Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Where have all the cowboys gone?

When I started thinking about moving back to Houston, I immediately consulted the Houston City-Data board.  City-Data gives all kinds of information on different places; cost of living, statistics, weather patterns, etc.  They also have forums for every location in the country.  The forums are a kind of internet “information, please” deal.  People talk about their city, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  There are always people from other areas relocating to the city, and asking questions of the locals.  Since I love being a tour guide….

I hadn’t intended on staying on the forum, but it kind of grows on you and, like every other internet community, once you learn the different personalities of the “regulars”, it gets to be fun.  Our forum has one individual who takes these wonderful walking tours and posts great pictures of the city; we have everything from doctors and lawyers to realtors to cops to street thugs.

Tonight’s forum had a question from some Floridians moving to Texas; I responded to their post.  I hadn’t intended to write an opus, but got started and, well, those who know me from Razorback forums know how that goes with me.  So, since I’ve been stumped for a blog topic, I decided, “Why not?” 

Their question: 

We're relocating for work from overdeveloped Boca Raton, Florida and really want to find a friendly western town, cowboy boots and horses and all. Can we find this in Conroe or surrounding areas?


My answer: 

(hint: look at a map of Texas while reading this post)

Really, you're going to need to be pretty far out of Conroe to get out to the actual "country". Conroe is effectively a big, semi-distant suburb of Houston.

As an example (I'm not as familiar with the northern areas as I am the western ones), going west on IH-10, you've got to get past Columbus (an hour and a half from my house in West Houston, through some of the densest traffic in North America) to actually get into "horse country". Between Columbus and Katy USED to be, say 20 years ago, but at this point, Brookshire and Sealy are already "gone", the development real estate signs are out everywhere.

My sister and her husband have a place at Flatonia (Flatonia is almost exactly halfway between downtown Houston and downtown San Antonio), 96 miles from Houston.

When they were looking for their place, they sounded exactly like you ("We're sick of Houston! But we like the money we get from our excellent jobs!") "Acreage" places were more expensive every mile closer to Houston they got. Everybody wants "5 acres out in the country." Well, 5 acres is not very much---that's still a subdivision. Country acreage gets into 50 acre tracts (pretty much minimum). When you're talking $1,000 an acre, okeydokey. When you're talking $50,000 an acre with a minimum of 50 acres.........

The aptly-named Centerville is exactly halfway between downtown Houston and downtown Dallas. You could probably get something decent in that area. Since you're going to commute to Conroe, that's not "terrible". Huntsville can get a bit trafficky at rush hour, and Willis (look on a map) is where the "Houston" traffic finally peters out....TODAY. In 10 years, Willis will be completely engulfed.

The Texas you're imagining is vanishing. It kind of petered out in the 60's. Development really took off in the 80's and 90's. When I was a kid in high school in San Antonio in the 70's, "West" Houston was IH-10 at Gessner Rd. and Highway 6 was known as "Jackrabbit Road". "North" Houston ended up around the new Intercontinental Airport and you drove through the woods a ways to get to the small town of Conroe. San Antonio stopped, you drove through countryside to the small town of New Braunfels, then more countryside to San Marcos, then more countryside to Austin. In north Austin, when you got to US 290, that was it until you got to the small town of Round Rock (countryside between Austin and Round Rock), then more country to Georgetown, then more country to Belton, etc.

Today, "Houston" extends to Willis on the north and Sealy on the west. IH 35 is one long, continuous suburb from San Antonio to Waco, punctuated by downtown Austin. Round Rock, Georgetown, all suburbs. Dallas and Ft. Worth, meanwhile, having finally grown together and merged with over 200 other cities into "the Metroplex", are trying desperately to reach Oklahoma--and will succeed in that, in my opinion, in my lifetime.

This part of Texas is now growing into one big urban "thing". In fact, Governor Perry's office (I'm not a fan; they stole the idea and videos from a private businessman from Ft. Worth who produced them) is marketing it currently as "one thing": the "Texaplex" (Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, with Waco, Huntsville, and College Station thrown in) (see videos below, they are fascinating). It has almost exact Florida counterparts: "Orlampa" (Tampa/St. Pete/Orlando) and "Florabama" (the entire Florida Panhandle). Of course, there is also the entire south Florida coast that we all refer to as "Miami" that goes from Palm Beach to Homestead.

The modern "cowboy" will most likely be driving his F-350, Silverado 3500HD, or Ram 3500 diesel dually. He'll wear a starched white button down oxford shirt, jeans, boots, and use an Excel Spreadsheet on his laptop (conveniently anchored to the fold-down armrest in his leather upholstered, late-model truck) to keep track of his herd (not to mention the production from his wells or his cotton crop). He'll use his cell phone to keep up with the antics of Bucky Junior at A&M, Texas, or Baylor while uplinking his production reports via air card. He'll drive to a modern, suburban-style house (admittedly pretty big), where his Suburban-driving wife will be organizing a party via facebook with her sorority sisters or church group (unless she's a lawyer with a degree from SMU, working from home).

Mostly, they keep and ride horses for fun.

Not trying to rain on your parade, but the "real Texas" that people talk about was always part myth anyway.

These days, you have to look pretty hard to find it.


The Texaplex videos:




Texas Map