Whitley's Journal

Don't Mess with Texas

Anne and I have just come back from a month-long driving trip to my home state of Texas, and I have never been so terrified in my life. From what we experienced in Texas, the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords today in Arizona doesn't surprise me at all. The atmosphere was completely different from the way it was when we lived there between 1994 and 2005, and light years from what it was when I grew up there.

I enjoy driving, and Anne, who does not, finally agreed to take one last long road trip with me. For obvious reasons, I was uneasy about crossing Arizona in a Prius with California plates, but I never imagined what would happen when we entered Texas. As the sun set on the second day of our drive, we passed through El Paso on our way to Marathon and a beloved watering hold called the Gage Hotel. The Gage was restored in the seventies and has a wonderful restaurant, and I have stopped there many times over the years.

To reach the Gage, we left busy Interstate 10 and went onto Highway 90, which is a lightly trafficked road. By this time, it was full dark. Suddenly, a car began tailgating us at a distance of no more than 50 feet. I was terrified and began driving faster, hoping to get to the next town as soon as possible. Suddenly, the car disappeared. A few moments later, a big white pickup passed in the opposite direction, then did a U-turn and came after us. Closer and closer it came, until it, also, was right on our tail. The next thing I knew, it was flashing huge lights. It looked somewhat like a police vehicle, but I wasn't sure. I'd never seen a police truck, just police cars.

Finally, although I thought we were about to be robbed and possibly killed, I pulled over. It turned out that the driver was a sheriff's deputy, and he cited me for going 76 in a 65 mph zone.

I later realized that the car tailgating me in the first place may well have been a police car also, there to frighten me into speeding so that the oncoming officer could clock me and ticket me. Of course, I'll never know for sure, but I was left with the impression that I was in a very lawless, dangerous place.

It got worse. When we reached Boerne, Texas, where we were going to stay for a few days, I was disturbed to find that one police car after another would pull in behind us and follow us. When we left Boerne and drove into San Antonio, the same thing happened again and again, both in San Antonio and in the bedroom community of Alamo Heights. Time and again, we were followed at close range by the police, all of them, it would seem to me, looking to find some reason to ticket a Prius with California plates, to them the car of an obvious liberal from a blue state. Little did they know that they were really following the car of a man who had an ancestor who died at the Alamo, and whose family participated in the founding of Texas, and who drives a Prius not because its politically correct, but because I don't care to be dependent on foreign powers, especially not Arab oil states.

As we were leaving Texas, I was accosted in a small town store by a man who demanded to know what I thought about the federal debt. He didn't recognize me. To him, I was a total stranger. But he'd been talking to the store clerk about "Oblackma" and wanted me to agree with him. My political opinions are not the business of a total stranger in a store, so I walked out and drove away. But I was left with an inpression of violence just beneath the surface, and was glad to get out of there without having my head blown off.

My great grandmother used to say "Tejas means friendly, and Texas is a friendly place." No more. And this atmosphere of ignorance, violence and hate is present in so many parts of our country. Too many. There is an atmosphere of hate intensified by the rhetoric of irresponsible politcial leaders and pundits.

This is a very scary time, a dangerous time. Ironically, though, this country is also what it has always been, a wonderful contry that is better than the low-grade, ill-educated rabble rousers who seem to be screaming us out of the television and off the internet day and night. Our country and each of us, individually, are better than this. We are a toleraant, peaceful and good-hearted people.

And so were the Germans. But the evil among them, the worst among them, gained the upper hand and used their genius and the power to carry out the evil of the Holocaust and World War II. 

We must return to our political roots in the middle fo the road. It is the middle way that made Amerca great, and the middle way that will see us through to better days yet.

I find it suspicious ... this uptick in violent shootings just after the first of the year.


As someone born and raised in the northeast, I have always been suspicious of the South in general as not having overcome its bigoted roots, even though I'm sure it has improved greatly since the 60's and prior. I've spent some time on travel recently in El Paso and nearby Las Cruces (NM) and didn't notice extreme behavior like you experienced, but I did find to my dismay that Fox News seems to be the "official" television station most places you go.

I suspect a big part of your issue on this trip was the Prius, not just because it can be seen as a "liberal's car" but also because it's probably the most prominent symbol of being a California-style Japanese import loyalist. I'm not saying this with any judgement and I believe we all should have the right to make our own buying choices; harassment like you experienced is just plain wrong and a car is just a car. But we are seeing this trend in American where outright bullies are becoming political heroes, and this doesn't seem like the best time to paint a target on your own back. Texas ain't California.

May I humbly suggest you look seriously at the Chevrolet Volt to replace your Prius? I just got one on 12/18/10 and it's fantastic. Most of the time I can drive using no gas at all (from plugging it in) and yet I'm also able to go any distance I need using gasoline once the all-electric range is depleted; it's an all electric commuter that also can be driven across the country like any other car, quite brilliant really. It all works beautifully and seamlessly, the sense of quality is tremendous (trust me, it drives better and feels more substantial than the Prius), and it's designed and built right here in the USA. Texas is even one of the first markets, so it's my understanding that pretty soon each participating dealer down there should have one test drive model, after the initial wave of retail deliveries have been made. You yourself have made statements justifiably critical toward the Japanese (e.g. wrt dolphins and whales), so personally I see no reason to vote economically in their favor when now there is a better alternative.

Overall, I fully agree that the shrill level of rhetoric to which this country has risen (or sunk) in recent years is becoming frightening, particularly from the right but that may just be my bias. I hope the AZ shooting tragedy helps to moderate this trend, but I also think that may be optimistic given recent momentum.

Happy New Year to All!

I have lived most of my entire life in the South, mostly New orleans & Mississippi with some Florida visits. My Dad was in the USAF for 30+ years, so whenever we returned home from a lengthy overseas assignment we spent summers visiting before off to the next base.
The South has 2 vibes & 2 cultures, and the following is a general observation:
Recently, the NASCAR DAD- Rush Limbaugh working class has become huge. It is all driven by the talking heads on the radio and the undercurrent of demonizing the Hispanic & the The black man. All Yankees are liberals & so PC they just don't get it. And some of the fear is driven by the multitudes of poor ghetto blacks & white trash element, that just can't phantom nor have ever seen a black surgeon or spanish businessman. The opportunities are just not there. Part of the reason I moved to the Northeast is the availability of night schools and infinite college choices IF one has the gumption and money to attend. It's hard to drive 300 miles or so to attend say, USM to get a masters for 3 times a week while you are working...the on line classes may have changed this, but I digress..
The area has always been poor ; and still- even after 150 years has a complex about the outcome of the civil war. I am shocked by statements made by my father & his friends and my friends and my brother too. The Far right disinformation, coupled with this recession, add in the fact that most of our volunteer army are from the south, were opportunities or monies are just not there.

So do like I did... when we chartered a sailboat in teh BUSH years we sailed under a Canadian Flag, when I drive South, even as a southerner, do not have any left leaning bumper stickers or consumer choices!

As for Texas, well the Krewe I ran with way back in the 80's always said:
Florida & Texas are Police States and they will bury under the jailhouse for any infraction.

The comments here seem to misunderstand the point.

The point is not that there's something inherently wrong with Texas -- Texas people being "different". Strieber's a native Texan and is going home. He's not an outsider from Massachusetts with a bunch of preconceived notions about Texas. He didn't experience a self-fulfilled prophecy.

Despite all the predictions about "police state" this and "fascism" that with the Patriot Act and all the government abuse since 9/11, the point most often forgotten when comparing the U.S. with Nazi Germany is this: the specter of an external threat was only the first step in the conversion of the German people into a bunch of villains. The second step -- more important -- was the economic disorder that made them feel their lives were at stake and imminently under threat (starvation) and caused them to slip into savagery.

The U.S. between 2001 and 2010 has suffered the annoyance of the first step. The constant agent provocateuring and the terrorism hoax laid the groundwork. Now the economic implosion, due mainly to fraud and greed, is making people feel that animal itch that they are under direct physical threat in a way terrorism never would by itself. And now we'll see real fascism in practice -- with a willing public leading the way.

I live in the Austin, Texas area. No one here gives a second look at a Prius or a California license plate. Our motto is "Keep Austin Weird", and it must be true because we are also the state capital. :-) Our lege will soon be in session, and a whole host of draconian bills have already been filed and are ready for debate once the wacko legislators are back in town. If you ever want real insight into the Texas mentality, watch a great little film called "Lone Star." It is who we are.

That being said,I also spent over ten years in California, which my very conservative dad referred to as "The Land of Fruits and Nuts." I was never comfortable in California, but I saw much in the people there that I admired. At the same time, I was often picked on in school for being a "bigoted" Texan, and also blamed for the death of John Kennedy (Not kidding). I once heard my very liberal social studies teacher go through yet one more long speech about how predjudice people were in the South. I raised my hand and asked her, in front of the whole class, "Mrs. Lewis, why are YOU so predjudice against all people from the South? That pretty much shut her up for rest of the year, and gained me a little respect from my fellow classmates as well.

I too am middle of the road in my viewpoints, and have never been comfortable anywhere in regards to my political beliefs. It has not exactly been a curse, but it has not been easy either, and it never will be.

And so it goes..

I live in El Paso and it is defintely not what you describe, in spite of its many other problems, not least of which is being next door to Mexico. Nor have I encountered what you describe in West Texas and it is distrubing to me that you did experience this. The only obvious speed trap I have encountered is in Brownsville on the road to South Padre Island, and the rental car companies there post warnings about it for their customers, so it's not aimed at anyone in particular.

IMHO, the San Antonio drivers are nuts, as rude as Boston drivers on the Mass Turnpike!

People seem to have a hard time understanding that with tolerance, it's always a matter of how far does one extend that tolerance to. Everyone is tolerant, kind, loving, liking of those just like them, it's a question of how does one treat those not like them?

So to people that might say, I've lived in the South or been there, and people there are nice.. I ask do you look Middle Eastern?, are you Black, are you Latino? are you gay? have you ever driven down there in a Prius with CA license plates?.. and have you been to other parts of the country to know contrast? ..if so, ok then I'll take in your point.

I lived for 24 yrs in the Minneapolis area, I then moved to Orlando for a summer (in 07') and in that span of 3 months on the streets I had on 4 separate occasions, unprovoked, strangers yelling homophobic comments at me. The whole 24 yrs in Minneapolis not a once did that happen. Not even gay, just have kind of long hair and dress a little different. On separate occasion down there, a stranger kicking a soccer ball in a park by himself, unprovoked, tried to kick the ball at my upper torso or head as hard as he could.

Freedom takes a lot more than being written down in state document to exist, it is a lot larger than that, it takes proactivity. It takes a whole people genuinely valuing it, and as such, everyone on an individual level extending tolerance , which freedom precariously resides upon, for it to be sustained or even credibly thought to really exist.

For example believe it or not, freedom of religion being written down on a document somewhere means little to a Muslim when he is being constantly harassed and accosted by strangers. Freedom which seems to construct the underlying basis of the idea of "America" will never be destroyed by some Islamic terrorist or outside threat, it'll only be destroyed and taken away by our own hand, through an insidious rise of intolerance for freedom of the individual.

Texas is now the most Red state in the union, which means full blown sociopaths are in charge of the state government. Their statements and actions filter down to the local level, which is why you and your wife found your visit ruined. Here is an article from today's Houston Chronicle about Texas today:


Cosmic Libraian-

Austin is the only place I would consider living in Tejas, just as only progressive cities and coastal areas are mostly tolerant in Dixie. We are talking broad strokes of the population--not niched out sub cultures. For every 10 REM fans in Athens Georgia there are 100+ David Allen Coe fans.

'Tis a question of proportion & %...and this is from a born & bred straight white Bohemain Southerner. One thng I don't miss is the dominant "BUBBA" culture of the South. Guess what? I don't like south eastern confrenece football nor char grilled meats...and I vote Democratic (lesser of 2 evils) I guess I am a faggot.

Poor people and their hate. :(

California has always had a reputation of being a place filled with very liberal and strange people. I am a native Californian and was always interested in the way I was received in other states whenever I was driving a car with California plates. In 2005, I drove my family back to Wounded Knee South Dakota. On my return trip, I was stopped by a Wyoming State Police officer for allegedly speeding, though the cruse control of my Honda Odyssey was set on 63 miles per hour and I was driving slower than the trucks. The speed limit there was 75 and trucks travel below that because their gearing is designed for slower speeds. I used to be a police officer in Colorado and was not cited, but as a law enforcement officer, I understand that radar is only needed to verify what we already know: that the person is speeding. We become good judges of speed, so it should have been clear to him that I was not traveling 87 miles per hour as he claimed, but the low sixties. I suspected at the time that I was stopped because of the California plates. After stopping by the Little Bighorn Battlefield, we spent the night in Billings Montana. There, we met another Californian who was working for the federal government and related that he was constantly harassed by the local police when he first moved to Montana. When he got Montana plates, the harassment stopped. I still take road trips to see family members in Oregon and Washington, but with the current political climate, I don't venture very far east, even though I am a Republican in good standing, and live in the agricultural heart of California where many of us vote Republican.

Just for the record: I was born in Texas, have been a registered non-partisan voter since I was 18 years old, and I also live in one of the most conservative counties in the state. I don't drink beer, I do not own a gun or a pickup truck, and I am not very fond of football either.

Somehow, they are allowing me to live anyway...Maybe it's because I really do love mesquite-grilled barbecue. :-)

Just for the record: I was born in Texas, have been a registered non-partisan voter since I was 18 years old, and I also live in one of the most conservative counties in the state. I don't drink beer, I do not own a gun or a pickup truck, and I am not very fond of football either.

Somehow, they are allowing me to live anyway...Maybe it's because I really do love mesquite-grilled barbecue. :-)

The truth is, racists exist in every state in this country. I grew up in the South, but I've spent considerable time traveling and living in several cities throughout the nation. Some Southern people are racist. But there's also quite a lot of people I've met who will give you the shirt off your back, regardless of where you're from or what color your skin. Northerners like to think they aren't racist, so they just keep their jokes a little quieter. Even on the West coast, I noticed maybe a different style of bigotry, but hatred toward people who are "different," nonetheless. I assume it's probably like this throughout the rest of the world, based on what I've seen.

I think what it comes down to is you either choose to love unconditionally, or you give in to fear and let it twist your actions.

Many Times I go "native" and embrace my inner carnivore around dry rubbed Memphis styled ribs, so don't feel 'rained on'. I guess, being rasied in NOLA that my preference is seafood: Crawfish Monica, Etufay, Oysters, Blackened Redfish. I guess I am a Fish-a-terian!
I love the southern folks & ways, but the South has aquired a whole new vibe for the past decade, that makes me fly under the radar when I visit home.

Sorry to hear all of that. I am from Lubbock and currently live in Dallas. It is sad. I can remember going into Mexico all the time when I was younger and now it is so lawless. One of my favorite places is Big Bend, but I probably want even take my son there when he gets older. I will still take my chances in Marfa though.
I am a tree hugging Republican who carries a gun in S. TX.

I live in California and make that same drive several times a year. I try not to interact with anyone on the road, because you never know what's in someone's head. I've studied Kung Fu for almost 40 years, and one thing I've learned is the importance of keeping a low profile. Your probably better off driving a Prius, than a BMW, though I have seen a few Ferrari's out in the boondocks. It's not good to look like you have a lot of money on you. People in Texas and New Mexico usually will nod and say high when I am stopped for gas, but I have found it good policy never to get into anything deeper than the weather. One thing that's almost a given is that almost everyone on the road is armed to the teeth.

I have become more and more concerned about the accelerating drug violence in the El Paso and southern Arizona. People are also really hurting because of the economy, the are armed and desperate.

I have family in Law enforcement, so recently I've started going through Albuquerque, then going through Amarillo, Dallas.

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