Texas means oil and oil means heavy industry. The Gulf Coast has both. We have seen the Ruhr and the Rhine, even climbed sand hills on the North Atlantic Coast of Holland to see the industrial landscape of the Dutch EuroPort at Rotterdam. The industrial areas around Houston TX leave all these for dead! Huge refineries and chemical plants line the coast and rivers as far as the eye can see.
Texans are world renowned for seeing themselves as different, even special. Their history is both of these things. Most of what is now Texas was claimed by Spain in the 17th century, then by the new Mexican Republic in the 19th century. At about this time, American colonialists started to take up land in modern day Texas.
The way they tell the story, these colonials were oppressed by the Mexican government and were therefore, duty-bound to throw off these shackles in the name of freedom and democracy. This they attempted to do in the 1850s. An early victory to the Mexicans at the Alamo incensed the Texans and they commenced a most successful campaign, led by General Sam Houston, against the hapless Mexicans. The end result was just as those of us who were brought up on a diet of western movies would predict. Yep! At San Jacinto, just outside modern day Houston, the despotic, oppressive, anti-democratic, and possibly most significantly militarily-weak Mexican army under the command of General Santa Anna was defeated in a matter of minutes.
Remember the heavy industry and OIL? The monument to the battle, that we visited today, which marks the site of the decisive battle with the Mexicans is smack in the middle of probably the most wealthy agri-industrial complex on the planet.
Damn bad luck, Mexicans.
And, by the way, the end result of the struggle between the US and Mexico was the annexation of all of Texas, California, New Mexico, most of Arizona, Nevada and parts of other states that aggregate to 1/3 of the land mass of today’s USA.
So far, Texas is yet another country within a country. Much cleaner, more modern and apparently wealthier than their neighbours in the South-East, Texas has a real ‘power-house’ feel.
Reflecting back to our first contact with the USA in New York, this is a vastly different world. Racially, we are suddenly in a world where African Americans are very much a rarity. Hispanic Americans (Latinos) are everywhere and Spanish is almost as prevalent as English. Food is different (except for the ‘fast’ variety). The climate is different, 20C+ today in Houston, consequently, people dress differently and on a very warm, sunny day like today, are all out and about!
Where is the ‘real’ America?
Houston’s premier attraction is the NASA Johnson Space Centre, better known as ‘Houston Mission Control.’ An unused Saturn rocket and other ‘space junk’ lie beside the car park. Impressive! The NASA Visitors’ Centre itself however was somewhat of a disappointment. More like a theme park than a serious tour of the facility, the hordes of kids all loved it, but it left us a bit cold.
One exception was the visit to the actual Mission Control Room that was used throughout the Mercury and Apollo Space Missions. Left as it was in the late sixties, ‘Mission Control’ is a National Historic Site and so will be preserved and maintained for future generations to experience. From here, Apollo 11’s 1963 moon landing was controlled, as was the return of the aborted Apollo 13 mission. Presidents and family members of the astronauts sat where we sat during our visit.
Tonight we are in Austin TX. After a fairly uneventful drive we are enjoying a nice (cheap) motel with a kitchenette and the usual 100 TV channels. It has been “hot and sticky” today, in the low 20s Celsius. To think that only a few weeks ago we were rugged up against freezing winds and driving snow.