Sometimes we do the right thing and it spreads like a game of telephone on the playground. That’s how this election has felt to me. At first there were these little whispers of this guy… this guy who once had a punk band that was over on the border. Not Mexican, but has a Mexican name term of endearment nickname. Young. Handsome. Schooled at Columbia. All the beautiful secret things that are the real Texas.
See. I’m a native Houstonian. I love my fucking city. I also hate my fucking city. Or rather, I grew up hating it. I hated the burbs and the shit kikkers and the red necks and that we were known for whiny country music and rodeos and horrible accents that sounded like we were a bunch of dumb hicks. What I loved about Texas was so subliminal I didn’t even realize it until I left for awhile. Moved to another state and found out that my entire mindset was formed yes, of course by the books I had read and the education I’d received, but the foundation of who I was? The rock bottom core of my soul? That was Texas, folks. Drenched in sweet barbeque sauce and sizzled on the triple digit Houston sidewalks.
They say that you don’t have to ask someone where they’re from who is from Texas. They’ll tell you before you get the chance. This is truth. Another thing I didn’t realize until I lived outside the state. Other people would go around the school or work meeting and mention children or accomplishments.
The first thing that would come out of my mouth was I’m from Texas. I began to realize that Texas is a State of Being. It’s a State of Mind. You can take the me out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas out of the me.
You sir, may go to hell. I am going to Texas.–Davy Crockett
Like so much of life, being away from home made me appreciate it. Then respect it. Then realize I’d not so much been in love with it as it coded into my soul.
I mean, I’d known when I’d driven the long stretches of road listening to the Fabulous Thunderbirds, which to me was Austin where I spent half of my time my college years dancing at the Continental Club or Club Foot and eating chicken fried steak, or when I’d gone to Lubbock to the Buddy Holly Festival that Joe Ely always played in the closed down streets celebrating his idol and his own hometown.
I taught myself to speak without an accent and read a lot of books. And the only thing I knew to do was reject everything that was symbolic of what I hated–small town thinking from small town sensibilities. The illiterate by choice. Cowboy boots unless they were worn by Keith Richards or Joe Ely or Joe Strummer. (I now love them beyond.) I hated and hate hunting because you know, slaughter. Prefabricated neighborhoods outside the inner city loop where people lived who wanted yards as flat as football fields and houses too big and character-less for anything useful and huge expensive cars and a commute that stunk up the city and blocked the highways. Even then, back then, 40 years or more ago, it all felt wrong. Too much. Nothing good could come from so much….so much… waste…. clutter.
It was like Benjamin Braddock at his graduation party being told about plastics. It was Jack in the Box having too many damn menu options when all anyone needed was the Jumbo Jack and fantastic flat Super Tacos that could be put in an envelope and mailed and Frings–a mix of french fries and onion rings and those dollar menu chicken sandwiches. Everything else was just too precious and absurd.
At 16 I found the Rocky Horror Picture Show and a mass of people that were not the same as those who frequented Katy High School, home of rice farms and small minds. At 17 I went to work at an AMC Theatre and found a bunch of misfits like myself who couldn’t quite get behind Friday night’s lights and shopping malls filled with generic crap. At 18, I found Herschel Berry and the Natives at Anderson Fair and my real love affair with Texas began.
What I learned from local music, what I learned from punk rock–was that in fact, love is all you need. That even the freaking Hard Rock Cafe is right–Serve All Love All. That hidden beneath the Urban Cowboy shit was this city of mystery and secrets. There was this unreal music. There was all night Tex Mex with kick ass juke boxes and those who frequented it. There was this love and honor among the punk rockers and the aging hippies and the drag queens and the gay men and the homeless teens and all of the others who didn’t fit into the Lone Star State stereotype regardless of color or sexual orientation or socio economics. You just didn’t know until you left the comfort of your sedan and talked to the people in the streets. We just didn’t let the others know. It was ours. They could have the rest.
Eventually someone would rise out of here or out of a place just like here that encapsulated all that is bright and beautiful and blazing about Texas. Our real culture. Our blended population. Our love of music that defies labels, like Herschel, or Alejandro Escovedo. Our mixture of punk and cowboy that pulled in Strummer to hang out with that cowboy guy he liked, Ely. It’s not just music or clothing. Those simply reflect the ethic that is here. It’s mom and pop diners and taquerias and dive bars and little music halls. It’s a hot humid wet sweater of a place that is so deranged that out of it comes the Art Car Parade and the Orange Show and even a secret serial killer that only the locals know about, despite the liklihood he could possibly have the highest body count of all time. Before craft brew, we choked down Lone Star Beer in bottle necks because it was local, even if it tasted and still tastes like rat piss. It’s local heroes like old lonesome Howard Hughes. That’s how we do things here. We have musicals written about our whore houses.
We create a legacy of cadallics buried in the dirt of what would be wasted landscape. We once had a pig here tattoed with wings. This is how we do art.
Houston still is the mystical and beautiful and secret place. This club for those in the know, on the inside. The cool kids. Most of those places we frequented are still here. Preserved. Not just moments in time but part of the spiderweb that holds up our city even as it sinks into the swampland we are built on. Key words. Code words. Houston is a small small town, baby.
So the whispers started and slowly the buttons and bumper stickers began to emerge…. quietly, slowly likely from fear of retaliation despite the fact that we here all know that this is already a blue state. This is in fact, a brown state. The only reason this state reads red is because it was gerrymandered beyond belief so that areas range from Austin almost to Dallas rather than say, Austin being one place. In fact, those of us over a certain age, recall the whirlwind of all that is bravado and cyclonic about Texas in human form, Governor Ann Richards. Ann took no shit. We are channeling Ann this election. This day. This time when the tide is high.
We began to realize that it was like a secret clubhouse. Nods, smiles, a quiet thumbs up. We were one. We were all still here. There was more of us than we were led to believe. In the ugly loud jarring swagger of the New GOP, even the natives here had been led to believe the stereotypes, the lies on par with Dallas, the TV show, not the beautiful lilting song. Love All Serve All.
The cowboy way. The musicans way. The rebel way. The artist way. The Texas way.
I think after Harvey we’d all just had enough. Enough of the fucking lies about us. Enough of being disregarded and counted off as worthless. A joke. A universal joke of Cowtown, USA. We weren’t going to go quietly into the night. We were going to rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And we had the One. Out of El Paso, of all places, our hero emerged. A tall drink of water, as we say here in Texas. A 40-something who still looked like a kid, like Alec Baldwin in Beetlejuice before he blew up. Long arms swinging, long legs running and walking and jumping and driving across a state that is close to the size of Europe. Hours and hours and miles through the heat, the sonic heat. Doing what others before said was a collasal waste of time. Those who didn’t know Texas. Those who didn’t know the real us.
Not a dumb ass speaking of having beers together and how we don’t need no city slickers telling us what to do and a C is good enough. That’s facade and bullshit.
The Texas I know has pockets of Republicans who are old school…. meaning that they don’t give a shit what you do in your own bedroom or your own home. They’re conservative in wanting their guns and their Southern gentleman ethics and the right to lead their own lives be it to homeschool their kids without answering to the Man which is the same as the old Art Car Parade slogan of we just want to ride around in our machines and not be hassled by the man. Which is the same damn thing. And they don’t care how their neighbor got here and what color he is if he keeps his place nice and will lend a hand in a tragedy and raises some respectful kids. I grew up next to a Mexican family, the Ninos, and I do not recall once hearing the word Mexican other than to descibe the exquisite cuisine and in regard to the family itself, the dad brought over left over KFC from his job as manager and we invited them to our BBQ’s and everyone pitched in if a car wasn’t running or one of the moms decided to have a garage sale or when their new babies were born.
Texans remember the Alamo and the aftermath. They celebrate Mexican cowboys. They weave tamales and brisket together like Spanglish. At least when it matters they do. We do. Before the brainwashing. Before the river of lies longer than the Rio Grande.
And then Beto showed up. With his Columbia education that is valued as the damning of the elite here never pertained to education… it pertained to attitude: being better than. Having some letters behind ones name is honorable especially those sleeves are rolled up and you’re willing to work side by side with ranchers and farmers and minority field hands. Someone running and talking and talking and running. To everyone. The thing that is going to overpower the new not so grand old party today is that we do know a city slicker. We do know a used car salesman. And we do know the words to The Who. And yeah, we have lived a Teenaged Wasteland for awhile now… but it’s not going to be where we end up because it’s not who we are.
It’s Texas. We trust musicans here. It’s in the blood.
Tonight I sit here in a dive bar in an area that was once a broken down ward and is now an up amd coming bohemian artist haven being saved by millineal meets Gen Z punk rock aesthetics, just on the edge of Montrose. There’s nerves and hope and more movement than is normal for a Tuesday night. The bartender is hoping for celebratory customers later in the night. He’ll be here if things swing the other way. We’ve had Beto’s black and white signs out front of our blocks for months. Beto himself stopped in one afternoon early last Spring when he saw them and had lunch at the ancient diner and stopped in the shop of oddities and the record store. His photo was in the NYTimes here in that diner. We have his back. He’s got ours. And this we is the we I met so long ago, when I was a kid here having stumbled out of surburbia and inside the loop where the real Texas lived.
My twenty year old heart will dance tonight when the returns come in and once again, there will be faith in what we’ve created here. What we’ve dug into the mushy soil and what has somehow made this most unlikely of cities the 4th largest. That kid from the Border, a former punk rocker in a dress,having grown up on the border not knowing there was a reason to think an arbitrary line meant anything and knowing for sure one language was as good as another, has risen up. The world. The entire world is watching. And he, this Irish guy with the Mexican first name, is going to let the world in on the secret of Texas and lead the world forward. I will wear the tears of joy and nostalgia like a Victory V in my boots eating tacos. Viva Beto.