Hello world! from Richard Zelade

September 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Welcome to my blog. I will be writing about just about everything Central Texas, the Texas Hill Country and more. Sometimes it will be updates to my books, Hill Country and Central Texas. Sometimes about Austin, sometimes about anywhere else in Texas. BBQ and meat markets, beer joints, stagecoach robberies, jokes, tall tales, long ago, here and now.

For now, we’ll start with a perspective on Hill Country and Central Texas, the sixth editions of which were published on May 16, 2011.

Thirty years ago, I signed a contract with Texas Monthly Press to do a travelogue about Central Texas and the Hill Country. For marketing reasons, it came to be called Hill Country, although half the book is dedicated to the rolling prairies east of the Balcones Escarpment, i.e., Central Texas. I have been called to task many times about this deception, to which I have always responded, well, a hill is a hill, no matter where it is located. Besides, in the olden days folks used to refer to the Hill Country as the mountains of west Texas, as in Bandera, the Switzerland of Texas, so I scarcely think that Texas Monthly Press was alone in stretching the truth. Stretching the truth to its limits is just part of the Texas way.  Just as are violence and cheapness.

The fifth edition of Hill Country came out the first year Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France, 1999. Twelve years later, Lance is now in his dotage, but Hill Country is back with a renewed vengeance, literally. there are so many tales of violence and retribution that it, and its new companion volume, Central Texas, drip black blood in places.

There a several reasons for this publishing gap, but to paraphrase the great Frank Zappa, Hill Country was never dead, it just smelled funny. Among other reasons, I had been fussing with the publisher for years to split Hill Country into Central Texas and Hill Country proper, in order to put an end to the grand deception, but they could see no compelling reason, at least until I came up with enough new and good stories to make a one-volume treatment impossible.

I have never been satisfied with Hill Country as a book and I never will be. Because what I’ve been trying to produce all along are not just guides to pretty places and yummy food, but  explorations into the Hill Country and Central Texas psyche.

To selectively borrow from the Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime:

And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself-Well…How did I get here?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
MY GOD!…WHAT HAVE I DONE?

So, Hill Country and Central Texas tell you what you are going to see when you go traveling today, who you might meet, what you might choose to eat and buy, but they also try to explain, how in the hell did this patch of Texas get to be this way?

Why is Texas like no other place on earth?

For starts, Texas was founded on cheapness and violence. It was not born with a silver spoon in its mouth. The early Anglo settlers were lucky to have hand-carved wooden spoons. Most of them got by with sharp knives and their grubby hands. Land and livestock were the only thing Texas was rich in until Spindletop blew in and changed the equation.  And that’s where the violence came in. If the closest thing you had to money was your land and your livestock, you didn’t take too kindly to whomever might elect to deprive you of it. A horse or a cow was more valuable than a human life in those days. You were far more likely to win a Huntsville vacation or Texas necktie party for rustling in those days than for killing a man. Usually, unless it was a case of domestic violence, murder was deemed a public service because there was one less hard character to plague the community, and if you were lucky, one or more of that hard character’s pals were only too happy to return the favor, and in a couple of years you could get shed of the whole lot.

It has also bothered me that the book has been too Anglo-centric, so I have been broadening the scope of the books from that perspective.

Like Frank Dobie said, I don’t presume to be a great writer, but I do know a good story when I hear one, and since my goal is to pass on good stories, even those that stretch the bounds of credibility, to future generations, stories that explain why Texas is the way it is, Hill Country and Central Texas are full of the same old stories plus a lot of new ones.

If you’ve noticed, the book’s chapters are themed tours, that variously explore geography, cultures, religious groups, historical periods, transportation. This time around, we just parsed the 10 existing tours into two volumes. Next go ’round, it’s my goal to add one new tour to each book.

Chow for now, Richard

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