Saturday, November 5, 2011

Dorothy, You Ain't In Austin Anymore

    When you’re a non-Texan trying to explain Texas and Texans to others, it’s awkward.
But leaving the “nation” of Austin and driving south on the 35, passing the interesting sights of cattle, cattle and more cattle, one realizes, like Dorothy, that you ain’t in paradise no more.
As Molly Ivins (Texan and renowned columnist) once wrote,
Texas is big sky country because there are no trees.  Texas is not a civilized place.  Texans shoot one another a lot and they fight in the bars all the time.  You can get 5 years for murder and 99 for pot possession in this state.”   
And here’s the clincher to that:
They are darn proud of it all.  
Ivins goes on to say, “ Texas is an un-self-conscious place.  Nobody is embarrassed about who he is.  Rich folks aren’t embarrassed.  Reactionaries aren’t embarrassed.  Rednecks aren’t embarrassed.  KKKers aren’t embarrassed.  Even liberals aren’t embarrassed because they all see it as their callings.”

    While driving on the open highway, I was recognizant of the many billboards and church marquees that plentifully line the roads, cow pastures and hog pins… 
I’m told this has been the biggest drought since 1952 and that the farm animals are in dire straights.
The Baptists, a large majority in these parts, thank the Lord Jesus anyway.
Churches and dance halls are everywhere out here and they don’t give a jackshit about separation of church and state.  I have it from a very reliable source that the Baptist preacher and his flock, who have the best seats at Shiner High School football games, all pray out loud before, during and after the National Anthem.  Consequently, the Lutherans and Methodists, though Texan to the bone, don’t sit on the 50 yard line. 
     I didn’t actually attend a church service, so of course what I’m about to offer up is 100% pure embellishment, but you know you’re in a Texas church when the preacher asks Bubba to help collect the offering, and 5 men and 2 women stand up.

     Shiner Texas is rich in history and though it’s older than the hills, it made it on the map in 1909 when Kosmos Spoetzl opened what today is The Shiner Brewery.  Shiner Bock is the beverage of choice and let me tell you it’s chosen from sunup to sundown.
You drink Bock at picnics, football games, church functions…at dance halls, family gatherings, bank ‘meetins’, booster ‘meetins’, girl scout ‘meetins’, cub scout ‘meetins’, baby showers, engagement parties, and ‘christenins.’ 
You even drink ‘em while you shop. 

At one store in the historic downtown, Antiques, Art and Beer, Beverly proudly awards you with a certificate for each bottle you consume while shopping.

     Kosmos Spoetzl had a simple marketing philosophy: A good beer will sell itself.  
So he set out to brew the very best beer he could. That done, he had to make sure that people drank it.  So he bought a Model T, and with a couple of kegs iced down in the back, Spoetzl drove the country roads that surrounded Shiner, plying the thirsty farmers with ice-cold beer.  Spoetzl produced "Old World Bavarian Draft," which was a heavy, dark, all-malt German-style lager.
     Today Shiner Bock preserves the traditions of the original brewmaster and even uses some of his original recipes.  Each vat is brewed individually. 
After tasting Shiner Black Lager, I easily gave of gin for the 48 hours I was there. 

This is the cutest webpage ever.  Check this out!

     There’s something about Shiner that makes me shout, “Charming!”  (almost)
It could be the free tokens for beer they hand out at the Brewery or the buildings from the 1800’s that still have the original tin ceilings and rent for a song, but more likely, it’s the lovely resident historian/goddess/palm reader/Dog-Eared Democrat and my friend who made me 
feel so welcome.
For some, that charm could wear off quickly though.
I certainly couldn’t wear my Sarah Palin Ignorance is Bliss tee for fear of getting shot.  And I’d have to remove all my bumper stickers, trash my peace flags and bite my political tongue hourly if I resided within such charm.

     My pal was born and raised there.  Both her family and her husband’s family have lived in Shiner for generations and so I felt quite comfortable in her company. 
I was treated darn right like a queen.  
But there is a strange cloud that lingers over you if "yur frum Cali."  
I mean, just answering the question, “Where y’all frum?” can cause perplexed expressions to form on the faces of locals. 
Texans believe that Californians either lie around and smoke weed all day, or that we are all heathen terrorists who are constantly thinking up ways to provide handouts to the illegals rather than the “real” Americans. 
Either way, you’ll burn in hell, darlings.

     I did meet some lovely folks in Shiner though, and got to ride around on
“the farm.”  My friend’s grandson, who’s all of 12, laughed hysterically at this ‘weird city gal’ as I took pictures of hay bales, dirty work rags hanging on fences and baby pigs.  Then I prayed to the Lord Jesus that he’d lie to me when I asked, "Are they all going to be slaugh…?” 
They laughed their asses off! 

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a vegetarian, though I’m thinking of converting. 
These farmers love their animals, treat them well and even name them;
“That one over there’s name is ‘Dinner.’”  My friend’s grandson informed me. 
I just look into their eyes and want to scream,"Can’t we save them all, live happily ever after and eat tempeh burgers till the crows come home!"

     What I sensed there are two things we are so far removed from:
the connection of humans to the land and humanely raising all that we consume. 
I recall my mama’s favorite saying, “Waste not, want not.”  
All this makes good sense; even to me.
Most kids eat meat and think it comes from Safeway. 
They haven’t a clue.  And if you’ve ever driven Highway 5, then you know the livestock are crammed in small, overcrowded pens and you can bet your ass they don’t get a friendly pet on their head each morning.    Walking “the farm” made me ponder the days when my ancestors lived in Tennessee, Oklahoma and yes, Texas.  I’m a good ‘ole girl and come from a long line of country folk and yet somehow, as if to fall off the flatbed of a pickup, I ended up in some conflictive state; dangling on a fine thread between trailer trash and city vixen.  
I mean, I dig the boots and cool shiny belt buckles, but I’m a recycle freak. 

I understand the feeling of bliss when breathing in that fresh country air,
but give me a good protest in a major downtown city any day.

     Shiner, Texas is my last stop before returning to California.  I smile now when I say its name.
It’s a town rich in history, pride (possibly foolish) and cow pies.  And oh yea…beer.

All for now, buckaroos!


  1. Thanks for the verbal postcard! You have a great way of expressing all that you see and that which you might not see. Welcome Home!

  2. Love it. so sad that stretch of I-5. it is unbelievable how low our standards are for lively, humanely raised , vibrant food sources isn't it. Tragic.
    thanks for the wonderful writing!

  3. Yee Haw! That was plumb entertainin'. Gonna have to go tell Beverly at Antiques, Art, and Beer that's she's on this Monterey gal's blog site. She'll be pleased. As will Dotsy and Anne at Spoetzl Brewery...I'll tell them too how much you enjoyed the brewery. (We both did, if I remember, since we drank our lunch that day.) Your farm thoughts are right on..we do raise happy animals...have to admit though, I'm kinda taken with that turkey bacon I bought for us. You pegged Shiner to a "T". I'm so glad to got to come visit, but I bet you kissed the ground when you landed back in Monterey. Still, now you can understand why I'm such a strange "bird of many colors." Keep those blogs coming, Trailer Park Girl, and keep on reading Molly Ivins. She nailed us Texans just right, as have you!

  4. Gettin' right down to the real nitty gritty, Val Gal! You really had me at the Drink and Shop sign! What a smart proprietor!
    I really liked Texas when I lived there except for when Kennedy got assassinated and the summers were so miserably hot AND humid. I lived in the Fort Worth area in the sixties-at two separate ends of the decade. Back then, East Texas had (and probably still has for all I know) woods and streams and armadillos and gigantic water moccasins, but most importantly to me, lots of horses and land for them to pasture on. I spent the early sixties as a kid exploring the woods and streams and finding giant fossilized clam shells in tbe hillside below my house, as well as finding water moccasins as big around as your daddy's arm, horny toads that puff up big as your daddy's hand, and scorpions as long as his middle finger scuttling around in the shadows.
    I spent the last part of the decade there as well, the summer of love, as a teenager loving riding my horse with all my heart, seeing snuffling armadillos that ran off so fast you only really knew they were there by the sound of the crackling leaves as they sped away, as well as water moccasins as big around as your daddy's arm and long as a man. Could have been the same damn snake!
    About those crowded cattle pens along I-5. More than likely you're seeing feedlots where cattle spend their last few months being fattened up with high calorie carbs like corn,and standing around, so they bring the most money per pound. There used to be a really big one outside Soledad called "Fat City". Those steers probably spent the rest of their life before that ranging in the Sierra foothills on some ranch. That life doesn't sound so bad! There is a movement ahoof, umm, afoot that bypasses the centralized feedlot-there are local ranchers who believe in and are raising grassfed beef who are slaughtered and sold locally.
    But of course you'll have to be willing to pay more for it and you can bet the fast food chains aren't using it...I'm with you on the veggie burgers.
    Well, Val, thanks for getting my mind going this lazy gray Sunday (your blog worked better than the coffee I drank earlier) and we'll talk hopefully in person this week-maybe we can get Shiner Bock at the XL Grindhouse, next to the Steinbeck Center. There's a little bar in the back with 16 beers on tap, and a pool table... Love, Anonymous Amy