There was a time when Texas stood for more than can be expressed in words. It was a symbol of everything that was good about the American West and perhaps even of the United States itself. Texas was a state of mind, a place where men stood on their own two feet without whining to the government for help, where men a little larger than life came face to face with death and destiny. This was the land of the Alamo and San Jacinto, a place where a small army of Texans overwhelmingly defeated Santa Anna and a superior Mexican force. It was a land that produced men such as Sam Houston who, in his old age, began writing “I” instead of “S” in his first name, thereby signing himself, “I am Houston.” It was a land of Texas Rangers, men whose motto was “One riot, one Ranger.”
Across the years since my youth, I have watched with fascination as the mythic, symbolic Texas was used to promote everything from automobiles to cigarettes, and I have gradually come to the conclusion that Texas will be for the 1990’s what California has been for the previous three decades—the land where new trends begin and the birthplace of new cultural fads.
The election of 1988 certainly showed that the state where Eisenhower was born and that produced Lyndon Johnson has become popular politically. The Republicans nominated George Bush, an adopted Texan, while the Democrats sought to hold the South with Lloyd Bentson’s nomination for Vice-President.
Prior to December of 1987 and my retirement, my wife and I had decided to retire in Texas. We thought we would like Waco, a city that appealed to us as a place where we could decline, hopefully with some grace, toward the grave. I had been gone 25 years from my native state as I followed an academic career that took me from Texas to Arizona to Oklahoma to Tennessee and back to Oklahoma. (My friends say I have been a mendicant scholar.)
I will admit to intense patriotic feelings for the Lone Star State as we crossed the Red River headed for Waco. Texas history is drilled into youngsters in the 4th, 7th, and 11th grades, and with Sir Walter Scott I could say, “This is my own, my native land!”
The physical change wrought by 25 years were obvious everywhere, especially in Fort Worth and Dallas, both of which I had known well as a youngster. It was apparent that contractors had half succeeded in their goal of covering everything in the so-called Metroplex with concrete or asphalt highways. And if, as Samuel Johnson noted, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” it is the first refuge of Texas car dealers; every one of them flying a Lone Star flag half as big as a football field.
On to Waco we went. I long had been aware that Waco has an image problem. One Dallas radio station reportedly ran a contest in which the first prize was a week in Waco, and the second prize was two weeks in Waco. There are those who make snide comments that Waco, as the home of Baylor University, is the “Baptist Vatican,” while others call it “The Baptist Heaven on the Brazos.”
Not anxious to rush into something so major as buying a house, my wife and I rented an apartment for three months and began sizing up the place where we intended to spend what the media people love to call our “golden years.” For us the weather seemed gloriously warm for the middle of winter, and we delighted in what locally are known as “Yankee-bashing commercials.” Texas is a market so large that commercials are made especially for the state by car manufacturers and beer makers, and several of these poke fun at the Yankees who have inundated the state in the last several years.
About two weeks after my arrival in the city, during which we kept congratulating ourselves on our choice, my mirror told me the time had come for a haircut. Thereby began my disillusionment with the Texas of the late 1980’s.
The future may be a place where all barbershops are unisex, and I know there are some men who like women to trim their locks. However, I confess to a weakness for barbershops with linoleum floors and chrome dinette chairs for those awaiting their turn to be shorn by male barbers. This is the kind of place where denizens talk unashamedly about fishing and hunting and the best time in the spring to plant tomatoes.
I found such a place in one of Waco’s malls and sat down to wait my turn. Idly I flipped through a slick magazine, one with Texas in its title, and there I found an article about the inaugural festivities for Bill Clements, the first Republican-elected governor since Reconstruction. He served from 1978 to 1982, was turned out by Mark White, a Democrat, and then won again in 1986 for a second four-year term.
This article told of the several inaugural parties that were held at various Austin hotels—apparently one party was not enough. At each of these there were gaudy displays of the latest gowns from Paris and tuxedos custom-made by British tailors. Those in attendance, I read, were fed on fancy dishes whose names could be pronounced only by intimates of French restaurants who dine on disgusting things that real Americans do not eat. And they sipped on vintage wines from Tuscany and Bordeaux, imported for the occasion, not on tawdry domestic brands.
I was confused. Was this the same state that had elected Pat Neff in 1920, a man so strict in his moral convictions that he would not hold an inaugural party because he did not believe in dancing? I sat in a daze as I got my haircut—which cost a dollar more than it had in Oklahoma.
Once my disillusionment began, there was no turning back. I had crossed some kind of Rubicon that caused me to notice other disturbing things about Texas. I recalled only too well when Texas had adopted the sales tax, Governor Price Daniel promising solemnly that it would never go above two cents per dollar. In 1987 it stood at eight cents on the dollar in Waco and Dallas, and there was increasing talk about the need for a personal income tax to finance social services that an expanding bureaucracy argued were needed.
Not long after this, we were in Dallas and went into the Galleria to shop. This fancy mall further contributed to my confusion, for here in North Dallas I saw shops that boasted of having outlets only in “Geneva, Paris, New York, Beverly Hills, and Dallas.” Here were men and women dressed in “chic Western”—and who were, as described by one disgusted old-time Texan, “more hat than cattle.”
These people are thick in parts of Dallas and Houston—and increasingly prevalent in Fort Worth and San Antonio: a pack of liberal-voting, Mercedes-driving, imported-wine-drinking, quiche-eating snobs dressed in exotic-skin boots, designer jeans, imported fringe jackets, and Indian jewelry made in Hong Kong. They gather at ersatz Western pubs and glitzy steak houses to discuss the latest chic social cause being pushed by Dan Rather and other Texans who have sold out to New York.
Outside the big cities the old-time Texas virtues and verities may still hold sway, but this no longer is a land where the major state newspapers are run by men like George Dealey in Dallas, Amon Garter in Fort Worth, and Will Hobby in Houston. Rather these corporate entities now are directed by descendants who are graduates of Harvard Business School and who are more interested in punishing South Africa than in moving Texas forward economically. It is a state under siege from the south by illegal immigrants, from the north by liberals bent on providing social services for everyone who cannot or will not work, and from within by bureaucrats bent on advancing their social agenda. It is with sadness I say that while the state I knew has grown to almost 20 million, too few of them are Texans.