer to that is a resounding HELL NO.
4. Chivalry is not dead, so much so that I've forgotten how to open a door.
I hadn't been in the oilfield long when I realized that men in Texas are so chivalrous that Webster's needs to create a new word for the lengths Texan men will go to in order to make women feel like queens wearing cutoffs and cowboy boots.
One day at the old gig, I really wanted coconut water, another phenomena I've grown increasingly attached to since living in the Southwest. I knew the nearest gas station stocked the stuff so I headed that way.
Upon arrival, I noticed two large rigs from two large drilling companies, meaning the interior of the gas station-cum-grocery store would be packed to the gills. Given I really didn't want to be at work anyway, I resigned to a lengthy journey to procure my beverage of choice. However, the process became a quick one as soon as the men noticed a female had waltzed into their presence.
The door was opened and held open. The door to the freezer followed suit and a man actually carried my purchases and insisted I cut the entire line of 45 roughnecks. I looked at the line and every single man began nodding his head. So I cut. And then five men asked to carry my one-bottle-purchase to my Jeep. I declined, silently wondering how these dirty, overworked men learned such manners.
Opening doors aside, men will also protect you from anything that can hurt you, especially but not limited to, rattlesnakes.
Yesterday, a group of my coworkers went dove hunting on a vendor's property. A few hours into the hunt, I was standing with two of my coworkers when one turned to look over the water tank.
He took a half a step back and informed us to do the same. Without a single cuss word or even raising his voice, he urged us along while raising his shotgun. I screamed, as I'm wont to do when faced with a 4'10" rattlesnake, and was completely useless until a solid five minutes after the shot rang out.
Once the rattler's head was cleanly detached from his body, I was encouraged to take hold of the snake. While the headless thing continued to writhe, and I screamed along with its movements.
Moral of the story: by and large, men from (or adopted by) Texas are gentlemen in every sense of the word from holding open doors to decapitating animals that can easily kill you.
5. Africa is just next door.
My first day at my old job, I was quite astounded to step into the conference room and be faced by no less than 200 animals I had only seen on TV or in magazines. I sneakily took pictures of the room that included a large zebra rug that took up the majority of the back wall.
I was shocked still when my boss at the time invited me to assist him in cleaning out his freezer, expecting deer and duck but receiving wildebeest, kudu, gemsbok, watusi, and nilgai instead.
Exotic ranches are everywhere, hence why so many of my Texan acquaintances are up to the ears in extremely wild game. For a solid six months, my household googled what dinner was before preparing it. Soon, it became commonplace to see blackbuck and ostrich running down the road after they had gotten out from a nearby ranch.
North Dakota was a snow globe; Texas, an expansive, 18-hour long Safari drive.
6. The sunsets.
Late Spring storms stir the atmosphere with a large wooden spoon. The resulting sunsets and 30-mile stretches of views make Texas a perpetual canvas, illustrating the boundless creativity of the big guy upstairs.
7. Texas loves Darwinism.
In New York, there's a virus of stupidity. People are protected from themselves, and from the evil opinions of others, by rules, regulations and safety barriers. Not so in Texas.
If you're stupid in Texas, you're probably going to die.
Fig 1: The rodeo.
I'm accustomed to rodeos that are so hermetically sealed with iron, steel, and seats so far away from the action that the bulls look like angry cocker spaniels being ridden by miniature squirrels.
Because of my past experiences with safety rodeos, I was less than excited about my first Texas rodeo, until I saw the arena. Imagine if you will a hockey arena with no glass (yes, there is one here--the only regulation rink within 300 miles. I joined the beer league in an attempt to find friends. Not surprisingly, the league ended up being 80 guys and me). That was the barely-contained arena that contained many, extremely unhappy 2,000-pound animals for many hours that evening.
Our seats were close enough that if I ever wanted to hug a bull while it tried in earnest to buck whatever is on its back off, I could've. During one tense moment, it appeared as if one of the equally irate broncs was about to launch itself into the seats mere inches from its nose. Instead of running away like any normal person would, the Texans occupying the seats sat more hardily, ready to take the horse full-on if need arose.
I left happy that night, happy that I wasn't dead but also a little proud that my state doesn't coddle its residents--that if I were stupid enough to try to hug an angry animal, I probably deserved a gory, if entertaining, death.
Fig 2. The speed.
Texas boasts the fastest speed limit in the county, clocking in at 85 MPH.
Meaning: if you can survive the ice cream deficiency, football fanaticism, rattlesnakes, rhinos, and beauty of sunsets, and if the speed doesn't kill you, then you can be christened a true West Texan.
Standing still in one place for an extended period of time is something I'm not exactly good at. Case in point: in the last five and a half years, I've moved over 4,000 miles. During these miles, I've seen a lot of places and met a whole spectrum of individuals from the hearty family of friends found in North Carolina to the bitterly cold, yet warm individuals who call North Dakota home. My latest abode is found in Texas, a place that seems so much like every where else I've lived but yet completely different.
The Writing huntress
I hunt. I write. I wear what some consider an unnecessary amount of camouflage face paint.