Notes From An Expat: Pack Your Bags, Son

NE native Hawk Thompson ticks the boxes on all the Texas institutions: rattlesnakes, outlaws, and a Knievel.

This article originally ran in our October 2015 print edition.

Texans have a name for expats from Massachusetts, and it ain’t Masshole. If you make the pilgrimage from New England to the Lone Star State, you’re a carpetbagger the second you cross the border, and you’ll remain one until you leave for greener pastures. Trust me, I’ve been lugging this baggage around for the past 15 years.

When my wife (then lady friend) and I migrated, I had ideas about Texas. I’d read all of Cormac McCarthy. I listened, drank, and wept to Springsteen’s Ghost of Tom Joad religiously. I once passed the flaming husk of an 18-wheeler on I-10 near Sonora at 3:00 a.m. on the return leg of a 20-day, cross-country drive.

In short, I thought I understood Texas. So we jumped into Crusher, my rusty blue ’88 Chevy Blazer; popped a Friends of Dean Martinez cassette into the deck; and headed southwest, stopping in Memphis to sleep through Y2K eve and TCB at Graceland.

Once in Austin, I looked for adventures. My expat buddy Tim and I attended a rattlesnake rustling competition, an event that yielded a great koozie and a glimpse into the socioeconomic drivers that spur folks to hook big ol’ snakes into a burlap sack for pennies. Really, we were outsiders pretending to be outlaws.

Later, my lady friend and I drove to Palestine (Pal-uhs-TEEN) to watch Robbie Knievel jump a steam train. Because Crusher had out-of-state plates and I was speeding, a trooper pulled us over in Jewett. As he swaggered toward us with his campaign hat, mirrored shades, and mouthful of chaw, we began to sweat bullets.

Obliging the slow twirls of his index finger, I rolled down my window.

“What’re you doin’ so far from Massatoosits, boy?”

“Taking my lady friend to see Robbie Knievel jump a steam train, sir.”

“Well, why didn’t you say so? Just slow it down, and tell ol’ Robbie I said hi.”

Then he drove away.

It was THE BEST.

We made it to Palestine in time to trek across fields and over barbed wire, alongside families with strollers, toward the locomotive pyre where Evel’s son made history as “Detroit Rock City” reverberated over the swale.

As the thrill of living in Texas began to fade, we settled into life in Austin. Sure, the nice self-mutilating tenants at our apartment complex occasionally dangled by their nipples from the mimosa tree in the courtyard. But the novelty wore off quickly; so we went about the tasks of making friends, establishing routines, and finishing our undergraduate degrees.

Here’s a fun fact I learned in my studies: Texas has had eight constitutions. The eighth went into effect during the Reconstruction to protect the state from carpetbaggers (I’m paraphrasing my professor here). Texas is determined to stay true to its maverick identity, even if much of that identity was stolen from Mexico. I suppose that’s a big part of what makes Texas so quintessentially American.

That said, Texas confounds me; despite its many flaws, it’s hard to resist its wily charms. I never thought we’d plant roots, but we’re still here because it feels like home. We’ve earned degrees here. We’ve made our fair share of lifelong friends here. Our family, careers, home. . . they’re all here. But while our little girl is a native Texan and Austinite, it’s likely we won’t raise her here. This state is just too damn red for us. Even so, thanks to the pilgrimage we made at the turn of the century, she’ll always have a place in Texas to unpack her bags and hang her hat.

Top illustration by Rob Kimmel.

John ArvanitisNotes From An Expat: Pack Your Bags, Son

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