Posts Tagged ‘texas’

I woke up staring down another Christmas on the road, just weeks away. Trish and I have had our Christmas’ in some fairly exotic places. Bangkok Thailand ranks right up there. Luckily we can buy a fuzzy Chinese faux tree and glitzy decorations next door at an American owned grocery chain store. In the past I’ve packed a fold up tree in my suitcase to have a proper Canadian Christmas where ever in the world we found ourselves.

Today’s modern technology makes it a lot easier to communicate back home. Not like the old days where a traveler had to find a post office with a long distance call box and wait between crackling sentences as voices echoed thousands of miles back and forth down a rubbery trunk line. You don’t have to send your gifts home by sea six months in advance anymore. In many countries the happy holiday was a bit anti-climactic when there was nothing resembling western culture for thousands of miles in any direction. Today’s travelers have it easy.

The Thai people have embraced Christmas as a shopping/commercial opportunity. They love everything western, so Christmas trappings are ‘exotic’ and ‘modern’ , like nonsensical English words  and slogans on T-Shirts and hand bags. People love the giant Christmas tree’s standing outside the mall entrances and can’t get enough cheesecake pictures. They do a decent job of decorating. This years theme at the mall closest us is ‘Snoopy in Space’ all in white and silver. I’m fairly sure something has been lost in translation, and there’s no reference to Baby Jesus, but…it gives us travelers a bit of Christmas cheer and nostalgia for days gone by.

The huge growth in backpacker tourism and telecommunications has initiated more awareness of Western Culture in diverse countries. There aren’t many destinations you won’t find at least a hotel bar with sparkly lights and tinsel. I’m listening to Christmas songs on my favorite Texas radio station online, 95.3 The Range. I spent my last two Christmases in Texas and the fine music got under my skin. I guess while I’m at it  I’ll admit to having a soft spot for Christmas. No matter where we find ourselves on December 25th….we celebrate Christmas…and remember why.

What a fiasco, what an embarrassment for the employees of American Airlines. Management should be immediately replaced over the mass cancellations of flights in and around Dallas Fort Worth Airport. Less than an inch of snow and these incompetents stranded tens of thousands of travelers for days.  While management dithered over cancelled flights for days at a time all other responsible airlines were in the air and landing at DFW on the same day American went on vacation.

The official response from American was that the ice storm was at fault…but we all know that was not the reason behind the slow moving operations tangle that stranded so many people…. it  was incompetence. I suggest they hire some Canadian or European managers who don’t freak out at the first sign of snow. After all European airlines and Canadian airlines fly in the cold weather all the time…hell I taught my wife to drive in worse weather than we saw at DFW…..there is no excuse for the incompetence shown by American Airlines management.

Trish and I have a thing for open markets. We’ve visited them all over the world, from folksy parking lot affairs in Finland, the famous Chatachak Market in Bangkok to what is probably the largest open air weekend market on the planet. The cooler fall weather has brought an enormous number of people out to sell their household overflow and sideline business items. Today there are over 4000 vendors on the massive site over one square mile at Traders Village, Grand Prairie Texas…..located about 14 miles outside Dallas. You really have to wear comfortable shoes for this adventure.

Everything from used clothing and toys to tires, mattresses,  Santeria magic concoctions  and live animals are for sale somewhere on the site. This is a primarily Mexican influenced market. People assume you speak Spanish if you’re here. The atmosphere is friendly, familial and raucous. Music blasts from car stereos and DJ bars for sale almost every ten feet. The isles are crowded with children in strollers as the average family appears to have at least six children per unit. Young moms all have a second baby muffin top spilling over their jeans.

If I was to guess I would say that there was at least 350,000 to 500,000 people at the peak of the afternoon . Unlike many city markets most goods are $1.00. I wonder who would buy so many used children’s clothing items and junk stereo equipment but it’s obvious people are packing items into trolly carts and winding through the crowds towards a vehicle. Tools of every kind can be had here…if you want saws , wrenches or landscaping equipment , this is the place to come. If you want to see the Mexican American influence in Texas you simply have to come here.

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You know you’ve been away too long when going home feels…weird. Trish and I have a home in Vancouver BC Canada, we go there sometimes, but not very often. You’d think we’d have a greater attachment to the place after so many years of struggling to pay for it ( Vancouver has the most expensive real estate on the planet) and raising a family there. Instead we left to recapture our lives. I feel a rare twinge of nostalgia and little remorse for having left that turbid and restricting world behind. My past is like a time capsule trailing  at the tail end of a drifting spidery thread. I guess old memories never die….they just stalk you.

Almost two years ago we moved from Bangkok to Dallas Texas. Our immersion in Thai culture was so deep and intense that leaving felt as if we were tearing ourselves away from something we loved completely. Now, after all this time in Texas we have been accepted as locals. Texas is a transient culture… everyone is welcomed here. It  feels like home. When we recently revisited Vancouver, it was a strange and distant land….nothing was familiar . Like Jim Morrison wrote, “people are strange, when you’re a stranger”.

I wrote a novel some years ago titled ‘The Revenant’, about a man who tries but fails to reconcile with his past as he spirals towards death with his last breath of life. There is an old saying that goes “you can’t go back’…and whoever coined that expression was speaking from experience. A revenant  is a person returning home to a population that gave him up as either lost or dead. I wondered about that this morning, not for the first time, ‘have I taken a step too far….have I moved beyond the point of no return’?  And BTW…Happy Halloween.

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Texas has affected me in many ways, but most notably in the art of civility. Trish and were initially taken aback at how friendly and complimentary people were generally in Texas. Simple conversations between Texans begin with mutual compliments. Whatever the circumstance people will compliment your hairstyle, clothing, shoes, eye color, personal style or whatever as a way to begin a conversation or  transaction. It’s really endearing.

Coming back to Vancouver I realized I was doing the same as I would in Dallas….be overtly friendly with the people I encountered. The Texan culture is egalitarian. It doesn’t matter what your social position or employment status, people acknowledge one another with a compliment…”I like your hair”…or some similar greeting. And that’s where we made our discovery….that compliments are how Texans say hello. Whether Wallmart or a bank… people greet you on a personal level as equals….without the jealous or obvious envy and covetousness  we experience in uber materialistic  ‘futterneid’ ( German for the envy of another’s possessions)  Vancouver. I have noticed that by practicing this complimentary style I have shocked many Vancouverites out of their downcast closeted shell and they visibly brightened….. as if they haven’t had a kind word or compliment for a very long time. It’s obvious to me that people in Vancouver are starving for civility.

As I said, Texas is an egalitarian culture, perhaps because they have a history of overcoming common hardships. Perhaps it’s because people haven’t been suppressed into isolating and tension creating ethnic ghetto’s by short sighted political mavins as is the case in Vancouver. But this much is true…the mood among people in Texas is always polite and positive and living there is especially refreshing for a transplant Vancouverite accustomed to the surly rain soaked masses of the left coast. There is no doubt in my mind that the friendly relations people enjoy in Texas is a by-product of growing up in an atmosphere of common courtesy… ( it’s always Miss, Ma’am and Sir) Vancouver could learn a life lesson from Texas… and maybe someday lose the tag as being unfriendly and uncivil.

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I’ve seen where  people go wrong. They fade into  the misery of a life unfulfilled, as if living is a pulp fiction novel that must reconcile predictably.  Trish and I surmounted every false dictum society set in our way.  We did the parenting, the home buying, the career chasing, and the suburban drudgery…. We managed to avoid the usual traps of china figurine collecting, filling a garage with useless junk and hunkering down to wait for old age. We are self-made, having relied on no one and never having received an inheritance by waiting for someone to die. The trouble with inheritance cases as I have observed is that they always live the rest of their lives knowing they haven’t deserved or earned what they possess. Our fight for success has given us self-confidence and we enjoy the crap out of what we’ve earned. Trust me… enjoying yourself when you can stand on your own two feet is the best revenge. If you’re past middle age and you’re not having fun… you’ve done something wrong. It’s late September here in Dallas and life is good.

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I’m living in one of the most under appreciated and most vilified places by foreign ( non Texan) media  the United States and loving it. Most days  we feel as if we have the place to ourselves and couldn’t be happier. The number of tourists in some  global hotspots has depreciated the quality of  traveling there….. not so in Texas.  There is so much to do here , spread out over such a huge area that crowds ( except for sports venues) are rare. The cost of living is extremely low compared to most other places I have been in the developed world and that really takes the bite out of world class travel.

We chose Fort Worth for today’s day trip. It was back in the spring when we were there last. The streets, shops, venues and bars are much more lively now that the sun is shining every day. We added the Amon Carter Museum of American Art to our list of free public facilities to our list. And guess what…the parking is also free and we didn’t have to make any advance reservations or take transit to get there!!!  ! Ft. Worth has it’s roots in the cattle industry, being the end of the Chisholm Trail of Old West fame.

On the way, we stopped at a road side diner for a traditional Sunday lunch of Southern home style cooking…   fried cat fish filets, fried okra, pecan pie and sweet tea. The catfish was excellent, spicy hot, the way it should be. Did I forget the corn bread biscuits and sweet bread rolls with honey and butter…..shame on me. Once down 26th Street in downtown Ft Worth….also known as The Stockyards… we were treated to an antique car show…many groups of street performers…and we stopped into the very famous ( if you’re a cowboy) White Elephant Saloon for a drink and some quality time holding up the bar with the locals. WARNING… MEN WEAR HATS. People have been drinking beer and playing pool to the sound of some of country musics most famous performers for decades. Sure… it’s smoky and stinks like sour beer….but the people are super friendly and you know you’re in one of the most famous Cowboy Churches in the country.

I’ve lived in a lot of places around the world…. but my travelers eye has spied Texas as one of the best destinations for  the unexpected.

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