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Poe's North American Tour '99

Episode 10: Etude

Another long flight it was down to Texas. I was in Detroit on the border of Canada and I flew down, via Houston, to San Antonio on the border of Mexico. Top to bottom. Again. We'd driven from Detroit to Charleston and back and now I was back down south for the second meetup of the summer.

And of course planes were delayed and messages went astray and MiaJulie who had kindly driven all the way from Austin to pick me up at the airport, sat waiting with a young child, for me to arrive on a plane that didn't. Apologies again, Mia.

I'd tried not to picture too much how North America would be - I'd picked up plenty of the North American psyche, if there is such a thing, from Cosmo, but I was expecting to be wrong on most counts. I had even less of an idea what Texas would be like than most places I'd be visiting.

San Antonio itself didn't mean a lot to me. I knew the Alamo was there but didn't know what I should be remembering about it. After all, 'American history' is not just not taught here, it's regarded as an oxymoron, somewhat akin to 'civil war' or 'military intelligence'. America just isn't old enough to have history yet. While Tracy was over here later in the year I showed her a local pub that has proof that it was a pub nearly two hundred years before Columbus even set sail. In York we wandered through parts of the Roman HQ where Constantine was crowned Emperor of Rome. History is on a different scale here.

And San Antonio is mentioned in a WASP song. But maybe 'Blind in Texas' should have been renamed 'Blind in Georgia' if reports of the Atlanta meetup are to be believed. Drink flowed in Texas on occasion, but not in rivers.

So what's the international view of Texas? Simple. It's big. Think of Herman Munster in a cowboy hat.

OK, the States is big anyway. But Texas is reputed to be the American Dream doubled. People seven feet tall eating entire cows for lunch and washing them down with a few pails of beer. And that's not to spoil their appetite for dinner. You'd be able to hear them laugh from the neighbouring state in any direction. The vehicles would be the size of tanks and the landscape would be overwhelming.

Yes, that's exaggerating. But not a lot. Remember the joke about the Texan who visited Australia? The Aussie shows him their legendary huge fields; the Texan laughs, says, "Back home we have REAL fields..." The Aussie shows him their legendary livestock; the Texan laughs, says, "Back home we have REAL cattle..." Then a kangaroo bounces past and the Texas blinks and asks what it was. The Aussie asks, "You mean you don't have grasshoppers in Texas?"

So, big. And then I got to see the south. So I now knew that the United States is more than one country - it's a whole bunch of them thrown together into one unit so that they can all share in wonderful national events like Bill and Monica and the Rodney King beating and Columbine High. Well maybe not such a great idea after all. Certainly much of the south doesn't seem to have acknowledged the result of the American Civil War yet. I started to expect that Texas would be a country all of its own.

And my first impressions reinforced that. Instead of a beautiful Cosmonaut, I had a Mexican taxi driver to talk to from the incredibly empty San Antonio airport to the Alamo Travelodge. Of course no small taxi this. Being Texas it was a small bus and I sat back in acres of room listening to a tour of the city from a pleasant driver who got lost easily.

I knew we were close to the border and I was expecting a big Hispanic influence to the area, but this brought it home quickly. The one thing that surprised me though was how adamant this Mexican was that it was a great thing that the US had taken over Texas - it meant that things worked and people were happy and there wasn't that much corruption to deal with. I thought about the president for a second and kept quiet.

We don't have a lot of Hispanics here in England (I don't know the politically correct term nowadays and frankly I don't care). That isn't to say we don't live in a multicultural society.

Halifax boasts many Jews, Ukrainians, Poles and other nationalities who keep their own identities while nestling seamlessly into Yorkshire life; and a large concentration of Pakistanis who don't. But not many Spanish. This may seem strange seeing that Spain is so much nearer than Poland or Pakistan but it may have something to do with the fact that we've been pretty consistently at war with them since the days of King Philip's beard and Drake's bowling game at Plymouth Hoe. And of course they're still stealing our fish... maybe that's why England invades the Spanish beaches ever summer to collectively build up a huge annual repair bill...

So, plenty of Mexicans. Plenty of Mexican food. Plenty of Mexican influence everywhere. Hey - San Antonio is even a Mexican name. All of which set the scene for a totally different experience that any other I'd found thus far.

Previous Episode: Guido the Killer Pimp.
Next Episode: The One Thing on the Menu.

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