I recently had the chance to leave the mean-spirited, chilly early spring of the Midwest for a little work trip to the tropical clime of Gulf-adjacent Texas. It was a good trip, and an exhausting trip, and well worth my travel time.
I’ve been to Texas a few times before (was just in San Antonio, in fact), and usually what strikes me about it is the wildlife — there’s one bird’s voice in particular that I hear every time, and it is jarringly alien to me. I have no idea what kind of bird it is. It’s pretty loud, though, especially around the twilight hours. This time, though, I noticed a few other things.
The first was right outside my hotel, prominently and proudly displayed:
When my (awesome, by the way) hosts were asked why they put out-of-state visitors up in this particular hotel, they replied that it allowed said guests to know immediately what the lay of the land was. You’re not at SXSW now, Dorothy.
I will say that the most curious thing about my most recent trip was not, however, this monument. It was the apparent attitude of Texan civil engineers toward roads. They appear to have a few local rules or principles of design:
1. All roads must be massive freeways (or tollways), and if they are not, then they must be frontage roads that feed the freeways.
2. All roads desperately want to be freeways. Non-freeways are necessarily envious of the freedom of freeways, and will do their best to send you to true freeways out of low self-esteem and longing.
3. Tollways are the ultimate expression of road freedom, because they are also the most open exercise of pure capitalism.
4. No feeder or frontage road or exit tangle too complicated! Required U-turns a must!
5. Size matters — the larger the semi, the freer the way.
It’s like an entire road system designed for people who loathe their surroundings and want nothing more than to get between point A and point B with the fewest stops possible. I think of it as a definitive middle finger raised to Soviet civil design, a kind of “Ha! You want brutalist? We’ll see your blocky, ugly pinko architecture and nasty road design and raise it with 100% FREEDOM, commies!”
I find this especially curious because I think Texas itself is quite beautiful (at least, the bits I’ve seen, mostly San Antonio, the Houston area, and Corpus Christie). The natural countryside is lovely, the plant and animal life is fascinating, the people are usually incredibly friendly and welcoming…and the oil business and the Spring Breakers find a way to douche it up, consistently and enthusiastically. Driving the roads around Houston in a wee little rental car turned a bit more of my hair gray than I expected.