Some Texans say this is the correct flag order.
One of many things that puzzle me about Texas is that it believes it’s the biggest state in the union when it isn’t.
This is a state with attitude.
A state of contrasts and extremes.
A state that stole the land from Mexico. Then snuck Jesus y Maria through the backdoor of its mansion and put them to work in the kitchen rolling the best-tasting enchiladas and chile rellenos you’ll ever eat.
A state where the meek may inherit the earth, but they sure as shit won’t get the mineral rights. Those belong to the Gettys and the friends of W. So says the U.S. Supreme Court and a nearly inviolate body of law stretching back to the 1800s. Laws created to protect big business at a time when the nation’s economy was growing like a teenage boy.
A state that will happily swat you in the nose with the King James Version to help you get right with God. Or just as happily strap you to a table, stick a needle in your arm and send your eternal soul to burn in hellfire. Texas hasn’t forgotten it’s an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth, no matter what that pantywaist Jesus thought about it.
I don’t remember the first time I visited Texas because I was a baby. My parents rocked me in the cradle of Sweetwater, where I’m told the water isn’t sweet at all, but brackish, exactly like every other glass of downstream Rocky Mountain water I’ve had here. I’ve been to the Lone Star state more than half a dozen times since then, usually by car. Sweeping down the fruited plains through its hilly panhandle. Speeding across the harsh deserts of the west. Winding northeast from Houston into the dense, swampy thickets of East Texas.
In thousands of miles behind a windshield, I haven’t seen a yellow rose or anything else that explains why anybody wants to live in Texas. Most of it is hopelessly barren. Unbearably hot, flat, treeless, dry and dusty. The parts that aren’t barren are oppressively humid. Hemmed in by virtually impenetrable stands of pine trees, brush and vines. Step there and you risk being attacked by an evil brood of ticks, chiggers, mosquitos, and poisonous cottonmouth snakes. Step there and you might get turned around and disappear into the soggy moss forever.
Ashes to ashes, and dust to mud.
Still, people keep coming.
More than 25 million people now call Texas home. Probably many more if the census counted the backwater families who cock their shotguns and refuse to open the screen doors of their trailers when the government revenuers come knocking. Or the illegal immigrants who successfully eluded the 20,000 agents of the border patrol and now call Texas mi casa.
About 43,500 people attend services every Sunday at the Lakewood Church in Houston. By comparison, Cowboys Stadium in Dallas seats 80,000 fans.
Officially, Texas is the second most-populous state in the nation, behind California. Unofficially, it’s Mexico’s gateway to the land of milk and honey, a modern-day Ellis Island with a gun tower mounted on the abandoned pedestal the Statue of Liberty once guarded with her upraised torch. Millions of Mexicans crawl, walk and run into Texas every year. With 1,969 miles of shared border, future deportees don’t have much trouble finding their way to the Promised Land.
Legal or not, I suspect many people come to Texas looking for space and freedom. Elbow room drew legendary frontiersman such as Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin here in the 1800s. It draws a lot of them here now. Texas might not be as big as Alaska, but it’s plenty big.
Most people probably come here hoping to get their share of the state’s oil money, though. Texas is America’s Saudi Arabia. Our leading producer of crude oil and natural gas. Our top oil refiner.
Oil barons suck gobs of black gold from the earth and Gulf Coast waters every year, refining about 4.7 million barrels a day into the petroleum products the U.S. desperately depends upon for economic survival. The countryside is pockmarked with oil pumps and refineries. In some places, the air reeks for hundreds of square miles with the sulphurous stink of burning gas and other wastes of production. It’s a multibillion-dollar industry that still swings a heavy club in the faraway halls of Congress even though it’s technically a business in decline. America’s oil resources peaked in the mid-1960s, enslaving Motor City and Lady Liberty’s flame to friendly countries like Canada and Mexico, and less-friendly nations like Iraq and Venezuela.
Texas doesn’t waste much time thinking about foreign affairs, though. Not enough to help America develop a comprehensive, proactive energy policy. Conservation, efficiency and renewable energy working together to strengthen our economy and foster true independence. Texas proudly produces and consumes more energy than any other state. Air conditioning. Factories. Refineries. Gas-guzzling automobiles. Houston, Halliburton and Happy Days Are Here Again. The old ways remain too profitable.
What Texas does think a lot about is God.
One nation under God, indivisible, forever and ever. Amen.
Texas is the most religious state I’ve ever visited. More so than any state in the Deep South, including well-worn notches on the Bible Belt like Tennessee and Georgia. Houston is home to the largest church in the nation. Lakewood Church, which looks like a football stadium. The non-denominational mega-church pushes, pulls or drags about 43,500 worshippers through its doors every week. Forty three thousand, five hundred. There are smaller cities in this country. Lots of them. Colorado’s largest county is Las Animas County. It covers 4,773 square miles. About 16,000 people live there.
Some illegal immigrants don't make it past the Texas border, but millions do. They find work and the American Dream in our factories, fields and kitchens.
But you don’t have to attend church to find religion in Texas.
You can’t move without bumping into it.
It’s on billboards, the radio, television, bus bench ads. Street preachers sermonize. Zealots carry placards in malls. Toddlers wear “I Heart Jesus” onesies. I’ve seen religious graffiti on bathroom walls that were otherwise spotless. The messages of this outpouring of spiritual conviction are remarkably consistent. The sanctity of marriage must be preserved. Drugs, alcohol and other sins of the flesh should be washed in the Blood of the Lamb or eternal damnation awaits. Muslims will rule the world with Sharia Law unless Christians mount a crusade and fight back. Evolutionary theory and modern science are lies because God created the world 6,000 years ago in six days, taking Sunday off to shoot street signs from His gold-trimmed ATV.
What’s confounding is that Texas isn’t exactly the holiest state I’ve visited.
Sex, gambling, booze, gluttony, greed, sloth, pride. Texas has them all in spades. A straight flush of the seven deadly sins face-up on the table. The venial sins hidden up its sleeve. Houston’s got more strip clubs than other any city in the nation, including Las Vegas. Fort Worth’s home to the world’s largest bar. Cattle barons in Dallas wearing $1,300 crocodile-skin cowboy boots to the Cadillac dealerships. Their trophy wives strutting the upscale Galleria mall in hooker heels and Donna Karan party dresses showcasing their $7,000 boob jobs. Dallas crime rates higher than national averages in every category. Three times the average for robbery. Two-and-a-half times for murder, despite the death penalty threat.
Sometimes Texas seems so self-contradictory, so downright wrong, that I refuse to look in my rear-view mirror when I leave because I’m afraid God will turn me into a pillar of salt.
But it’s not the hypocrisy of Texas that truly bothers me. Everybody with convictions is a hypocrite some of the time. Maybe most of the time. Aethiests, agnostics, new-agers. We all do things we say we shouldn’t. We all make bad choices. We all harbor beliefs we can’t support logically. It’s human nature to be fallible. Fallible in every which direction, even up.
Texas may be the Lone Star state, but it isn’t alone. Not by a long shot.
It’s just that Texas does it all with such boot-scootin’ swagger and braggadocio that it’s damnably hard not to be critical.
Well, so be it.
I think I’ll head on over into Amarillo and order me a mess of enchiladas.