I lived the first fifteen years of my life in Texas. I didn’t realize until I moved to another state how much people and customs vary from region to region. I have lived in four U.S. states in my life, and they all have a distinct culture. I’ve had to adjust to each one in turn, but the funny thing is that I have to readjust every time I return to Texas. Old, familiar things can surprise me by feeling old and familiar and resurrecting memories from days that seem lifetimes removed from the present.
I have loved everywhere I have lived, but I think I love Texas best. And though I did not live in Central Texas until adulthood, it feels more like home than anywhere else. Even so, I had to readjust my attitudes and expectations when I moved back from New York.
When I lived in New York, I had a pretty strong sense of identity: I was the guy from Texas. I was the one with the University of Texas Longhorns baseball cap. I was the one who sneered at the stuff that passed for Tex-Mex cuisine on Long Island. I was the one who said y’all so naturally that hardly anyone noticed. I was, at any given time, the most patient person in the room by far. I was the one who knew what a sky full of stars looks like. I was the one who had driven a tractor, ridden a horse, milked a goat, and eaten truly fresh beef.
I guess I’m still all or most of those things, but it doesn’t mean as much here. Everyone in Austin is from Texas, or at least lives in Texas. My UT cap is one of a million that grace the heads in this city, and it gets lost in the sea of burnt orange paraphernalia that has grown even larger since we beat USC 41–38 in the final minute of the national championship. People here actually have a lifetime of experience with authentic Tex-Mex food. Everyone says y’all except for the transplanted northerners, and even some of them say it. I am no longer even in the running for the most patient or slowest-talking person in the room.
New Yorkers, and probably the rest of the country as well, make fun of Texans for all those things. I think they don’t realize that Texans make fun of them for their irrationally hectic pace of life, the weird things they say (like you guys even when they’re not talking to guys), and their tendency to prefer concrete over grass and their $1,500-a-month efficiency apartments over affordable acreage.
Mrs. Happy and I attended the university-wide graduation ceremony at UT this past weekend. The orchestra played a medley called Songs of Texas. One of the songs in the medley was Deep in the Heart of Texas. In the old movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Pee-wee Herman phones his girlfriend while in San Antonio and proves to her that he’s in Texas by leaning out of the phone booth and singing “The stars at niiight Are big and briiight…”. Everyone within earshot of the phone booth claps four times in rhythm and sings “Deep in the Heaaart of Texas.” I would not be surprised if that worked in real life. Nearly everyone in the graduation audience (including me) clapped at the appropriate times, though we didn’t sing back at the orchestra. That would never happen in New York. I would be the only one clapping, and people would look at me like I had ten heads, but at least I would have a more distinct identity.