I Messed With Texas

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Dec 14, 2016

Filed under: Notices 179 comments

I’m back from visiting my daughter Rachel in Texas. If you remember, she’s usually the one to edit the Diecast for us. I’ve spent the last 5 days or so in and around the tiny town of La Mesa in west Texas where she lives. I also spent about half a day in Dallas, which is five hours away and yet somehow still in Texas. (And in fact, neither place is anywhere near the edge.)

It was good to have the whole family together again, and the trip gave me a nice break from making content.

I know that travel observations from a guy who never leaves the house is about as useful as restaurant reviews from someone who only eats pizza, but for the curious: Here are a bunch of random comments on Texas based on my brief visit…

1. Texas is spread out.

There's hundreds of miles of exactly this: Flat empty lands with nothing but pumpjacks and power lines. It's like a game of Factorio gone horribly wrong.
There's hundreds of miles of exactly this: Flat empty lands with nothing but pumpjacks and power lines. It's like a game of Factorio gone horribly wrong.

People from the denser parts of Europe will come to the Boston / New England area and remark on how spread out things are. The roads are wider, the buildings are further apart, yards are more spacious, and even parking spaces are roomier.

Then someone from Boston will visit (say) western Pennsylvania and have the same experience. There’s more room, and even individual towns are further apart.

And then you go from western Pennsylvania to west Texas, and it’s the same thing, only moreso. The towns are ridiculously far apart, and the roads are so wide it feels almost decadent. I swear the shoulder of a typical street – the wasted margin between the traffic and the curb – feels wider than the “2 lanes of opposing traffic + 1 lane of parking” that runs in front of our apartment at home.

In places where I’d expect to find a little two-lane highway, there would be a six-lane monster. In towns, the shoulder on either side of the road is wide and flat and could easily make for another entire lane. It’s really bizarre to have a pair of four-lane highways meet at a simple stop sign. Where I’m from, roads that large would produce so much traffic you’d need traffic lights with part of the cycle dedicated to left-hand turns. It feels like a game of SimCity where the player has slapped down the largest roads but the zoning hasn’t caught up yet.

2. You can’t walk anywhere.

Left: Me. Right: Rachel.
Left: Me. Right: Rachel.

When Rachel lived with us, we used to take walks all the time. For old time’s sake, we tried to do that during this trip and found that walking was kind of annoying and impractical.

All we wanted to do was walk a half mile through a residential neighborhood, from a church to a gas station. It seemed plausible enough. The sidewalk was there. Why not use it?

But while residential zoning mandates a certain amount of space be given over to pedestrians in other places I’ve lived, that doesn’t seem to be the case in Texas. In Texas, sidewalks seem to be a courtesy, and not everyone is courteous.

You’ll pass three buildings with a proper sidewalk out front, and then the fourth will have some sort obstacle course instead of a walkway. Maybe the building presses up against the shoulder and you have to walk into the street to get around it. Or maybe there’s a low wall or a hedge made of solid cactus that spills out into the streetI’m not kidding we actually encountered this.. Or maybe the sidewalk simply vanishes, leaving you to cross some unkempt ground.

“So you have to walk in the grass. What’s the big deal, Shamus? Do you walk to go for a walk or not?”

When I say the sidewalk gives way to “grass” I don’t want you to picture the green at St. Andrews. What we’re talking about here is an ankle-deep tangle of fiercely territorial plant life. It’s filled with bristling podsTexans call these “stickers” for the way they relentlessly cling to your clothes. And yes, their needles CAN penetrate blue jeans! that can trip you if they snag your foot, and the pods can give you a nasty rash if their needles scratch your skin.

There's plenty of water in Texas, providing you've got a way to extract it from the muddy tire ruts. Or as I like to call them, "Texas Lakes"
There's plenty of water in Texas, providing you've got a way to extract it from the muddy tire ruts. Or as I like to call them, "Texas Lakes"

Animals like to make hidden burrows in these patches, which are large enough to turn an ankle or swallow your leg up to the shin if you’re unlucky enough to step in one. Texas doesn’t get a lot of rain, but when it does fall there’s nowhere for it to go. So in the cool winter it hangs around to form cold, wet, slippery mud mixed in with the grass.

And just to keep things interesting, in the summer these “grass” patches are where things like venomous snakes like to hang out.

The effect was that this simple half-mile walk was infused with more danger than I’m used to.

3. Everything’s bigger in Texas… including Texans.

You can't get much more Texas than this: An entire shop dedicated entirely to "TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT" style signs.
You can't get much more Texas than this: An entire shop dedicated entirely to "TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT" style signs.

I hope this doesn’t come off as rude. They were fine people and I was delighted to meet them. They were just big. The vast majority of people I encountered were overweight. This includes adults from many age groups in many different walks of life and various income levels. Again, I only visited a couple of small towns in the corner of a state larger than France, so we’re talking about a very small sample size. This is not a scientific study, it’s just the observation of one guy.

But if you’re willing to entertain my biased and possibly skewed observations, then here is what I saw:

I was usually the thinnest person around, which is already odd because I am not particularly thin. People under twenty seemed more or less to be the size I’m used to, but the adults always seemed to be carrying a lot of extra weight.

So why?

This isn’t hereditary. I observed the same body types and trends across whites and non-whites. I also don’t think we can blame it entirely on “overeating”. We ate at a couple of restaurants, and the portions seemed to fall within American normsWhich is still too much in most cases, but that doesn’t explain the increase in weight I’m looking at here..

Gas is cheap here, seeing as how this is basically where it comes from. It's amazing how much the cost of a gallon of gas is the cost of moving it from Texas to the point of purchase.
Gas is cheap here, seeing as how this is basically where it comes from. It's amazing how much the cost of a gallon of gas is the cost of moving it from Texas to the point of purchase.

One obvious culprit is that it’s just too hard to get exercise. Just a simple walk to the corner store puts you at risk for sprained ankle, painful rash, surprise mud, and maybe even snakebite. On top of this, everything is spread out to the point where it’s pretty dang hard to take a “short” walk. If you’re looking to get something done, then you’re going to need to cover several miles in those conditions. Temperatures frequently rise to 113F (45C) in the summer. That’s almost halfway to boiling. Those kind of conditions don’t just make exercise unpleasant, but dangerous. So it’s not surprising people drive everywhere. (Which makes it less practical to maintain good sidewalks, which makes walking even more impractical, which makes you even less likely to waste money on building them, which… you get the idea.)

But I don’t think lack of exercise alone can explain this. It’s supposedly impossible to get anywhere in LA without driving, and yet LA isn’t famously overweight. And some of the people I met were clearly hard workers with physically demanding jobs. In fact, it seemed like more work was loosely correlated with more weight. The people who worked behind the front desk at the hotel were thin, and the people who cleaned the rooms weren’t. Again: This sample size is too small to draw any conclusions. This isn’t “data”, it’s anecdata. Still, it’s strange.

Looking for a cause, I find myself wanting to blame air conditioning. Heat tends to kill your appetite. Counter-intuitively, the hotter a region is, the less time people spend in the heat. They stay indoors. And when it’s over a hundred degrees out, I can’t say I blame them.

The elevator in our hotel. No matter how many times I saw this message, my brain refused to parse it properly. I can only see this as a legal disclaimer from "TL;DR".
The elevator in our hotel. No matter how many times I saw this message, my brain refused to parse it properly. I can only see this as a legal disclaimer from "TL;DR".

The pet theory I’ve been nursing for years is that our tendency to put on or shed weight is partly regulated by environmental temperature. I’m wondering if there are systems of hormones that are designed to be triggered by heat. Something like:

Spring / Summer: Shed weight to stay cool and burn stored calories to gather resources.

Autumn / Winter: Store calories to keep warm. Lower activity levels to make the stored calories last through winter.

But in the modern world, people in the really hot regions spend the entire year in air conditioned spaces, and so their body keeps storing energy, caught in an artificial autumn that never ends. This is a problem that feeds on itself because as people gain weight, they turn up the air conditioning to remain cool.

I have no data to back any of this up and it’s entirely possible that this is all bunk. The only reason I like it is because it explains America’s weight problem beyond the lazy stereotype of “stupid lazy Americans”. I find it hard to believe the waifish barista in San Francisco works that much harder than the portly mechanic in west Texas. Some of these heavy people clearly exert themselves for a living. They work a lot harder than I do, anyway. The problem isn’t that they don’t work, it’s that when they’re working it’s typically in a climate-controlled environment.

I don’t know. I’d love to see someone look for a link between air conditioning and body weight.

Wait, what was this post supposed to be about? Oh right, Texas….

4. Texas Drives Fast!

No matter how fast you go, it feels slow in Texas.
No matter how fast you go, it feels slow in Texas.

In the northeast, the highest speed limit is usually 55 miles an hour. (88kph.) In fact, throughout my childhood that was the maximum speed limit for all parts of the country thanks to a dumb, counterproductive law that was passed at the time. That thing was repealed when I was 24, and places like Texas were once again allowed to set speed limits that made sense for them.

In the northeast, a 55mph limit works. Highways around major cities are tricksy things that require rapid parsing of complex road signs and frequent lane changes just to keep up with the constant onslaught of traffic and information.

You’ll be on a four-lane expressway skirting a major city and your only goal is to NOT get off of this road. Aware that you’re in unfamiliar territory, you hang out in the slow lane. Then the slow lane abruptly becomes an exit, and if you don’t want to exit then you need to elbow your way towards the center. This is made harder by all the other drivers pushing their way into the exit lane because that’s where they want to go.

The slow lane peels away, meaning the lane you’re in is now the new slow lane. Whoops! The lane you’re in is again an exit ramp and you once again have to fight your way to the center. Meanwhile, the highway you’re on merges with another, adding more lanes but also more cars, some of which want to cross all the lanes of traffic to reach the exit ramp you’re trying to escape.

In Dallas: It's rush hour, we're headed for the airport, and we hit construction. And yet traffic continues to flow seamlessly. What sorcery is this?!
In Dallas: It's rush hour, we're headed for the airport, and we hit construction. And yet traffic continues to flow seamlessly. What sorcery is this?!

Tired of the way this highway keeps trying to boot you off, you fight your way into the passing lane. But now you see the highway is going to split again. The signs pop up as you round a bend, giving you just a few seconds to parse them and figure out where you need to be when the split happens.

Just to keep things interesting, sometimes one of the lanes will be tagged as HOV”High Occupancy Vehicle”. A lane for vehicles with more than one person. Or is it more than two? Quick! Read the fine print if you don’t want a ticket! and you have to worry about avoiding that one.

What I just outlined above is pretty common across the entire northeast, although Boston is the ultimate example of this problem. In Boston the terror is greater because you know that one wrong move might dump you into near-gridlock traffic downtown, or shunt you onto an outrageously expensive toll road that runs perpendicular to your desired travel direction, or plunge you into a lengthy underground area where your GPS will lose contact and you’ll have to make several last-second navigation decisions blind.

In those sorts of places, 55MPH is about as fast as anyone dares to go. If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s probably still too fast. If you do know where you’re going, you probably don’t want to be going too much faster than those twitchy, confused visitors.

But in Texas? If an exit happens, they add a new lane for it. If two highways join, they add lanes rather than funneling six lanes of traffic into four. The roads are straight so you can see signs far in the distance rather than speed-reading them as you scream through the twisting concrete canyon. Since people aren’t making abrupt last-second lane changes, everything is smoother and higher speeds are safer. The visitors can keep up with the native drivers.

Driving is less stressful because mistakes are less punishing. If you screw up and take a bad turn, it won’t be hard to get back to where you want to go. Even if you end up downtown, you’re probably not more than a few blocks from the way back to the highway.

It’s wonderful.

And then you get out of the city to the long stretches of highway that cross the desert. The road runs flat and straight all the way to the horizon. There are no exits, no on-ramps, no crossings, no lights, no mergers, and no special lanes. You’ve got three entire lanes of traffic all to yourself. You look at all that open road and think about how insane it would be to limit everyone to driving this at just 55mph. Out here, even the posted 75mph (120kph) limit can feel ponderousAlthough in our car, 75 was still the limit. The vibration and roaring wind would have made it uncomfortable to go faster. Minivans are not built for speed, particularly not ones that are 16 years old.. And at this point maybe you can understand why Texas resented the “one size fits all” speed limit of the 1970’s, and why they’re so enamored of doing their own thing.

5. Land of the white extended cab pickup truck.

I'm pretty sure the pickup trucks outnumber the people.
I'm pretty sure the pickup trucks outnumber the people.

About half of the vehicles on the road were extended cab pickups, and most of them were white. The ones that weren’t white were black or grey. I don’t remember seeing a single pickup that would look different if viewed in the context of a black and white photographI was wrong! When writing this post, I found a picture of a colored truck. Look for it in the next image.. I heard many plausible justifications for this, but I don’t really know the cause.

I assumed it was practical: It’s HOT in Texas, and anything that isn’t white is going to get to be scorching hot in the Texas sun. Also, maybe the sun will cause vibrant colors to fade?

One person suggested it was basic economics: There’s a lot of infrastructure out there in that big and otherwise empty desert: Power lines, communication towers, and petroleum systems. The petroleum and energy companies need durable vehicles for their army of mechanics, inspectors, engineers, and surveyors to use. The vehicles need to have space for a lot of tools, and they need to be able to handle makeshift roads and mud. So they buy fleets of pickups. And because these are corporate vehicles, they buy them in simple white because that’s easy. Rather than worry about maintenance, they replace the vehicles when they go out of warranty, which floods the used vehicle market with white pickups, meaning they become the most economic choice for general civilian use.

From left to right: My wife Heather and my kids Issac, Rachel, and Esther. Texans think that 60F (15C) is "winter". So on a Sunday afternoon we got this park all to ourselves.
From left to right: My wife Heather and my kids Issac, Rachel, and Esther. Texans think that 60F (15C) is "winter". So on a Sunday afternoon we got this park all to ourselves.

Another person suggested it was cultural: Supposedly back in the day, white was more common because it was cheaper. Like in Japan, once white was the dominant color it became a self-sustaining thing. Nobody wants to be “That guy”, tooling around in a bright red pickup.

The only time I saw any color was when I saw a muscle car. Also I saw I bright pink stretch limo made from a Humvee. No I’m not joking. Sadly, it was going in the opposite direction so it was long gone by the time I got my camera out. I thought I was seeing some crazy one-of-a-kind novelty, but no. Apparently pink hummer limo rental is available in many major cities?

Wrapping up…

I love how the underside of bridges are white instead of concrete colored. I don't know if they can STAY that way, but it does give the city the feeling of comfort, cleanliness, and modernity.
I love how the underside of bridges are white instead of concrete colored. I don't know if they can STAY that way, but it does give the city the feeling of comfort, cleanliness, and modernity.

In terms of infrastructure, navigation, cleanliness, and cost of living, Dallas beats any major city I’ve visited in the northeast. But in terms of weather, it’s basically uninhabitable for humans.

I’m sure internet service is stellar in the Dallas area, but it’s downright barbaric once you leave the metro area. Often the service people have is comparable to the “high speed” connections of 2002. Again, basically uninhabitable.

So that was my trip to Texas. The end of the year is coming. Time to get back to work.

 

Footnotes:

[1] I’m not kidding we actually encountered this.

[2] Texans call these “stickers” for the way they relentlessly cling to your clothes. And yes, their needles CAN penetrate blue jeans!

[3] Which is still too much in most cases, but that doesn’t explain the increase in weight I’m looking at here.

[4] ”High Occupancy Vehicle”. A lane for vehicles with more than one person. Or is it more than two? Quick! Read the fine print if you don’t want a ticket!

[5] Although in our car, 75 was still the limit. The vibration and roaring wind would have made it uncomfortable to go faster. Minivans are not built for speed, particularly not ones that are 16 years old.

[6] I was wrong! When writing this post, I found a picture of a colored truck. Look for it in the next image.



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179 thoughts on “I Messed With Texas

  1. Mephane says:

    Welcome back!

    Regarding the playground picture, it is funny how it takes just a few (and considering actual screen space, very small) cues for us to automatically register this as a very windy scene. My immediate gut reaction was that Heather’s hat might fly off any moment.

  2. Da Mage says:

    Texas is sounding a lot like Australia. I live in a town outside Brisbane in Queensland Australia.

    1. Spread out. Check. My commute to University is a 180km round trip.
    2. You can't walk anywhere. Check. Nearest shops are a good 30 min walk away, with half that having no sidewalk.
    3. Everything's bigger. Check. Lots of overweight people round here, but as you point out, it’s also often the people with labour jobs that are also overweight.
    4. Drives Fast! Check. My normal commute is along highway at 100Kph (60 Mph), but some of the bigger roads go up to 110Kph (68 Mph).
    5. Land of the white extended cab pickup truck. Check. If it’s not a basic car it’s a white ute (similar, but a different to a pickup) around here.

    Even the temperatures are the same, we’re in summer now and living in a house without air con and having a week of 40C (104F)+ days is just no fun. Though at least I can say Texas is quite a bit smaller than Queensland. It actually takes days to get from the top to the south of Queensland.

    I think Australian would fit in quite well over there in Texas, though I wonder just how similar the town of Texas, Queensland is to the state?

    1. Kand says:

      I have to admit, I’m sort of chuckling at the thought that going at 100 or even 110kph is “driving fast”.
      But I also grew up in Germany with a “recommended speed” of 130kph on highways with no general speed limit, where limits of 100 or 120kph are used to slow down traffic around areas that are prone to accidents.

      1. Da Mage says:

        In the outback they have been fighting back and forth for years introducing and removing speed limits. One government puts a 130khp limit in, and the next makes it unrestricted. But of course your biggest danger out there are just roos, as the road is just straight to the horizon.

        1. Ranneko says:

          A lot of the highways in rural NSW are only 2-4 lanes. At least as far out as Mudgee (5 hours from Sydney).

          Though there is a lot of roadwork along those paths these days so maybe they are widening them and not just resurfacing them.

          1. Lachlan the Mad says:

            A lot of the time, it isn’t worth widening the rural highways, because Australia is so freaking empty. Heck, even the Hume Highway (which runs from Melbourne to Sydney via Canberra — that is to say, between the two biggest cities on the continent, via the capital) is only two or three lanes to a side for most of its length. There aren’t really enough cars to bother with more. It works very well in normal circumstances, but unfortunately roadworks hit it hard.

      2. Peter H Coffin says:

        It’s worth remembering that US speed limits are routinely violated by 15-20kph. And Texas does have many roads with speed limits of 120kph, and at least one that’s 140. And even that one gets exceeded. Routinely. (10-15MPH, 75MPH, 85MPH respectively.)

        1. Abnaxis says:

          I don’t know what it’s like in the rest of the country, but in Indiana it’s actually part of the traffic laws that you can go up to 5 MPH over the speed limit before the police will pull you over. I don’t know if that’s the rules in Pennsylvania or Ohio, but I drive like it is and I never get tickets.

          Of course, now that I’ve said that…

            1. Mikeski says:

              Same in most places, since speedometers are not that accurate. And if they are, tire wear or inflation can change the reading by a smidgen, too. And you shouldn’t have to watch your speedometer for 75% of the time you’re behind the wheel…

              I’m sure there are places where 1mph over means “ticket”, because I’m sure there are places where revenue trumps safety when it comes to traffic laws.

          1. Retsam says:

            I live in Indiana and I didn’t know this… TIL.

        2. Kand says:

          I’m driving from Paris to Cologne on a semi-regular basis (its about a 500km drive) and trust me, the 130 and 120kph speed limits in France and Belgium are ignored by a lot of people.

          Even with harsh penalties and some pretty bad road conditions.

        3. General Karthos says:

          In Oregon, 35 mph roads are generally travelled at 40 mph and in the early mornings and late evenings (on my way to work after training, and after work before training) frequently travel speeds are 45 mph.

          These roads USED to have 45 mph speed limits, but the number of accidents and deaths caused the city to vote to reduce the speed to 35 mph. But 35 mph is a caution speed limit for when the traffic is so dense that nobody CAN go 35 mph. I’ve been cruising along at 45 mph and had a police car pass me just traveling normally on that street, probably doing 50, but no lights, no sirens, and not going anywhere in particular

          Downtown the problem is larger. The streets have a 20 mph speed limit, but for eight consecutive intersections in either direction, the lights are still timed for the 25 mph that was the limit a few years ago. So you have to either travel above the speed limit or get ready to stop for a minute or two every 100 yards for about half a mile.

          In Oregon, the speed limit is the speed limit, but it’s not enforced by a long shot. So long as you aren’t putting yourself or anyone else in danger, the police tend to feel they have better things to do. The exception is school zones. There are speed traps in every school zone. I used to travel through one to get to work, and it was not uncommon to see one or two people traveling EACH direction (most I ever saw was five at once) pulled over on the side of the road getting tickets.

        4. Ateius says:

          Here in Ottawa the 100km/h highway speed limit is meant for the right-hand lane. For each lane further left, you’re generally expected (and not penalized for) going 5-10% faster than the lane to your immediate right. On stretches of six- or eight-lane road (3 or 4 lanes in either direction) the leftmost lane can get up to 130km/h. Traffic and weather permitting, of course.

      3. EwgB says:

        Another German here. Yeah, 120km/h being fast made me laugh. But Germany is an exception even in Europe. This summer I drove from the western side of Germany through Austria to Italy, and across the border I felt like back in driving school: speed limits of 120km/h max, and no one breaks them because of high fines and automatic checks everywhere. Italy has a particularly “evil” system, where, instead of camera traps, like pretty much all other western European countries, that take a photo when you drive too fast past them but don’t care what you do afterwards, they have “gates” with license plate readers every 20 or 30 kilometers or so (12 – 20 miles for the imperial folks) with which they calculate your average speed over a stretch of highway, so you have to drive under the limit all the damn time. It was infuriating to say the least.

        1. Kylroy says:

          Just pointing out: “I drove from the western side of Germany through Austria to Italy” is a distance about half of what Shamus just covered.

          1. EwgB says:

            Yeah, I know, probably even less. And it took us almost all of two days. We did stop at hotels for the night in both directions, and had to stop every so often to let the dog out to do it’s thing. And we also spent hours in traffic jams (Stuttgart, Munich, Zurich and the border from Austria to Germany were all pretty bad, the last one especially). And it was raining water on the way there and cats and dogs on the way back (literally couldn’t see more than 100 meters through the rain). So yeah, it was a fun trip, and I also never want to do that again.

            P.S.: I didn’t drive for two days on my own, we switched up with my girlfriend every so often.

            1. Chris says:

              We did a similar trip this summer, Nottingham (UK) to Bruges (Belgium) then on to Lake Como (Italy), including driving around Italy while there we clocked up 3500 miles (5500km) – the trip took us through UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, and it’s amazing the difference in traffic density, speed limits, driving styles and road conditions on what is, as you rightly say, basically an in-state trip in America.

              Obviously Germany was the most fun, we did 140MPH(225KPH) perfectly legally and safely on a beautiful, smooth 4-lane autobahn with the only other traffic being BMW and Mercedes all travelling at roughly similar speeds. Italy is always an experience to drive around, tiny roads where everything is laid out like an extreme racetrack, lots of fun but really demands concentration, and the Italian motorways are very very busy and utterly crazy, I know there’s a lot of average speed cameras, as you say, but this doesn’t seem to affect how people drive, if you’re doing less than 85MPH in the outside lane there’s a 1987 Fiat Panda 1.1 litre doing 6000RPM in top gear sitting 3″ behind your bumper. Talking to the locals it seems people just accept speeding tickets as one of those ‘costs of doing business’

              Basically, Americans, I can’t recommend a Pan-European road trip enough, but as someone who has also driven a fair bit in the states (NY, FL, NV and CA) – it’s very very different to what you’re used to.

        2. Lachlan the Mad says:

          I’ve seen one average speed camera in Australia, along the length of the Federal Highway (which is basically a ~100km link road between Canberra and the major Sydney-Melbourne highway). Canberra is the capital, and it has its own itty-bitty territory within New South Wales (kind of like the District of Columbia except wholly enclosed). Knowing what technologically-inclined and tricky bastards the Canberra government can be, they probably paid New South Wales to put it in — there aren’t any stretches of road long enough to put the average cameras in Canberra.

      4. Zak McKracken says:

        I think the idea of a general speed limit in Germany is roughly equivalent to firearms regulation in Texas… Last time it was brought up in parliament, the traffic minister (member of the Green party at the time!) made some argument about sometimes being in a hurry and why would you want to outlaw that. Nobody disagreed.

        That said: I don’t usually drive faster than 120 km/h because its not economic, and it’s not good for your blood pressure, either. (except when in an actual serious hurry) And I wouldn’t want to drive much faster than 120km/h in most other countries even if it was legal because usually the road surfaces aren’t made for doing 200km/h … there is after all a price to pay for that luxury.

        1. Kylroy says:

          Everybody forgets the road surface issue when talking about places not having speed limits. On anything that’s not a racetrack, speeds above 90 mph (144 kph) aren’t so much driving as skidding forward; on a forgotten rural highway, lack of maintenance probably drops that number by 10-15%.

        2. stomponator says:

          When I did the obligatory Autobahnfahrt in driving school, the instructor let me off the leash on a bit of almost empty highway. I was able to drive at a speed of 190 kph (about 118 mph) for a while, but this speed is almost impossible to maintain over a longer period of time. I found it to be incredibly stressful, too.

          1. Chris says:

            I think a lot of it comes down to both experience, and car.

            When I’m driving my other half’s Citroen C1, anything much above 65MPH feels loud and not massively safe, it’s got tiny brakes, skinny tyres, short wheelbase, a high speed ‘incident’ would not be pleasant in it, so I don’t even risk it.

            My Jaguar though is, obviously, rock-solid up to ludicrous speeds, high-performance tyres which I obsessively check the pressures of, and massive brakes, as long as visibility allows the requisite space to slow down should someone not check their mirrors and enter my lane unexpectedly, it’s perfectly safe at 100MPH+

            1. Zak McKracken says:

              Well, a C1 shouldn’t be able to drive at 200km/h anyway. That said: No sports car can get around the laws of physics.

              Of course, it will “feel” safer but the actual safety increase you’re getting is less than the “feeling”. Indeed, I’d argue that sports cars are less safe because they encourage not just higher speeds but sharper acceleration and deceleration, higher curve speeds, etc. And they feel stable all the way, no matter how reckless the driver, until things go wrong (just watch any of the “supercar crashes” compilation videos on Youtube). Whereas a small C1 makes it genuinely uncomfortable to even get into dangerous situations in the first place. But then, they’re entirely different things. A C1 is a mode of transport, a Jaguar is a device to have fun with. Both are pretty good at achieving their goals.

              … and that’s why I still have trouble understanding why people drive fast cars in places where they’re not even allowed to drive half as fast as they could go.

    2. Thomas says:

      That seems to be a Queensland thing. I guess in both America and Australia there are those state by state differences. Your experience is very different to mine in the Melbourne metro area.

      1. Humanoid says:

        I mean Queensland is basically shaped like Texas upside-down anyway. And in both they tend to speak more slowly than in the rest of the country.

        1. Lachlan the Mad says:

          They also both have absolutely terrible taste in beer.

  3. silver Harloe says:

    I lived in Texas (moving between Austin, San Antonio, and Houston) for the first 35 years of my life. The last 11 years, I’ve spent in Seattle.

    When I moved to Seattle one of the first things I noticed was that if I miss an exit, I can’t just get off at the next exit and take the U-turn, which is completely common in Texas (at least for any blue-and-red “interstate” highways – Mopac in Austin had a lot of exits that shunted you somewhere you couldn’t turn around from).

    The other thing I noticed in Seattle was how much hotter it got in the summer than in Texas. Not the outside temperature, but the *inside* temperature. Because my apartment is 10 degrees hotter than outside, but lacks the air conditioning that was omnipresent in Texas. So instead of living at 70F year-round, I had to learn to tolerate much higher levels of heat in the summer (and, of course, much lower levels of cold).

    Then again, one thing I discovered in Seattle was the color ‘green’. I thought I had understood green before, since I had seen the forests north of Houston, but it rains so much in Seattle, the plantlife thrives so much better, that I learned that my previous concept of green had too much brown tinging in it.

    1. Joshua says:

      I was going to say something about the U-Turns here. As a person originally from Ohio, the ability to do U-Turns is nice, and the actual dedication of lanes expressly for their purpose is AWESOME.

      1. Jonathan says:

        They don’t have those everywhere? Heinous!

      2. Lachlan the Mad says:

        I have had a similar experience moving from New South Wales to Canberra. In NSW, U-turning at traffic lights is explicitly forbidden everywhere. In Canberra, it’s allowed at most lights, especially on Canberra’s nearly-ubiquitous parkway roads. Then again, the other thing with Canberra is that it has a roundabout every hundred metres or so, so you rarely need the traffic light to turn properly.

    2. Kylroy says:

      I have even heard of the U-turn highway offramps referred to as a “Texas Turnaround”. Only one I’ve seen here (WI) exists because a local road connects to an exit ramp, making the U-turn an on-ramp for that street.

      1. Rosseloh says:

        As far as I am concerned the official name is the Texas U-turn

        1. Richard says:

          Most of the rest of the world simply has roundabouts at (the majority of) freeway/motorway junctions.

          That way you can dive off in whatever direction seems reasonable – or if you’re lost, you can go around several times while your mapreading passenger trys to figure out WTF you currently are.

  4. DGM says:

    >> “I'm sure internet service is stellar in the Dallas”

    “THE Dallas?” You make it sound like the city is its own country. Or pocket dimension.

    1. Shamus says:

      Whoops. Was supposed to say “The Dallas AREA”. Fixed.

      1. DGM says:

        You’re entitled to your opinion, but I’m sticking with my theory that large cities are alternate dimensions.

          1. Jonathan says:

            There are 3 Texases (Texii?)

            1) Austin, which isn’t really Texas and is pretty weird. Terrible traffic.
            2) The Dallas & Houston metro areas, which are pretty metropolitan and are “Texas Lite”
            3) The rest of the state (including Ft. Worth)

              1. Lachlan the Mad says:

                Texides.

            1. Rayen020 says:

              Okay quick question because including Ft. Worth in “the rest of Texas” is completely legit (although come to think of it the Bass Brothers have been trying their damnedest to make Ft Worth “Austin Lite”), but where would you rate Arlington? is it part of Dallas is it part of Texas? And central Arlington is a completely different dimension.

              Texas is both the single and plural noun.

              1. ThaneofFife says:

                I haven’t lived in Texas since 2001, but I still visit family regularly. Downtown Ft. Worth and immediately surrounding neighborhoods are considerably more urban and bohemian than they used to be.

                Arlington is definitely it’s own thing, though. It just kind of sprawls across the prairie with no rhyme or reason. It’s more a collection of suburbs, stadiums, and strip malls than a coherent town. It’s still quite nice, though.

      2. ThaneofFife says:

        The Dallas area?! It’s DFW. (Those of us who were born & raised in Fort Worth have kind of a complex about being left out.)

        1. Deoxy says:

          Yes, yes you do (I’m married to one), and it’s STUPID.

          “Dallas” had its own TV show known literally all over the planet (say you’re from Texas on any continent, and even today, there’s a good chance, they’ll say “Dallas!” no matter what language they speak – they’ll also assume you own a horse and ask where your six-shooters are).

          Fort Worth (and the other hundreds of little towns) do not have that name recognition. Life’s not fair. Get the ____ over it.

    2. Reed says:

      Here in Oregon, we have both “Dallas” and “the Dalles”.

      “The Dallas” would still be wrong. :)

      1. Jonathan says:

        I know about The Dalles from Oregon Trail.

    3. Rick C says:

      Isn’t it? You may think it’s a long way to the chemist, but Dallas is pretty spread out.

  5. Kathryn says:

    In Houston, the fatness is definitely related to food. We have great food. Seriously, I’ve always figured it was because you have to go out of your way to exercise; a good chunk of the year, it’s too hot/too many mosquitoes to just go for a walk (which, yes, you can do in my neighborhood. I wouldn’t leave the neighborhood though. Bounded by major roads where drivers are not used to seeing pedestrian traffic). So getting regular exercise requires commitment (join a gym, buy home exercise equipment, etc.).

    It’s sort of like the stereotype about Americans speaking only one language – in most of America, you have to travel a loooong way to get somewhere people don’t speak English, so learning and maintaining another language requires commitment. I’ve always suspected that any group of people in the same situation would have similarly low incidence of multilingual speakers.

    Anyway, sounds like you enjoyed your visit! Y’all come back anytime :-)

    1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      Being a Missouri partisan, KC BBQ is the best, but I will allow as to how Texas is a close second…

      1. Kanye Guisada says:

        Lol, y’all just slather a bunch of sauce on your meat. Since Texas BBQ (especially brisket) is so good on its own, we don’t need to mask the flavor with all that sauce.

        1. Drlemaster says:

          Grew up in Dallas area, and I concur 100% with both. KC does do the best barbecue, but the meat is higher quality in Texas. Texas barbecue dives are my favorite places to get barbecue. You order your meat by weight; there are a few sides, but nobody orders them; and if you ask for bread, they reach into a package of plain white sandwich bread and toss a handful of slices on your plate.

        2. Deoxy says:

          I’ve had barbecue on four continents and hundreds of places in the US, and the best places I’ve ever had it are all in Texas, both meat and sauce.

          That said, for some reason, no one can seem to have both a top-tier meat AND a top-tier sauce in the same place. If I had to guess, it’s probably that they worry about ending the universe with the awesomeness or something.

  6. MichaelGC says:

    I know that travel observations from a guy who never leaves the house is about as useful as restaurant reviews from someone who only eats pizza

    i.e. extremely useful to anyone who is a really big pizza fan! I’m from Britain, but I once travelled the, like, 996 miles from Chicago to Dallas on the Amtrak, stayed for one hour and fifteen minutes, and then travelled the, like, 996 miles straight back again. I’d done everything I wanted to! :D

  7. Eman says:

    Was you specifically avoiding taking photos of other people, or is Texas really this empty?

    1. Joshua says:

      Most of Texas population is in the big cities: Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, El Paso, Corpus Christi, etc. Then you have vast swathes of land with few people there. West Texas is one of the most uninhabited areas of the state.

      1. BigTiki says:

        The Permian Basin, especially, is like the geologic processes found the Clone Stamp Tool in the tool bar and said “Oh, I’ll just mess with this for a few thousand square miles.”

      2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        America west of the Missouri River (of which this part of Texas is) is actually one of the most urbanized places in the world. Places like Nevada or Montana have huge cities. And the rest of the state is deserted.

    2. Rayen020 says:

      Right now we’re in our “winter is coming” phase, so no one is leaving their homes, 20F in the morning, 50F at lunch, and 75F in midafternoon then drop back down to 35-40F at dinner time. Around mid-january the tempratures will get consistent and people will go back out bundled for winter.

      Also no, there are no people here.

      Also if you think we’re wusses for thinking 40F is cold just remember it’s nearly always over 90F from mid-june to mid september, even at night.

  8. ehlijen says:

    Interesting read (coming from someone who’ll probably never see any US state in person). It reminds me a bit of comparing city and rural Australia, and also comparing either to back home in Germany.

    And yes, pink stretch humvees are a thing, we’ve got one here in town. In fact, my housemate once saw it near where we lived at the time, trying to navigate a particularly nasty roundabout halfway about a vicious slope (3 roads coming from far below, 2 going further uphill). It ended up essentially beaching itself, the slope catching it under the chassis; it had to be towed out of that roundabout (and this is a traffic hazard our busses do manage to get through with only minor struggles, just to be clear).

    1. Da Mage says:

      Ah roundabouts, the natural enemy of buses and stretch limos.

    2. Have you ever seen pink tour jeeps? I’ve seen lots of those.

    3. MichaelGC says:

      We had a stretched Hummer drive us around for my brother’s stag-do. Nothing so classy as pink, mind – ours was mirrored silver… Safely ensconced behind one-way windows, we all enjoyed & understood the entirely-justified glances of pure hatred from passing pedestrians!

    4. Lachlan the Mad says:

      Pink stretch Humvees were very, very briefly a Thing in Australia as well, around 2012 or so. They immediately became famous as the most bogan (lower-class) thing imaginable, and everyone promptly stopped riding in them for fear of being mocked.

      1. Deoxy says:

        There are many things I like about Texas – it’s easily the best “package deal” I’ve found in the whole world (and I’ve been a lot of places… which is a WHOLE lot of places compared to the average American).

        One of the things I both like and hate about Texas is that there is a significant part of the population that does not care if they are mocked as “lower class”. You are certainly entitled to your stupid-a__ opinion, and they are entitled to theirs.

        Mostly, that’s a good thing. Occasionally (such as garish pink stretch hummer-limos), it’s really annoying.

        (If they would just get rid of Daylight STUPID Time, I would probably never be tempted to move anywhere ever again. Well, the weather still stinks.)

  9. Abnaxis says:

    Dude, I live what, an (hour?) from you, and I never drive less than 65 once I escape the traffic-hell that is the Pittsburgh street system and claw my way to the I-376. Do you just take state highways or something?

    Speaking as someone who’s lived in a lot of places in the eastern-midwest, you don’t have to go all the way to Texas to see wildly different traffic patterns. You can get anywhere in Columbus, OH in 20 minutes. In Pittsburgh, PA it’s more like an hour and you have a generous helping of “hope you’re not in the wrong lane” (Goddamnit Google, WHICH left fork am I supposed to take in this 4-way split?). From what I gather, Boston is even worse, which means I never want to go there…

    1. Shamus says:

      It’s true 65 is the normal speed for long-distance travel in PA, but I wanted to compare the travel speeds near major cities because that shows off just how different TX is.

      1. Abnaxis says:

        I see, that makes sense.

        Although again: I think that’s why Columbus travel is so fast. There are five major roads going through/around it that are 70-MPH highways, so you can get just about anywhere in Columbus (and its suburbs) in 20-minutes-ish. Contrast that with Cinncinnatti (same state, different city) where that definitely isn’t true.

        I attribute it to the flatness of central Ohio, and the relative newness of Columbus versus other eastern/midwestern cities. People built a lot closer together in the not-too-distant past.

        1. Joshua says:

          I’m originally from Columbus, but lived in Cincinnati for a short bit. The latter is definitely a PITA to get around, but I would attribute it to Columbus being flat as you said, and Cincinnati being built around a bunch of hills.

      2. You really should of just sped. Since highways get so many lanes, I always go roughly 70 to 80 ish miles.

  10. Zak McKracken says:

    Isn’t it interesting that you would make almost the same observations about Texas that this European made on a visit to Canada? I kind of assume that Northwestern US cities aren’t too different from Canadian ones, at least when looking from across the pond.

    So I guess that makes Texas the most “American” place?

    1. Joe Informatico says:

      Where in Canada did you go? I suspect the prairie provinces would feel a lot like Texas but southern Ontario where I live is much more like the US Northeast.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        Went through Toronto quickly, spent some time ~200km north of it, then took an RV from Edmonton to Vancouver and Victoria (Banff/Jasper national park, mostly, also Calgary and Vancouver Island).

        I absolutely loved the mountains, forests, lakes — and the fact that you can actually stand on a hilltop and have no human settlements in sight. That felt amazing. The parts on both sides of the mountains feel pretty monotonous, and we mostly just drove through, slightly dissappointed by the lack of “content”. In terms of cities, Edmonton and Vancouver both struck me in a similar way as Shamus describes Texan cities. Everything is huge compared to my own norm, it’s incredibly hard to just go for a walk (or to reach anything of interest on foot, in the first place). Also, there are no real city centers the way you’d expect in a European city. Victoria was a pleasant exception to that rule, and I’m told that Montreal is even more so.

        In Europe, city centers are more or less the “heart” of a city. If they don’t look lively, that tells you something about the rest of the place. If a city does not have one in the first place, that automatically makes it appear soulless. In England there are a few such places, like Milton Keynes. And although I know people from there who swear it’s a good place to live at (and I’m sure that’s not false), it just does not feel “real” to me when I’m visiting. It’s incomplete. That’s certainly mostly just my personal bias and expectations, of course, and I’m perfectly okay if all the people from Edmonton disagree — this is just me not being used to stuff, not trying to diss Canadian cities.

    2. King Marth says:

      I was fascinated by the raised lane markers they have on roads in the US when I first went there for an appreciable length of time; there are none in the pictures here, so it might be more of a Seattle thing, or at least not on highways. They’re quite useful for being reflective at night to draw attention to the lanes, and they’ll rattle you if you ever branch out of a lane, but it took a few moments for me to figure out how they could possibly maintain such a system when snow plows would scrape them up.

      1. Viktor says:

        They exist in Texas, but the roads shown are under construction, so they haven’t been installed there.

      2. CaveTrollWithABeard says:

        Most places that have them don’t have snow, but some of the places that do (such as the Northeastern corner of Arizona) have a really ingenious system for them. Small divots are cut into the road, and the reflectors are placed inside those, so that the plow can go over the top of them without catching but you can still see them at night and they still vibrate your tires if you go out of lane. It’s pretty neat.

      3. Lachlan the Mad says:

        Those things are absolutely standard in Australia, because it pretty much never snows anywhere there’s a road. The worst you’ll get in winter is a coating of ice, and even then you’ll only see that up in the mountains or in Tasmania.

    3. Rayen020 says:

      i’m Texan so i’m biased, But Texas is the most Texas place. The most American place I’ve lived is Kentucky. Then again i’d say Texas is Red America turned up to 11. Everyone has a gun, lots of us are overweight (Shamus might be on to something because obesity is a bigger [heh, pun] problem in the south), we drive everywhere, and the food is delicious. But we also have rampant racism, misogyny, and homophobia. So there’s good and bad.

      1. Deoxy says:

        “But we also have rampant racism, misogyny, and homophobia.”

        As compared to where, exactly? That sounds like the standard “talking points”, and it doesn’t match my lifelong experience.

        If by “misogyny”, you mean “sexism” (which is to say, treating people in any way different based on their sex), then sure… just like every other place on the planet (VERY VERY VERY much including the “enlightened” areas of the country that preach at “flyover country” when they notice us at all). If you mean specifically treating women badly because they are women, then I’d say that, in my experience, better than many places and worse than very few (on the whole, of course – individual examples are available everywhere).

        If by “homophobia” you mean “not celebrating homosexuality in all its wonderful amazingness”, then sure. My experience has been, almost exclusively, that people have a very large “whatever” about it, other than not wanting gay marriage or crazy bathroom stupidity – do what you want at home, because it’s your life. If that’s “homophobia”, then you’re calling 98% of people on the planet (and 99.9% of people in human history) homophobic (including a significant number of people who are actually homosexual).

        I could put a big rant on racism here as well, but read what I wrote on homophobia and you’ll get the general idea. Assuming people are racist over border concerns is particularly stupid, since I know several legal immigrants and children of legal immigrants who are just as pro-border-enforcement (if not more so) than I am.

        Been a lot of places in the world and a lot of places in Texas, and I wouldn’t call any of those things “rampant” here in comparison to other places in the US or anywhere else.

  11. Zekiel says:

    Texas is just ridiculously big. It appears to be about the same size as mainland Britain (where I live). My mind struggles to conceive of how it isn’t its own country.

      1. Groboclown says:

        An old joke I used to hear was, when people from the U.S. travel overseas, they refer to themselves as “Americans,” but when people from Texas travels, they call themselves “Texans.”

        1. Jonathan says:

          When I traveled to Britain (early 2004), people were able to correctly ID us as Texans every time we asked “Where do you think we’re from?”

    1. Ivellius says:

      According to a quick Google search, it’s not quite three times bigger than Britain.

      Also, it used to be its own country!

      Edit: Okay, krellen ninjaed me, but I still provided a link.

    2. Viktor says:

      It’s closer in size to Germany, with maybe a third of the population. So the urban areas are busy, but there is NOTHING between them.

      1. krellen says:

        Texas is about 50,000 square kilometers larger than France – it’s significantly larger still than Germany. (Texas’s western neighbours, New Mexico and Arizona, are closer in size to Germany.)

    3. MelTorefas says:

      I love all the talk about how big Texas is. I live in Alaska. We have a dumb joke here that goes, “If you cut Alaska in half, Texas would be the *third* largest state”.

      1. Chris Robertson says:

        Thanks for sharing this joke out and saving me the trouble.

        Also, Northern-most, Western-most, Eastern-most state high five!

        1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          Thinks for a moment.

          Oh, those islands out past the dateline. Got it.

          I was born there, and so have a fondness for Alaska, but I grew up in Missouri.

      2. Jakale says:

        I remember in elementary school we were given a map and asked to name various state things including the largest state. US maps being what they are, Alaska and Hawaii were popped down to the bottom corner and scaled to fit, so from what I could tell Texas was still bigger. Getting that wrong was the first time I really looked at a map of North America and paid more than a glance at Alaska.

        1. Rayen020 says:

          Alaska is basically as long as continental US from eastern panhandle (do you guys call it that?) to western islands. and southern most point to northern most point is Houston to Winnipeg. It’s huge. then again its mostly uninhabitable Foresty, mountainy, glacial, Bear inhabited tundra. So habitable land i think Texas wins. And i’m leaving out the desert. But Alaska is huge.

    4. PPX14 says:

      Ha it’s over 3 times the size of mainland Britain! :D It’s bad enough having to travel around within England, let alone these huge places. We need fast-travel.

    5. Rayen020 says:

      It was it’s own country once, it didn’t work out. Also the saying around here goes, in America a year is long time, in Europe a mile is a long way

  12. Jonathan says:

    My home! I know where you were for all of the pictures of downtown Dallas.

    It’s funny to hear that you found Dallas traffic to be good. It’s gotten better since they worked on 635, but there’s still a 30-mile stretch of I-35E that’s under construction. We’re bursting at the seams with population growth, with more predicted (2-3M more) in the next 30-40 years.

    Texas is very big… I have family out in Midland/Odessa (5.25 hour drive one way). As a kid, I’d count a grasshoppers (pump jacks) going in to stay entertained on the road.

    Your sidewalk experience was small-town only. I suspect it was probably an older area (50+ years old, the “old downtown” that’s half vacant being nearby?). Larger cities with newer areas tend to have standardized sidewalks – or just lack them, depending on the design decisions. It’s too frickin hot to go for random walks 4 months out of the year, unless you’re doing all of your walking before 9am.

    My truck is gold, and it’s not extended cab. :) I think your theory about fleet trucks is correct. White trucks show the dust and dirt too well for me.

    Rural internet is a challenge. We are looking at moving to a rural area (getting out of the concrete jungle, onto acreage, homestead, etc.) and once you’re away from the highway or the 3,000+pop towns, there is no DSL or fiber. A lot of people are stuck with dial-up or satellite. Satellite is 60GB/mo with capped speeds except between 2 & 5 am. Yuck.

    There’s a regional wireless provider that has large-area LOS wifi that’s a decently high speed, but they have some geographic limitations. I’m talking to them right now to discuss the cost of adding a tower on a property we’re looking at to get service. Lease tower space near the fiber line 3 miles away, put microwave on it, then put up the relay tower to change from microwave transmission to wifi.

    Cell providers can provide 4G hotspots, but they don’t have any plans >100GB.

    1. Shamus says:

      Fun fact: We were in Midland. The park in the images above is Dennis the Menace Park, which is right in town.

      1. Jonathan says:

        That is the BEST park. There are actually things kids can take risks on there!

      2. Trix2000 says:

        Oddly enough, I think I may have been there once a long time back… The name rings a bell at least.

    2. krellen says:

      I have it on fairly good authority that if you expand your search out to Southeast New Mexico, the village of Artesia has fibre service.

      1. Jonathan says:

        No thanks. I’m going east of Dallas to an area with a high water table, so that I can grow things without a 500′ well.

        1. krellen says:

          Pshaw. As if you need water when you have gas and oil. ;)

          1. Jonathan says:

            You must not play Factorio.

    3. Cybron says:

      I can see my house from here!

      Well, not really. But I can see the place I work in one of those pictures.

  13. ColeusRattus says:

    Wow, the speed limits surprise me. In Austria, speed limits for ordinary overland roads is 100kph (about 60mph) and on the highway it’s 130 (about 80mph), and the general population tends to go 10 kph over the limit. And I guess that roomwise, we’re more cramped than the boston area… Edit: nope, way less population density. Npt more room, just less people I suppose.

    I think driving in the US would annoy the heck out of me!

    Great read though!

  14. Hal says:

    My wife is from Fort Worth, and she’s absolutely in love with Texas. I don’t blame her; I’d happily live there if my entire extended family wasn’t in St. Louis. (My mother would never forgive me for dragging her granddaughters so far away.)

    It’s really quite surprising how people on the densely populated coasts don’t “get” Texas. There’s this attitude that develops that the densely populated life out there is just the way civilization is “supposed” to be. Being from the midwest, I never really understood the unearned sense of superiority people on the coasts had.

    Anyhow.

    Re: Gas Prices

    Distance to refineries is absolutely a factor, but don’t forget about taxes. Gasoline taxes vary wildly from state to state, and that makes a huge impact on prices. For example, Texas taxed it at $0.20/gallon in 2016, while Pennsylvania taxed it at $0.50/gallon.

    Re: Weight and body shapes

    This may not be the factor, necessarily, but genetics and microbiome are factors in weight that are starting to gain more prominence. The short version: Your digestive tract has a tremendous amount of bacteria in it, and how those bacteria break down food can affect how many calories you derive from what you eat, as well as hunger cues and other factors.

    It’s been observed that fat and thin people have different populations of bacteria in their guts. The cause and effect relationship between the gut microbiome (the term for the bacterial population in a specific location) and weight aren’t well established, but local conditions and the genetics of the population are factors in how the microbiome of the local population turns out.

    (TDLR) It’s entirely possible that the local populace you observed is so fat because of the bacteria they’re consuming and harboring.

    1. Gethsemani says:

      Re: Food

      It is probably even easier than that. What kind of food you eat is the prime determinant for how much weight you’ll gain (though genetics, microbial make-up, exercise etc. all factor in). As a European, I can safely say that American food is fat, really, really fat. This is particularly true in the southern states. Combine fat food with sugar (which the southern states love to have in their beverages, like lemonade) and you’ve got an express elevator to obesity, especially if you add in a sedentary life style.

      The nasty truth is that the US fascination with sweetened soft drinks and fat food is likely the major culprit here. In areas where these are less prominent (California being the home of the US “health cult” and the North East being closer to Europe in cuisine), obesity is less of a problem. On top of that, there’s a well-established link between poverty and obesity, so there’s no surprise that the Southern states, with their lack of social security and high poverty numbers, lead US obesity rates.

      1. Kyrillo says:

        Relating this back to Shamus’s observation that the more physical oriented workers tended to be bigger, I think that soda is definitely the biggest cause. Assuming that everyone who isn’t dieting eats about the same amount of food (a big assumption), people in physically demanding jobs will drink more liquid than someone who isn’t moving as much.

        If this drink of choice is soda, as it is for many Americans, then someone who drinks 2L of soda in a day is getting several thousand more calories than someone who drinks a 32oz worth of soda. This adds up super quick. Even worse, sugary drinks will just make people more dehydrated, perpetuating the issue.

        1. Tom says:

          Is Texas one of those states where the tap water isn’t that great, too? Here in Europe, including the UK, you can basically drink tap water anywhere without a second thought (unless your house is old and has out-of-date plumbing with an open cistern in the loft) and only chumps and hipsters would waste their money on bottled water (unless you’re going for fancy, lah-di-dah mineral water, of course), but I gather in some areas of the US it’s not particularly safe to do that, so you have to go the bottled route. I wonder, do people who have to buy their water in bottles tend to also buy more soda – impulse buying or to break the monotony a bit? I think I’ve read that sometimes soda can actually be cheaper than bottled water…

          1. CaveTrollWithABeard says:

            Soda’s absolutely cheaper than water in a lot of places, Tom, as well as more convenient. Throughout most of the American Southwest, tap water is just terrible. I’m talking gag-reflex-inducing to drink, so people buy stuff to drink instead. You can get five gallon jugs of distilled water from stores, but they’re expensive and bulky and often not worth it when you can buy a gallon jug of iced tea or a two liter of soda much more easily, without having to haul heavy stuff out to the car and then back into the house after a long drive home.

            I consider myself very fortunate that our well out here at my little place in the sticks of New Mexico has a deep well and a good aquifer. Our water is as good as distilled or spring water, right out of the ground, so we’re one of the fortunate few who can just drink from the tap and have it be good. Most people either don’t have a well at all, or have a well that’s drilled into a pocket of nasty rotten-egg water.

          2. Jakale says:

            I’ve mostly only got Houston to go by, but I’ve never had an issue with the tap water. Sometimes a fountain is a little too grody or not pressurized enough, but the water itself is usually fine unless it’s a really toasty day and the water is warmer than you want. We’re a mostly surface water city, now, which may contribute and water testing requirements demand weekly, possibly daily, sample testing from 3rd party laboratories.

          3. Anonymous says:

            Depends on the place. My city is literally in the middle of a water crisis as we speak due to toxic chemicals being released into the water supply. So that’s a big fat yes on undrinkable tap water for my town atleast, but I don’t think its common in other Texas towns. My town might just exceptionally awful. We have to drink bottled water at the moment, we can’t even use our tap water for bathing/laundry because the chemicals present cause burning to the skin and eyes. Not including this incident, we always drink bottled water at my house because tap tastes terrible (highly chlorinated, smells like pool water) and due to occasional mandatory water-boil crises involving e-coli bacteria.

      2. Deoxy says:

        As a European, I can safely say that American food is fat, really, really fat.

        Do you mean “has a lot of fat in it”? Because there have never been any correlation found between consuming fat and how much body fat you have.

        But the high sugar? Yeah, that’s a problem, for sure.

        On top of that, there's a well-established link between poverty and obesity

        I agree with that, but I’d like to point out how AMAZING and AWESOME a problem that is to have – that is an ENTIRELY modern problem.

  15. Viktor says:

    White short-cab trucks are all fleet trucks, former fleet trucks, or trucks that were bought by dealers as fleet trucks but sold to individuals. Neutral-colored crew cab trucks are owned by contractors and site superintendents, people who have to transport workers and tools easily while looking professional(which is where the ‘crew’ in the name comes from). Other trucks are family-owned vehicles because Texans(including me) believe you absolutely need a truck to accomplish various things, so everyone either buys one or has access to one. There’s exceptions, but those are the general rules.

  16. Cybron says:

    White cars are extremely common in Texas because of the heat. When it’s >100 out, you really want any car you leave in the parking lot to be reflecting as much heat as possible. Dark cars are just ill-advised.

    In Dallas, I don’t know that pick-up trucks are THAT common. SUVs seem to be more common here. I had a white Ford Explorer most of my life and I had to memorize the license plate because there were inevitably several clones of it in every parking lot. That said, I’m willing to believe they’re more common in Texas than elsewhere simply based on the common Texas “mythos” of ruggedness, independence, etc. They sure like to put that in the car commercials, anyways.

    1. Rayen020 says:

      Dude travel 20 miles west. Pickup trucks are frickin everywhere is fort worth. place i work, me and three other people. Three out of the 4 vehicles in front of our building are pickup trucks. 2 are crew cab.

  17. Amarsir says:

    Your weight/temperature theory is hindered by the fact that we literally burn more calories when it’s colder. For a moderately sedentary person, most of the calories are foing to bosy heat, not motion. And the reason mammals store fat is attributable to winter.

    1. Kacky Snorgle says:

      This. I remember reading that you can lose a pound a week just by turning your thermostat down a few degrees (and not adding extra clothing to compensate). Of course, if other people have to share your thermostat settings, good luck getting them to put up with this.

      Sleeping in a cold environment without blankets is also effective, though so unpleasant that I don’t think I could stand it….

  18. MichaelG says:

    So how did Rachel end up in such an odd choice, so far from home?

    And “trends across whiles and non-whites” should be “whites” not “whiles.”

    1. Muspel says:

      IIRC, Shamus mentioned at the time that she got married and they were moving in together.

  19. Joe Informatico says:

    You can really see there are side benefits to our generation’s avoidance of sun exposure, disinterest in smoking, and overall better nutrition: you could pass for Rachel’s older brother.

  20. “front desk at the hotel were thin, and the people who cleaned the rooms weren't. Again: This sample size is too small to draw any conclusions. This isn't “data”, it's anecdata. Still, it's strange.”

    No, no. Your sample size is the general inhabitants of much of the Southwest. In general a lot of this simply comes down to physical care. As a front desk lady, well, not be stereotypical, but they only hire good-looking, thin people. I’ve had some shitty physical jobs ranging from dishwasher to janitor because of size, which I think is a compliment?? I can’t tell, I don’t want to do them anymore.

    I’ve also moved around enough (Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Switzerland) and visited places (Utah, Hawaii, some of Texas) to know that most of the West side of the US is expansive. In Colorado, I lived in a mountain town where the grocery store was over two hours walking distance. Yeah… I made those trips regularly.

    So yeah, the Western and Central US is quite the barren expanse of land. Pretty good thing,actually. We really don’t want a cluttered country.

    1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      Weight in the US has a substantial class component. It takes a rich person to engage in the deliberate levels of semi-starvation that the beautiful people engage in. The poor eat as many carbs as they can get their hands on because they are cheap. The desk worker is thin because they are middle-class/white collar/starting out in the professional world workers. The janitorial staff are working class, and in addition to their dietary habits, also are more likely to smoke or drink.

  21. LCF says:

    The US cows are high on growth hormones supplements. Could it go from live animal to consumer through the meat, and act as a volume increaser? If not that, would there be one or more artificial substances in the food responsible for this? Is the food merely fatter and more sugary?
    As for the difference in weight, your theory holds merit and – even if it were false – is interesting. Now, diet, exercise, other environmental factors as well as genetics do play a role.

    Compared to the Boston Area, what is your opinion on French roads / autoroutes if you ever drove there?

  22. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I also don't think we can blame it entirely on “overeating”

    People often blame the quantity of food,but this is incorrect.While quantity does influence your weight,its the quality thats way more important.And you guys put sugar in everything,so your foods are more fattening than in other countries.

  23. Daemian Lucifer says:

    In Boston the terror is greater because you know that one wrong move might dump you into near-gridlock traffic downtown

    One of my pet peeves is having a highway going through the center of the city.Its stupid and infuriating,whether you are just passing through said town,or are trying to navigate across it.

    1. Jonathan says:

      Long ago (60 years), that *was* the town, and if the highway was 5 miles away, none of the traffic would reach the central business district except by traveling on the surface streets.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Yes,60 years ago.A LOT has changed since then.This leads into my peeve about plenty of european cities that still insist on using the same floor plan as in the roman times.Even in cities that were practically completely leveled during world war 2.Such short sightedness.

  24. Daemian Lucifer says:

    It feels like a game of SimCity where the player has slapped down the largest roads but the zoning hasn't caught up yet.

    This made me think of an interesting idea.Is there a city builder where you are encouraged to make cities like that?Sprawling,with everything being far from each other.Or are they all based on the principle that tighter is better?

    1. Charnel Mouse says:

      Half of Afterlife. But that doesn’t really count.

      1. Lanthanide says:

        To be specific, Hell in afterlife likes long roads – the souls are forced to walk, so it’s more punishing to have long roads.

        Heaven prefers short roads. No matter what I did though, I could never get Aria to shut up about diversity and road length in Heaven. I actually wonder if achieving diversity in Heaven would force you to have inefficient buildings.

        Also, if you’re interested, since no one rally played that game, I got up to omnibolges 7 times, and love domes 3 times; of those games, 2 of them I got both.

  25. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I can only see this as a legal disclaimer from “TL;DR”

    Teal deer is regulating elevators?Thats why he has so much free time to read all those papers.

  26. Nick-B says:

    This sounds a lot like Utah. Pretty spaced out stuff, but sidewalks are more universal here. And in the big cities proper you never need to worry about poisonous anything.

    Oh, and the weather is more varied. Hot summers, but rarely over 100. And actual (heavy) snowy winters (at least in Salt Lake). I’d say something about how this is “normal” weather, but I live here, so… of COURSE it feels normal.

  27. Merlin says:

    People under twenty seemed more or less to be the size I'm used to, but the adults always seemed to be carrying a lot of extra weight.

    So why?

    These things are never easy to pin down on one particular issue, but my top suspicion is that those middle-aged, blue collar workers are drinking a lot more beer than the highschoolers. Even the definition of what constitutes “heavy drinking” is different when you’re 20 compared to when you’re 40. It doesn’t matter how many power tools you lift if you’re killing a 6-pack of Bud Light every night.

    Beyond that, I’d assume that a lot of it is just poor dietary options/decisions. Some of that is bound to be cultural to the region, but don’t American small towns in general rely more significantly on highly-processed foods and fast food restaurants?

    Regardless, the delta between “healthy” and “obese” is going to be more pronounced with age since everyone’s metabolism slows down to some degree. It’s plausible that many of the “normal” young folks are a few pounds heavier than average and will crack into the “overweight” portion of the spectrum as they grow.

  28. Erik says:

    As an Arizona native, your observations have me in stitches. Everyone here has white pickups, the temperature is insane (summers can get into the 120’s occasionally) and the highway system is pretty similar.

  29. krellen says:

    Weight theory:
    Corn is highly subsidized by the Federal government, and thus is a very cheap food source. It is also about 10% more caloric per pound than wheat. It doesn’t take too many extra calories, over time, to make one overweight or even obese, and the fact that corn-based food is the cheapest option may have a lot to do with the US’s weight “epidemic”.

  30. Leslee says:

    Oh man, don’t get me started on the lack of walkable neighborhoods here in Texas.

    I live in Austin, where homogenous, dull subdivisions are built as quickly and cheaply as possible in order to maximize profit. It’s obvious from their design that the builders don’t give a crap about how liveable the neighborhoods will be for the people who actually have to live in them. If they bother to put in sidewalks (many are lacking), there’s no way to walk from your neighborhood to a store or coffee shop because most of them are not linked together in any walkable/bikeable way.

    Furthermore, this is compounded by the fact that our traffic is ATROCIOUS and our public transportation is inadequate or completely absent.

    I can’t wait to move overseas.

    1. Groboclown says:

      Every so often, people bring up the walkable city movement. Downtown is very walkable, but, yeah, most of the suburb neighborhoods are just awful.

    2. Galad says:

      reddit . com/r/IWantOut could help you for when you decide to move overseas :)

      Re: Factorio joke – Thank you for making that one, Shamus
      You don’t look bad in your picture

      Wait, what did you actually DO with your family once you got together, other than going to a windy park?

    3. Deoxy says:

      this is compounded by the fact that our traffic is ATROCIOUS

      Public transportation in any city younger than the automobile in inherently unworkable, due to lack of sufficient destination density.

      Human beings prefer to have some space (broad brush, obviously), but largely, not TOO much. As such, the greater the technology for travel, the more physical space between people (as they can still travel that distant in the “preferred” amount of time).

      But public transportation only works if you the stops are “double what people are willing to walk” distance from each other.

      Couple the modern unwillingness to walk with the modern larger-than-ever space between things…

      Yeah, it just doesn’t work. In most places in the US (and indeed, other cities in the world built after the advent of the automobile), what little public transportation there is only exists due to local subsidy.

    4. drukargin says:

      For some contrast, I’m an engineer in the construction industry in California where our state building codes require developers to make specific, considered accommodations for “livable” and “walk-able” neighborhoods and such (with certain jurisdictions like San Francisco taking it really really far), and the cost of building out here is a good five times what it is in Texas. It seems like there should be a middle ground, but most reasonable concepts I can think of fall apart in periods of fast growth like what you’re describing in Austin.

      I lived in East Texas for 6 years during my Uni days, and the north side of the tracks in that city was actually pretty nice. We couldn’t walk to stores — they were just too far away — but we lived in an apartment off a quiet residential neighborhood where walking was comfortable in spite of a lack of sidewalks.

  31. Jeysie says:

    All your comments about highways and such remind me of when I went on a vacation to visit family in Michigan. They too have gigantic roads and long expanses of highway. My cousins were in a little town with about half the people of my own small homecity, yet their side roads were the size of our main roads, and their main roads were the size of our freeways.

    Also the story of how while we were there my cousins rescued some wild bunnies they were caring for long enough to wait for the animal people to show up, and they asked me if I could go to a park up the street to gather some clover for them. I agreed to do so, and they offered to let me drive their van up to the park.

    This is where I then point out that by “up the street” I mean I could literally see the park right there when I stood outside their front door. About a five minute walk at most. It probably would have taken me longer to get the car ready, drive, and find a parking space and park than it would to walk. But they still offered to let me drive up there and acted really confused when I said it was OK and I’d just walk.

    Although Michigan was much less sparsely-populated by the sounds of it, in that the big highways there often had ridiculous amounts of malls and restaurants along them. Like for about an hour of driving you’d just see mall, mall, restaurant, mall, restaurant, three more malls, a few more restaurants, etc. It got to the point where I was like, “How does this state have enough people in it to both staff all these business and still have enough left over for customers?”

    All the driving was actually a little bit uncomfortable for me because I’m prone to motion sickness and feeling antsy and confined if I’m in a vehicle for longer than a half-hour, and also driving so fast (they too have high speed limits) was a bit unnerving. So as much as I love my family, I was a bit glad to go home to my usual after the week was done.

    Speaking of my usual, I’m actually from Massachusetts–albeit on the western side of the state–so your description of our traffic had me chuckling and nodding. We may be insane drivers, but we do actually have a tiny bit of an excuse for it.

    I especially remembering living in Springfield with my best friend where in order to get from our apartment to the major shopping area in West Springfield, you had to get on the freeway and then almost immediately do a triple lane change (I think; it was at least a double lane change) to catch the right exit. And this was a pretty routine trip for us to make.

  32. Tever says:

    I had to stop reading halfway through to share the story of how the Van Wyck expressway is so bad, my fiance and I built a campaign around it. There’s a demon sleeping there, and in its dreams, it telepathically drives otherwise normal folk into murderous/suicidal driving behaviors. The players are expected to try to solve the problem, but, woops, stopping people from driving like assholes causes the demon to awaken and begin end of the world protocols.

  33. BeardedDork says:

    Dallas has the most Stressful roads I’ve ever had to drive a truck on, I haven’t been into New York City in a truck yet, but yeah the tangled mess you describe is horrible in a 70′ long 40 ton vehicle.

    1. CaveTrollWithABeard says:

      New York isn’t that much worse except for the GW bridge (pro-tip: You’re bigger than all the New Yorkers trying to cut you off in their little cars. Just force your way in, they’ll move when they realize you’re willing to run them over.) It’s just slower because of the level of gridlock you experience.

      The TRUE terror of CDL driving is I-95 north of New York. Picture the very worst part of Dallas, and then picture that lasting for two hundred miles, with the added benefit of very few truck stops that fill completely up after 4pm. Plan really, really carefully if you have to drive up New England way.

  34. Amstrad says:

    RE: The weight thing

    There’s a lot of research attached to how poverty can actually drive obesity. Being poor reduces your access to quality food choices. Fresh produce and similar healthy meal options tend to be prohibitively expensive, which results in the poor consuming more pre-packaged, processed foods and chain restaurant fair. In urban poverty areas the lack of quality markets to actually purchase healthier foods is also a factor.

    In short: Your average blue collar worker probably isn’t making enough to eat properly. I would not be surprised if in cities like Dallas or Houston where the white collar population is greater that you’d be more likely to see fewer obese individuals.

    1. CaveTrollWithABeard says:

      In regards to the fresh produce thing, there’s another factor making that harder in the Southwest: all fresh fruit and vegetables have to be imported, because the climate just doesn’t allow for growing it in large quantities in the desert states. That makes it even more expensive, as well as making the quality of the stuff you can get really bad since it’s had some time to get gamy in transport. Outside the big metro cities it’s basically impossible to get most of the year. The only time you can find it in the grocery store is right after the big megafarms do their harvest, and when that shipment is gone, good luck getting any more.

    2. Bloodsquirrel says:

      As someone who recently changed his dietary habits to lose weight-

      Eating healthier is actually cheaper. “Health food” and organic produce is expensive, but basic staples like rice, potatoes, beans, chicken, etc are cheap. Frozen vegetables are cheap, and are just as health as fresh produce. It’s a lot cheaper to eat a PB&J sandwich every day than to eat fast food or lots of junk food. Stuff like soft drinks can be cut completely out of your diet and replaced with water, which is cheap as hell unless you’re buying artisan bottled water.

      The real problem is lack of education. People don’t know how to eat healthy anymore. They’ve been convinced by marketing campaigns that they need special products in order to lose weight, when in reality they just need to eat less and switch to less calorically dense foods. Eating less (and less rich foods) is psychologically difficult, but it’s very easy logistically and financially as long as you’re willing to eat something that’s not as tasty and be hungry more often.

      1. Deoxy says:

        The stuff you’re talking about as “cheap” is not cheap. The stuff you’re talking about as “more expensive” is “crazy insane expensive”.

        You can provide sufficient calories to live MUCH MUCH MUCH cheaper than the stuff you are suggesting as cheap and healthy.

        As one example, water is indeed MUCH cheaper than soft drinks, but it provides ZERO calories. In terms of calorie count, soft drinks are VERY VERY cheap. That we consider that a problem exposes our ridiculous wealth.

        You’re coming at it from the wrong direction. You’re right that what you’re proposing would be an improvement over what you’re comparing it to, but you seem to be unfamiliar with actual cheap food.

        Live on ramen noodles for a while – that’s a pretty good example of mega-cheap food that makes your suggestions look expensive. All-cheap-carb is the cheapest way to eat, and yes, it’s not healthy, but it’s TONS cheaper than frozen veggies and raw chicken.

  35. Geebs says:

    The weight problem in America is due to carbohydrates. The Journal of the American Medical Association just recently published an article about how Big Sugar paid off scientists to blame excess heart disease on dietary fat in the latter half of the 20th century. That adversely affected the US’s dietary advice for decades (also screwed up a lot of the rest of the world in the process). Fat got taken out of food, sugar got put in.

    A lot of the confusion in diet and obesity science seems to come from people tying themselves in knots to explain everything without acknowledging the crucial information that sugar is bad for you.

    Cooling induces shivering (which burns energy) and may induce growth of the body’s brown fat. Brown fat “wastes” chemical energy by converting it directly to heat. It’s being looked into as a way of inducing weight loss.

  36. shiroax says:

    Amazing photography work photography work on that 4th picture. I think it could literally knock me out if I looked at it a bit more.

    Edit: Sorry about the tone up there. This was a very nice read, besides that one picture that tried to kill me :)

  37. Smejki says:

    tl;dr
    Have you ever been to Europe, Shamus? If so. Where?

    “Texas Drives Fast!”
    88kph speed limit? Whoa. No, Shamus. You drive slow. You should come to Europe, man. Germany has no speed limit on highways (130kph recommended 140-150kph is ussually the average speed). 90kph limit is something you get on countryside single-lane roads between villages. I guess you’d be surprised how fast and fluid the traffic is in Europe. We’re talking about lands do densely used that (mountain ranges and national parks aside) it would be a real challenge to find a 10km straight line which wouldn’t cross a road or a village.

    “But in Texas? If an exit happens, they add a new lane for it.”
    This is called sanity in Europe.

    Regarding your air-con hypothesis. I’ve been to some hot-weather countries. Spain, Italy, Croatia, Malaysia, Thailand, Greece. People are relatively thin there despite common usage of air conditioning. So from what I know I’d blame the culture. They drive everywhere. Check. Maybe it’s not a popular idea in Texas to exercise (in fitness centers)? Maybe the usual Texan diet is more rich (portions is not everything)? Maybe they are not used to do family hikes (because there are no suitable sites like national parks)? Maybe Texans work too much so there’s not enough spare time? I don’t know but the air-con theory strikes as too simplistic.

    1. Bloodsquirrel says:

      88kph is in the Northeast. In Texas it’s usually around 75mph (120 kph).

  38. Alex Broadhead says:

    You visited in ‘winter’, so you didn’t get to experience the real disincentives to walking: biting insects. Texas sports a full complement, from the humble mosquito (Now in Zika flavor!), through the horsefly, the fire ant, the killer bee, all the way to the insidious chigger. You really haven’t experienced Texas properly until you’ve met the chigger…

  39. baud001 says:

    Thank you for sharing! I appreciate hearing about new places.

    As someone from Europe, Texas fit a lot with my impression from when I was in Quebec city.
    (everything bigger and more spread out), except the driving speed, which was lower (in France, on interstates, it’s 130 km/h, legally, so 10-15 km more when there’s no automatic checks).

  40. evileeyore says:

    Man Shamus, your discussion about taking a walk really hammers home how much a ‘city-slicker’ you are. I read that and though “That doesn’t sound inhospitable at all…”

    Of course I grew up in the mountains of Colorado and currently live in Florida, so maybe I’m just biased to worse conditions.

  41. Rodyle says:

    Damn, for such a huge country, you have ridiculously low speed limits. Over here in Clogsville Below Sea (the Netherlands), the speed limit used to be 120K (75mph) nearly everywhere but the ring roads of large cities, where it’s a 100 (60mph). However, that wasn’t fast enough, so it’s now become 130 on large stretches of highway. And even that’s not as fast as in Germany, where you were, until fairly recent, allowed to drive as fast as you wished on basically all highways.

    1. PAK says:

      Driving consistently at those kinds of speeds requires that the roads be capable of supporting them. US governments are notoriously unwilling to invest in infrastructure.

      1. krellen says:

        Well, ever since the fall of Communism made it no longer a matter of national defense, at least.

    2. Bloodsquirrel says:

      Keep in mind that driving less than 10mph above the speed limit there isn’t commonly considered speeding.

  42. Fred Fredd says:

    I once heard the following:

    Texas used to be a smaller state–more densely populated and with lots of hills, valleys, thick forests, and such. Then one day some giants grabbed the border of the state from opposite sides and stretched it so everything became flatter and more spread out.

  43. Will Riker says:

    For driving, you forgot to mention signage. Out west, road signs are placed far enough ahead of time that you can actually use them to make decisions, even at 75mph. In Boston, if they exist *at all*, they seem to be strategically placed so you can’t see them until after you’ve been forced to make a decision, and they conveniently tell you that you’ve made the wrong choice and you’re screwed. So much fun!

  44. Destrustor says:

    My god, 15 degrees celsius being considered “stay home” weather is incredible.
    15 Celsius is my “t-shirt” weather.

    Sometimes I kinda want to visit such a warm place in their winter equivalent just to walk around in a t-shirt and shorts and count the number of weird looks I’d get.

    1. Sean Conner says:

      Head to Florida. We’re used to this behavior, being a tourist destination. Just don’t come in August—the roads are pretty much liquid asphalt.

  45. Philadelphus says:

    Texas sounds a lot like the Central Valley area of California where I spent my teens. 55 mph (88 kph) is the speed limit on country roads, freeways are 70 mph (110 kph). My family’s 10 minutes from the nearest town (population 58), and another 10 by freeway from the nearest city (population ~50,000). Typically there are several months in summer of >90 °F (37 °C) weather.

    The rest of my family recently took a trip over to the East Coast and mentioned driving through several states in one day, and I had to stop and mentally process that statement for a bit, it was so at odds with my experience with the world to date.

  46. 4th Dimension says:

    I went to check the town on Google Earth simply to get an idea of how big/small it truly is, and simply looking at it it started triggering what can only be described my version of agoraphobia*. Blocks and blocks and blocks of same sized residential with no obvious geographic features (other than that stream out of the town) with wiiideeee streets.
    It’s kind of like a nightmare of featureless endless plain that offers no resistance. It makes me feel really depressed.

    Oh also while it did not remind me of Sim City (never played it) the entire town as seen from satellite struck me as being transplanted from Skylines, where somebody built a city with only residential and a small economic section, with no industry other than agriculture. The roadways are ike something you might make in Skylines until you realize that all the intersections (with traffic lights) are strangling the flow of traffic.

    As for the eating, my guess as others have pointed out is that it’s more likely tied to what you eat. And in many of cases of people with physical jobs they are also less well off meaning they don’t have the money to spend on higher quality food and so go for what is cheapest and more likely to satiate their hunger. Unfortunately such foods to sate the hunger use LOTS of fats and sugars ans such. This is why from what I have heard the problem of overweightness is actually and seemingly paradoxically more prevalent among poorer segments of the demographic than among the richer.

    * I tend to dislike too open flat spaces because I do not feel safe there and I feel too small. The second one is easy to guess why. But the first is I guess genetic, coming from a mountainous coastal region, where I subconsciously prefer spaces that allow me to put put a natural obstacle at my back and keep all other access routes in my field of vision. This is why even flat cities with normal sized roads still work for me. Also lack of geographic features means I find it more difficult to orient myself in space, which is not helped if the streets are wide so you can walk for tens of minutes and seemingly not go anywhere because it’s all the same.

  47. Spammy says:

    As a native Texan I’m always curious to hear what stood out to non-Texans when they visit the state, and how spread out things are is a common one.

    I think it all comes down to the simple fact that there’s always been more space in Texas. The speed limits are higher in order to make it practical to get anywhere. Everything’s far apart because there’s no space constraint. There are no sidewalks because everything’s already too far for you to walk. And as others have mentioned, the temperature can get into the hundreds with 80%+ humidity in the summer. Near the coast, living in Houston, I can walk out of my door at 7 AM and have my glasses instantly fogging up.

    Also, Texans are very used to driving long distances to get anywhere. Driving thirty minutes or more isn’t that unusual. And I mean driving at 65 mph for thirty minutes not sitting in traffic. I’ve also heard visitors or people who’ve moved to Texas being astounded at the average lengths of time and distances that Texans drive.

    Anyway, I’m glad you had a good time in the state!

  48. John the Savage says:

    The weather/weight theory is an interesting one. I believe that here in Wisconsin, we are second only to Texas in terms of obesity. Surely the eating habits have a lot to do with that, but we have some looong winters, with colds that stab like a driven nail. It would also help explain why I have been stuck at the same weight since I took a job working in freezers (again, eating habits are likely the primary culprit, but my weight was on a nosedive before I took the job).

    Also, when you talk about being the thinnest guy in the room, it reminds me of when I was in a barbershop quartet (I was in the play “The Music Man”), and I, at 250lbs, was the skinniest guy in the group. At a combined 1,200lbs, those were the beefiest harmonies you’ve ever heard in your life.

  49. Jamey says:

    I’m an Austinite [Austin, Texas resident] myself, and the traffic here is awful. You get a bit out of town and it’s just as you say, but in the Austin area it’s more like some of the horror examples you gave. Also a surprising number of streets here change names as you are driving down them for no reason.

    I do hope you enjoyed your visit, though! We tend to be a friendly bunch.

    Jamey

    1. Lachlan the Mad says:

      You call yourselves Austinites when the word “Austinoid” was right there? For shame, sir.

  50. PPX14 says:

    When we were in NY for a week trip (from England), it didn’t seem that the people were more overweight on average, but there was a noticeable abundance of very overweight people who were more uniformly big, rather than just having a big belly as seen on most middle aged+ men and old people in the UK. Completely different shape.

    Not sure the air conditioning thing holds much water – considering the intense heat and air conditioning of places in Asia. Perhaps when combined with the western diet? It does seem a theme that in the US people eat a lot of (red) meat, especially in such places with these bbq traditions.

  51. Adam says:

    My abiding memory of being a Brit in Texas for 3 months was a sign that said:

    Fire Department

    Gun Raffle

    1. Jonathan says:

      Yep, fund raiser.

      A local shooting range just raised $2100 for the police department’s K-9 program (police dog) by raffling off one gun.

  52. Bloodsquirrel says:

    As someone who lives in Louisiana and used to make a lot of business trips to Texas- it’s the overeating. The portions at the restaurants may not be much different, but that doesn’t matter if you eat there twice as often and order more sides/appetizers. Food is a big cultural thing in the south. Trust me, we eat a *lot*.

  53. *drops in to add more anecdata to the pile*

    A friend of mine lived in Huston, Texas, as a teenager – I recall her telling me that it was not uncommon to wear a light sweater in summer because it was typical to move from air-conditioned car to air-conditioned building as quickly possible, and no one walked because there was nowhere to walk to (or, based on Shamus’ experience, on).

    Re big people – I’m going to guess, along with many other commenters, that diet (especially high sugar intake) and income are significant factors. I’m sure temperature does play a role, but I suspect it’s not that clear-cut and there are other factors in the mix, such as genetics and the typical temperatures people were brought up in. Add that to a very sedentary lifestyle and yeah, you’re going to have problems. Not that I’m going to be unsympathetic about it – I was very trim when I got back from backpacking through SE Asia for 10 months – lots of exercise (often carrying a heavy rucksack), fairly restricted diet, and a personal preference to avoid AC and acclimate to the local environmental conditions where possible. A few years on back in the UK and I have podged dreadfully, in part because I’ve been eating much more and been vastly less active in a much colder climate that generally makes me want to hibernate somewhere warm. Some of it is down to a long-term illness, but… now I’ve got to fight the battle of the bulge and it’s a tedious fight. :/

  54. NoneCallMeTim says:

    Regarding weight and temperature; I just did a quick search of some academic databases, and found a couple of articles supporting that theory. In one study, they were using male chicks with the same feed and living conditions, just that the temperature of the environment was altered.

    The a temperature range was 10 degrees Celsius from 21.1 to 31.1. After 49 days, the cooler chicks were nearly double the weight of the hotter chicks.

    If, as you say people spend most of their time in cool places, it would support your theory. However, this was a study on chicks, not humans, so isn’t necessarily valid. I couldn’t find anything on humans – and didn’t look too hard either – but there were several studies on animals in support, so it looks like it is valid across the animal kingdom.

    Here is the study:

    The Effect of Environmental Temperature and Body Weight on Growth Rate and Feed:Gain of Male Broilers. J. D. MAY, B. D. LOTT, and J. D. SIMMONS. USDA, Agricultural Research Service, South Central Poultry Research Laboratory, Mississippi State, Mississippi 39762-5367

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      After 49 days, the cooler chicks were nearly double the weight of the hotter chicks.

      And there you have it:If you want a cool chick,then go with the fat one instead of the hot one.

      1. NoneCallMeTim says:

        But then it also means that the hot chicks are the thinner ones…

  55. ThaneofFife says:

    Shamus,
    Did you get to try any traditional Texas cuisine while you were there? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on barbecue, Tex-Mex, and anything else you may have tried.

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