We Texans have always seemed to drive more, and farther, and for perhaps stranger reasons, than just about anyone else. Young people in the bleak and monotonous landscapes of West and North Texas grew up accustomed to endless, aimless rides around the countryside and to regular trips into the cities of Wichita Falls or Midland or Lubbock, with only the changing sky providing any break in landscape or sensation. For that part of Texas, the car was a second-generation horse, and the easy ability to just go out and ride was a convenient safety valve for a life otherwise devoid of much pleasure or variety.
I should confess that a good deal of my own adolescence was spent in an automobile. Growing up on the Gulf Coast, however, we were not addicted to the long, high-speed, distance-gulping drives of my West Texas contemporaries, but rather to endless peregrinations up and down Texas Avenue and out North Main to the drive-in and back out Robert E. Lee Drive to the one high school. Vague feelings of guilt wash over me when I pause to speculate on just how much gasoline I used following that well-worn route trying to discover if Joe Bob was still out with Fay, or whether Joyce and Gloria had dumped their steadies and would be cruising the streets, desirable and available.
Days of shortage I suppose naturally bring back fond memories of the glory days, back when confessing you had bought a car because it saved gas would have won about the same popularity as joining the Latin club. Our cars were bored and stroked, we put in new rocker arms, new cams, headers, and a whole array of parts whose name and function have long since been forgotten. Taken as a whole I am quite confident the net result of our “autolescence” reduced the nation’s irreplaceable fuel supply by at least ten per cent. Our youth having to go through adolescence without easy, immediate, and unqualified access to an automobile may have a permanent effect on our way of life, perhaps equal to the switch from strict upbringing to permissiveness. The energy crisis may finally put an end to Doctor Spock.
Besides playing such an important part in helping our teenagers through adolescence, the automobile has smoothed our transition from a rural to an urban state. We still drive out “to the country” in huge numbers, whether that country is really country or just a lake resort. The car and the highway, even as they made us a smog-ridden, suburban culture, draining our inner cities of people with decent incomes and cursing us with pollution, were making our resorts and our state’s beauties available to almost everyone.
This love affair may be coming to an end. To begin to comprehend what that means in physical terms, take a drive down Kirby in Houston, or Lemmon in Dallas, Burnet Road in Austin, or the Austin Highway in San Antonio, and try to find even one structure that was not designed for the automobile age. The question is not only what we will do with our teenagers and our suburbs, but what we will do with our parking lots, our filling stations, our fast food franchises, our drive-ins. Not driving on Sundays is one thing, but contemplating not having Big Macs?
Griffin Smith raises in a major feature, “The Highway Establishment and How It Grew” (page 76), an even more basic question. What about the roads? The institutionalization of the Texas highway bureaucracy with the Good Roads Amendment has guaranteed Texas one of the finest highway systems in the nation. That system has not had to compete in the political arena with mental institutions, education, health care programs, environmental enforcement agencies, welfare, or any other state function. Our representatives have not had to balance the importance of more state highways against the importance of care for the handicapped in 28 years.
The energy crisis may have provided the impetus for at least considering that highways are not the most important activity of the state of Texas, so important that they must be protected from even the merest hint or suggestion that perhaps (whisper) mass transit may need some transportation attention. Smith evaluates the accomplishments of the highway establishment and examines the means it has used to bring those accomplishments about. The story is important reading for anyone interested in the future of our state, in its spending priorities, and in just where all those roads have come from.
Earlier this month Intellectual Digest requested permission to reprint Roger Williams’ first nutrition column (“Environmentalist, Heal Thyself,” TM, February, 1974). We were pleased to give our assent, and we think such immediate national recognition is deserved testament to Dr. Williams’ preeminent international position in the field of nutrition. Dr. Williams has been working in nutrition and related fields for almost 60 years. He is the discoverer of pantothenic acid, a key B vitamin, and did pioneer work with folic acid, an anti-anemia vitamin which he named. The author of a number of books, among them Nutrition Against Disease and The Human Frontier, Dr. Williams serves on President Nixon’s Advisory Panel on Heart Disease and is honorary president of the International Academy of Preventive Medicine. Dr. Williams, 80 years old and still in good health, continues to work at the Clayton Foundation Biochemical Institute at the University cf Texas. We are proud to have him associated with Texas Monthly. His column on nutrition, “Method Against Madness,” begins on page 33.
Every magazine has one person whose job is to see that everything gets done, to be conscious not only of every detail from who is sick at the typesetters to whether our film reviewer is caught in a snow storm, but also to contribute to the scope and direction of the magazine. At Texas Monthly that person is Lyn Van Dusen, our new managing editor. Lyn started in journalism with The Dallas Morning News and then went to The Houston Post, where as editor of the Today section she transformed a traditional women’s section into one of the liveliest, timely, and best-written departments of any newspaper in Texas, and did it ahead of her time. Her presence at Texas Monthly provides an added professionalism which will soon be felt throughout the pages of the magazine.