Saturday, March 27, 2010

Phony Texans

I felt there was a potential story here, but have been at a loss for words to explain it without sounding petty or cheesy. But it's such an interesting one, I thought I 'd give it a try.

I had a great trip out to Big Bend in February and recorded it a few posts back on this blog, with photos and some detail of the Gage Hotel, the trip over to Ft. Davis, and the ride down into Big Bend National Park. I think I even touched briefly on my encounters with some great folks who were also staying at the Gage, including two couples who randomly sat near me in the hotel restaurant Monday evening. One couple was from Ohio, near Cleveland, the other couple was Illinois, outside of Chicago.

We all happened to come down for breakfast the next day at about the same time. I sat with them at the large boardroom-style plank table that the hotel uses in their breakfast seating area.

Now, granted, this time of year you'll see lots of "snowbirds" down in the Texas Valley. They come down from states that bump up against the Canadian border, bringing their RV's and their "toads" with them and filling the RV parks from El Paso to Brownsville. License plates declare their citizenship in states like WI and MN, IL and MI, OH and NY. When they're down here "wintering" they're cohabiting in RV parks with like-minded snowbirds and their limited interaction with Texans will be with park managers, restauranteurs, and random citizens at the local Walmart store.

So I can understand their possible fascination with the myth and legend that is "TEXAS," things like cowboys, or the open display of guns, or Ewing-style cattle ranching. I rarely miss a chance to attend the Houston livestock show, making my way through the livestock exhibits and watching a few of the judgings to get a good feel for the people who raise livestock for a living. I've also traveled extensively through this fair state of Texas, meeting lots of folks in lots of lines of work including ranch owners. My late husband had an electrical designer who worked for him, the best man on his project team - quiet, industrious, modest - who owned a working ranch in Madisonville TX with a few hundred head of cattle. He'd come down to Houston and work his weekday job then go back to Madisonville every weekend to tend the ranch.

Now back to the breakfast at the Gage Hotel in Marathon TX and my breakfasting companions from OH and IL. We were sitting there discussing what our respective day's plans would be for this snowy Tuesday morning when a couple made a rather dramatic entrance into the room filling it literally and figuratively with their presence. Well, actually, the man sort of stood back and let the woman pretty much carry the show.

I have never seen such a performance of utterly phony "native Texan" as I saw that morning. She had a roomful of Rubes and knew it. Well... except for me, and I just sat back, biting my lip to keep from laughing out loud at this display. She'd apparently chatted with the OH and IL couples the evening before, so was ready to really perform for them this morning... and perform, she did, to the room's occupants, which included the aforementioned couples from OH and IL and a father and teenaged son from Canada.

She really laid it on thick for her audience. First of all, that accent! It was so exaggerated, I could hardly keep from laughing. A whole lot of "ya'll's" and words with the letter "g" missing were sprinkled liberally throughout her sentences. And she pretty much swooped into the room with the first words already on her lips, prepared to take over whatever conversation might have already been going on. It was a grand entrance, one that would make Norma Desmond jealous. The room was stunned, I with incredulity, the "snowbirds" with awe: A Real Texan! The kind they've only read about or seen on TV nightime soap operas like Dallas.

She was all a twitter about the plans they were making for her son's wedding, all self-important about the appointments they had that day to meet with caterers, and artists, and venues, and florists. Generous and broad hints at the expense of all this were dropped unashamedly.

Her attire was every bit as corny as her accent. She apparently didn't realize that her get-up went out of style in the 80's, about the time that Gilley's burned down in Pasadena. She was all decked out in a denim dirndl skirt with the 16" flounce at the hem, a chambray overshirt buttoned partway up, sporting silver studs and sparkly stuff. It was left untucked and cinched in at the waist with a giant concho belt. She had huge amounts of silver and turquoise jewelry at wrists, neck and ears. Her hair was smoothed back with that silly little bump in the front over the forehead, a hairstyle that went out of style when Seinfeld went off the air, and it was pulled into a short bobbed ponytail at the nape of her neck. She had about 10 pounds of foundation on her face, so much so, that it smoothed out whatever character her face may have had. Expertly shadowed, lined and mascara'd eyes looked out from a face that was so plastic in appearance she looked like a mannequin.

I've seen this look in the past, plenty of times, at the Houston Livestock show back in the 90's, where bankers and secretaries and insurance salesmen and store clerks haul their "Go Texan" clothes out of the back of their closets once a year and sashay off to Reliant Park to spend the evening being wannabe's at the Hideout.

And those folks from the Great Lakes area were just eating this up!! They were asking her all sorts of questions, the kind that you might ask a person who you perceive as living a totally different and exciting life in a totally different realm than your plain-old humdrum boring life in the cornbelt of America. From these lines of questioning I learned that they owned a ranch, raise cattle, and live in ***** which is a town halfway between Del Rio and San Antonio. I will not divulge the town, but suffice it to say it is a one-horse town sporting its share of small-town Texas cultural venues such as Walmart, Dairy Queen, and Texas Burger. It is serious enough distance away from a large city to qualify the town as being "isolated" from the main stream.

Ranching is not glamorous. It is hard work. The ranch owners are usually down-to-earth folks and certainly don't wear 10 pounds of pancake makeup. This woman no more represented this lifestyle than I would. I felt sorry for the Great Lakes contingent who were so totally taken in by her acting skills. They'll no doubt go home to their neighbors and friends and families and rave about meeting a real life Texas rancher, up close and personal, in the flesh. Well, if it made them happy and their trip to Texas complete, who am I to burst their bubble?


  1. Good job on getting your story across. I know exactly what you mean about this type. Drives me nuts, but I just let it go . . . what else to do? The ones in the Texas gitup are determined and the audience is usually impressed and entertained -- but hoodwinked. Sad fact is, there's some of these "phony Texans" that have enough 'real' in their story to allow them to get away with it. Additionally, this is the type that make native Coloradans cringe when they see Texas plates entering their state. Who can blame them?

    Thanks for telling the story. I enjoyed reading your take on the spectacle.

  2. Good write up Barb, it was like being there with you.