Q: From reading your columns over the years, I know you have lived in Austin for a long time. But if you had to move to another part of Texas, where would you move? Your hometown of Temple? Your beloved North Padre? Houston? Dallas? San Antonio? Marfa? You must have given this some thought over the years.
Caleb Scarbrough, Houston
A: You are correct, Mr. Scarbrough; the Texanist does indeed currently reside in Austin, just as he has since leaving Temple, the town in which he was born and bred, way back in 1984 when he decided to broaden his horizons at a public institution of higher learning in the City of the Violet Crown. The capital of Texas is a wonderful place to reside and the Texanist has no regrets about having thrown down stakes there. It has an excellent music scene, a great food scene, a good spring-fed swimming hole, a college football team that occasionally doesn’t break the Texanist’s heart, and an undercurrent of its countercultural past that still allows for a laid-back vibe. The Texanist has often said that if he’s going to live in Texas—and he always has and always will—he’s going to do so in Austin.
And, if the Texanist is being entirely truthful, leaving Austin is pretty much an impossibility, anyway: the Texanist’s better half, Mrs. Texanist, grew up here and the Texanist’s dear old mother-in-law, as well as his sweet step-mother-in-law, reside here still. The Texanist’s teenage daughter, too, has known no other home than Austin, and tearing her from her familiar environs just so her father can resolve some sort of middle-aged wanderlust would be cruel.
Still, just as you are correct in noting that the Texanist currently lives in Austin, you are also correct in noting that the Texanist has occasionally given thought to a life outside of Austin. It’s common practice, when visiting a particular place, to think to oneself either, “Hmm, I could settle down here,” or “Sheesh, I could never live in a dump like this.”
So, would the Texanist ever move back to Temple, which is a fine town and was an absolutely delightful place in which to grow up? There were, after all, woods, fishing ponds, a creek, a drive-in movie theater (two, in fact), a skating rink, and loose rules with regard to openly carrying BB guns. What more could a boy want? The Texanist wouldn’t change a thing about Temple or his Temple upbringing. But the Texanist is a man these days, and a family man, at that. And, it saddens him to say, he’s an orphan of Temple. He’s got no people or holdings there anymore. Thus, the draw just isn’t there.
North Padre? As the Texanist has alluded to before, this coastal community is one of his favorite places in Texas. He’s been visiting its beautiful beaches and salty lagunas since before he can remember, more than fifty years now. But the Texanist doesn’t think he’d ever want to be a full-time North Padre Islander. Too much of a good thing would ruin the whole respite/getaway aspect of his visits to that sandy paradise.
How about Houston? The Texanist likes Space City and is always struck by the diversity of its populace, the wealth of its cultural offerings (professional sports included), and the sheer bigness of the biggest metropolis in Texas. But he couldn’t live in Houston for the same reason he’s never considered living in Dallas, which he also likes for similar reasons. The Texanist is just not a city boy and his inner rube wouldn’t be comfortable in either place. Yes, it’s true, Austin is no longer the quaint hamlet it once was, but that laid-back vibe can make it feel so in a way that Dallas and Houston just do not.
San Antonio? Even though San Antonio is now the second largest city in Texas, bigger even than Big D, it has always felt much less daunting than both Houston and Dallas. River City has been in blossom for a while now, and it would be an exciting place to live. However, if the Texanist were to ever move to San Antonio, home of the puffy taco, he fears that in no time at all he would become puffy himself. San Antonio: Home of the Puffy Texanist doesn’t have a very good ring to it, and Mrs. Texanist, if the Texanist is reading her correctly, is content with the current amount of Texanist with which she is blessed.
The Texanist feels compelled to note that you did not ask about Texas’s fifth biggest city, Fort Worth, a very regrettable omission, given Cowtown’s cowboy bona fides, its very legit arts scene, and the fact that it’s home to the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. The problem—and it’s another one of those “too much of a good thing” problems—is that the Texanist has an affinity for parties, and as the great Big Spring western swing musician Hoyle Nix made clear in his 1959 classic, “Big Balls in Cowtown,” Panther City hosts some legendarily large ones. For the sake of his liver and all the citizens of Fort Worth, the Texanist feels it’s best to limit his time there to periodic visits.
Marfa? The Texanist digs far West Texas. Ever since attending summer camp as a young horseman at Prude Ranch, outside of Fort Davis, he’s had a great affinity for that area of the state. There are few places in Texas, or anywhere for that matter, in possession of such scenic beauty. The mountainous high desert terrain, the pleasant climate, the dark night skies, the wide-openness of it all: what’s not to like? Well, after a while, the desolation, perhaps. The Texanist is a neighborly sort and the neighbors out there, friendly as they may be, can sometimes be fairly far-flung. The Texanist doesn’t much like the idea of having to make a twenty-minute drive just to borrow a cup of sugar. But he salutes those who have chosen that life for themselves!
Additionally, the Texanist has entertained thoughts of living up on the Llano Estacado. Have you ever had the opportunity to stay in one of the CCC cabins up on the rim of Palo Duro Canyon? Living the remainder of one’s days watching sunsets from that spectacular vantage point wouldn’t be bad.
Or how about the banks of Toledo Bend Reservoir, behind the pine curtain, in deep East Texas? The Texanist would have to slow his already pretty slow roll, but the big bass are always biting out there.
Man, there are a lot of great places in Texas, to live or to visit. And the thing about Austin is that, in addition to its aforementioned food scene, music scene, spring-fed swimming hole, occasionally competent football team, and laid-back vibe, it’s also, due to its central location, a great place to be if you want to see the rest of the state. On those occasional occasions when the Texanist grows weary of savory ramen-BBQ fusions, electrifying Los Coast sets (full disclosure: the Texanist’s nephew is a founding member), and evening dips in Barton Springs, it’s very easy to quickly dispatch himself to most any part of the state in no time at all. North Padre is only three and a half hours south; Houston, two and a half hours southeast (and then another 1.5 hours to get where you’re going in Houston proper); Dallas, three hours north; San Antonio, an hour and a half south; Brownsville, five and a half hours south (not counting a stopover in Corpus to visit the Selena statue); and Marfa about seven hours west. And that last hour, from Balmorhea to Marfa, is such a pretty drive through the Davis Mountains that the Texanist wouldn’t mind if it took twice as long.
In fact, Texas’s furthest reaches are all relatively—and the Texanist emphasizes, relatively—short hops from Austin. El Paso’s a mere nine-hour trip. The Texanist can get to Amarillo, way up in the Panhandle, in a little less than eight hours. And he can get to Beaumont in less than four. From Beaumont it’s only another four or so to New Orleans. (Which, come to think of it, would be an awful nice place to live. But, the Louisianist? The Texanist thinks not.)
Hoo boy. The Texanist’s rear end is getting a little sore just thinking about all this traveling. Still, this has been a fun exercise and the Texanist could go on and on. But he’ll stop now and thank you for the letter, which has allowed him to daydream about some of his favorite places in Texas. Which is to say, some of his favorite places in the world.
By the way, Mr. Scarbrough, where in Texas would you choose to live if you didn’t already live in Houston?
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.