State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.

plastic

by Damian

There are more Texas surprises as we drive through the rugged hill country.First of all the scenery. It's lush and green here. Maybe because it's been a very wet year. Green hills give us an unmistakably Tuscany vibe. Especially since cowboys are still few and far between. There are canyons, vistas, serpentine roads, even mountains. There are also ranches. With deer, bison, goats and… antelopes.

Altitude and wind manage to diminish obtrusive heat. For the first time since entering Florida back in May we can enjoy being outside in the middle of the day. We even go hiking in Enchanted Rock park. Half an hour climb up the mostly bare rock seems too easy and we spend another two hours hiking among opuntia and rock formations admiring, from afar, the brave souls who opted for rappelling.

We spend the rest of the day driving. We stop by the roadside stand to pick up some fruit. Texas turns out to be the land of tomatoes that actually have taste and incredibly sweet peaches. We start having really positive thoughts about the state.

At one point we catch an glimpse of a vineyard and remembering the Spanish roots we venture to taste Texan wine. After travels in Napa and Paso Roble we know one is expected to pay for wine tasting in US. Most places in France and Italy don't do that. They are sure wine is so good that you are just going to buy a case or two.

The first place we stop by offers $10 flights and is inundated by tourists. But there is a cool veranda and a lady with a guitar singing quite acceptable folk so we want to stay. We opt for two glasses rather than a tasting. Same price, less people. And you can sit and listen to the music rather than fight to stay at the counter. And this is when our luck runs out. The lady serving the wine reaches for plastic cups.

It takes some will power to enjoy wine - no matter how good or or not so good it is (and I am not above enjoying reasonably mediocre wine) - from plastic cup. Surely the people running the vineyard have to know better. Confused we ask for real glasses and now the lady behind the counter seems perplexed. Yes - we can have glasses but they are meant as souvenirs. We get them once we pay for tasting to take home with us. Now, there is an amount of money which would cause me to have your logo on my glassware but this involves you paying me and not the other way around. And if I am ever senile enough to require a commemorative glass every time I have a sip of your wine just please do something merciful to me.

We feel deflated. It's like we hit this cultural barrier. Do we start explaining? Do we leave? Do we call 911?

We leave. Without causing a scene. Drive couple miles along the road and spotting a small sign for Woodrose Winery decide to have another go at it. This time there is only a couple of vehicles. Brand new dance hall has half of its tables occupied. Wine tasting is only $5. And yes - they have real glasses. You know: the type you drink from, not the type you display proudly in your living room. They also have cheese. And very nice people telling you something about each wine you try. And it's a decent wine. More European than what you find in California: young, naive, honest. Sometimes a bit raw.

The vineyard started in 1999 and the first wine was in 2001. And they are still experimenting with what it seems all possible varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Tempranillo. They behave the way their wines taste: inviting, friendly, easy going. The more you like it, the more they pour. And Natalia - who is not driving - even gets to taste their experimental Port. Their website mentions they want to grow big. I'd rather they stay focused and small, but this is Texas for you. Everything is big. We end up getting couple of bottles. Just in case we find ourselves at another dry place. When I mention our plastic cup experience the girl taking our order rolls her eyes and visibly shocked starts retelling the story to the rest of the crew. So people in Texas know how to serve wine after all.

With wine pleasantly elevating our senses I am trying to think a proper ending for this post. Here it goes - in a classic style of the genre popularized by Candace Bushnell: Sometimes life hands you wine in a plastic cup. And sometimes it's OK. But in other cases it just means you have to drive a little farther. Knowing how to tell the difference is part of the fun.

rivalry

San Antonio and Austin appear to be poised for competition: Mexico's northernmost city vs. live music capital of the world. Texan keep their serious businesses in Houston and Dallas. These two cities are supposed to be fun and quirky. Also Austin is supposed to be the Texas capital: the responsibility it does not take too seriously. San Antonio has the River Walk. Austin - the Texas State Capitol. One city attracts tourists, the other - lobbyists. People spend their own money in San Antonio. Politicians spend taxpayers dollars in Austin. San Antonio is packed with hotels for every budget. Austin's hotel base leaves some to be desired: overpriced chains encroach on downtown and run down motels on the outskirts.

germans

We expected a lot of things of Texas: cowboy boots, Stetson hats, big cities, oil rigs, huge ranches. But we didn't expect Germans. We knew they settled in Pennsylvania. But it looks like they got here as well. Texas is a big state - bigger than any European country unless you count Turkey or Russia. We did of course expect Spanish. They came here first via colonies in Mexico. Later Americans started arriving through freshly purchased Louisiana. After a brief stint as an independent republic, Texas joined the Union in 1845, only to secede and join CSA 15 years later. After Civil War a new wave of immigrants from Europe started arriving and Germans were among them.