The time has come to pack the moving van and leave the Lone Star State far, far behind. After six years of living here as a transplanted New Englander, it's time to make the move to a state that's even more in need of Progressive newcomers: North Carolina.
Despite my resistance to assimilation, I have to admit that there was a lot to like about life in Texas. Believe me, nobody's more surprised than I am to be saying that. It certainly provided plenty of fodder for diaries here, chronicling Rick Perry's Reign of Error and misbegotten presidential campaign. Most of these diaries could have passed for poorly-imagined fiction anywhere else, but I assure you: every bit of this folly was absolutely real.
Still, life in Texas had many charms, and before I hit the road, I want to share with you some of the positive things I discovered. They'll still be here after I leave, so if you're thinking of moving here for a job or for economic reasons or to be near family, give it a try. Here's what you might find.
Incredibly low cost of living: we sold our "regular sized" New England home and bought a much larger and more upscale Texas-sized home for over $100K LESS. How's this possible? "Texas miracle" #1: cheap immigrant labor. Rick Perry and his corporate friendslovethat porous border. Don't be fooled by his faux tough talk to fool people outside Texas. Miracle #2: massive homebuilding companies that leverage buying power for materials. Homes crop up in a matter of months, and offer transplants great places to live at absurdly low prices. The cost of gasoline, food, utilities, and just about everything else is also cheaper, probably due to the complete absence of regulation. So yeah, things do go "boom" once in a while, and not in a good economic way.
Amazing diversity: I've never lived anywhere with so much racial, ethnic, and sexual orientation diversity, and such a "live-and-let-live" attitude. Granted, I live near Houston, not in the hinterlands. Many people come here from across the US and around the world for jobs, and the booming economic situation offers everyone a chance at the American dream. Houston's openly lesbian Mayor Annise Parker was re-elected and plans to serve as long as term limits allow. Everyone's just doing their thing, generally leaving others to do theirs.
More restaurants than any place on Earth per capita: I was astounded to learn that many people here do not cook! Dining out for 2 or 3 meals a day is not considered unusual. Small wonder. With an estimated 10,000 restaurants in the Houston area alone, options for foodies abound. Beyond "real" Mexican food, offerings from nearly every ethnic cuisine are well represented, along with Texas barbecue, Gulf seafood, and undeniably unhealthy options like Shipley donuts. What I'll miss most? Mexican food. Sorry, but when other localities say "best Mexican food in (town/county/state), it just doesn't hold a candle to even average Mexican food here. We're seriously spoiled.
Rodeo! Way more than a bunch of roping and wrangling, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo encompasses several weeks of concerts by top-name entertainers, shows, youth events, auctions, parades, cook-offs, and learning opportunities. Over the years, the organizers have committed over $330 million in scholarships for local youth. Seeing trail riders come into Houston with covered wagons and being able to wear "rodeo gear" to work for three weeks? Priceless.
Climate: Yeah, you're right. Texas in the summer is way too hot. Once it passes 90 degrees, each degree higher can seem like a fresh hell. But... speaking as someone with Seasonal Affective Disorder, seeing the SUN nearly every day has a salutary effect on my mood. Even on the hottest days, a brief walk in the sun or time spent pruning back the lush garden plants in my yard leaves me feeling optimistic. Fall, winter, and spring are temperate times, and a nice antidote to 54 years of life in the Frozen Tundra of New England.
The kindness of strangers: coming from New England, we think we're friendly... enough. After all, we offer to share our hedge-clippers or pressure washer with our neighbors. Then again, we're secretly relieved when they decline. Here in Texas, everyone was nice to us, all the more so when they learned we just moved here. Anyone prone to paranoia will find this unsettling, wondering: "what do these people want from me?", but you get over that feeling after a while. Once we get over that, we find wonderful folks willing to help us with everything we could ever need.
Progressives live here; LOTS of them: the perception of Texas as a monolithic Red state misses a lot of wonderful people who are working hard to turn this 25-million-person state Bluer by the day. There's a massive effort afoot to register Hispanics and get them to the polls. I get a lot of Hispanic-targeted mail due to my husband's Mediterranean surname. Sadly, a lot of the money raised by the Democratic National Campaign Committee goes outside the state for races where the odds appear more promising. Big mistake. If you'd like Texas to become a swing state, then a Blue state, please lend a hand, and stop thinking of us as the national Democratic party's ATM!
We are not Rick Perry: like folks in other Red states, Texans are roundly mocked for electing witless political leaders. Until his presidential campaign, many Texans had never heard our Secessionist-in-chief speak, much less debate. Now you know why. His political success was predicated on sliming his opponent, refusing to debate, and calling in favors from his pay-to-play political cronies. Once he got a whiff of the national scene, he literally turned his back on the state as it was ravaged by wildfires. He is not beloved here, and those who malign all Texans using Perry as your proxy do us a great disservice.
Texas is certainly no utopia, but the one thing you can sense here is vast, untapped potential. With folks like Wendy Davis stepping up in her epic solo filibuster of the draconian anti-abortion legislation, and the thousands of Texas men and women roused to action, it feels like a tipping point has been reached. We did our best to draw a line in the sand here, because ALEC has the same thing planned for the rest of you.
With Rick Perry handing over the greasy orb and scepter to his heir apparent, Gregg Abbott, you can easily see where things could be heading if not for the continued hard work of our Texas Progressives. I won't be able to be voting with them in November, but I'll be working to turn North Carolina Blue, which could be an even more daunting task. There's plenty to be done in the Lone Star State, and plenty of reasons for hope.
Our witless leaders have pushed us too far, and the pushback is just rearing its head. Expect more... a LOT more.
We have a strong bench of Democratic party talent at the city, county, and state level, and these candidates need and deserve some out-of-state help! Do what you can: contribute money, register voters and get them to the polls, blog, tweet, make phone calls - we need your help to turn the tide. Demographic changes are beginning to truly concern the dwindling Anglo population, and inspire those of use who can see Bluebonnets covering the state from El Paso to Beaumont, Amarillo to Brownsville. It's possible, maybe even inevitable, but making this color-shift sooner rather than later will make a huge difference to Texans, and to the Democratic party.