texanist beaches
Why is driving allowed on Texas beaches?Illustration by Jack Unruh


Q: I live in Arkansas but recently visited Port Aransas with my family for our summer vacation. We had never been to the Texas coast and were really looking forward to the trip, but it turned out that what could have been four beautiful days on the beach were marred by all the traffic! On the beach! Why on earth is driving allowed on Texas beaches? It’s not safe.
The Porters, Little Rock, Arkansas  

A: The Texanist is glad that the Porters were able to escape their home in landlocked Arkansas and enjoy themselves on a nice stretch of the long, sun-drenched, and beautiful Texas coastline. There’s nothing quite like the restorative effects of that salty Gulf air on both the body and soul, as you are now surely aware. Did you kick off your shoes and let that fine Texas sand work its warm magic on the old dogs as you reclined in your beach chair, sipping a koozie-clad Mexican beer with a little salt and a wedge of lime, while the white gulls cawed to one another and the brown pelicans soared in formation overhead and the sandpipers skittered nervously along the edge of the softly undulating surf? Cures what ails you, doesn’t it? Speaking of the local fauna, it sounds like, in addition to these seabirds, you may have also been treated to a few sightings of the common Texas beach yahoo. These colorful beasts owe their existence, in part, to the Texas Open Beaches Act, passed in 1959, which at its core guarantees that “the public, individually and collectively, shall have the free and unrestricted right of ingress and egress to and from the state-owned beaches bordering on the seaward shore of the Gulf of Mexico.” It’s important to note here that the state owns the entirety of Texas’s 367-mile coastline and that while some of the aforementioned public do indeed opt to make their ingresses and egresses vehicularly, the beach yahoo stands out by accenting his arrivals and departures with a signature yell and a couple of engine-roaring, sand-spewing doughnuts. The beach yahoo can be a dangerous bird, especially when in close proximity to young family members, and your outrage is understandable. It’s also worth noting that the Open Beaches Act leaves the particulars of “public access” up to local jurisdictions along the coast and that some of them have opted to disallow vehicles from motoring upon the seashore. Such serene settings do not make good habitat for the yahoo, and it is generally found there only if it has become lost. The Porters ought to consider this when planning their next Texas getaway.

Q: Can I get married at the Capitol? And if I can get married at the Capitol, can I also have my reception on the Capitol grounds? And if so, will I be able to have a band and serve alcohol to my guests?

Holly Johnson, Dallas

A: Yes, Holly Johnson, it turns out that you can get hitched at the grand old pink-granite statehouse. The Texanist asked, and it is indeed allowed. Actually, the rules are somewhat loosey-goosey. You don’t need written permission and you won’t have to pay a fee, but since the building is, as it happens, the seat of our state government, it is a very busy place and cannot be reserved for the purpose of your nuptials. This goes for both the interior and the exterior, which means that an affair of any real size is out of the question. Also, booze is prohibited (but not firearms!). However, the Texanist, who has now exchanged his advice-giver hat for his wedding-planner hat, has already decided that we don’t want to do the event there anyway. If it is a truly Texas-style affair that you are envisioning, which is to say possibly a little raucous, then the Capitol, even though it is itself prone to fits of raucousness when the Legislature is in session, is just not the venue we’re looking for. But there’s no need to panic! Austin is a great destination for a wedding, so before you go all bridezilla on him, the Texanist has another option to run by you. Have you ever heard of the Texas Chili Parlor? It’s a short walk from the Capitol, stays open late, and has been known to tolerate many forms of rambunctious behavior. It also has a back room, a full bar, very few rules, and hot chili; further, it’s across the street from a hotel, appears in the great Guy Clark song “Dublin Blues,” and was, many years ago, the setting for one of Gary Cartwright’s weddings. What more could you need?

Q: What are skinny margaritas, and who should or shouldn’t be drinking them?
Name Withheld

A: Often purported as a Texas invention, the classic margarita, in its purest, most unadulterated incarnation—as opposed to the lime-juiceless margs made from sugary mixes for consumption by college students—is the best chilled tequila-based drink to ever pass the Texanist’s parched lips. Such margaritas make for a perfectly refreshing accompaniment to a hot Texas evening. An evening just like this one, in fact. Excuse the Texanist for one moment, will you? [Editors’ note: The Texanist’s first draft of this month’s column ended here, and initial attempts to reach him regarding the whereabouts of the remaining material were unsuccessful. However, thanks to an apparently inadvertent 45-minute-long message left on his editor’s voicemail containing only the sounds of splashing liquor, clinking ice, shaking, pouring, and off-key humming of Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” he was finally located and brought to the office. The following “advice” was subsequently squeezed out of him, like so many drops of juice from an old and pithy lime. We offer it for what it’s worth.] Advice? You want more advice? Look, the Texanist told you that he doesn’t have any more time for advice. He’s busy with a very important project this afternoon, and he needs to get back to the, uh, lab. Pronto! Listen up, you. What if you knew that right now you were putting at risk a serious scientific advancement? Because that’s what you are doing. The Texanist is on the brink—and this is not to be repeated by or to anyone—but the Texanist is on the brink of ascertaining the precise formula for el supremo, the mother of all margaritas. ¡La madre de todos las goddam margaritas! Do you comprehende? Hey, what happened to the Texanist’s shirt? Never mind. See, traditionally you mix tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau on a 1.5-to-1-to-.5 ratio, and then you shake it, salt the rim, yadda yadda yadda. But the Texanist is working on some brand-new methods—some recipes that cannot be presently discussed. With anyone! We’re talking about variations that could revolutionize the whole idea of the margarita, but they must be tested. And retested! And yet here you are, dragging the Texanist into the office at this ungodly hour of two in the afternoon to answer what is frankly a rather silly question. What’s a skinny margarita? Nothing more than the delicious original rebranded for the modern health-conscious imbiber. Of course, calling it that is unnecessary, since a margarita should always be served as the simple, no-frills, and relatively low-calorie alcoholic concoction God intended. At least until the Texanist finishes his landmark research. Now if you’ll excuse him, he simply must get back to his work.

The Texanist’s Little-Known Fact of the Month: 

The lightning whelk, the state shell of Texas, is known to scientists as Busycon perversum pulleyi. Busycon, which comes from the Greek word for “large fig,” describes the shape. Perversum, from the Latin word for “turned the wrong way,” refers to the unusual left-sided opening. And pulleyi derives from the name of the late Texas teacher, naturalist, and malacologist Dr. T.E. Pulley.