One hears that Texas still considers itself a republic, and it’s not hard to understand why: it is BIG.
Interstate 10 traverses Texas for a whopping 879 miles, and various diversions took us considerably further than that. The western half of the Lone Star State is so empty that according to our atlas, Big Bend National Park is “near” El Paso, at a distance of over 300 miles. It’s true that the elevation is lower and it’s a tiny bit less dusty than in New Mexico, points of interest are few and far between. That said, the scenery is trance inducing: fort-like buttes, turrets, table-top mountains and minarets, punctuated only by yucca trees, saguaro cactus and yes, tumbleweed.
Gradually, grass starts to mix with sagebrush, and green trees with succulents, with the angular mountains softening into rolling hills. At the imaginary line dividing west Texas from east, trees gain the majority and rivers begin to appear.
From there, the land flattens out and farms appear. You can sense that the Atlantic is nearing.
Geographical differences aside, Texas takes itself very seriously. Cowboy hats, elaborate leather belts and mustaches are worn without irony, and the state flags decorate houses, cars and businesses.
Signs along the highway warn drivers: ‘Don’t mess with Texas!’, just in case they were thinking about littering.
Texas goes to great lengths to demonstrate its independent spirit, even boasting its own statewide fast food joint: Whataburger, a family-owned business that has given its name to the football stadium in Corpus Christi, its headquarters.
Dan, a great fan of his own state’s homegrown fast food chain: In-n-Out, was keen to sample Whataburger. So, one day, we all went for lunch. They had pretty much what you’d find at McDonalds: fishburgers, kids’ meals with toys, etc. The difference is that food ordered at the cash register is delivered by a (very enthusiastic, in our case) staff member, who comes bearing condiments. Dan wasn’t super-impressed, saying Whataburger didn’t compare at all to In-n-Out. We didn’t feel one way or another, but Daniel said the fries were good.
But the State of Texas and God are far more impressed (see photos of signs on store windows).
Texans are really hospitable, at least from what we saw. Especially on the bus: every time we got on a bus (which was about twice), the driver stopped in the middle of his route for about ten minutes to give us local history and directions…with a bus full of passengers. On the Gulf coast, at Port Aransas, the bus ride, which cost 25 cents, even came with free candy for kids! And in San Antonio, even fellow passengers got in on the game: striking up conversations, giving us helpful tourist suggestions, telling us about their estranged children and even calling the bus company to find out when our next bus was due.
Is Texas the only state that fashions food in its own shape? Dan and Marlene bought Texas-shaped tortilla chips at the supermarket, and our Houston suburbs motel had a Texas-shaped waffle iron that produced Texas-shaped waffles.
There must be more examples, I’m sure we only just scratched the surface.
Claire – On maternity leave from career as editor of monthly finance trade magazines, and occasionally a freelance translator. Half-American/half-English, raised in the suburbs of New York, has lived in London for almost nine years.
Daniel – Furniture designer/maker based on London’s Columbia Road flower market, for ten years, also an aspiring painter and DIY supremo. On one-year career break to reconsider options. English by birth, but mother is half-American and spent part of her childhood in Bronxville, New York.
Sophia – 3.5-year old spitfire who loves school, singing, swimming and being a big sister
Lulu – Born May 8 of this year, a model baby who eats, sleeps and gurgles.
Special guests – American, British and international friends and family who drop in along our trip to see whatever part of the country they fancy. They’re welcome to travel in the car with us and sleep in an adjoining tent.