Monday, May 31, 2010

Houston: Land of Concrete and Billboards

One of the first things I noticed upon moving to Houston was the preponderance of billboards--they're everywhere.  They're so thick along highways like I-45 that it's like the street has been wallpapered with advertisements for lap-band surgery and radio stations.  This was the only picutre I could find that even comes close to approximating the sheer number of billboards that cover the horizon in a way I have never before seen.

In fact, there's even a group dedicated to eradicating the problem--the Houston Quality of Life Coalition (from whom I borrowed the image).  I wish them luck, because, speaking as someone who has driven along the Pacific Coast Highway (down the coast of California) and I-70 (through the Rocky Mountains), this mess is fugly.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Who WOULDN'T Want to Visit the Cockroach Hall of Fame?

If you happen to be driving through Plano (just outside of Dallas), Texas, you can stop by the Cockroach Hall of Fame, where you can see dead roaches dressed up like celebrities, live Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, and dine on various creepy crawlies. 

Featured at left is Liberoachi.  And no, I am not making this shit up.  There are some weird people in this world.  (Admission is free, by the way--probably because no one would pay to get in.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Yet More Proof That It's a Small World

One of my co-workers here in Houston is leaving on vacation this morning, flying into a little town called San Luis Obispo on the central coast of California (which is not too far away from my parents' house in Lompoc, for those of you who don't know).  It's funny that the people who live where I live now are vacationing someplace I used to live and couldn't wait to get away from.

Things Are Definitely Bigger in Texas

As I was driving from Denver to Texas several weeks ago, I stopped for the night in Amarillo, Texas, home of the Big Texan, which is, in turn, "Home of the FREE 72 oz. Steak."  I feel obliged to point out that a standard serving size (according to the food guide pyramid) is three ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards. 

The last time I went out to eat, I wasn't able to finish my six ounce steak after having had bread, a salad, and a baked potato.

No wonder 35% of Amarillo is considered overweight.  Jeez Louise.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

That's MISS Lindsay-with-an-A to You!

I think this may be more of "Southern" thing than a "Texan" thing (and I'm slowly beginning to learn the difference between the two), but I have recently met several people who address others as "Mr. [insert first name]" or "Miss [insert first name]."  The explanation is that calling someone "Mr. [insert last name]" seems too formal, but calling someone simply "[insert first name]" is too familiar.  There is therefore the happy meeting ground of a title with the first name, especially on the part of children when addressing adults.

Every time I hear it, though, I think of Driving Miss Daisy, which is about the only place this California-Coloradoan has ever heard of such a thing.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Thing That Should Not Be

(Warning: The following is extremely unpleasant.  Read at your own risk.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Texan Quotation of the Day

All right, so technically, the word "Yankee" did not come up in conversation, but I feel like it almost did:
Me: "[Name ommitted to protect one who has head very far up butt] isn't very friendly."
Texan: "Oh, I think that's just because she's a Northener.  She's from Massachusetts or something, you know."
Ah-hah!  My first Northern-Southern reference in conversation.  I mean, I know that I'm a Westerner, which is very different than a Massachusettian, but still.

Which Are You, Boy?

“Only steers and queers come from Texas, Private Cowboy, and you don’t much look like a steer to me so that kinda narrows it down.” -- Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, Full Metal Jacket (1987)
I had a gentleman from West Texas complain to me that everywhere he went outside of Texas, people would ask him whether he was a steer or a queer.  He was quite, quite offended.  I couldn't feel too bad for him, though, since everywhere I go outside of California, people say, "Oooooooh, Cali-for-nia."  While this isn't quite to the "queer" level, I'm pretty sure everyone assumes I have some kind of weird alternative lifestyle anyway.  I'm also pretty sure I'm okay with that, as I don't really want to associate with people who have a problem with that, anyway.

United State of Bush

Here's something that might make non-Texans shudder a little bit.  I know it got me when I first came to this illustrious state.  Not only is President George W. Bush's name on the "Welcome to Texas" sign at the border, but the main Houston airport is named after his father, President George Bush.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Target: Houston

Since I've written so often about what I don't like about Texas, I figured it was probably time to include something that I've discovered I do like (about Houston, anyway)--mainly, the highway system.  Having lived in LA, I know bad roads.  The highways in LA are difficult to maneuver, if only because they weren't originally designed to accomodate the number of people shoving their ways down the on-ramps.

Houston, on the other hand, has a highway system that is very easy to figure out.  Houston is essentially a big bulls-eye, with loops that make it easy to get from one place to another because they save so much time by cutting off entire areas you never have to go to.  While I've heard horror stories of people going around and around the 610 loop wihout being able to figure out how to get off, I haven't yet had that problem and am quite pleased at how quickly I picked up on the area.

(This is not to say that being on the highways doesn't suck--because it does.  Traffic in Houston is awful.  But that's a post for another day.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Texan Quotation of the Day

The by-line for a local [country] radio station:
Announcer: "We put the honk [honking horn sound] in honky tonk!"
Me: [Head / steering wheel.]
What else can I say, other than:

Living in Texas

A co-worker sent me the following forward about life in Texas.  I'll let you know how accurate it is in about two months:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Protect Your Family With DDT!

So I don't know if this is a nation-wide effort, but I've recently been hearing radio commercials the likes of which I've never heard before.  They go something like this:
"Your lawn is supposed to be a safe place for your family.  Keep all those harmful bugs away from your loved ones by visiting Home Depot today to find out which pesticides will work best for you."
That's a paraphrase, obviously, but pesticides?  They're so 20th century.  Haven't we learned enough about the circle of life to know that pesticides are bad, and if you live somewhere like Houston, you really shouldn't complain when your lawn is crawling with local wildlife?

I guess I shouldn't talk, really.  My apartment building sprays bi-weekly for bugs. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Will We NEED a Hurricane Evacuation Route?

... I sure hope not.

Earthquakes don't scare me.  Snowstorms don't scare me.  But hurricanes?  They scare me.  Consider it the emotional aftermath of Katrina.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My First Experience with Texas-Sized Rain

(Disclaimer: I didn't take this picture.) 

As I was heading out the door Friday evening, I glanced out the window and saw it was raining and was somewhat relieved that I now have a car and wouldn't have to walk in inclement weather.  Little did I know that when it rains in Houston, it rains in Houston.  While the main streets weren't that bad (with only a couple of inches of water covering the asphalt) the neighborhood which I was trying to access was under at least 6-8" of water.  Driving in it (in a Honda Civic, mind you)  was the most frightening thing I've done in a long time.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Art of the Drive-By Conversation

(Note: This only applies to places that aren't downtown Houston, where people are rich, snobby, and rude.)

I've always considered myself a fairly courteous person--after working in customer service for eight years (God, I suddenly feel old), I've mastered the art of meet-and-greet, small talk, and chit chat.  I say "please" and "thank you," and I smile at people when I make eye contact with them.  (For those of you who don't know, most of this is beyond the call of duty in California, where you're lucky if someone looks at you if they accidentally hit you with their car.  Colorado is marginally more friendly, but not by much.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Reduce, Reuse, Refuse to Recycle!

I'd like to give a big shout-out to all my recyclers out there--none of whom live in Houston, if you were wondering.  None of them.  Since arriving, I've been to multiple houses, multiple apartments, and many stores and none of them recycle.  My company's break rooms have recycling bins, but they're hidden behind cabinet doors and not labeled, so everyone just throws everything away.  In addition, the amount of stryofoam in use around here is one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen.

And just in case you think I'm exaggerating (me?), here's a New York Times article from a couple of years ago that says that Houston is the "worst recycler among the United States’ 30 largest cities."  (At the time, Houston recycled 2.6% of its waste, while San Francisco recycled 69%.  That's a 67% difference!)  The explanation, from the then-Houston mayor? "We have an independent streak that rebels against mandates or anything that seems trendy or hyped up."  Yeah! Damn that recycling hype!  THINK FOR YOURSELVES!!!

By the way, my apartment building has valet trash for its 400+ residents (because who wants to walk all the way to the dumpster on their way to their car?  That's so inconvenient!).  It has no recycling program.  This pinko hippie liberal will be bringing her recyclables to work.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Day at the Bookstore

The other day, I stopped by a Barnes & Noble to pick up a book a friend had recommended to me (my first Janet Evanovich, for those of you who are wondering).  While I had assumed that all B&Ns were created equal (as the company is nation-wide), there are significant differences between California- or Colorado-based bookstores and Texas-based bookstores.  Namely:
  1. The music.  Country music was blaring in this particular book store.  I'm used to pleasant, quiet background music while browsing for books, of the jazz or new age variety.  But, no--apparently in Humble, Texas, you need to listen to a really loud rendition of "Bless the Broken Road" if you're buying books.  It was incredibly distracting.
  2. The selection.  In this particular book store, the Christian Living section was far larger than the Fiction section.  How is that even possible?
  3. The clientele.  There were more people hanging out at the cafe with nary a book a in sight than I'm used to seeing in other B&Ns.  I think it's strange when people frequent stores at which they don't actually buy anything.
I don't think I'll be back to that store anytime soon, although one funny thing did happen: a woman, when her son was misbehaving, screeched at him: "Veergil, if eyou don't knock that off raight now, I'm gonna beat eyou with a hawrdback!"*

*This was my attempt to George Bernard Shaw the Texan accent.  I'm not entirely sure it was successful.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Texan Quotation of the Day

Here's an unfortunate conversation I was adjacent to the other day:

Texan: "We need to ship all these Mexicans up to Kan' City to help with contruction up there."
Me: [Giving him a look.]
Texan: [Sarcastically.] "Oh, we're not racial here at all."
Let me just point out one thing, which I didn't bother to point out at the time because the Texan was drinking.  According to dictionary.com, the definition of racial is "of, pertaining to, or characteristic of one race or the races of humankind."  I think the word this person was looking for was racist, and I'd to say "we" definitely are.

We're Not in California Anymore: Weird Laws

Apparently Texas blue laws (laws meant to "regulate commercial business on Sundays") forbid the sales of anything meant to do work on Sundays all the way up to the 1980s:
"Until 1985, Texas retail stores were forbidden to sell items that performed work on Sundays. The distinction was peculiar. For example, nails could be sold, but not hammers, since it was deemed that the hammer performed the work. This portion of the blue laws was challenged by Handy Dan Hardware in 1984 and repealed the following year." (From the ever-reliable Wikipedia.  Boy, am I glad I'm not in school anymore and can quote the people's encyclopedia.)
Weird.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Note on Koozies

Some of you may have noticed the beer cans in the picture from the crawfish boil, wrapped in colorful foam and looking oh-so-festive.  These pieces of foam are called koozies (and not cozies, as I learned when I got several blank stares when referring to one).  Now, I don't know about you, but I've always considered koozies to be something of an out-dated item, used only by rednecks.  My family does not own any.  My friends do not use them.  However, in Texas, everyone uses them.  My host family has a drawer full of them, and if you're going to a party, you bring your own koozie even if you don't bring your own beer.  In fact, at the crawfish boil yesterday, even though most people brought their own koozies, there was a huge bag of brand-new koozies, just in case.

Let me say this: even though I feel like a hick drinking a Bud Lite wrapped in a piece of foam advertising "In-Step Dance Lessons," it does keep your beer cooler for longer.  However, under no circumstances should koozies ever be customized and used as wedding party favors.

By the Way, Kids: Don't Drink and Drive

Yeah, roadies are totally illegal in the state of Texas.  I thought so.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

My First Crawfish Boil

Yesterday, my hostess (or maybe I should say my host family, since I kind of feel like I'm studying abroad) took me to my very first crawfish boil.  It was hosted by a self-proclaimed "coon ass." (The term apparently means "from Louisiana," and is not a racist term as it applies to whites as well, but I'll never use it without air quotation marks around it, that's for damn sure).

Before we left, everyone cracked open cold beers and sat around talking before we piled into the truck to leave--with the open cold beers.  Including the driver.  When I asked about Texas laws regarding roadies, no one was able to tell me and I was glad I had left my ID at my host family's house.  It would take the cops that much longer to process me when we all got arrested.

Anyway, the "coon ass" who was hosting the crawfish boil had brought in 11 bags of crawfish (which is about 400 pounds), set up a huge tent in his backyard, and hired a "coon ass" DJ to play Zydeco music.  (One thing I guess I should mention here is that New Orleans is only about 4 hours away from Houston, so it seems like the Mardi Gras spirit is alive and kicking in the Lone Star State.)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Don't Mess With Texas

The first thing I noticed upon entering the great state of TX was the prevalence of weird highway signs.  Beyond the "Drive Friendly - The Texan Way" directive on the welcome sign at the border, there are "Don't Mess With Texas: Up To $2000 Fine For Littering" as well as "Real Texans Don't Trash Texas."

Now, let me put this out there, if only to show the true depth of my ignorance: before crossing the border, the only place I had ever heard "don't mess with Texas" was in an SNL skit featuring Will Ferrel playing a squinty-eyed President Bush.  I thought it was a joke, and a hilarious one at that.  I didn't know that there were street signs that said those four very funny words.  Now that I know that it's something of a state motto, I have the overwhelming urge to ask, "Or what?"

Of course, I ask it on the blogosphere and not out loud.  Even I know how attached Texans are to their guns.

Welcome to Texas

When I first found out my company was transferring me to Houston, Texas, two things popped into my head almost simultaneously: George W. Bush and electrocutions.  Coming from California and Colorado (which went blue in the last election), Texas seemed like a strange and foreign land of right-wing politics and uber-conservative Christians.

Upon arriving in the state two days ago, those first impressions may have faded slightly, but the culture shock will probably be wearing on me for quite some time.  This blog, Stranger in an Even Stranger Land, will track this liberal agnostic's adventures in the Lone Star State.

I think I need a drink.