Friday, June 1, 2012


Elvis took amphetamines to fuel the runaway train of his life. Then, he'd take barbiturates to fall asleep, followed by amphetamines to burn out the barbiturates, followed by barbiturates to dampen the amphetamines. Lather, rinse, repeat. For a while, he was able to work that cycle and look good, but sooner or later the strain etched visible changes on him, and not for the better. And in the end, he died young and left an ugly corpse.

In Texas, business goes buzzing along, enjoying this huge infusion of wealth from the various petrochemical industries. Absurdly high gas prices mean eye-popping earnings, which then sweep through all the contiguous businesses like a flood finding its level in rivers, streams and creeks. And Texans congratulate themselves about how much better their choices have been than those of their compatriots, how recession-proof the state is. But my memory goes back to 1985, when an oil glut dropped gas prices to astonishing lows, and suddenly no enterprise in Texas, from the government on down, had the resources to accomplish anything. And it's perfectly plain that the future of energy in this state, nation, world, is not just more of the same. Very wealthy, well-connected people can put all their power behind calls for more domestic exploration and drilling, but there comes a point where the amphetamines no longer do their job, and my strong suspicion is that the day is closer than most Texans, and all Texan leaders, want to admit to themselves.

The state of Oregon sucked a fiscal teat longer than made any sense, and has been trying to work through withdrawal and come out clean. The progress is inching, and agonizing, but postponing it only would've made it more severe. Texas is riding a binge, and storing up a lot of pain for itself when everything topples.

Part of me thinks this is just a symptom, and the deeply rooted illness comes from a desperate craving for what's uncomplicated. If I were to try to distill Texan-ness down to one idea, that would be it. Some of the iceberg-tips that grow out of that nature are pretty appealing: a bracing assertiveness and a child-like faith. But it's also very Texan to play ostrich, to ignore bad news and hope it goes away, to shoot the messengers and double down on a dumb idea. People who know their Texas history should recognize those tendencies in a million and one turning points that have gone wrong.

I do have a love for the state where I was born, but it's an exasperated love, the love we give a backwards child who sets off one disaster after another, who marches proudly and stubbornly into an endless parade of preventable messes. It's a love almost untouched by admiration or emulation, a lot of combined smiles and eye rolls. And a lot of worrying, shrugging, and fatalism.

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