texanist bucket list

I’m a recently repatriated Texan. What should be on my bucket list?

Illustration by Jack Unruh

Q: I read your response to “Displaced Derek in Portland” in the July issue with interest. You see, I recently made my own return to the blessed land following twenty years in exile among the tree-hugging set. During my hiatus, much has changed: Bonfire has been tamed, microbrews are rampant, and I seem to have less endurance now than in my youth along the Brazos. What should be on my bucket list so that I can reconnect with Texas in the time that remains to me
Mitch Shults, via email

A: Welcome home, Mitch, and here’s hoping that your time above the Texas terra firma is long and happy. The Texanist is not equipped to affect the duration of your remaining stay, but he is more than glad to direct you to some activities, both tried and true and novel and new, that will be sure to enrich the span between now and when you do finally put a boot to the bucket. In no particular order, please consider the following suggestions, some of which the Texanist can vouch for personally: hike Palo Duro Canyon in the springtime; comb a Texas beach at sunrise; paddle Caddo Lake solo; remember the Alamo while staring up into the ether of a warm South Texas evening as you float on your back in the Menger Hotel’s courtyard pool after having spent the day roaming the grounds of the state’s most famous shrine (listen close and you’ll hear the battlements being readied, orders being shouted in both Spanish and English, and then a lone cannon shot); master a trick on one of the rope swings at Blue Hole, in Wimberley; see Willie at Floore’s, in Helotes; take your daughter (you can borrow the Texanist’s if you don’t have your own) to Big D for her first sensory-overloading state fair; go dam sliding (on a tube or in trunks with a reinforced seat) in Ingram; eat a Frito pie from the concession stand at a Fightin’ Bucks football game in Alpine; dance the cotton-eyed Joe alfresco at Crider’s on the Guadalupe River, outside Hunt; wake up alone and moneyless in Acuña and, against all odds, find your way back to Del Rio unscathed; and, lastly, don’t forget to take a little time to just throw a ribeye on the grill as the sun sinks below a faraway Texas horizon. The Texanist would advise you not to give short shrift to life’s simpler and less-harrowing pleasures. Sometimes you’ve got to stop and smell the roses—or in this case, the searing meat.

Q: I take pride in being a Texan. My paternal and maternal families are from Central Texas. I married a girl from East Texas. And all my life, I’ve watched my familial predecessors play dominoes. But I have a confession to make: somehow I never learned how to play 42! No idea. Clueless. How can I learn (without enlisting an old-timer)? Is there a 42 book or app or something? I’m serious.
Mitch Templeton, Beaumont

A: The Texanist was under the impression that the ability to play 42 was a stock component, preloaded on all Texans at birth, as it is with horseshoes and gunslinging. Are you 100 percent certain of your provenance? It seems that either you are not puredee native-born or there is some kind of glitch in the system. Regardless, as you are putting yourself forth as a proud Texan, you do indeed need to learn the game that was, in 2011, designated the official State Domino Game of Texas. Who knows? Maybe one day you’ll even make it to the big show, in Hallettsville, where the state championship is held each spring. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are many 42 resources out there for you, including books, videos, and yes, more than one good app. Additionally, there have been numerous informative articles on the subject published in this very magazine. The Texanist would urge you to revisit your opposition to the old-timers, though, as kindly oldsters can be one of the greatest fonts of domino knowledge there is. And they’re always looking to shake the bones. The Texanist recalls exciting childhood visits to his uncle Wilson’s gas station, in Holland, south of Temple, where in addition to all the Big Red and Chick-O-Sticks a young Texanist could stomach, there was a bay that always had a table or two of gray-haired ruralites shooting the breeze and playing 42. Don’t put this off any longer; you won’t know what you’ve been missing until you take your first trick.

Q: When my husband and I were in the midst of our courtship back in the eighties, I lived in Blanco and he lived in Dripping Springs. Seeing each other required traveling RM 165, which we did a lot. This April will be our thirtieth wedding anniversary, and although we have lived in Kentucky since 1992, we talk often about the thousands of miles we must have driven on that road. I want to surprise him with a real RM 165 sign. Do you know how I can get one?
Name Withheld, Louisville, Kentucky

A: His heart all gooey at your thoughtfulness, the Texanist was rounding up his stepladder and socket set when he instead decided to reach out to the Texas Department of Transportation, which informed him that though it was also moved, its signs are unfortunately not available for such purposes. He was pointed to the Internet, which apparently features some companies who specialize in replica signage. Good luck and happy anniversary.

Q: I have just turned 65 years old, and I am beginning to embrace my inner curmudgeon. When I was younger and feeling festive, my friends and I would relax with some nachos, fajitas, and margaritas. Those nachos were served individually toasted with cheese and a jalapeño on top. If they had beans, salsa, and, God forbid, lettuce on top, they were chalupas. If they were a pile of chips with a bunch of crap on top, they were a mess! Fajitas were skirt steak. Grilled chicken and shrimp were grilled chicken and shrimp. Margaritas consisted of three ingredients: tequila, triple sec, and lime juice. Now I see recipes that don’t even have tequila, for heaven’s sake. Have we Texans veered off the path, or should I just go have some shrimp fajitas and wash them down with a blackberry-mint margarita and call it a day?
Bob Christian, Rockport

A: Don’t even get the Texanist started with these mongrelized Tex-Mex misnomers, Bob. His geriatric-style logorrhea has been flaring up lately too, and his doctors have warned him about getting excited. But sheesh, are you ever nearly dead-on with this food-based rant. Yes, nachos were once assembled with a sparser cheese-and-jalapeño to chip ratio than they are today. The Texanist remembers his first plate well: at El Chico in Temple. Or was it El Chacho? Either way, they were just as you have described them. It’s also true that deviations from the classic margarita recipe have brought about some strange concoctions. But the Texanist’s missus seems to really enjoy the occasional frozen mango marg binge, and she’s never wrong about anything. Bob, the Texanist has learned, in his years, that change, while not always immediately embraceable, is also not always a sign of the apocalypse. This sort of culinary evolution, after all, has brought us sausage on a stick, root beer floats, and queso flameado, and the Texanist challenges you to harrumph any of these. But you are absolutely right about there being no such thing, technically speaking anyway, as a dadgum fajita made of shrimp or chicken! The Texanist is with you there.

The Texanist’s Little-Known Fact of the Month: The world’s first stadium nachos were served in 1976 at a Texas Rangers baseball game in Arlington. The now ubiquitous sporting-event concession fare was the brainchild of San Antonian Frank Liberto and his Ricos Products Company, whose pumpable cheese sauce (and pickled jalapeño slices) made it all possible.