texanist driving
Have Texans forgotten how to drive?

Illustration by Jack Unruh

Q: I was born and raised in Texas, but I’ve lived in Tennessee for the past 23 years. My son and I recently drove home to Brady for a week of rest, relaxation, and hunting at my parents’ ranch. The first thing I noticed was the increased speed limits on Texas highways. I also saw more unsafe driving in one week than I’ve seen in years. Passing on double yellow lines into blind curves and blind hills seems to be a common practice. Have the higher speed limits made Texas highways unsafe, or have Texans just forgotten how to drive? 
Jack Hall, Harriman, Tennessee

A: Our state’s trademark excessiveness with regard to jumboness is itself a bit excessive, but in many cases, e.g., steaks, ranch sizes (see below), honky-tonks, and hairdos, it is an undeniable truth. In 2012 Texas added to its long list of oversized things the highest speed limit in the country—a greased-lightning-fast 85 miles per hour. But according to some studies, this has had little effect on Texas’s already dismal showing in annual state-by-state listings of the country’s worst drivers. Texas, it turns out, ranked third-poorest in both 2011 and 2014. We were fourth in 2013. Hooray! Many factors are surely at play here, but it appears that our speed limits haven’t really caused our dangerousness, as it is applied to automobiles, to be ratcheted up.

At least some of the blame for this derring-do, the likes of which you and your son came across on your recent trip, can probably be laid at the excessively leaden feet of those drivers who are simply trying to shave off a little time from their trips, which can be lengthy here. The Texanist knows that he has occasionally been guilty of taking such shortcuts. But then too, unfortunately, there also happen to be more than just a few lunkheads among us out on our highways and byways. Identifiable by the high rpm’s, the hairy arm hanging from the driver’s side window banging the door with a wild rebel yell, and the obligatory dangling “truck balls,” these pilots of the mud-flapped monster menaces are most often the violators of the golden rule of motoring in the Lone Star State. The Texanist is sorry your visit was so harrowing, and he would like to seize the opportunity for an impromptu PSA: reckless driving is unfriendly driving, and unfriendly driving, the Texanist is here to assure you, is not the Texas way.

Q: My daughter is a high school senior, and she is in the midst of making her final choices for college. I attended the University of Texas at Austin, and while she’s going to have that opportunity too, she is also considering some out-of-state schools. In order to help her with this difficult decision, I was hoping you could offer some insight as to the pros and cons of an in-state versus an out-of-state college experience. 
Name Withheld, San Antonio

A: When he was a high school senior with the whole world unfurled before him, it’s not entirely clear that the Texanist realized there was such a thing as an out-of-state college experience. So after he took in all he could take in from the backs of the classrooms at Temple’s fine institutions of public education (Go, Cougars! Go, Bulldogs! Go, Wildcats!), the Texanist chose to pursue his higher learning down the road in the state’s capital. The Texanist, like you, is a Longhorn. What year did you graduate? Did you ever go to Scholz Garten? Boy, the Texanist did. Beer cost about a buck back then! Remember how they had all those horseshoe pits on that beautiful patio beneath those huge old pecans? If the Texanist had a nickel for every shoe he tossed on that Scholz’s patio, well, let’s just say the Texanist would be a very jangly man. And how about the bowling alley in the Texas Union? Beer was, like, 75 cents there. Did you ever go to Sixth Street? It was fun back in those days. Remember that place that served those mason jars full of that high-octane blue stuff? What was that?! Man, oh, man! And what about Dirty’s? Or Mad Dog and Bean’s? Remember that place? Such great burgers. It’s hard to find a burger sided by steak fries like those these days. And the taco stand across the street? Munchies Tacos? Remember that? The Texanist must have eaten a million of those cheesy late-night treats. Good times . . . good times. So, what is it that brings you to the Texanist again?

Q: I have puzzled over a seemingly irreconcilable point of Texas etiquette for years. Growing up, it was considered poor form to ask someone how many acres their spread was. Yet we are also the home of the Texas brag. How is this possible? 
Wade Caldwell, San Antonio

A: Texas-style blowhardiness is a many-faceted thing. While a Texan will happily bend near any passerby’s ear with friendly exaggerations regarding his proficiency with firearms (the Texanist, as he has mentioned in this very space, once extinguished a candle flame in a friend’s living room with a Daisy Red Rider from twenty paces), the number of Scoville heat units in the bowl of chili he just consumed (the Texanist once enjoyed a refreshing bowl of XXXXXX without producing a single bead of sweat or suffering even a smidge of gastrointestinal distress), or the size of the bass he caught last Saturday (the Texanist finally landed Grandpa Charlie! And then set his ol’ foe free before capturing the moment on film), the focus of his braggadocio rarely has to do with his own personal wealth or material holdings. In fact, on these subjects, the Texan will often go suddenly demure. In this manner, an actual 40,000-acre spread outside Fort Stockton will suddenly become a “small place” or a “little patch of dirt.” Inquiries pertaining to specifics are strictly verboten. Behavioral scientists have theorized that this strange quirk of the Texan’s makeup might be connected to the yet-to-be-proven “It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true” conjecture. Studies are ongoing.

Q: In the Texas country classic “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love),” Waylon Jennings mentions going to Luckenbach with himself and Willie and the boys, and I’m wondering whom he’s referencing in addition to Willie. Who are the boys?
Lily Pierson, Knoxville, Tennessee

A: This Waylon Jennings beaut, written by Bobby Emmons and Chips Moman, debuted on the 1977 Ol’ Waylon album and went all the way to number one. Featuring a fine vocal cameo by Willie, it is one of the Texanist’s all-time favorites. But he’ll admit that he’s never really given much thought as to the exact identities of “the boys” in the song. He’s just always imagined “the boys” to be a conglomeration of characters consisting of the other country music “outlaws” and their colorful associates—rednecks, hippies, goat ropers, bikers, rakes, rounders, ramblers, gamblers, poets, shit-kickers, stray dogs, roadies, scamps, and groupies, among a smattering of others of similar stripes. In an effort to be thorough, though, the Texanist hollered at Willie (via a “hotline” that the Texanist had installed shortly after taking on this job), who confirmed for him, to the best of his recollection, just what he had always figured. “The boys,” Willie recalled, consisted of such characters as Billy Joe Shaver, Kris Kristofferson, Leon Russell, Jerry Jeff Walker, and gals Jessi Colter and Sammi Smith, as well as some folks he had, he told the Texanist, likely forgotten. In an attempt at extra-thoroughness, the Texanist is thinking of enlisting an intern with a good driving record and taking off a little early for the purpose of going to Luckenbach, Texas, to see what else he can find. He’ll report back.

The Texanist’s Little-Known Fact of the Month: Despite the memorable bit from that hilariously ridiculous scene in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, it turns out that there is, after all, a basement at the Alamo. In fact, there are two. One is located beneath Alamo Hall, and the other is under the gift shop. Neither is open to the public.