Things I Miss about Texas

Though I’m enjoying living in California I’ve realized that there are a lot of things I’ve missed, some of these i saw coming, others not so much. Anyway, on with the list of things I miss about Texas.

  • Friends and Family – ’nuff said.
  • Ninfas – The holy grail of Houston tex-mex is now more than 2000 miles away, i shed a tear every time i think about that.
  • Freebirds – Where i discovered big ass, assembly line style burritos, and they still do it better than anyone. I have chipotle, which will do, but its not freebirds.
  • Southern Hospitality – This is the real deal. Despite their not so hospitable politics, people in the south are down right friendly. Meanwhile people in northern california are not as cool and laid back as they want you to think. They aren’t in your face and aggressive like east coasters, but there is definitely a passive aggressive “don’t mess with me” vibe going on. On several occasions i have tried to strike up conversation with a stranger in line at a store only to be met with curt, one word answers and a lack of eye contact. People aren’t really cold or mean, they just don’t care about how you’re doing.
  • The Heat – Call me crazy but some days i do miss it. Tell me that climbing into a 130 degree car where you have to turn the AC on and let things cool down before you can even think about touching the steering wheel isn’t at least kind of entertaining. And those days when you step out into the 100% humidity 100 degree heat that makes you say “OH MY GOD!”, when you start sweating within 30 seconds of walking out the door. I’ve had days when i’ve gone on a short bike ride or run in the morning and not even broken a sweat. I realize this sounds bad, but that really upsets me. When i get back from doing something athletic outside i want to be DRENCHED in sweat. That just doesn’t happen here.
  • Houston Drivers – Another one where people will call me crazy, but i really do miss them. Drivers in Houston are aggressive and assertive. Sure its tough to get used to if you move there, but once you get used to it its great. People here have no concept of the left lane being the fast lane and that if you want to go right at the speed limit you should be in the far right lane. People here also run stop signs way too much. I think they are too busy talking on their cell phones and not paying attention to the road.
  • Texas Cyclists – In Texas cyclists are rare enough that there seems to be a bit of a community going on. You probably know every biker in the city by one or two degrees of separation. When you pass a cyclist on the road you always make eye contact, smile, and wave, wishing the other good luck on their crusade to get some respect from all the billy bobs driving huge trucks on Texas’ seemingly endless web of back country roads. Here it seems like everyone rides and there’s no sense of community. I make a real attempt whenever i go out to make eye contact, wave, nod, and say hi to other cyclists, but i almost always get no response.
  • Small Texas Towns – I used to complain about them. In fact, when i was in high school i wrote a travel essay on how small towns on the California coast were different because they just feel cozy, but small Texas towns just felt red neck. Maybe my opinion changed because i spent so much time in small towns on my bike in the Texas hill country during college, but i miss the charm of small Texas towns. I miss that they don’t mess around and attempt to become something that they aren’t. They’ve found something that works and run with it, like time capsules some aspects haven’t changed in many years. I miss the BBQ restaurants that serve food on wax paper instead of plates. I miss gas stations whose pumps don’t accept credit cards, whose floors are still made of wood, whose “regulars” consist of a bunch of guys that show up there to hang out for a few hours, and attached to the gas station is a ranch supply / hardware store and a bakery with some sweet old lady that calls you “darlin” even though you’ve never met her. You expect them to look at you funny because you’re wearing spandex shorts, funny shoes, and a bike helmet, but they are used to having bikers through on the weekend and treat you just like a normal person, asking how the ride is going and where you’re riding to. I miss people asking “How many miles are yall riding today?” at stop lights and choking on their coke when you say around 50.
  • Soundwaves -I have yet to find an independent record store that matches the quality of soundwaves and that saddens me.
  • Whataburger – I didn’t go there very much at all, in recent years i’ve tried to avoid fast food as best i can, but occasionally a craving comes along that nothing will satisfy but whataburger. Though i have in a sense traded whataburger for in-n-out burger, in-n-out burger is very good, but different.
  • Bob Schneider – I realized on my way to work this morning that i may not see a Bob Schneider concert ever again. While Bob may be too irreverent for some, his shows are always top notch and i will never forget all the fun i’ve had at Bob Scheider concerts with my family and friends. I’ll always have the bootleg recordings from those concerts, but its just not the same as catching him at antones in austin for a “plugged” show with the band or at the mucky duck in houston for a solo acoustic set.
  • Austin – My brother and i have a theory that when people talk about how they love Texas, they are usually talking about one of two different versions Texas. The first version is the Texas that i like to sweep under the rug a little, the one i fear people will think about upon hearing that im from Texas. This first Texas is the Texas of Dallas, the Texas of George W. Bush. The Texas that spews ignorance, intolerant conservative politics, drives a big ass truck, drinks bud light, chews tobacco, loves jesus more than you so go to hell, and is seriously worried that gays and the terrorists might just team up to take over the world. The Texas of Toby Keith (is he even from Texas?) and Tom Delay. The second Texas, the one that i love and will always be near to my heart, is the Texas that is alive and well in Austin. The Texas of Ann Richards, Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, Molly Ivins, and Kinky Friedman. The Texas that thinks that the democrats in the state legislature running across the state line a few years ago was hilarious. The Texas that reads Texas Monthly. Thats the Texas that i love and the Texas that i hope to return to someday. The city of Austin represents that Texas for me. I miss checking the concert schedule and realizing that there are 3 or 4 concerts this weekend that i’d be interested in going to, spanning the genres of alt country, funk, soul, acoustic singer/songwriter, radio rock, indie rock, blues, and hip hop. I miss going to the austin city limits festival. I miss barton springs, stubbs bbq, waterloo records and icehouse, threadgills, hudsons on the bend, esther’s follies, and chuy’s. I miss the “keep austin weird” bumper stickers and making fun of people from West Lake who complain that Austin is too weird.
  • Central Market – Yes, Northern California is packed with great grocery stores overflowing with local produce, and there are many great grocery stores within only a few minutes drive from my apartment. These grocery stores are great, but they don’t compare to the greatest: Central Market. It was close when i was living in both Houston and San Antonio and im beginning to miss it dearly. The combination of food ready to eat when you get home, fantastic produce, meats, bread, cheeses, desserts, and many other things is just too much for another store to compete with. One of my favorite things to do last year was go to central market with rachel before dinner with no idea what we wanted to cook. Then we would walk around the store, see what looked good, what didn’t, and then plan a dinner right there on the spot, grab everything we needed, head home and cook it. While the grocery stores here are great, there is no “one stop shop” for everything cooking like central market, which makes one of these dinners very difficult. One of my other favorite things to do was go there on a weekend with a bunch of my friends and basically get lunch that day completely on samples. Grocery stores up here aren’t quite as keen on samples as central market and thats a damn shame. Rachel and i vow to move back to Texas some day, and central market will be one of the first places i visit when i get back home.
  • Canyon Cafe – I’ve never really considered myself to be one for barhopping or happy hours. That is until canyon cafe happened. Our friends used to meet up at Canyon Cafe for happy hour (4-7, seven days a week, how cool is that?) once or twice a week to enjoy $2.95 margaritas that were delicious and plenty strong, accompanied with $3.95 appetizers like adobo chicken wings, southwest eggrolls, and blackbean queso. We’d take a break from our busy schedules and hang out for an hour or two complaining about our tough weeks, figuring out what we were going to do this weekend, and trying to deal with the fact that we were about to graduate and enter the real world, usually to return to the library, the lab, or the meetings for whatever organizations we were a part of. Making small talk with the slightly creepy and awkward, but friendly and familiar bartender Brian, asking for more of those incredible and free sweet potato chips and salsa. You could get in, have a dinner of appetizers, a good time with friends, a couple margaritas and a buzz for under $10. And all it takes to get the ball rolling is for someone to say “Hey guys, im having a crappy week, anyone up for Canyon Cafe tomorrow?” and you would always get some takers. Man, i miss that place.
  • Baseball Games with Dad – Whether i was being carried to games as a baby, playing little league as a kid, or coming back from college to go to a game with my family, baseball has always been a huge part of my life. My dad and i connect on more levels than i can count, but it seems like baseball is the easiest one to turn on, just go to a game. I love going to games and just sitting there with my dad talking about the game: what team is on a tear right now, who’s having a monster year, how the pitcher’s curve ball isn’t really on today and how he’s not confident throwing it, how much we like lance berkman, how so and so doesn’t look comfortable at the plate. Even when we stray from baseball, sitting at a game with my dad talking about whats been going on in our lives is one of my favorite things. I’ve got so many memories from games: going to the game against the cardinals in the NLCS the year that the ‘stros went to the world series and hearing dad talk trash about the guy in front of us wearing cardinal pajama pants after the game (the guy definitely heard), the game where jason lane caught a fly ball for the second out, then chucked it into the stands because he thought the inning was over, Bartolo Colon throwing a ball 10 feet over the batters head and immediately getting tossed even though he was throwing a great game, the peanut guy, all those games watching clemens pitch, watching billy wagner and then brad lidge be two of the most dominant pitchers i’ve ever seen, and a game where someone (i think it was Roy Oswalt) had a perfect game going through 6 or 7 innings, then he gives up a hit and my dad and i start cursing, my mom asks what happened and we reply “he just blew the perfect game”. I love rachel, and shes a great person to go to watch sports with, but just like my dad will never connect with me on soccer like rachel can, rachel will never connect with me on baseball like my dad.
  • Tex-Mex – I’ve discovered some taquerias here, but i’ve scoured the area for a place where i can get a delicious frozen margarita (i’ve had some frozen margaritas here that would make children cry they were so bad), and a huge ass platter of enchiladas covered in gravy with huge portions of mexican rice and refried beans and found nothing. At this point it doesn’t even have to be that good, just passable and reasonably priced for when i need my fix. I even miss the mariachis that come with these places. It’s that bad.
  • Barbecue – Yet another thing that people just can’t do up here. I don’t require something as good as Luling City Market, Snow’s, or Kreuz Market. Something along the lines of Goode Co., Salt Lick, or Rudy’s would be fine at this point. The places we have out here are just god awful. One little thing that drives me nuts: they refuse to serve white bread. Look, i’m as pro-wheat bread as they come, but there is a time and a place for straight up white bread, and that place is with BBQ. Don’t give me some goofy french roll or super dense 9 grain stuff, give me regular white bread.
  • Breakfast Tacos – They don’t do breakfast tacos at all in NorCal. How hard can it be? You’ve got tacos that you eat for lunch and dinner, so why not fill them with eggs, bacon, chorizo, beans, and potatoes around breakfast time? As long as you use a combination of the above ingredients, along with some traditional taco ingredients, wrap them in a fresh tortilla, top with cheese and salsa, it can only be so bad. San Antonio has a breakfast taco every other block, here there’s nothing.
  • Houston Cuisine – Houston doesn’t get much love as a food city, but the food scene is good, and it’s been on the rise big time in the last few years. I think most of it a combination of its geographic location and diversity of its population. It’s placement on the gulf coast lends itself to seafood and its proximity to Louisiana (once you get east of Houston you might was well have crossed the border) lends itself to influences from cajun food. Being in Texas, you’re never too far from a great steak (especially of the chicken fried variety) or some great barbecue, though finding good barbecue inside the city limits can be a challenge. Houston’s being in the south also leads to influences from classic Paula Dean style southern food. The large population from Mexico provides a wealth of Mexican places and taquerias. The black population has generated some fantastic soul food restaurants, and the huge Vietnamese population has flooded the city with great places serving banh mi, pho, vermicelli, and other Vietnamese classics. The booming asian population on the west side of town has been pumping out places serving chinese, thai, korean, malaysian, singaporean, and many other types of food. In the past 3 or 4 years there’s also been a boom in mid range to upper end fine dining restaurants that are fantastic. The San Francisco food scene is great, but the Houston scene isn’t as far behind as people think.
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Responses

  1. Trav –
    Enjoying a vacation at Reckling and Minute Maid Parks, Houston, and the Heights. I always get cabrito at the Cadillac Bar when I come in (last Thurs). Had oysters on the half shell and fresh shrimp (boiled and fried) on two trips to Captain Benny’s on S Main and Connie’s up on Airline by Conino’s Market. Fresh snapper at Conino’s. Saw a great young band at Mucky Ducky with your parents and Ryan last Thurs night, then started the NCAA regionals on Friday. Rice lost a winners-bracket game on Sat night, so had to come back and win two Sunday and one Monday to advance. Your mom was gone to continuing ed in Arizona, so your dad and I joined others and were good followers. Drinks at Under the Volcano. And we had supper last night up on Airline at Tampequena (?) before your mom came back in at midnight.

    I am going on to Baton Rouge on Friday morning with another friend to the Super Regionals at LSU, then back to wrap up a splendid two-week vacation. Going to the Astros tomorrow night with your dad, Jes, and hopefullly Sparker.

    Enjoyed reading a few elements of the blog. Your dad told me about the pig piece. Good thing to see you city boys come to discover some of the good things, or re-discover them, as it were. Whole hog suppers have been around in my part of the Midwest forever. We had one for my little sister’s wedding in 1981. Dandy stuff. The skills of the butchers and cooker vary widely.

    Glad to see everything in the Bay Area is going, well, swimmingly for you.

    Gehrig


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