When I was a kid, my parents would take the opportunity during every fall break of school to vacate us on a week-long trip to a different state. National parks were a staple. I don’t remember them so much as individual trips anymore. My memory of America, the Beautiful, arrives to me in a melded series of visuals, vignettes, food. Hours in a Dodge Caravan or a Honda Odyssey when I would read books while the air conditioner poured cold air on me to combat carsickness. Listening to show tunes and probably singing too loud for a car full of people.
I’ve lived in Texas all my life. We never forgot we were our own for a while. No one understands the scope of our state until they start driving. And driving. And driving. Really, Texas seems comprised of its own states, each with their own unique climate and culture. There’s the Metroplex, wooded East Texas, desert West Texas, ranching Panhandle (my dad would recommend you read Hank the Cowdog for that), weird, artsy Austin, the border South (with San Antonio), and the Gulf. I went to school in-state, but it was still prohibitive for me to drive back home on a regular basis. On a good trip, I think it took five and a half hours. On a normal trip, more like six and a half. The width of the DFW Metroplex is that of Connecticut.
Again, my experience of Texas itself is one of patchwork memories—and a tremendous fondness for a state that thinks 90 degrees is a decent summer day and winter is optional. Big Bend is a broad watercolor mural in my mind. Bats look like cloud cover on the weather radar screens every evening. Most of my family is here. Most of my friends, too, even some I’ve never met. Nowhere does melted cheese quite like we do. Tortillas are the real Texas toast. Our secondary schools are as big as small universities. In another state, perhaps I would have been considered stranger than I was, but it’s harder to be weird when there are enough people weird just like you. Not impossible, just harder.
The stretch of I-35 from home to Trinity is etched in my skull—the Bruceville sign I took a picture of for my dad, the Czech Stop, my accidental stop at Bucc-ee’s that I only recognize in retrospect, the tangle of Austin’s overpasses, the calm when I reached Universal City and realized I was almost back to school, the Dallas skyline that said I was almost home.
I’ve yet to encounter a state or country whose representatives actually represent them. I’ve learned not to judge a place by its politicians any more than I can judge a religion by its leaders. The Nordic countries seem wonderful. Iceland. Canada. Australia. But my heart is here in the heart of Texas, and I’m not sure anywhere else could be home.