That phrase has marked the highway signs posted at every major entry point to the Centennial State for as long as I can remember. I was raised in Colorado. It's home, even now that I live in Idaho (and that's likely because Idaho today is a lot like Colorado was when I was a kid).
And, in the early summer of 1980, as the old red Buick, built more like a World War II gunship than a car, left Colorado and entered the lonely and desolate panhandle of Oklahoma on our way south, I watched that iconic welcome sign fade into the sage-pocked distance. The house was sold. Our belongings were packed into a North American Van Lines big rig. My old man had taken a new job with a drilling company. We were moving.
|The fringes of Hell?|
The sign read, "Welcome to Texas."
As a kid growing up in Colorado, Texas represented everything wrong with the world. People talked funny. When they came to Colorado, they hooted and hollered on the ski slopes, and filled up campgrounds in the summer. And, according to my parents and grandparents, Texas drivers were the worst.
"Hey asshole! See that little lever to the left of the steering wheel? That's your turn signal. We use those here in Colorado. Go back to Texas!"
My Mom had a bit of a potty mouth.
And then there's the Dallas Cowboys. In the hearts of Bronco fans everywhere, the perfect autumn Sunday ends with the Oakland Raiders and the Cowboys losing horribly and the beloved Donkeys chalking up a win, preferably against either the Raiders or Cowboys. The Oilers? At the time, they were generally irrelevant (as was proved a couple decades later when they up and moved to Nashville--where they're still generally irrelevant).
My Dad was pretty excited about the move. It was more money, and a genuinely solid opportunity to boost his career. That didn't soothe my 11-year-old feelings, however. All my life, I'd been brought up to believe that Texas was a miserable place full of miserable people where kids were attacked every day by cottonmouths and copperheads and pushed around by toothless dudes missing teeth and at least one buckle from their denim overalls.
I was headed into the belly of the beast. And I was none too happy about it.
And, frankly, that first summer was brutal. It was hot. It was muggy. But we eventually discovered the lake, and with my Dad's fancy new salary, we bought a boat, and my brothers and I learned to waterski. We fished around the docks and the piers, catching everything from bass and bream to catfish and crappie. I discovered the Beetle-Spin lure (black and yellow worked best), and got to be pretty damn good at skipping it up under the docks with a spinning rod and a closed-face, thumb-release Zebco 33. We floated the Sabine River in an old aluminum canoe and chased squirrels with pellet guns in the woods of the Big Thicket.
It wasn't so bad. It was actually a pretty good place to be a kid.
The people were nice, too. Even if they did worship the damned Cowboys.
|Here I come...|
And then I discovered the beach. One trip south and west, across the Hill Country and on down to the barrier islands along the Gulf of Mexico was enough to convince me that the folks in Colorado had it all wrong. The Texas coast, with warm water and waves washing up on fine sand beaches, was heaven for a kid. Heaven.
The pull of the mountains was too strong, though, and I left Texas shortly after I finished high school. Lured by cold, clear water and rising trout, my life since Texas has been one trout stream after another. But now and then, the salt beckons. No, I guess that's not entirely right.
Texas beckons. The Gulf Coast in particular.
Maybe it's the warm, soft, salt-tinged air pushed lightly by a near-constant breeze. Maybe it's the sound of surf rolling in from the distant Caribbean. It could be the caress of ankle-deep water or the almost-tropical sun on my skin.
There's no logic to it, really. No reasonable explanation. But opportunities arise now and then--perhaps I subconsciously manifest them. And I seize them.
The Texas coast? April? Sure ... I can do that.
Yeah. I can do that.