Things I Learned in Texas, Part 2

Sometimes, you just don’t see it coming.

Last Friday, I felt a bit off; I figured it for a backlash cold from Thanksgiving week. Saturday afternoon, while volunteering at Hugo House’s Write-O-Rama, I began my descent into chills and body aches.

That evening, I got sick. Really sick. Really, really sick.

Seemingly, I miscalculated a cold when it was actually the flu. Days later, still exhausted with coughs and fever, the final chin music was that I didn’t have a strain of superflu but severe pneumonia. That wheezy, trapped-under-glass feeling wasn’t my asthma flaring up, it was my blood oxygen level dipping dangerously low.

While it returns to normal, only short, small things are possible: sentences and ideas rather than an essay, for instance. Since I’m determined to write one more post about Austin, I’ve decided to take a cue from recovery to do it. Somehow, I think the Texans would approve.

Pride and patriotism. Bad Dubya re-election slogan? Maybe. I was entertained by how excited Texans are about their state. I don’t note it lightly or disparagingly: I found every exuberant yee-hah! (of which there were many) to be delightful and genuine, whether it was for a musical act, the Longhorns/Aggies game, tasty barbeque, or simply being from Austin. Dammit, Texans are happy to be alive in the Lone Star.

Homemade salsa and chips. Yeah, there are a few great barbecue joints outside town, but where else can one go from restaurant to restaurant throughout the land for warm, salty, home-made tortilla chips? In Austin, you get them on the table at every meal. Even breakfast. I may be Italian, but salsa is my favorite condiment, especially when seasoned with fresh cilantro and peppers. It holds tight to the chip with dense, pureed smokiness. Yum.

Naturalization. Like Slaid Cleaves, residents born out of state proudly call themselves “naturalized” Texans. These folks always have a ballad-like story of their origins and mistakes made when they first arrived. It recalls Lyle Lovett’s “You’re Not From Texas” where he advises one such man to buy his pants just a little bit longer — but assures him that Texas wants him anyway.

It’s a curious thing to observe, but when you’re down there, Texas does indeed feel like its own nation. Talk about having oxygen in one’s blood. Now, if it weren’t for all the conservatives…

Churches. Which leads to organized religion. I must have seen them elsewhere, perhaps in my driver’s ed booklet, but I smirked when I saw the first yellow caution sign that read, “Church.” Then I saw another. And another. Then I remembered, Oh, yeah – I’m in the South.

There’s lots of church traffic in Austin on Sundays. Quite different from Seattle, where the most stop-and-go you’ll see on the Sabbath is from the latest marathon/fun-run/5k/parade/charity walk, the semi-annual Nordstrom sale, or the crowd of 30,000 who have recently discovered that soccer is a sport.

The accent. That Texas accent is honey. It’s gold. It’s warmth. British accents once held my heart, but they often conceal a sharp alacrity that feels unabashedly mean. The Texas accent makes everything sweet –from profanity to sexism– so much so that it took a full hour for me to feel disgust when a friend’s boss flirtatiously offered, “For you, Gabbi, I’d throw Anne’s bike out the window,” in reference to his out-of-town girlfriend.

Indeed.

The sympathetic accent. Did I mention that it only takes about a day to develop a sympathetic Texas accent? Slaid Cleaves’ accent is so thick, you’d never guess he was from New England. I found myself doing it first through short phrases; by the time I flew out of Dallas, it was whole sentences punctuated with y’all, sir and ma’am. When I mentioned it in passing, a woman laughed and put her hand on mine reassuringly, “Honey, that happens to everyone around here!”

Nature in the City. Barton Springs, Deep Eddy, Mount Bonnell, Lake Austin, Treaty Oak. We have it good in Seattle, but Austin is our verdant Southern sister with the kind of quality nature in the city that makes me think –if only for a minute– that I might actually be able to live in Texas if I lived there. Strolling through an arboretum bespeckled with avian wildlife, we paused on a walk to photograph peacocks, though admittedly, they were unimpressed. The rest of the city is populated by the squawks and jabbering of a million birds; Marlon Perkins would be in heaven there.

Beauty pills and lots of sugar. The dulcet turns of phrase in a Texan’s life are many and diverse. When we arrived at Aunt Stephani’s house for Thanksgiving, her husband, Bobby, told us that she was, “Taking her beauty pill,” a sweet way of saying that she was finishing her makeup.

While I was in the Lone Star, I was called or heard others called baby, sugar, darlin’, sweetie, honey, sweetie-pie, and baby-doll by both men and women without a shred of disrespect. Somehow –it’s that accent again– it’s downright addictive; it makes everyone want to give and receive. (Hell, I’m still calling people, darlin’.)

I’m guessing that it may make a person sick after a while, like sugar frosting, but it sure does taste good going down.

Country Music Stars. Last, but certainly not least, there is a dizzying amount of live music at a host of intimate venues that make braving concerts seem attractive again. The Horseshoe, the Broken Spoke, Saxon Pub, Cactus Cafe… patriotic Texans gather every night under the neon to hoot and holler mere steps away from talented musicians like our friend, Slaid Cleaves, as they are served $1 pony-necks and cans of Lone Star. Not too shabby… and not Key Arena or the Showbox.

At the end of it all, if I did catch pneumonia from Slaid, as I suspect I may have during our brief introduction, then I’ve learned an important lesson: mixing it up with celebrities may be fun while it lasts, but there’s typically a communicable disease involved and the cure is often just as painful.