Never having lived in Texas, I have nonetheless had my fair share of exposure to Texas culture. Both my parents as well as my wife were born and raised there, so I have knocked around in and out of the state as a visitor over the decades, been exposed to the whole Texas “thing” in absentia. We’ve “done” Austin, seen the bats. Traversed Lubbock to Lajitas, Lufkin to Marfa. We even chose gorgeous yet obscure Big Bend National Park, one of my wife’s favorite spots, as our honeymoon destination. That said, a few Texas cultural anomalies struck me on this trip that I had not keyed on before. They may have been there, and I guess I started picking up on them earlier, but they are certainly not part of the Texas Zeitgeist that I was made aware of as a child visiting my grandparents.
- Tamales at Christmas. Maybe this is a Houston thing. Maybe it is a late-20th-century-white-middle-class-becoming-more-culturally-aware thing. It’s definitely become a Tex-Mex tradition. Around Christmas time everybody with a pickup truck and pointed boots is vying for their tamales, comparing notes on their sources, getting their orders in early. Everybody has a connection. A guy. A guy with a Mexican mother, to be more accurate. The known dealers – out the back door of a no-name strip-mall Mexican restaurant, say – have reputations and lines down the street on a Saturday morning before Christmas. The real insiders require just as much work – your son’s college roomate’s mom, we’ll make it worth her while…. a co-workers wife’s extended family’s matriarchs, etc. This isn’t just hand-rolling masa like sushi. Next time you’re at the farmer’s market notice the large lever-arm tamale machines for sale over by the tortilla presses.
- Donut shops. Around here we have Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts. Around there you have them…everywhere. Every strip mall seems to be anchored with a mom & pop donut shop. A large percentage of them are owned by ethnic minorities from Easts middle and far. And they all specialize in Kolaces (the pigs-in-a-blanket variety, not the filled pastry). Talk about your melting pot. And it’s where everybody goes to grab breakfast.
- Defensive Driving Schools as Comedy Clubs. Huh? Yes. Necessity is the mother of invention, and when TX mandated Defensive Driving School to keep points off your record (I assume) somebody came up with having comedians teach the class. Throw in a 2-drink minumum show as part of the package. And it has caught on, apparently. This was confirmed in an episode of King of the Hill, the rest of the world’s window on Texas. I tell you what.