Q: During a recent visit to Texas I noticed a pattern of behavior that I believe is unique to Texans and maybe those experiencing temporary Texanity (a condition in which non-Texans adopt the local traits and habits while inside the Republic’s borders). I’m speaking of the “Texas Detour.” You know, that most Texan of maneuvers, when traffic comes to a standstill on a freeway and, rather than wait it out like everybody else, a flood of pickups and SUVs suddenly head for the frontage road via the ditch. Is this a uniquely Texan move? And can you think of any other behavior that more fully encapsulates the Texan spirit of independence and disinterest in both conformity and authority?
Alex Pemberton, Wichita, Kansas
A: Welcome to Texas! And congratulations for being a perceptive visitor during your stay. The Texanist, who considers himself fairly well-traveled, is also careful to note local behaviors when he is abroad. But he also tries his best to proceed with due caution before diving headlong into locale-specific practices. The old “when in Rome” adage sounds good, but it does not always have pleasurable results, a lesson the Texanist has learned the hard way more times than he cares to remember. Like, for instance, that time when . . . ah, the Texanist will spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say, if you ever find yourself down in Brazil, do not feel compelled to don that country’s particular style of swimwear. And do not under any circumstance ever enter an Ipanema barbearia wearing one of those tiny slingshot-shaped garments and request a trim. Fair warning has been issued.
You have, though, come to the Texanist with a question about Texaness and driving and the intersection thereof, not nightmarish travel tales. But before we proceed, the Texanist must correct one thing: Texas Detour is the name of a 1978 straight-to-drive-in rednecksploitation flick involving three California teenagers on a cross-country trip in a good times van that suddenly turns into a bad times van. It is not the name of the maneuver that you witnessed and perhaps even partook in. That maneuver is known as the “Texas Exit,” although it also has another name, which we will get to in a moment. Your description of the move is fairly accurate, but to recap, it is basically the undertaking of a highway egress (and sometimes a highway ingress) by way of crossing the unpaved grassy area next to the roadway’s outside shoulder in order to access the frontage road (or highway) without the aid of an official off-ramp (or on-ramp).
The reasons for performing the move vary, but you are right that it is most often employed as a way to hastily escape congested traffic. Sometimes, though, a Texanist—er, a Texan—might just happen to spy a beef jerky stand while en route to the magazi—er, office—and feel the irresistible need to sate a sudden and powerful hankering for dried, salted meat. Then there are those unfortunate souls who see the Texas Exit as a rare and golden opportunity to give the new F-150 a little off-road time. And then, too, there are a number of Texans who, as you surmise, not only tend to follow their own paths, but also sometimes blaze those paths—occasionally, haphazardly across a roadside bar ditch—just because they can. Indeed, Texans are known to possess a uniquely mavericky spirit. Did you know, by the way, that the word “maverick” originated with Declaration of Texas Independence signee Samuel Maverick? Sorry for yet another Texanist Detour, but it did.
Whether the Texas Exit is distinctively Texan, the Texanist cannot say, at least not with any real confidence. But he can say, with complete confidence, that he’s never seen it executed in any other state—or down in Brazil. The very name, though, certainly suggests that there exists, at the very least, a strong Texas tie.
Finally, it would be a dereliction of the Texanist’s duties for him to not further inform you that the Texas Exit is also known by another, more official name: A Class C misdemeanor. It turns out, such trailblazing is a violation of Section 545.064 (Restricted Access); Subchapter A. (General Provisions); Chapter 545 (Operation and Movement of Vehicles); Subtitle C. (Rules of the Road); Title 7 (Vehicles and Traffic) of the Texas Transportation Code and can result in a citation that carries a fine of up to $500. What’s more, when it is used for the express purpose of selfishly jumping ahead of fellow Texans who are caught in the very same bottleneck, the Texas Exit is in direct violation of the number one tenet of driving the Texas way, which is to say, driving friendly. Which, to answer the second part of your question, is a trait that better embodies the Texas essence than does turning tail toward an improvised exit ramp of one’s own making.
Thanks for the letter, Mr. Pemberton. Happy trails, may they be paved or unpaved.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.
A version of this is published in the April 2018 issue.