75 Things We Love About Texas

Bluebonnets? Check. Enchanted Rock? Yup. Barton Springs? Duh. You probably guessed those. But what about buckle bunnies? Or goat barbecue? Or Thong Island? From Texas trademarks to personal favorites to the just plain weird, you’ll find everything here. And we do mean everything.

1. Bluebonnets
Yes, they are a clichè. And no, they don’t smell particularly good, and you aren’t supposed to pick them on the highway, under penalty of something like death. You can get stung by bees or fire ants and God knows what else when you sit down for that annual photo. Even so, who can resist them? Every year, the fields along the roadsides blossom into a blanket of blue—in some parts a deep purple, in others a dusty gray—and we know spring is here. And then, in just a few weeks, the show is over. The fields go from green to brown, and the sun scorches the roads, and we speed from San Antonio to Houston again, claiming there’s nothing to see. Mimi Swartz

2. The Astrodome
As a baseball stadium, it had its shortcomings—foremost among them Astroturf—but there was a time when it was second only to the Alamo as the most important building in Texas. Houston in the early sixties yearned for recognition but, aside from NASA, had little to attract it. The Astrodome put Houston on the map. It was the manifestation of a Texas attitude that we could do something that everyone else thought impossible. Now it’s a reminder that all things must pass. Paul Burka

3. Big Red
With barbecue. But not by itself, and not with anything else. John Morthland

4. Friendliness
Being glad to see you—no matter who you are—is something our mamas taught us from birth. The wide smile, the firm handshake, the slap on the back—it’s the way Texans meet the world, the social grease that makes living here so pleasant and easy. Most of us were probably a little older before we realized that all that good humor had other uses; it masks intention and throws people off their game, particularly lawyers and businessmen from other parts of the country who mistake us for happy hicks. Glad to see you? Sure we are. But keep your hands on your wallets, guys. Mimi Swartz

5. The sopa azteca at El Mirador, San Antonio
Available only on Saturdays. Mimi Swartz

6. Booker Ervin’s version of “Berkshire Blues”
A classic cut by the late, great tenor saxophonist, who hailed from Denison. It never fails to put me in a good mood. Or make me regret that I quit smoking. Evan Smith

7. Everyone has a story about a pickup
Mine is called Ol’ Blue, a baby-blue 1977 Chevrolet Scottsdale three-quarter-ton with mud grips, dual gas tanks, and a Delco set to a station that plays country music and the farm report. With subtle hints of hay, pesticide, WD-40, chain saw gas, and manure, the cab has a genuinely rural smell, and the sides are scratched and dented, grill to tailgate, from years of deflecting tree limbs and mesquite thorns. Ol’ Blue lives on the farm that my father, a lawyer by trade, bought as a weekend hobby in the seventies. When I was a kid, my dad would drive and I would ride in the passenger seat. We’d head down the steep and rough road to the pecan bottom that sits on the Little River, near Temple, or to the back side of the farm, where there’s a stock tank half-circled with tall cottonwood trees. Sometimes I’d ride in the bed, and we’d stop every once in a while to look at a snake, an armadillo, or a cottontail. As I grew older and busy with teenage distractions, I lost interest in the farm. Still, my father would ask me to ride out with him to check on things; if there was trouble or concern, he would insist. Until his death, in 1998, the invitation was standing. Only recently did I realize that what he was checking on had very little to do with farming. Not often enough, for those few hours, it was me, my attention, and my dad, undivided in the cab of Ol’ Blue. David Courtney

8. The free advice at White Rock Lake, Dallas
If you live in Dallas and have a question—any question—then you know the drill: Get up on Sunday morning, stroll around White Rock Lake until you come to Jackson Point, and look for the sign “Free Advice.” That’s where all-around-good-guys Neal Caldwell and Roderick MacElwain have been waiting in their lawn chairs for the past ten years. Stock tips? Got ’em. Career trouble? No problem. Romantic quandary? Pull up a seat.
To think: Even Lucy charged a nickel. Brian D. Sweany

9. The humidity
It was August, a swampy, monsoonish August, when I moved from Albuquerque to Austin. I was living near the University of Texas campus in a co-op boarding house where mildew appeared on my shoes and toothbrushes never dried. For a desert girl, it was like living in a blister. One extra-sweaty day at dinner a fellow resident, a girl from Houston, bounced in and announced in a preternaturally perky tone, “Y’all, don’t y’all just looove Austin? It’s so dryyyy here!” Well, I didn’t just looove Austin then and it wasn’t dryyyy. It was weeeeet. But the years pass and the skin shrivels into beef jerky and the hair flattens to the shape and consistency of a thatched roof and you do come to looove Austin precisely because it is not dryyyy. In fact, you exalt every molecule of Lone Star moisture as it goes about its blessed work of plumping up skin and hair. I know, I know. Vast desiccated swaths of our state are as dry as anything New Mexico can dehydrate. But still, for me, in my mostly moist corner of Texas, it really isn’t the heat. It is the humidity. Sarah Bird

10. Barton Springs Pool, Austin
It’s only rocks and water—just as the Hope Diamond is only squeezed carbon and the Mona Lisa is only oil paint on wood. But in a burst of creative genius, triggered by a shift in the Balcones Fault, the earth partnered these humble materials in a geologic magic act that has wowed ancient people

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