texasmonthly.com: How did you compile your list of free things to do around Texas?
Suzy Banks: First, I thought of all the free things I’d already done, which was quite a list since I’m an obsessive cheapskate. Then I got on the Internet, a lovely place for a cheapskate. Once I had a list of something like 170 things, I started making phone calls and whittling it down.
texasmonthly.com: Did you know about many of them before writing this article?
SB: I probably knew about three quarters of the ones that made the final cut.
texasmonthly.com: How did this story come about?
SB: The idea had been bouncing around for some time—oh, three years—based mainly on the fact that I can’t believe the wonderful ferry ride from Galveston to Port Bolivar is free. (Actually, when you think about it, it isn’t free. We all pay for it.)
texasmonthly.com: Is the free theme simply a MacGuffin that allows you to write about cool stuff around Texas?
SB: I don’t think so. If I wanted to write about cool stuff around Texas, I’d just entitle the article “Cool Stuff Around Texas,” which the magazine has actually done, although the head was tightened to the more digestible “Texas Cool.”
texasmonthly.com: Is there anything distinctly Texas about the things on your list or do they just happen to be in Texas?
SB: Just the luck of the geography, I’d say.
texasmonthly.com: Aren’t Texas Monthly readers too highbrow to enjoy free stuff?
SB: Oh, no. You’re not going to drag me into the highbrow-lowbrow stuff. Look what happened to Jonathan Franzen. (Wait a minute: Maybe he sold more of his book, The Corrections, when he insulted Oprah and her listeners. Hmmm). Or is this just a polite way of asking if Texas Monthly readers are too rich to appreciate free stuff? Well, the scuttlebutt among us poor folk is that rich people are bigger penny-pinchers than we are; how else did they get rich? I mean, J. Paul Getty supposedly had a pay phone installed in his English mansion that his guests had to use to make long-distance calls.
texasmonthly.com: Aren’t you afraid that when a lot of people find out about these things, they’ll no longer be free?
texasmonthly.com: What’s your favorite on the list?
SB: I like the ones that reflect a person’s driving passion, like Charles Horak’s film showcase in El Paso that he does just because he wants to share great movies with people.
texasmonthly.com: How did you become such an authority on Texas odds and ends? Have you lived many places in Texas?
SB: I’m not an authority on anything, and I have the gross annual income to prove it. I’ve only lived in Texas, but not in many places here.