Q: Dear Texanist, I met a couple from the UK several years ago while in Florida and when I said I was from Dallas, they said, “Oh, that’s where cattle still roam the streets.” They were serious. Shocked, I corrected them and told them that Dallas is now very modern and has tall buildings, museums, etc. To this day, I feel guilty for shattering their antiquated view of my city. Was I wrong to do so?
John Thomas, Dallas
A: It’s funny how many folks from around the world who have never visited Texas hold such ridiculous misconceptions about it. In this day and age, in fact, what with the World Wide Web and the universality of so-called smart devices, it actually kind of boggles the mind. But, still, just about every Texan who has traveled outside of the United States—or encountered foreigners inside the United States—has experienced this phenomenon. (Actually, even some of our fellow Americans seem shockingly unaware about what goes on within the borders of our state.)
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Thanks, probably, to Texas’s colorful history and the even more colorful depictions of that history, which have appeared in western novels and radio shows and movies, the everybody-in-Texas-rides-a-horse-and-everybody-in-Texas-carries-six-guns-and-everybody-in-Texas-incessantly-shouts-“yeehaw”-and-cattle-still-roam-the-streets stereotype has refused to die. The Texanist can think of no other state as widely and flagrantly misconstrued by foreigners as Texas. Sure, many people think California is full of bikini-clad surfer girls and surfer boys and movie stars, and New York is full of goombah mobsters and Jewish doctors, and Oklahoma is chock-full of, well, Okies, but you get what the Texanist is saying.
Speaking of Oklahoma, isn’t it weird that a place once known as Indian Territory and No Man’s Land holds nothing close to the romantic grasp Texas has on the minds of folks like the UK couple you encountered in Florida? And speaking of Florida, the Texanist wonders what the heck the British couple thought they were going to encounter when they decided to visit the Sunshine State. Pirates? Alligators? Florida Man himself, in the midst of one of his wacky, tweet-worthy criminal or near-criminal endeavors?
The Texanist has digressed. Please accept his apologies. You didn’t come here for a subtle disparagement of Oklahoma or a not-so-subtle disparagement of Florida, whose lovely beaches—the Texanist confesses to having spent some time on the state’s relaxing Panhandle coast—more than make up for its unrelenting flatness, insufferable humidity, and pesky yellow flies. You came here for an answer to a question. And if the Texanist recalls, that question had something to do with the propriety of correcting the limey couple you met a few years ago who thought that cattle were still roaming the streets of Big D.
And though the Texanist is a card-carrying journalist whose job entails getting facts straight and straightening nonstraight pseudofacts, it is his professional opinion that the pang of remorse that has burdened you the last few years is not undeserved. For while cattle may not roam Dallas as they did back when John Neely Bryan launched his Trinity River ferry business in the 1840s, the tradition of tall tale-telling—a tradition first brought to Texas by the Texanist’s great-great-great-great-granddad, a Republic-era pioneer who introduced Davy Crockett to the stylish joys of both buckskin and coonskin—does still roam freely throughout Texas. Spinning a magical yarn and passing it off as the god’s honest truth is your birthright as a Texan, and you really missed your chance when faced with an audience whose charming ignorance primed them for some grade-A Lone Star malarkey. That Brit couple teed one up for you and you whiffed.
The Texanist wasn’t there, of course, and doesn’t know all of the relevant circumstances, but, regardless, the correct response to their amusing cluelessness would have been to puff up with pride, crank the twang up to eleven, and assume a persona resembling that of Captain Woodrow F. Call, as depicted by Tommy Lee Jones in the television version of Lonesome Dove, or John Wayne in most any of his silver-screen cowboy portrayals. (If they thought cattle still roamed Dallas, there’s no way they’d know that Wayne was actually from Iowa.)
“That’s right, pilgrims,” you might have told them, as you casually leaned a badly sunburned arm against the tiki-style bar at Al & Sal’s Beachside Lounge while sipping a frozen drink from a coconut shell with an umbrella in it. “Big D is indeed lousy with cattle. Far as the eye can see. As a matter of fact, I’m a cowpuncher myself. Heck fire, just last week I was poking some dogies along the Central Expressway at five o’clock in the afternoon when a stampede damn near broke out. Why, you shoulda seen it. It was bumper to bumper, I tell ya. Would have been a real disaster had I not been able to lasso the … hey, I’m a little parched, who needs another key lime daiquiri? Anyhoo, as I was saying …” Well, you get the idea. It is the Texanist’s firm opinion that an opportunity to entertain some tourists with a harmless bit of tomfoolery should not go to waste. Next time don’t let yourself or the team down.
Of course, as he prepares to mount up and head out for the day, it crosses the Texanist’s mind that maybe that British couple were thinking not of actual live cattle but of the bronze sculpture of 49 larger-than-life steers that resides in Dallas’s Pioneer Plaza. Or maybe they had confused Dallas for Fort Worth, aka Cowtown, where real cattle actually are driven through the Stockyards twice daily at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.
If either of these scenarios are true, then maybe those well-meaning Brits deserved neither a good leg-pulling nor a full-scale tearing away of the veil of ignorance. All they needed was a friendly, Texas-style nudge in the right direction. Which, given that you are clearly a man of conscience and consideration, the Texanist is sure you would have handled handily.
Thanks for the letter, pilgrim.
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