During the flag-burning debate before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 21, 1989, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor asked a Texas attorney whether a state has as much interest in protecting its state flag as the American flag. Justice Antonin Scalia interjected, “Well, Texas maybe.” The Texas attorney replied, “Texas, absolutely, your honor.”
Yes, our Lone Star State is a unique place, which is why we celebrate Go Texan Day! Yee-haw! (Is there a Go Vermont Day or Go North Dakota Day?) This month, Houstonians, from dentists to dumpster divers, are putting on their boots and belt buckles, and trying to walk like John Wayne and talk like Chill Wills. But to really play our role, we must know a little bit about Houston and Texas.
Old hands and newcomers alike will be asked questions from visitors to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo who come from foreign lands, such as Australia, Canada and, quite probably, caves in Pakistan. They may be asking you, “Where is your biggest oil refinery?” “Do you have a nuclear power plant nearby?” So, here are a few items of interest to learn that will enable you to sound like a real Texan.
Size does count: When Texas joined the Union in 1845, it was the biggest state in the nation. Even our state song, the totally forgettable “Texas, Our Texas,” used to go, “largest and grandest,” but after Alaska became a state in 1959, we had to change the lyrics to “boldest and grandest.” Perhaps we moved too hastily. Global warming will reduce Alaska to the size of Delaware. Meantime, Texas remains big — larger than any country in Europe, save Russia. Dalhart is closer to six other state capitals than it is to its own capital. Considering what is going on in Austin these days, that might be a blessing.
Native-born Texans include Ollie North (San Antonio), Steve Martin (Waco) and Lou Dobbs (Childress). On the other hand, George W. (New Haven, Conn.) is the first governor we’ve had since W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel (Malta, Ohio) not to be born in Texas.
Among the 50 states, Texas is first in executions. Since 1976, when the Supreme Court permitted states to resume capital punishment, Texas has put to death 380 people, far more than second-place Virginia with 98. On the other end, we are 50th in state spending on the arts — 23 cents per person per year.
Marble Falls was laid out by a blind man. Houston was laid out by a newspaper editor, Gail Borden, who later invented pasteurized milk. This explains why Houston is the crème de la crème of sleepy fishing villages on the bayou. Speaking of our hometown, Houston was originally called Hughes’ Town after its founder, Howard Hughes. Like Boys’ Town (Boston) and Washing Town (Washington), the name eventually was changed to its present form.
In Houston, matching mud flaps are de rigueur. Dallas Cowboy T-shirts are not. The correct terms are “pot plants” and “ice tea,” not “potted plants” and “iced tea.”
Lyndon B. Johnson taught public speaking and was coach of the debate team at Sam Houston High School from 1930 to ’31. Clark Gable was a struggling young actor here in the early 1920s. He worked for a local stock company but could not conquer his stage fright and was fired. Gable eventually became a Houston hit and married a rich local socialite 17 years his senior, Ria Langham. They went to Hollywood. When the actor divorced Langham, she came back to Houston with the then-record divorce settlement of $260,000.
More than one out of every four Houstonians (26.42 percent) is foreign born. If we get any more immigrants, we’ll be eating at Mex-Tex restaurants. We have 83 foreign consulates, third behind New York City and Los Angeles. In area, the city of Houston, at 634 square miles, could contain the cities of New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis and Miami.
What to say to show you’re a real Houstonian:
I only watch Fox News.
God bless Roger Clemens.
Turn signals are for girlie men.
Mass transit is a liberal-commie plot.
Any building that gets a second coat of paint deserves a historical plaque.
Come sit rat cheer.
$80 a barrel is good for the awl bidness.
What not to say:
Crème de la crème and de rigueur.
I only listen to Air America.
We need a state income tax.
We also need more orange barrels along our freeways.
Elizabethan poetry for $100, Alex.
Mario Williams was obviously the best choice.
I understand the fortunes of the Bush and Hobby families stem from ownership of their airports.
Don’t you just love the Dixie Chicks?
OK, that’s all we need to know to make everyone think we’re real Houstonians and Texans. Don’t forget to remember the Alamo, and never drive faster than 70 mph while talking on your cell phone and eating a hamburger. That’s unsafe. Put the car on cruise control. Finally, before we get too smug, remember that when others say, “Go, Texan,” it usually means to leave the premises.