Thursday, July 29, 2010

Apply To Be Texan

Yesterday, I received this in the mail:


Apply to be Texan. Seemingly simple, but the pamphlet, however, is weird.

The second page of this mini-packet opens, "If you stand six-foot-five, ride a big white horse, and can wrestle a tornado to the ground, congratulations! -- You've just been named a member in good standing of the hearty, resourceful, and friendly people the world refers to as Texans, and we're proud to have you among us." WTF?

The pamphlet is intended as a user guide to vehicle and license registration, but reveals more than a few things about "Texan values." It is also just plain bizarre.

For instance, this is page 4:


I've read this caption over and over but I still don't exactly understand what it means. You do not need to be able to stand in the middle of one county and see over into the next? Are they implying that this is a possibility in the rest of the country? And that means...that the counties in Texas are bigger? I have no idea what's going on here. And not to go all conspiracy theory on you or anything, but check out the knucklehead to the right. River sandals, Hawaiian print shirt, designer shades...could that touristy schmuck happen to be...Californian?

The pamphlet also mentions the importance (they joke that it's "mandatory") of owning an oil well, which is annoying but haha, I get it, Texas, oil, hilarious. It also states, "Contrary to what you may have heard, becoming a member of the greatest state in the Union is easy!" What I might have heard? Who might be spewing this propaganda? Disgruntled ex-Texans?

The best is the final page, which sums up the pamphlet:


"To be a Texan, you do not need to own a horse. You do, however, need to practice safety at all times."
Hmm. I do not understand why these points needed to made together. But what's most interesting about this is the enforcement of safety at all times. What if I don't want to wear a helmet while riding my bicycle, or I choose to drink milk after the expiration date? What if I want to wear high heels while I'm drinking or like to take long walks after dark? I understand that this pamphlet is geared toward drivers but it postulates that these Texan values are canonical, not to mention ridiculously befuddling (horses? oil wells?). Of course safety is essential to survival, but this becomes at the heart of it a civil liberties vs. security issue. Should a law force you to be cautious at all times? I tend to sway towards my right to hike a little too close to the edge.
This matter strikes me especially on the heels of learning about the TABC - the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission - and the tight ship they run. For instance, bartenders here are required to be certified by the TABC - which in turn makes them liable for anyone they serve getting too drunk and hurting themselves or others by penalty of major fines and jail time. In severe cases, bartenders can be held responsible for deaths of patrons.

I've been noticing in Texas that while the "individual is king", the law is seemingly against said individualists. If the individual is king here, where is the accountability for an individual's personal responsibility?

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Texan Food Series: Barbecue

It’s impossible to explore a new place without really indulging in the cuisine culture. Austin is certainly not limited in its possibilities. This will be the first part of a series on the food and drink I’m being introduced to (for the sake of investigatory journalism, of course): Tex Mex, Microbrews, Locovore, Wine, Interior Mexican (but...wait), Cajun/Creole, Gulf Seafood (uhh..what?), and anything else Texas lays claim to. But I suppose I should start with the obvious choice, the Holy Grail of Texas eating: Texan Barbecue.

In Texas in the summer, practically every party I’ve seen includes a barbecue. Grilling is a practical, delicious way to cook for many. True to the “Everything’s bigger in Texas” creed, barbecue is never served properly portioned. Texans claim their barbecue is not only superior, but distinctly different than in various other regions. I’m sure I’ll get to the bottom of this one. I’ve been training for this series.

Living in Austin, I have seen restaurants advertised as “vegan or vegetarian-friendly” but when it comes to homemade barbecue, these personal chefs are talking meat. As I understand it, there are 4 main components of a well-done (pun intended) piece of meat:

1. The type. Often in Texas, barbecue references brisket, ribs or smoked ham. We’re also talking burgers, pulled pork, sausage, chicken, hot dogs, seafood, lamb, and steaks joining us for dinner, as Texans happily engage in their carnivoracity. The meat is slow cooked over open flame to give it a discernible “smokey” flavor – which I’ll discuss later.

2. The sauce. They all taste vaguely reminiscent of each other to my nascent barbecue palette - I’ve recently given up being vegetarian – which is of the super yummy varietal. Sauces are typically tomato based and feature about a bagillion different flavors. I am not kidding. Behold, my local grocery store’s “Aisle 6: Barbecue Sauce.”



Apparently Texan barbecue sauce has a distinct regional flavoring, included but not limited to the following flavors: molasses, honey, dry mustard, chili powder, red and black pepper, horseradish, beer, Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, and hickory smoke.

3. The rub. Everything from a basic recipe of salt, pepper, dehydrated onion, dehydrated garlic, and paprika or chili-lime, to fancy-pants ones like Rosemary-Ginger and Herbal Mustard. Here is a handy chart that breaks down sauce and rub ingredients by flavor:

Sweet

Sour

Spicy

Brown or White Sugar
Honey
Maple Syrup
Ketchup
Jellies
Cane Syrup
Hoisin Sauce
Molasses
Soda (um?)

Lemon Juice
Lime Juice
Tamarind Concentrate
Vinegar
Cider
Raspberry
Wine
Sherry
Worcestershire sauce

Onions
Garlic
Chili Powder / Peppers
Mustard
Cumin
Ginger
Pepper
Curry powder



4. The grilling. Says Reinaldo Finch of The Gourmet Dinner Club,

“While BBQs in general are cooked over searing heat, the secret to grilling (rather smoking) melting soft and succulent Texan barbecues is to cook them slowly over low temperature and indirect heat. The lower the temperature (say, between 200-250 degree F) of the pit/grill, the lesser will be the moisture-loss and so the piece of meat will not get dry. Moreover, the steady and low heat will thoroughly cure the brisket, causing the collagen as well as connective tissues to break down and add to the tenderness of the meat. In fact, it is this prolonged process of cooking (around 6/7 hours) which renders even unusual and more difficult cuts like a brisket, shoulder or ribs, utterly delicious.”

I have never been able to wait for 6-7 hours for food to be done, so I grill at higher heat. He also says the wood burning contributes to the taste:

“Smoke from the hardwoods such as mesquite, pecan, hickory and fruitwoods give the Texan barbecue a typical sweet flavor. Used with charcoal, they increase the food value of Texan BBQs. The much talked-about reddish colored smoke-ring that forms around the internal edge of the meat as a result of a chemical reaction between smoke and air (nitrogen) is another specialty of Texan style barbecues; it is usually considered that the bigger the ring, the greater is its penetrating power and consequently stronger favorable effects on health.”

Food as chemistry! Deliciously nerdy!

There are also countless other things that taste good off a grill including, but not limited to vegetables, fish, shellfish, tofu, cornbread, fruit, kebabs, sandwiches (grilled cheese!), bread, corn, tortillas…of course, this in not strictly Texan in nature, but honestly, once you start thinking about barbecue, the list could go on for awhile. This article in the NYTimes will leave you salivating…I’ve been referencing it for weeks: 101 Fast Recipes for Grilling.

In my opinion? The barbecue here is fantastic and often comes with free live music. And sunshine. What a place! Now, I must go eat.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Those People"

People can carry guns inside the Texas capitol, according to the Associated Press, so long as they have a permit.

The loophole in the security procedure means "a gun permit is like a special-access pass, allowing people who are certified to carry a gun to bypass lines at the metal detectors that were set up after a shooting incident earlier this year."

Set up after a shooting incident earlier this year. Whose rights are you trying to protect here, Texas?

My favorite point was made at the end of the article by lobbyist Michelle Wittenburg, who said "the security at the Capitol is still strong because permit-holders aren't the ones who would pose any threat."

"If you do have a CHL (gun permit) then that shows you have gone through a background check and you've been vetted, so to speak," Wittenburg said. "I don't think those are the people that are going to cause your problems in the Capitol."

So anyone who needs to bring their gun with them into a Capitol building, where 6th graders go on field trips to see civil servants in action, is certified sane and harmless!?

Speaking the Language

Ma Ferguson, the first female governor of Texas (1925) said, “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, then it's good enough for Texas.”

Try to wrap your mind around that statement. Then stop trying, because you’ll skim through the rest of the post and still come away thinking, “Jesus…speaking…English. Jesus….English.” I’ve been closing my eyes when I hear people around me speak and picturing their words coming from Jesus’ mouth. I had no idea he was such a football fan.

My suggestion to you is to read this post aloud. It will make much more sense and you’ll get a better idea of what its like to talk to the natives.

Accents


I first really understood the difference in accents while I having a simple conversation with an elderly Texan man. Sir, I asked, what is it you do for a living?
Why, I’m re-tarrrd, he replied.
I paused. Excuse me?
I’m retarrrd. Been retarrrd about 10 years.
Oh of COURSE, sir, you’re retired!
That’s what I said. Re-tarrrd.

Texan accents tend to drop the “g” at the end of most words i.e. “I’m workin.”
They end with the sound “ang” for any word containing “ing” i.e. “I love s-ang-ing.” When referring to yourself (“I”) always pronounce it as “Ah.”
Add an “a” to the end of “am”.
“To” is “tuh.”
I’m thinking about singing karaoke tonight” translates to
Ahma thankin ‘bout sanging karaoke tuh-night.”


Mispronunciation

The prevalent Hispanic influence in the state ensures that Spanish words like mesa and queso are commonly used, and plenty of people answer their phones with “bueno.” While the vocabulary has been kept intact with ease, the problem then lies in the pronunciation of these words. I found this particularly confusing being new. While waiting to get off a bus at San Jacinto Street, the automated speakers informed me I was arriving at San JAh-SenTO Street. A friend ordering a pizza to Guadalupe St was asked by the delivery driver if that was a different street than GWad-a-LOOP?

There are other problems in pronunciation besides the inability for Texans to attempt a Spanish accent. A drawl is endearing, but butchering of words makes navigation near-impossible. For instance:
Trying to go to Manor Road? Say “Main-er.“
Burnet Road? I was told, "It's Burn-it, durn it, learn it."
Manchaca Road, by far the most bewildering, is pronounced "Man-check Road.”

Needless to say, I’ve been getting lost.

Colloquialisms


“Y’all” is, of course, the most triumphant colloquialism, varied in form and use.
Singular: How y’all doin?
Plural: How y’all doin?
Plural: How all y’all doin?
Plural Possessive: Is this all y’all’s stuff?

Howdy: Perhaps the friendliest of all greetings ever spoken. No one says “howdy” in an insincere way. No waitress ever “howdy”s you without genuinely wanting to (at least make it seem like she genuinely wants to) take your order. Howdy is no regular welcome, howdy never ushers you along. “Howdy” is a smile and a meeting of the eyes.

Than-que
The lovely, drawn out expression of gratitude. Depending on how thankful a person really is, this word can be drawn out for more than a few syllables. Sometimes ends with “kindly” and sounds like “Than-que kyne-lee.”


I would like to end this post by reminding everyone that I’ve taught non-native speakers the subtle nuance of accent-less American English for quite awhile now, and was recently schooled by an elderly Texan lady about my “lazy articulation.” I ended the lesson with, “Well, than-que kyne-lee” to which she replied, “Better.”

Leave your favorite Texas sayings in the comments.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Keep Austin Weird/Make Austin Normal

Austin has been a pretty funky little town so far. The people are stylish. The shops are locally owned. The food is local, sustainable, organic (where have I heard that before?). The art is…prevalent. The beer is microbrewed (the wine is terrible). The college smells like pot. And patchouli.

So amidst a giant, sprawling state, where does this weirdo mindset come from?



The “Keep Austin Weird” slogan is a marketing campaign used to promote an independent, anti-corporate Austin and encourages Austinites to buy and shop local. According to Wikipedia, the slogan comes from “an offhand remark by Red Wassenich (a librarian at Austin Community College) in a phone call to a local radio station. He and his wife, Karen Pavelka, placed the slogan on bumper stickers, distributing them free to businesses in Austin.”

My personal experience with librarians is that they are always pushing weird agendas, like silence and the Dewey Decimal System.

What’s so weird about Austin? A compiled list:

-The bats. The Mexican Free-tailed Bats fly out every night from under the Congress Avenue Bridge, and it’s basically a party while waiting for them. I’m talking glowstick-selling-worthy. Fairly unusual.

-The Cathedral of Junk, which is what it sounds like – a giant art piece/trash pile/clubhouse made entirely of…junk. The city is making the "artist" dissemble it because of complaints ("Ummm, my neighbor is like, stealing my trash? And building stuff with it?"), but the man has yet to pull it all down, including his “Pyramid of [200] TVs”. I appreciate the creator, who, when asked to explain himself, sighed and said, "Kids get it."



- A festival devoted to Spam. Totally freaky.

- Women’s Roller Derby (favorite name: Texecutioners [runner up: The Holy Rollers]). Shouldn’t be weird, should be totally awesome!

-Polka dot lawn, for no reason at all. Possibly more deviant than weird.


-Police as anti-litter enforcers. Not only as in the “Don’t Mess With Texas” slogan. Water sports are particularly popular in this region, and you better believe the cops are there to check your coolers for glass or styrofoam as you gently tube, canoe, kayak, and float downstream. California, are you listening?

-A general renegade attitude: yard art; pirate radio; coffee shops with ‘tude; loud, live, local music scene; free healthcare, copious Christmas lights, and other outlandish behavior.

A need to fit in


The “Keep Austin Weird” slogan isn’t loved by all, and has spawned backlash. The antithesis is www.makeaustinnormal.com, selling bumper stickers and t-shirts championing buying from box stores and drinking martinis while posing the question, “How can you have a commercial slogan that screams anti-corporation?"


There’s also www.keepaustincorporate.com which, less cleverly, states their mission as “It's time to tell the hippies we're tired of Austin being so weird.” Less entertaining in their sneer, the Keep Austin Corporate campaign honestly sounds a bit curmudgeonly, and eerily sincere. The site also seems to promote Samuel Adams, and I just can’t get down with that.

A number of parodies of Keep Austin Weird have arisen in recent years, including ones that rip on the less funky towns of Texas. Some of my favorites:
"Keep Dallas Plastic"
"Keep Dallas Pretentious"
"Keep Round Rock Mildly Unusual"
"Keep San Antonio Lame"
"Keep Houston Under Construction"
"Keep Houston Ugly"
"Keep Houston Sprawling"

and my personal favorite, "Keep Austin Zombie."

Monday, July 12, 2010

TEXADELPHIA?



Of course I'd heard of Tex-Mex before I came to Texas. What kind of American hasn't eaten fried ice cream at Chi-Chi's with a big gulp margarita at one point or another? Tex-Mex, it's like Mexican food, only not at all!

However, on my arrival in Texas, I was shocked to see a merger I never thought possible: A combination Tex-Mex Philly Cheesesteak, cleverly named "Texadelphia!"

Texadelphia claims you can get the best of both (heart attack-inducing) worlds:

Choose between our 100% Certified Angus Beef or Thinly sliced Chicken breast stuffed with grilled onions, mozzarella and mucho macho jalapeƱos! And to top it off, we give you a side of Queso to pour all over your fiesta in a bun.

FIESTA IN A BUN!? SIGN ME UP! FINALLY, SOMEONE WHO UNDERSTANDS MY NEED FOR BOTH PARTIES AND BUNS!

Seriously though, I am determined to try this beast. And if it does not kill me, I will promptly review it and perhaps even Fed Ex you one.

How do I get them to use Amaroso rolls?

Texas Rules! on Ruling

From the Austin Chronicle:

"One June 18th, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks dismissed a request for summary judgment by the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research in its suit against the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The IRC sought to offer a master's degree in science education from "a Biblical scientific creationist viewpoint," which the coordinating board refused to recognize as legitimate. ICR sued on the grounds that its First and 14th Amendment rights to free speech, free exercise, equal protection, and due process were violated. Sparks said ICR's claims were not obvious enough for summary judgment, and not only that, but the complaint was so ridiculously worded that it was difficult to understand. In his decision, Sparks wrote, "It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information."
-Lee Nichols


I almost half wanted this to pass, since I am desperate to get my masters in "Unicorn Powers of Healing" but can't yet find an accredited program.

Perhaps a bit too honest?




Outside El Paso, Texas.

California Emigration

After making a list of the positive qualities of our beloved state, we left with heavy hearts. What would we be leaving behind? Quality produce, open-mindedness, spectacular wilderness, healthy lifestyles, free healthcare, diversity. California, our golden state.

But also one that is going broke, sinking into the sea. Texas offered opportunity, the pull factor behind all major waves of immigration. We looked forward to making it our home.

We were aware that Texas has a reputation for being a bit...Texan. We were excited and ready to try something new, live outside our comfortable blue liberal bubble.

Texans were a bit more wary of us than we expected.

After a few scowls at our out-of-state IDs, we questioned the locals.

"What's up with the California prejudice?"

Many responded with the same answer: Californians in recent years have been flocking to Texas, mainly Austin, for the same reasons we were: warm weather, beautiful scenery, a bull economy. The Texas housing market is far cheaper than that of California, and many of these Californians were buying up housing and driving up the property costs, taking jobs, and generally saturating the population with their California-ness. Texans, with their strong cultural heritage, were in a huff about it.

Now, for most of the people I talked to about this, I tried to later find out their views on immigration and gentrification, generally. Most spoke of Mexicans, of open-mindedness and equality for all. Immigrants enrich culture, economy, and society, etc etc.

So why so xenophobic about Californians?


Must be all the sodomy and the weed. Perhaps they fear the Governator? The Governator smoking weed!?!?!


Don't Mess With Texas?


First impressions: Who would have thought the culturally elite advertisement for Texas was actually an anti-littering campaign, complete with a hefty fine?

Not so far from California after all.