Gone to Texas
On Friday, March 25, I posted the announcement at Instapundit that, like so many Red Staters trapped in collapsing Blue States before me, I had Gone to Texas. But getting there involved a week of synchronicity and symbolism—not to mention the “fun” of packing. My wife had posted a few things here at Ed Driscoll.com last year on our plans to move; this was the week we set that plan into motion.
On Saturday, March 19, we had our last dinner at the Left Bank, the Santana Row restaurant where Nina and I dined on many, many Saturday nights for the past 11 years. In 2005, Nina took my portrait outside there which wound up as my PJM mugshot; we dined outside there almost every Saturday night in the summertime, as the people watching was loads of fun, particularly all of the singles on the prowl hitting the local singles bar, named “Straits,” a phrase that comes with a double meaning in the omnisexual Bay Area.
The staff was incredibly friendly; we gave our favorite waitress a glass of the 1977 Warre’s Port we had been saving since purchasing it about 15 years ago and saving for a special occasion. But since the moving company couldn’t move my stash of hooch for legal reasons, this would do. It certainly made the evening memorable, as did the restaurant’s manager picking up our last check, an incredibly gracious gesture.
Our waitress and the manager were curious as to why we were moving to Texas. There’s the reduction in taxes and expenses, and the chance to cash out on our house, as California’s zany leftwing “BANANAS—Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything” coastal zoning policies have jacked the real estate prices through the roof. But the chief reason was a sense of isolation. In California, I was living out firsthandleft-leaning Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam’s observations that, as “as communities become more ethnically diverse they in fact become socially frayed,” as Jonah Goldberg wrote in The Tyranny of Cliches:
Putnam found that as a community becomes more ethnically and socially varied, social trust plummets. People tend to “hunker down,” in Putnam’s words banding together with a shrunken and shrinking group of friends or alone in front of the TV. Trust in political leaders, the political process, and even voting decline precipitously. Volunteerism, from charitable giving to carpooling, deteriorates. Political activism increases as people look to government to solve problems that once might have been solved by a simple conversation across a coffee table or a shared fence between neighbors. Note: Putnam did not find that diversity fuels racism; the vast bulk of the people interviewed for the study were not bigots. What he found was that diversity promotes alienation, disengagement, and social isolation. This all runs counter to a host of prevailing clichés and pieties.
Indeed it does, but it helps explain how talking politics in the Bay Area is a tricky proposition for someone on the right-hand side of the aisle. There was a recent article in the Washington Post on the rise of Trump Derangement Syndrome, which as paraphrased at Red State noted:
Another example is Ken Goldstein, a Los Angeles-based author and businessman who is a Democrat. Goldstein recalled meeting with a business associate recently and feeling astounded when the man said he thought Trump would “be great for America.” “You just realize you have nothing more to say to that person,” he said.
Lefties do this a lot, and have done so long before Trump. I was at a Bay Area party once where the wife of a friend said her husband was out hunting that afternoon. She was completely frozen out by a lefty woman there, perhaps because the only other option presenting itself in her brain was the Sutherland Shriek.
I once told someone I edit Victor Davis Hanson’s articles as part of my work at PJM; she said something like, “Oh, he’s infamous on our side of the aisle.” That Manichaean worldview is part and parcel with Bay Area politics, and only accelerated after the 2000 election. Or as Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal accurately wrote on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, “For activist and professional Democrats, the most ignominious day in their collective political lives occurred a year earlier—the Florida presidential recount.” The brief timeout in the culture war after September 11th caused what Charles Krauthammer dubbed “the Pressure Cooker Theory of Hydraulic Release” to explode with a vengeance afterwards, and you could feel that rage and incoherence driving the atmosphere of the Bay Area.
Concurrently, for the last 11 years, we’ve been visiting Texas and found the people to be remarkably friendly and easy going. The Texas countryside reminds me a lot of the farm areas of South Jersey I knew as a kid. Rough Creek Lodge, and the Dallas and Arlington Guitar Shows became near-annual destinations, as did a handful of Cowboys games at the old Texas Stadium and in 2013, the new stadium in Arlington.
It was in 2014 that we began to take seriously the idea of owning a house in Texas. As Nina has recounted here, in July of 2014, we found an excellent real estate agent who acted as our consultant, and began looking. She helped us find a home on 16 acres within driving distance of Rough Creek in Glen Rose, and while staying at Rough Creek, we found our tenants, with whom we had a great arrangement.
Until recently, our tenants watched our house (and back 40, or 16) and went to stay with family when we came to stay in the guest room we had reserved for ourselves. That way we could actually “live” here rather than staying at a hotel while we decided if we were moving. Meeting our tenants was a story in itself. Late Saturday night, while staying at Rough Creek on our house-hunting tour, I wandered down to the bar for a cognac and to smoke a cigar on the patio. I wore my summer white Panama hat. Two gentlemen, one in his 40s or 50s, the other perhaps in his 70s or older, were sitting at the otherwise empty bar. In a loud Texas drawl, the younger of the two asked me, “Wheredja git that hat?!”
I joked it was from those legendary Western outfitters called Brooks Brothers. (It was even a Stetson, but I had forgotten that at the moment.)
“Oh, it gets worse. California.”
“Califorrrrnya? What the hell do you do out there?!”
“Oh, it gets really worse. I’m a journalist.”
“Ya’ll write for a newspaper?”
“No, on the Internet, for a site called PJ Media.
“PJ Media? Is that like the Huffington Post?!”
“Well, we’re more on the opposite side of the political spectrum.”
“You mean like Breitbart.com?!”
“Yes, I knew Andrew, met him on numerous occasions, interviewed him a bunch of times, brilliant guy.”
“Hold on there, just a second. Whacha say your name was?”
So he pulls out his cell phone, and calls Andrew’s angel investor, and confirms that PJ Media is on the Breitbart.com, not Huffington Post side of the aisle. The guy I was talking to owns the ranch near Rough Creek, along with an investment firm with several ex-Dallas Cowboys on its board of advisors. The older gentleman he was with was his uncle, who knew loads of people deep in Texas politics, and at one point, name dropped Joe Foss, the first commissioner of the American Football League, former president of National Rifle Association, Marine fighter pilot ace in World War II, governor of South Dakota, and all-around legend and hoss.
The younger of the two guys bought me a cigar roughly the size of a Titan II ICBM, and we went outside, where we chatted with a young couple also staying at Rough Creek. They were proffered Titan II-sized cigars also, and the gentleman of the couple accepted.
We met that young couple the next morning at breakfast—and had the “wow, was that wild last night or what?!” conversation. They said they were looking for a place nearby to rent. We told them we found a place and were thinking of buying it, and asked if they wanted to stay there while looking for their permanent residence. There was one catch. They had a dog, and wanted to make sure it was OK for him to live there, too.
Taking out a picture of their dog, Harold, we had a shock. Harold is the spitting image of our late dog Willie. Somebody up there is sending us a message—buy this house, dummies!
It took us a while to decide though if it was a vacation property or a permanent residence. But 16 acres, with an incredible view of the sunrise and sunsets was awfully appealing. Especially in contrast to the neighborhood kids near our Bay Area house who own a Mercedes sedan with a subwoofer that fills the entire trunk. On numerous afternoons, the walls of our home have shaken as if the Imperial Walkers are marching through downtown Hoth.
For a time, our next-door neighbor was a family whose son was a budding drummer—with no sense of timing or tuning. His drum kit, set up in the garage with the door open on nice days, sounded like a series of trashcans being randomly hit at spastically irregular intervals. During the early days of PJTV, I once went over and asked him and his buddies with their equally out-of-tune guitar and bass to take five while I did a remote interview with the lads in L.A. He reminded me of veteran bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson’s classic line after his tour of England being backed by the early Eric Clapton-era Yardbirds: “Them white British boys want to play the blues so badly—and they play them so badly!”
Speaking of which, 16 acres means I have room for my own studio, in a separate building, so that Nina doesn’t have to hear me recording take after take, or my singing before Melodyne works its miracles. And I don’t have to worry about hiding the spaghetti bowl of microphone, guitar and MIDI cables. I have room for my 88-key synth keyboard. (And a chance to find a decent piano teacher to get my keyboard chops up to the level of my guitar chops.)
So for the past few months, my wife summoned up all of her organizational skills to make the move as pain-free as possible—with the help of more spreadsheets than even Sheldon Cooper. We’ve been putting things in boxes, particularly my musical gear. It was only this past week where we really collapsed the house down to nothing though. On Monday, March 21, I broke down my home theater cabinet, disconnecting, then pulling out all of the equipment. At the end of the night, I did the same for the massive Sweetwater computer which I use for my home music hobby, along with recording podcasts, and for producing the Photoshops for PJM, particularly Roger L. Simon, VDH, and Steve Green’s drunkblog posts. At that point, a sense of finality, to borrow one of John Madden’s favorite words, began to be overwhelming. The following day, the movers came to box up everything else in the house. The whole process seems designed to psychologically eliminate second thoughts, as the house seems so barren without furniture, prints, and paintings. I almost typed “sterile,” but that doesn’t seem like an appropriate word considering how many dust bunnies were lurking under and behind the cabinets! And then on Wednesday the 23rd, a rather large truck backed up to our house and all our material possessions were loaded on, to meet us in a few days, in Texas.
The last week was also filled with metaphors and a sense of synchronicity. Since the fall of 2010, I’ve been working out six days a week (skipping Saturday as that was Left Bank night). On Sunday, March 20, while visiting the Milpitas 24-Hour Fitness, the power went out about 20 minutes into my workout. The next day, a sign in the door read “CLOSED UNTIL PG&E FIXES OUR POWER.” Besides the obvious “lights out” metaphor, it was also a reminder of Milpitas’ many blackouts, particularly during the first rain of the season in mid-October. Silicon Valley is curiously bifurcated place, a region inventing the technology of the 21st century, using a power grid that doesn’t seem to have been updated since the early 1960s. (See also, previous “BANANA” comment for chief reason why.) Until we switched around 2009 or so to Comcast’s cable telephony service, our phone service was filled with loud ground loops (oh the fun of getting them out of my early podcasts) and frequent disconnections because an underground junction box on our cul-de-sac, likely installed in the late 1960s given the age of our housing development, always flooded, like clockwork, each winter.
More synchronicity occurred on Wednesday, March 23; after dropping off the cars, we stayed at the Millwood near SFO—as soon as we drove up, I had a sense of déjà vu about the place. Of course! It has a page in James Lileks’ American Motels collection of postcards and ephemera. To give you a sense of how the area has changed, the jaunty neon sign atop Lileks’ page is gone, as you can see in the Google Maps photo on Lileks' page. What you can’t really make out until you’re staying here is the glass wall the hotel’s owners have built in front of all of the doors, which can only be penetrated if you have a magnetic room key, to keep out the feral Bay Area homeless. Not to mention the separate cans in each room for trash and recycling. Perhaps when we come back, there will be a third for mandatory composting. (You think I’m kidding.)
On the drive from Milpitas down 880 to arrange to drop off the cars in San Jose to be transported to Texas, Semisonic’s “Closing Time” came on 97.7 FM, with its reminder that “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.”
Finally, the day of the flight out of SFO arrived, and the coincidences continued, with this offer tweeted by Gov. Abbott:
We accept! Closing time—gone to Texas.