In March of 2010 Texas Monthly published a story encouraging people to complete our “Bucket List”—“63 Things That All Texans Should Do Before They Die”—such as eating barbecue at Snow’s, exploring Palo Duro Canyon, and buying a pair of custom boots. As that “Before They Die” phrase indicated, we didn’t want anyone to feel rushed; the Bucket List was the kind of thing you could dedicate an entire lifetime to. But William McMichael, a 22-year-old native Houstonian, UT grad, and Baylor Law School student, felt otherwise. Between March of last year and March of this year, he completed the entire list—perhaps not that surprising from someone who graduated from UT in three years. Here’s what this young man in a hurry had to say—via email—about his twelve-month sprint through Texas.
How did you get the idea of completing the Bucket List?
In January 2014, I agreed to clerk at Martin, Disiere, Jefferson, and Wisdom before beginning at Baylor Law. During the meeting, my future boss challenged me to “do something crazy” during my time working for him. “I graduated from college and started law school three days later,” he said. “It was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. You will never again have time or full freedom to go and learn, so I want you to do something that you will be able to look back on and be proud of it.”
Over the next month, I researched potential adventures (cross-country road trip, backpacking Europe, etc.). During this search, I stumbled upon the Texas Bucket List. I love Texas, and saw the Bucket List as the perfect opportunity. I could complete most of the items for free, travel expenses would not get too steep, and I’d still experience some things that I had never done.
Had you already done some of the items before you took on this task? If so, did you do them again, or did you count them as already having been done?
I gave myself one year to complete the Bucket List—from SXSW 2014 to SXSW 2015. I completed each item on the list during this past year. True, I had completed a couple of the items in the past, but knew that I would need to complete the entire list in order for others to consider my completion as legitimate.
What was the toughest item to pull off?
Witnessing the annual coral spawning in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary—the coral only spawn for four days in early August. However, money is the main barrier to entry: hiring a dive boat alone costs a couple thousand dollars. As July morphed into August, I realized that my completing this item, and, therein, the Texas Bucket List, would require a miracle. On a whim, I reached out to Stephen Harrigan, who wrote that Bucket List item, for advice. He put me in contact with a boat captain in Corpus Christi, who put me in touch with another boat captain, in Freeport, who put me in touch with Larry McKinney, of the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M–Corpus Christi. I still don’t understand how things shook out the way they did, but the conversation ended with my having a place on McKinney’s dive trip, scheduled to leave for Flower Garden the next day. When the dust cleared, I had spent four days at sea with some of the greatest people you could ever hope to meet. I couldn’t have finished the Bucket List without them.
Which item was the most fun?
I don’t know if I can single one item out as “the most fun.” My most enjoyable moments come from conversations with people along the way. Twist my arm, and here’s a Top 10 Memories from the Texas Bucket List:
- Playing in the longest recorded game of Chicken S**t Bingo
- Taking a “Behind the Scenes, Not Open to Public” tour of Spoetzl Brewery
- Eating homemade cherry cheesecake while watching the Nazareth Swiftettes
- Pushing through the crowd at Floore’s to get a good picture of Willie Nelson
- Driving aimlessly to find Santa Rita No. 1, Adobe Walls, Marfa Lights, and Dolan Falls
- Cooking chili with some of the best CASI chili cooks in the world
- Showing Palo Duro Canyon to two friends for the first time
- Holding a First Edition of Life on the Mississippi in Archer City
- Saying the Texas Pledge of Allegiance at Governor Abbott’s Inauguration
- Waking up at 5 a.m. to drive to Lexington to eat at Snow’s BBQ
Have you gotten the boots made yet?
Yes, I ordered the boots. They will be made by R.J.’s Boots in Houston. R.J. Carroll is one of the last of a generation of great Texas bootmakers. Throughout his career, he crafted boots for seven U.S. presidents, world-class athletes, politicians, judges, and all types of other characters. As a native Houstonian, he loves to see his designs go to hometown folks, so I wanted to support him and his business. We wanted to design them with the character of all good Texans: simple, confident, and always with a story. Therefore, the boots will be black calf ropers, with a gold monogram on the upper. The leather for my boots comes from the same cow that Carroll specially procured for President Bush’s latest pair.
Your last item was “Attend a Day Party at SXSW,” which you did last month. How was it?
Having lived in Austin, I have a love-hate relationship with SXSW day parties. Sometimes you uncover something fresh, and sometimes you strike out. This year, I struck out. However, completing the Texas Bucket List at SXSW allowed everything to come full-circle. My first road trip for the Bucket List left out of Austin, so it felt right to close the door in the same place where everything began.
What did you learn from doing the Bucket List?
Texans like to brag about their home state, and rightfully so. However, ask one hundred Texans why it’s the greatest place on earth, and you will hear one hundred different answers. Texans are not static, but rather always appear to play active roles in shaping their own destinies. This independence roots itself in our history, and manifests itself in the hearts and minds of all who call Texas home. It’s part of the reason why I will always believe in Texas. Texas has made me who I am, and yet allows me to help shape its future.