Some of the best parts about growing up in Texas were also the worst parts about growing up in Texas. Take for instance this discovery from my first and longest childhood friend Ashton, who lives in Huntsville now, about a gloriously upsetting local watering hole, nicknamed “ShaNasty’s”. Like most things in Southeast Texas, it’s spoken of in jest, but with a hint of resignation towards it’s pervasiveness. Like Waffle House or The Sinkhole (noun: an actual sinkhole slowly eating away at the surrounding land and growing each year; a school field trip destination for those of us from Sour Lake, Texas…I still have my commemorative pencil; a popular choice of metaphor in college entrance essays to describe how citizens often become “stuck” in small towns), we know it’s disgusting, but it’s our disgusting. It says something about our priorities and character, and one thing you can never, ever accuse a Texan of being is bougie. We don’t front, and we invent our own fun. ShaNasty’s:
…maybe not a “friend.” There are levels of sincere contempt involved. Please enjoy a lovingly biting dismissal of ShaNasty’s, courtesy of Ashton’s last straw:
“It's one of those places where it's so loud that you're completely desensitized to anything that's happening, except you can tell that everything is kind of sticky. One of those places where someone will inevitably sneak up to grind on you even though you clearly don't swing that way and there's no mistaking it, like, look at my haircut. But they don't care. It's where everyone that's trying to become a white rapper goes to line dance, or enjoy the old R&B hits from middle school. Someone's always getting kicked out. But there's nowhere else to go!”
Of course, this makes me want to visit so I can check out ShaNasty’s immediately. Ashton says we are not fucking going to ShaNasty’s. Adulthood.
It’s weird to think back on my 18 years in Sour Lake because in the places I’ve lived since, there’s been so much more to do, by anyone’s standards. Places where any kind of niche art or music you could possibly have an interest in is accessible, on any day of the week, at any time of the day or night. The City Of Angels. The City That Never Sleeps.
But when I think back on our times in Texas, I remember so much adventure. There was nothing to do so we came up with things, we were creative. My friend Abby had a giant pond in her backyard that we went swimming in at night, it was the greatest pastime until they found snakes one afternoon which sort of marked the beginning of the end, even though Abby insisted it was fine. Abby also tried to get us all to go swimming in an alligator-infested swamp bayou on the regular and called us all pussies if we wouldn’t do it. Abby is basically this guy from Orange who’s last words were “fuck that alligator!”. Always my road trip buddy, we took off for Galveston or wherever else the view might mask the smell for five minutes, though if you’re with Abby you’re getting lost 90% of the time. You know you’re in Texas when you have to pull over to ask directions from people having a massive crawfish boil on the side of the road.
Another pastime was to drive out to Bragg Road, a long, straight-as-an-arrow dirt road through the Big Thicket in Saratoga. It’s so straight because there used to be train tracks laid there, and it’s so dark surrounded by woods, that it feels like some kind of Twilight Zone endless void, on and on. Legend has it if you park your car under a full moon on Bragg Road, turn off all your lights and cut the engine, you’ll see orbs of light - what remains of the decapitated lantern-holding railroad worker who still roams there even in death. I swear to God we’ve seen something out there. You don’t believe me. It’s fine. But even if you see nothing you can always have fun hiding in the woods and jumping out at the next passersby. This is one place where I understand wanting to have a gun. There are definitely axe murderers in those woods. And pre-teens.
The beach is another ubiquitous recreation, but I need everyone to understand that the water on the Gulf Coast is an abomination. My friend Jade’s mom told us that when Jade was a baby, they brought her out to the beach and she ran towards the ocean screaming “Chocolate milk!!!” It is really that brown. Think about all of the debris and trash from every state along the Mississippi River accumulating and being let out at one exit point, and you may come close to imagining the Gulf. Plus itchy seaweed with some kind of parasite inside, scratching up against your leg, tangling itself around you. A sour kind of smell. Now add in the lasting effects of the BP oil spill and the destruction of hurricane after hurricane, and you’re there. When you visit Galveston you point out the water line on the side of buildings to friends, and tell stories of “where were you when…?” But the beach is also one of our first symbols of independence. As soon as you can drive you can take a weekend trip there with your friends, just 45 minutes away. You can go at night and not tell anybody and make it back before anyone’s the wiser. You can take the Galveston ferry for free, on foot or via car, and spend the day shopping the strip or balancing on the jettis. You can ride in the back of a truck up and down the shore while the driver blasts music, and honk and wave as you pass all the other people doing the same (honestly a shame, environmentally. And sonically. And visually). Even before driving age, you could drive a golf cart around. I don’t know if it’s like this in other places, but every family in Southeast Texas has a golf cart. None of us play golf. The kids drive them down the beaches or around their suburban streets, picking up their friends at each house, doing donuts in the gravel, exploring, being chased by dogs. Unless you were more of the four-wheelin', go-cartin’ type, but then where would you put your early 2000s boom box? How would you practice splitting up the dual vocal parts on Make Damn Sure?
The food is the best there is, and maybe the worst for you. We had to destroy the video of my friend Kristen being dared to eat an entire mega-burrito from Carlitos in one sitting because it honestly set a dangerous example for the world’s youth. I think she popped a stitch on her stomach that was still there from her last bad decision.
And then there’s the music. The music is something special, and totally overlooked. Everyone thinks of country when they think of Texas, but there is some swampy-ass gutter rock coming out of Southeast Texas and Louisiana. It’s where I was first inspired. Local bands like Gonzo Sirens, Purple, We Were Wolves, and Hello Chief made me understand that I could be proud of where we were from, and enjoy a sense of community via our shared experience; that there were diverse perspectives and talents and most of all that we knew how to fucking party. It makes sense to me that Janis Joplin was from Port Arthur. You will never witness more vitality, more unapologetic joy at being alive than when watching a Purple show, and their music is in complete homage to the lifestyle in which we were raised - the album name is our zip code. Seeing We Were Wolves shows at The Vortex was definitely the only time I’ve witnessed jello wrestling in my life, which is exactly what it sounds like. Gonzo were “Skipping Stones By The Dead” on “Garbage Mountain”, which to me always felt like an embrace of our mutual..…situation. Just over state lines to the east is Community Records, west in El Paso gives us Sonic Ranch, and of course the “music capitol” is north in Austin. Not to mention - Houston gave us Beyonce, so you can all just sit right down.
I wanted those bands to be listened to by the wider population. I wanted our community to be heard outside the reaches of the Golden Triangle. So I started a radio show at the local station KVLU, so I could interview local bands and play the music I cared about that nobody else seemed to. And ultimately I went to college to get my BS in Music Industry, so I could hopefully be in a position to make a real impact for the bands I love who don’t typically have avenues through which to be heard. I’m not sure if they wanted the same thing or not, but in my mind it was imperative, for some reason. I think in retrospect I missed the point, because this music celebrated being happy with life as it is, the good life. This music celebrated ShaNasty’s, and Carlitos, the infested bayous, the water lines, the sulfur smell, the heat, the humidity, getting your car stuck in the mud on Bragg Road on a full moon, having way too many margaritas and more queso than anyone would ever advise in one sitting, because it’s fucking delicious, and you can’t get it made correctly anywhere else. I’ve learned that this same sense of self, conviction, and strength of character, which gives way to pride, humor, and abandon, can be found in the music of different scenes in different cultures the world around, if you’re listening closely (the first parallel I would discover was in New Jersey, a story for another time; today I find it here and here, for instance. Though only to the soundtrack of the armpit of the Gulf can you truly sweat out your troubles). The more I realize this, the more at home I feel no matter where I am.
For some more background on the good, the bad, and the ugly:
Travel Trivia: 15 Things You (I) Don’t Know About Beaumont TX
Heartwarming stories emerge as Texas residents look to save Houston
Human chains are among viral stories inspiring us out of Hurricane Harvey
Texas city haunted by 'no blacks after dark' past
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Texas inmate escapes prison only to return with booze, home-cooked food
A LEGACY OF ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM Exxon Mobil Is Still Pumping Toxins Into Black Community in Texas 17 Years After Civil Rights Complaint
Beaumont is least educated major U.S. city, study says
Bigfoot Is Hiding in the Big Thicket
47 years ago this week the ZZ Top story began in Beaumont
Janis Joplin Attends High School Reunion in Port Arthur
Johnny Winter Revisits His Roots
11 years ago, Hurricane Rita invaded Southeast Texas
10 Years Later: Katrina's imprint on Beaumont
Storm Evacuees Strain Texas Hosts
10 Signs You Grew Up Eating Food in Southeast Texas