One way I try to make sense of the capital of the United States and internationally influential city in which I live is to travel to new places far and wide.
Last year that included Jordan, British Columbia, and Cleveland.
This year it's the "Texas Triangle," the Bahamas, and Atlanta.
For at the end of every political or economic issue talked about in DC is a group of people somewhere in the world that gets affected by resulting decision or non-decision. It's infinitely interesting to compare notes of what happens in Washington and how people everywhere perceive it.
My Texas trip started out in Houston and took me around the state for four days. I saw the storied Alamo and strolled on the River Walk in San Antonio, swang off a tree into a little river in Hill Country, did yoga in Austin, visited Jerry Jones' personal perch in Cowboys Stadium, gawked at people eating yard long hot dogs at the Rangers game, drove the ill-fated route JFK took by the Texas Book Repository in downtown Dallas, and toured America's space agency.
After 1,000 miles in 4 days I had only seen a smidgen of its geographical expanse, though the Triangle contains most of its important history, culture, and vibrancy. I admittedly came here with lots of pre-conceived notions about Texans. They are larger-than-life, physically imposing, cocky, extremely religious and patriotic, insulated from the rest of the world, adventurous, too willing to employ lethal injection, and proud.
I saw bits of evidence that these stereotypes contain truth, but also that a little Texas swagger is a good thing. I, rather predictably, also saw that all stereotypes have exceptions and contain myth as well.
Texans do actually like big things. From the guys analyzing the best methods to barbeque on the radio to the corporate titans like Jerry Jones, bigger means better. Bigger ribs and briskets, bigger stadiums, bigger ranches, etc. Billboard advertisements dot the landscape proclaiming that bigger is better and notion of "less is more" just doesn't seem to resonate at all.
Some of their big things are truly impressive. Cowboys Stadium is a modern engineering marvel. I could literally see it 15 miles away on Tom Landry Highway. It's video screen is 7 stories high. I can only imagine how inferior Dan Snyder feels when he attends a game there.
Behind some of this Texan sentiment for big things is the notion that economic growth is invariably good. They have a huge economy and are proud that Texas, unlike states like California, is open for business. Houston itself is predicting an influx of some 600,000 people in the next few years and that there are jobs for them.
As with most things there are two sides to the "growth" coin. It takes ample money, energy, and management to sustain it. California grew fantastically for 150 years, but it is now close to being a failed state that cannot adequately administer justice or educate its young, among other failures.
Texas, meanwhile, is poised to continue growing for decades due to its abundance of natural resources and sheer size. It is attracting miserable Californians by the drove. Such a boom time offers Texans a great opportunity to challenge some of their notions and habits.
Economic growth is almost certain, but how their about health and fitness levels, the design and sustainability of their cities, and the excessive use of capital punishment?
I'm sure smart folks in the excellent universities are pondering these issues, but I am wondering about the average folk.
How can someone maintain a healthy lifestyle AND eat yard long hotdogs and three-pound steaks? Am I and other Americans expected to pay the health care costs for people who routinely indulge in these fatty extravaganzas?
Texans, please google the glycemic index and learn to eat properly. If not for yourself, at least do it for your kids.
Houston and Dallas are sprawled and developed along what seems like one gigantic highway strip. It's as if Times Square was blown to bits and scattered in the Triangle, especially between Austin and San Antonio. Lifestyles in these cities are so reliant on the automobile.
T. Boone Pickens, please work faster to help your fellow Texans switch to alternative fuels!
Another Texan indulgence is the death penalty. Their governors need to employ alternatives means of deterring heinous crime. Here's one. How about properly educating kids, especially those from immigrant communities? I met convenience store clerks in San Antonio who couldn't locate their community on a map, and a hotel clerk who had no opinion about politics. The Texas "miracle" proclaimed by George W. Bush was a total sham and the basis for the testing fixation hurting America's schools and it's kids at present. Law and order is fine, but neglecting the education side is NOT.
As my trip winds to an end I am pleasantly pleased with my time in Texas. Despite the above criticisms I find it entertaining, interesting, and diverse. Austin is like a blue lake in the middle of a red ocean, and must serve as some type of release valve for the state.
As for living large, it's a feature of modern life with which we must contend. Too much consumption, whether of yard long dogs, sports entertainment, or 5,000 square foot houses in the suburbs, is not necessarily sustainable for America at present. It's huge debt overhang is going to force a scale back at some point despite the tired notions of American exceptionalism which continue to propel excessive domestic lifestyles and militaristic adventurism abroad.Texas, with all of its abundant advantages, could lead by example by scaling back and exercising a bit of restraint.