Friday, February 20, 2009

Texas In My Rear View Mirror

In which Aviatrix shuts up and goes home.

In wrap up I'll note that over the last couple of weeks everyone here in Texas has been very nice. They're friendly and helpful and don't seem to mind saying things twice when I don't understand the accent or vocabulary. They're also more travelled than typical in the US. Many people I talked to here have been to one part of Canada or another. (The topic of overseas travel never came up, so that's the only metric I have). A commenter on my first Texas blog entry mentioned something about aggressive driving, but I haven't experienced that. There's the usual amount of not signaling lane changes, less than California I think. But the streets are wide, with lots of lanes, huge wide shoulders and dedicated left turn pockets everywhere, so an unexpected lane change isn't a pressing emergency. No one tailgated or honked at me for driving the speed limit. It would seem that everyone here has been driving since they were sixteen, so they're certainly not lacking in practice.

In total, over two weeks of walking around town or driving back and forth to the airport, I saw six people using human-powered transportation: five walking and one on a battered-looking bicycle. The first two walkers I saw were young black men, dressed in a way that I thought only existed in movies, with oversized, falling-off jeans and blinged out with multiple enormous faux gold necklaces. They were walking towards me, coming the other way, along the grass at the side of a road. I was a little bit surprised to finally see someone else walking and said hello, but they were way too cool to deign to acknowledge my greeting. The commonality of us all being human beings aware of the purpose of feet wasn't enough for them, I guess. Or maybe I was looking stunned by their garb. Sorry about that, guys. I am exceptionally square. I just wouldn't have the panache to pull off a fashion statement of that magnitude. I rarely wear accessories that don't serve an immediate practical purpose. Maybe you were equally dumbfounded by my cartoon airplane t-shirt tucked into Marks Work Wearhouse trousers, with the waistband fitting well above my navel.

The other three walking people were caucasian, wearing exercise clothing, and strolling purposefully along a lovely treed path that went from the vicinity of the Wal-Mart all the way downtown, and perhaps further. It followed a pipeline right-of-way and I found it on the way back from downtown. I smiled hello at a man going the other way, and then walked with and chatted to a couple going my way. When we got to the end of the path, there was a parking lot, and their car was there. They had driven to this path in order to walk on it and were now driving home. In fact they offered to drive me to my hotel, even though it was only two blocks away.

My conclusion is that for white people here, walking is acceptable, but only as a recreational activity, not a means of transportation. I'm not quite sure about the other two guys. Perhaps their car had broken down. Or danced away. Although I've seen a lot of overweight folks, it's not everyone. I haven't seen the scarily obese people that TIME magazine keeps doing exposés on, so locals are getting some exercise somewhere.

The Texas work is not complete, so we'll be back, but the customer decides to take a break for a couple of weeks, so we leave the airplane in a hangar and all drive to into the big city to get cheap commercial flights to our various homes all over the continent. We cross our fingers that the connections work and we don't get stuck somewhere with inadequate snowploughs.

I don't get to see clearly what it looks like on the way in by car, the way I would arriving by air, but I can see from the road map and from driving there that it is an enormous gigantic airport, bigger than two "normal" international airports put together. It's so big they call it an "Intercontinental" airport. I find my gate, but shortly after I get there they announce a gate change. It's a full airplane, but there's a delay as they have to remove the baggage of someone who didn't show. Poor sucker probably didn't hear the gate change. I always hope someone like that is just inattentive and not deaf or non-English speaking, because it would be a really rotten reason to not make it to where you are going.

I do not get stranded anywhere en route, and sleep most of the way. I do sleep when other people are flying. I wake up in time to watch as we slip under scattered cloud on approach to the snow-covered Canadian city nearest my home.


Jim Mantle said...

One of the reasons I love travel is because the people, the food, the culture, the geography and a whole lot else are different there than they are here.

"Whoever discovered water, it wasn't a fish."

I found your observations throughout the TX series to be observations of different, and of course it is compounded by how America is different than Canada.

Taxes, health care, car culture, diet, geography, politeness, gun culture, politics, religous fervour, spelling, signage, driving patterns, pronunciation, values around self-sufficiency, .... some of the thousands of things that are not right, or wrong, - they are just different.

And to a Texan in Texas, most of these cultural tags are as normal as breathing air. To someone from sufficienty far away, Texans (or anyone else) are so unique they may as well have green skin, three feet and talk in binary. And that makes it observable.

What I find interesting is that you don't say "they do something wrong" in your blog - you do describe something with the obvious conclusion of "that's different", and many of the commentators on your blog leap to the conclusion that you have said "that's wrong" and get all defensive (or go on the attack).

Callsign Echo said...

+1 what Jim said.

I love hearing your perspective on the culture here. It is startling but interesting, like seeing yourself on video for the first time. "Is that really what I look like...?"

Those who take offense are only the oversensitive, and trolls looking for any excuse to fight.

At worst, you seem to view Americans with tolerant humor, at best, you give us reality check: there are many different ways of doing things, and living, and thinking, and especially...traveling.

Aviatrix said...

Ah, thank you both for confirming success at what I am trying to do. I'm already back in Texas after the break and there are lots more observations coming up!

Jim Howard said...

Next time you're in Houston and feel like walking go downtown.

People who live and work in downtown Houston (like those in my own downtown Austin) walk a lot.

Houston has a nice light rail system. Houston even has a really super nice set of underground walkways, that connect the big skyscrappers, thus saving our Canadian visitors from melting in the summer sun ;).

Here's a picture:

dpierce said...

In one of your posts, you mentioned a pedestrian crosswalk. Beyond that, was the area you were in "pedestrian friendly"? It's always a shame when a locale makes the effort to promote a pedestrian friendly environment and nobody is taking advantage of it.

However (as I'm fond of pointing out), very little of the US is built around pedestrians. Sometimes this is just poor planning, but most often it's a simple matter of suburbia being too spread out to reasonably accommodate peds, so things like sidewalks would be a waste of resource.

I wouldn't be surprised if there's nobody on foot in an area not built for pedestrians. It can be dangerous (and I'm not necessarily referring to violence) to walk along the side of a road where peds aren't expected.

Texas Talk said...

Y'all come back now ya hear!!!!

Greybeard said...

As others have pointed out, we Americans may be overly sensitive to comments made by our Northern neighbors if those comments can be construed as criticisms. I'll try to be more aware of that henceforth.
But Callsign Echo said,
"At worst, you seem to view Americans with tolerant humor...", and I have to edify you with this fact:
My wife and son go to Vancouver, B.C. on business two or three times a year. More and more they are noticing a decidedly "Anti-American" attitude there, (obviously stronger in some areas than others).

I'll wager Texans are gracious hosts, even to Canadians viewing them with a critical eye.
My family's experience in Vancouver has become uncomfortable, and they would no longer go to B.C. were it not a business requirement.
(I've never been, and won't go until I'm sure I'm welcome.)