Photo: Shutterstock/Sean Pavone

Dear Travelers to Texas: Please Don't Come Until You Understand These 8 Things

by Turner Wright May 26, 2016

1. This isn’t the Wild Wild West.

Trying to fight the stereotype of the gun-toting cowboy in Texas may be futile, but the numbers don’t lie: the national average of gun ownership in the United States is around 30%; urban areas of Texas come in at around 36%. So yes, approximately 1/3-1/2 of Texans own guns, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to carrying them around every day or using them in acts of violence, justified or otherwise.

As of January 2016, this state has officially signed off on open carry — meaning anyone with the proper permit can display his or her guns in public. In addition, about one million out of 28 million Texans are licensed for concealed handguns. Although this may be the law of the land, free enterprise is still a powerful force: businesses have been fairly quick to ban open carry in their establishments, ranging from restaurants, supermarkets, movie theaters, and office buildings.

If you’re looking for a state with guns to avoid, consider Alaska: 61% gun ownership.

2. Our state isn’t completely covered in sand.

Those cowboys and their guns aren’t always riding off into the sunset on a desert plain in west Texas. In fact, almost everything southeast of I-35, including Houston, is covered in wetlands and forests, while the north is prairie country. Only once you get well west of Austin and San Antonio do we start to see desert stretching all the way to El Paso. There’s even a touch of the tropics down by the Mexican border at Brownsville, where you can buy fresh pineapple by the roadside and soak in the sun at South Padre Island. Texas is a state rich in ecosystems that rival most small countries.

3. Most people won’t thump a bible on your head.

Texas is technically a part of the Bible Belt, and you will see pro-life billboards on highways and in major cities like Dallas and Houston making you feel guilty for exercising your constitutional right to abortion. Westboro Baptist Church is no stranger to university campuses and public gatherings here, with members yelling their hearts out about the “evils” of homosexuality, drugs, and premarital sex.

I suppose this state is a bit more in your face about religion than liberal areas like New York and San Francisco. With the majority of the population being Catholic, Baptist, or Methodist, Texans don’t often see Mormons walking two-by-two down the streets of Austin attempting to convert the heathens to the way of Joseph Smith, but we’ve had opportunities to showcase our religious tolerance and come out ahead:

Different beliefs are tolerated in liberal areas like Austin (and Dallas is well on its way), so unless you’re planning to proudly espouse the virtues of atheism in a small-town diner opposite a church, you won’t feel too much pressure to convert.

4. We may have been a country, but we’re not going to secede.

We Texans are a PROUD people. Unlike every other state in the US — though Hawaii qualifies to an extent — we were a country first. In 1836, the Republic of Texas was formed under President Sam Houston. In 1845, under James K. Polk, Texas joined the United States of America. When the Civil War began, Texas seceded from the Union and joined the Confederate States of America.

The point is, Texans have had this “whatever — I do what I want” mentality for the totality of their history. The secession debate has risen and fallen many times; most recently (and the first time social media was available), then-Governor Rick Perry brought the matter up at a 2009 rally.

However, despite its appeal as a news story, secession is only supported by about 200,000 Texans out of 28 million… less than 1%.

5. Not everyone voted for George W. Bush.

When I first visited Japan, there were two words tossed at me every time I mentioned I was from Texas: “cowboy” and “Bush.” Is Texas a purely red state, full of conservative voters, property owners just waiting to invoke Castle Laws, and religious zealots? Wellllll…. there are quite a few.

But despite our tendency to vote Republican and provide Fox News with a few more geriatric viewers, high population liberal areas of Texas like Austin have been overshadowed due to gerrymandering.

Former Governor Rick Perry’s behavior in the 2012 election was a bit of an embarrassment as well:

It would be a lie to say Texas isn’t still overwhelmingly conservative, but don’t assume all Texans share the same values.

6. We can have all four seasons in a week.

Summers in Texas may be insanely hot — over 100 degrees F is common — but only those who have lived here can understand how rapidly the temperature and weather conditions change over the course of a week. June, July, and August are pretty consistently hot and dry, but almost every other month is a crapshoot if you’re planning to travel: one day in December can be 80 degrees and sunny, the next overcast and below freezing.

7. You must eat our food.

Everything is bigger in Texas, including the people. Austin may have been rated as one of the fittest cities in the country, but Houston was one of the fattest. We’re the only ones who weren’t satisfied with Wendy’s Biggie Size option… no, they had to make it “Texas Size.”

Not everything in this state is designed to fatten you up, but to come to Texas and not try our BBQ, full of fat and dripping with sauce, is a crime against humanity. If Trump were appealing to Texas voters (though the majority of us aren’t that stupid or racist), he would probably post an Instagram photo stating: “The best BBQ comes from Cooper’s. I love Texans!” Come to think of it… that might work.

If there is just one experience that is the ultimate embodiment of Texas it would be the 72-oz steak challenge at the Big Texas Steak Ranch in Amarillo: eat the steak, a baked potato, a salad, a roll, and a beer in under an hour and it’s free.

8. Texas is strongly influenced by European settlers.

About 200,000 Czech Americans reside in the Lone Star State, more than any other in the US. About three million Texans consider themselves part German; more so with German ancestry. Both groups immigrated in the mid-19th century and have largely stuck around. Though Texas may not be at the forefront of travelers’ minds when they think of diversity, the signs are there if you look for them: Fredericksburg, a quaint town just west of Austin, was named after Prince Frederick of Prussia; even President Eisenhower was a German Texan.

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