A Non-Texan's Guide to Texas - Lesson One (Debunking Basic Myths)

Consider this my PSA for the day.

When I was in law school, it amazed me how many otherwise intelligent people had misconceptions about Texas. In fact, I remember reading Jim Parsons lamenting the same thing in EW after he won the Emmy [people who thought he grew up riding horses to school in Houston].

The first misconception about Texas is that every city is completely backwards (thanks, GWB), rural (thanks, westerns), or covered with oil derricks and sleazy oil barons (thanks Dallas). People forget that Texas is home to three of the ten largest cities in the US [Houston - 4, San Antonio - 7, and Dallas - 9]; the home state or adopted home state of many beloved, non-C&W entertainers [Patrick Swayze, Beyoncé, Jim Parsons, Hilary Duff, Renée Zellweger, Jennifer Garner, the Quaids (sorry), Jaime Foxx, Nora Jones, Erykah Badu, Angie Harmon, Morgan Fairchild, the Jonas Brothers (again, sorry), Meat Loaf, Matthew McConaughey, the Wilson brothers, the Allen sisters, Sandra Bullock (an adopted Texan), Ethan Hawke, Joan Crawford, Farrah Fawcett, Sissy Spacek, Aaron Spelling, and Forest Whitaker... to name a very, very small few].

People also forget that Texas is home to that Mecca of technology and innovation, NASA. "Houston, we have a problem" wasn't a reference to some guy with the last name Houston. Oh, and Dell computers. We're also home to the "hippiest" grocery store chain in the nation, Whole Paycheck Foods. Just sayin'...

Not everyone here speaks with a twang or accent. Not everyone likes country or rodeos (I do, but I digress...). Yeah, we have our hicks, but so does Massachusetts.

One caveat [tangent], though: I love the word "y'all" and think everyone should use it. It's gender-neutral and convenient. Please, though, spell it correctly. It's not "ya'll". You + All = Y'all. You wouldn't write "coul'dnt," would you?
**Tangent Over**

There's also the political misconception about Texas. Just because it's a red state, don't assume everyone who lives here leans right (yes, this even applies to non-minorities and men). And don't assume every city here is red either.

Fun fact: Houston recently elected the first openly gay mayor in any city with a population over a million -- and she was a democrat running against another democrat, who happened to be a black man. Not exactly what you'd expect in a red state.

So I think I've covered the cultural and political misconceptions. Now there's the other big one -- the geographical misconception. I think a lot of people assume that all major cities in Texas are near each other. They're not. Not even close.

Most people conceptually get that Texas is a large state -- the second biggest; but that doesn't really translate into them comprehending just how big Texas really is.

I often get comments from people unfamiliar with Texas about how they could do something in Dallas and then "pop on over" to Houston. Or how it's good that I have a friend "so close" in Austin or San Antonio. Uh.... No.

Let me put this in perspective: the drive from Houston (in the east) to El Paso (in the west) is longer than the drive from Houston to Georgia and takes roughly the same amount of time as it would take me to drive from Houston to Missouri to see my in-laws.

[Editor's Note: Since this was originally published it has been pointed out that the mapquest estimate I got years ago - which calculated the trip as a day was very very wrong. Thanks, Valerie! And sorry everyone for the Texas-sized error The preceding paragraph has been now corrected for accuracy.]

There are 240 miles between Houston and Dallas. It's a 45-minute plane ride or four- to five-hour drive (depending on who's driving). There are 141 driving miles between Houston and Austin (25 minutes plane; 3 hours driving -- 4.5 if you take the ill-advised Onstar-selected route. Don't.). There are 275 driving miles between Houston and San Antonio (just a little longer than Dallas).

In most states, these distances would put you in a completely other state -- maybe even two. In Texas, an hour-long, highway-speed drive may not even get you out of your city's greater metro area.

As you can imagine, with great geographic distance comes great cultural differences. Please don't ever try to impress a Houstonian by talking about your love of the Cowboys; and correspondingly, no one from Dallas/Fort Worth wants to hear about what a great game Matt Schaub had.

That's the end of the Texas lesson for the day. I'm sure there will be more.

Y'all have any questions?

Posted from my iPhone, so please forgive any ducking typos.

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  1. Valerie said...

    I like this post with one exception. The drive to Houston from El Paso doesn't take anything near 24 hours. It's more like 10-12. Believe me, I did it more than once when I was in grad school in Albuquerque. I also drove to Pensacola Beach from Houston once. The two trips take roughly the same amount of time.

    Texas is big, but it's not that big!

  2. Blogger said...

    I stand corrected! I haven't actually made the drive that way in about 17 years, and the last time I researched it [right before Hurricane Rita, when I was looking for escape routes], 24 hours is what MapQuest gave me. That's when I decided to instead drive north and go to Arkansas. :)

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