Hot. Temperatures over a hundred. For the entire week, I was in Texas. This is what I remember most from my recent week-long visit with my son, Antonio Nelson Ruiz, and his wife, Crystal, and their daughter, my granddaughter, Anabella, in Arlington, Texas. But while the heat was a daily reminder of where I was, there was more to my visit.
This was the longest I’ve ever stayed in the Lone Star state, and I came back home with some stereotypes shattered and others strengthened. Texas is more than the image of my youth, cowboys and injuns (No disrespect meant but I can’t count the number of times I heard this word). It’s the second-largest state, 268,596 square miles. 29.1 million residents. I traveled from Dallas to Arlington, between Fort Worth and Dallas and considered a suburb of both. I visited Fort Worth, traveled two hundred miles to Austin and back, and came home from Dallas Love Field. Easily six hundred miles. This is what I saw.
Highways for miles. The 20, 30, 187, 35, 287. Open spaces that were often interrupted by towns and cities. Truck stops and visitor centers. The southern cooking of The Breakfast Brothers (I loved their Catfish and Grits). Kroger’s. Terry Black’s BBQ in Austin (I did the Dallas one a few months ago). Buc-ee’s, described as a country store and gas station (warehouse-size huge). Austin is a city where it seemed you had to be under forty to live there (It’s a college, music, and tech town). You drive past billboards full of anti-Biden rhetoric and anti-abortion messages. Traffic jams of eighteen-wheelers and cars which, when set free, drive with no care eighty, ninety miles an hour (apparently, the speed limit is a suggestion in Texas). Kolaches in West, Texas. Kolaches are described as “Gooey fruit centers. Doughy, soft rolls.” According to thedaytripper.com, the town of West is the “kolache-kingdom of Texas — and it was officially dubbed Home of the Official Kolache by the Texas Legislature.” Damn, they are good.
But one of the most exciting discoveries was Sascee’s Southern Style Eatery in Waco, Texas. I found it by accident in a neighborhood fully primed for gentrification. Their fried chicken was the bomb. But, their days may be numbered. Go two blocks, and you see the encroachment coming. If you’re in Waco, check them out. They were folk who welcomed you into their restaurant and treated you not as a stranger but as a long-lost friend—rushing to remind you that food is more than food. It is a greeting; a hand extended in friendship—a welcome home hug.
The whole point of my Texas travel was to spend time with my first born, Antonio, and his family, especially that granddaughter, Anabella, who has a very forceful personality for a five-year-old. They live in a middle-class neighborhood near the Arlington-Mansfield line with a wooded area and bike path two blocks away. It was a beautiful walk along the wooded trail in the morning and the evening with their two dogs. You got a sense of serenity with the only sounds that of birds and the occasional unrecognized animal sound (maybe coyotes). Yes, the traffic of the main drag, Matlock Road, was not far off, but for a moment, it reminded me of my quiet early morning walks in east Long Beach. There were the occasional co-walkers along the trail with their walking sticks and purpose. Even saw a bike rider now and then. These were folks just being, just like I saw in Dallas and Fort Worth and Waco and Austin.
The headlines coming out of Texas can sway a mind that everyone has lost their damn minds. But what I saw and heard on this trip and the one back in April were people going about their business. People who shared their hospitality like my son and his wife in Arlington and Maria and Ralph De La Cruz in Austin.
The serenity of those open fields and the busyness of the highways and big cities showed me that Texas (at least the parts I experienced) is no different from any other state. It’s more diverse than you might think, in every sense of the word. Not everyone is a flaming redneck stereotype and MAGA cultist. People are trying to get through the day and night like everyone else. People remind you that the past is never really past, and the future is built on both the past and present. Trust me, they know the history of Texas, the bad and the good, and they are determined to build a future that recognizes that Texas belongs to more than the headlines that make them look like a bunch of secessionists. There is more good below the surface of those headlines. Despite the bravado of the slogan Don’t Mess with Texas, I met many more people who believed in Hug a Texan for a Good Time.
I’ll be back. There was so much I missed. From museums to national parks, Texas has plenty of surprises. I want some catfish and grits, fried chicken, and those Kolaches. But, let’s try it when the temperatures are not ninety plus. Please.