Archive for March, 2013

You’ve heard the old expression “I can’t remember when I’ve had so much fun?” I hate to piss you off but I still feel like that every day. I’m passing the high water mark on my third month in Texas and the longer I’m here the more I live to appreciate where I am. In Texas they say that Texas is not just a state…it’s a state of mind’…well friends…that’s entirely true.

Over the past three months I’ve reported on everything as I experienced it, to my audience of one, fresh and raw impressions served up on a platter and knowing I was into a honey pot of a unique travel destination. Taken into the context of my three month tour of wandering the back roads and historic towns on secondary highways ‘off the beaten track’ I have to say that all these good things, from realizing that gritty blues for breakfast and red dirt radio are an integral part of the culture, to BBQ and people’s true and awestruck appreciation for the states natural beauty , the genuine friendliness of the people, are all a heart stopping amalgamation of every day life, which explains why Texans are the way they are. I’ve gotta’ say it, the sunsets here are to drool over, and trust me, I’ve seen a lot of sunsets.

I came here saying “I could spend six months here standing on my head”. I’m going to have the opportunity to test that theory….wish me luck.

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If you’re from anywhere else you might find the Texan culture of independence titillating. They are fiercely independent on issues pertaining to their personal freedoms. In many countries and states, including my own, people have been socially engineered to accept the overburden of government interference, this is not the case in Texas. In Texas, you’re expected to be self supporting and willing to cut your own path through life without reliance on a nanny state.

This quaint attitude manifests itself in surprising ways. Few people might realize that the economy in Texas is stronger than any other state, with lower unemployment overall. Lower taxation draws a critical mass of business to the state and that results in job creation. Tech industry is second only to California internationally for example. The recent ‘great recession’ was barely noticeable here.

I think many will be surprised to know that Texas is also a very progressive state. State support of the less fortunate is standard, personal generosity is traditional. Texas supports bicycle sharing in urban area’s, the only community in North America to do so. Support of the arts and artist community is traditional. Art providers have access to long term rental accommodation, short term space is provided in state sponsored communities. There are many media outlets and platforms that produce and support only Texan art and artists on full rotation and not as a side show.

I have never lived in a place where individual citizens had so much access to independent unbiased information. As opposed to state controlled media, CBC, BBC, PBS, etc, the Texans prefer to have a multitude of sources on which to formulate their own opinions. Community financial support through advertising rather than state supported propaganda results in broad based universe of opinions, from every end of the spectrum.

Texas is a place the less independent states love to hate. Perhaps because independent Texas is a gateway to a social alternative that would overturn the status quo in those highly regulated communities. Away from Texas you’ll hear all sorts of stereotypes to reinforce the status quo. Those who denigrate the choices Texans have made are either doing so for their own agenda…or they haven’t actually been here.

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What do you immediately envision when you think of the type of people who live in hotels? I’ll bet it’s the television stereotype of low life poverty and people who have fallen through the cracks living a subsistence lifestyle amid bedbugs and cockroaches. It can be that…but it’s a whole lot more. In fact there is a silent tribe of business related persons who migrate around the country and the world living in hotel rooms a majority of their year. It’s not unusual for a person to spend 200 or more days ‘on the road’ working in this sub class of the expertise population. I meet the most interesting, diverse and accomplished people around hotel bars, restaurants and swimming pools, exercise rooms and BBQ pits.

These are the working professionals, technicians, specialists and contractors whose company/private or corporate affiliations whose work takes them all over the world, state, country to do specific short to medium term tasks. On the level of Corporate/Executive Long Stay Hotels we are legion, away from our homes and families for months at a time, even years in some cases, like a wandering tribe of intellectuals/specialists whose task it is to keep the wheels of local economies from going off the tracks.

In any one period people will come and go, the variety is always fascinating, how much so depending on the time of year and the country that you’re in. This is an aspect of travel that a majority of holiday makers might never consider, but here we are all the same, collecting our travel points and spinning yarns to strangers along the way.

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Do you travel so often and stay away for so long that the people you know with regular jobs and less interesting lives begin to covet what you do? Have people you thought you knew started to show they envy you with changes in your relationship… a cold shoulder here, a missed invitation there….no more phone calls or email returns? Does the content of your communication start looking one directional , answers short and terse, the longer you’re away in some tropical destination? When once they wished you well, do you feel like people don’t like the fact that you’re doing something they envy and are just wishing you away?

I come from Vancouver Canada, probably the most covetous, envious, back biting and least well wishing place I have ever witnessed. People there just hate it when anyone has made a footprint beyond their own. This extends to career, education, lifestyle, housing, cars, clothes…you name it. The first thing people in Vancouver will do is categorize you with questions designed to find out what you have, what you live in, what you drive, what you make, who do you know…and where you’ve been. If you’re at all accomplished or interesting, they’ll shun you like a pariah out of envy and the fear that you’ll show them up.

I conclude this general attitude towards others is what has earned Vancouver as ‘The Loneliest City on Earth”. That moniker was earned when new comers were polled with the question “Is it hard to make new friends or contacts”….the resounding response was “Yes….impossible”. Having lived there I know that Vancouver’s issues are not solely around snobbery that stem from a state of completeness, the issues really come from a virulent jealousy of the outsider. People will literally run up your back to get ahead of you in Vancouver. Maybe this is why it’s also a hot spot for murder and ‘the road rage capital of the world’.

I don’t want to make this issue all about Vancouver, but it holds itself up as an easy target when it comes to spotting petty behavior’s. Case in point…’The Hockey Riot Syndrome’ ….where people occasionally go mad and begin burning, smashing and looting for no apparent reason. I believe this phenomenon is actually the zeitgeist of Vancouver society, where people are livid with their lives to the point where any excuse to burst out and target the innocent is deemed fair play. My thesis is that Vancouver is a case where advertised expectations far exceed the probability of individual success, leading to mass frustration….”The Best Place on Earth”…it is not.

This is why travel is a sore point among Vancouverites in particular. There are no international companies based in Vancouver, and few head offices in Canada, giving no opportunities for Canadians to get out into the world the way Americans, Britain’s or Europeans are able to. This is why you’ll meet precious few Canadian expats living abroad. It makes ‘travel’ a point where Canadians covet their neighbors over pissy little vacations….and the driving need to ‘get away’. If you can actually travel as a lifestyle or business….well, you’re considered an outsider. Given what I have experienced in Canadian society generally, I’d rather be the outsider than play the covetous game of “Where have you been”, and have to show my passport like a trophy that defines me.

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Every child growing up in the 1950’s and early 1960’s knew all about the wild west. Television and Holly Wood was all about sweeping landscapes and gun toting hero’s…Indians, wagon trains, stage coaches and bad guys of the era. Every youngster of that time would have played Cowboys and Indians, had at least one Cowboy hat, or coon skin cap, pair of fancy buckled boots, silver cap gun, a roll of red poppers loaded into the breach ready for action, and listened to songs about Davy Crockett at the Alamo on the radio.

Saturday morning’s were all about Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger and Hop-a-long Cassidy. The ‘Old West’ was pervasive in the minds and dreams of an entire generation of youth…and yet so few people will ever experience in adulthood the big country that filled their backyard childhood fantasies. What kid didn’t want to ride the 25 cent mustang that sat outside the Safeway while Mom shopped inside?

So I find myself in the blessed condition to be reliving my childhood Saturdays on the back roads of East Texas, as my wife and I road trip through rattlesnake country and ranch land west of Ft. Worth and Dallas. The rolling hills are just as red and lonesome and the skies are still as blue as they were in Louis L’Amour’s western fiction about the plains in his ‘duster’ novels, or the scrappy films of John Ford, the Longhorn cattle are where they should be and wistful sagebrush still tumble across the road as we speed by.

What I like is that the world outside my window is authentic, and not a Hollywood or Disneyland fantasy for tourism, in fact there is precious little of that. The highways west of Dallas, going towards Abilene and West Texas, like the TX 51, the I 20 or the TX 377 are regarded as ‘farm roads’, we find ourselves alone amidst the fence lines, purple heather , burned scrub and winding asphalt. The history of the Old West is alive and well for anyone with the will to brave the expense of getting here and traveling the country. These by-ways back roads are peppered with famous and infamous towns alike, where famous names trod the boardwalks .

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Trish and I go to flea markets, antique malls and anything else that is open and under the sun on the weekends. As I’ve already mentioned the Dallas Ft Worth Metroplex is scattered with this type of opportunity. It’s also ‘kill two birds with one stone’ type of travel days of discovery because along the freeways are peppered with off ramps leading off to historic towns and sights. You will need a vehicle to get around here, the distances are huge, but the speed limit on most Texas highways is 75 mph, there are great radio stations playing nothing but Texas music, and the time passes quickly because the scenery is sublime. I try and stop as often as I can to pick up some conversation, which Texans offer easily…the BBQ and knick knacks are great too….try the pie if you can.

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