Don't Even Go There—Travel Writing for the Rest of Us

Even if the world is your oyster, you can still chip a tooth on its shell. While travel magazines feature exotic locales of breathtaking beauty, we expose sites so depressing that no traveler this side of Edgar Allan Poe would venture there without a tub-load of tranquilizers. Take Las Vegas (please) and the $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet line at Sam’s Town. That's the world we explore at Don’t Even Go There.

On this site, we tell of places we’ve visited but wish we hadn’t. We reveal vacation plans gone awry and relate horror stories from the road best abandoned. These true stories reflect where we’ve chosen to go. We only have ourselves to blame. We rarely needed to exaggerate—the truth really is stranger than a Dan Brown novel.

Don’t Even Go There: travel tips for those of us who aren’t escorted by security guards, pampered by wealthy benefactors, or provided a generous per diem. This blog is for seasoned travelers and armchair tourists who want the real world first-hand and head-on, with all its drama, horror, and humor. You’ll laugh at us, cry with us, and decide to stay home more often.

03 August 2009

Lone Star

Sometimes, a journey away from home shocks us with unexpected delights and disrupted stereotypes. These trips have a profound effect on us. It’s at times like this when we seriously question our calling of skewering vacation destinations. After all, isn’t travel by definition a very personal experience? Luckily for us, there’s always places like Everett, Massachusetts—known to locals and drunks alike as “The Gateway to Chelsea.” Skewer away. —MB & JS

We were ready for the worst. We’d seen many of the horror movies set here. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Easy Rider. Tin Cup. There are probably more, but we couldn’t drag ourselves to watch them.

We’d even heard the stories. One tall tale describes, in graphic detail, how redneck Texans will catch you, hold you down, and shave your head . . . with the rusted straight razor that Jim Bowie allegedly used for gutting buffalo.

Whether you’re a biker with long hair and a beard or a hippy chick from California, you too might have heard all the stories and innuendo. It’s enough to make you think twice before venturing anywhere near the Great State of Texas. Self-preservation is a natural instinct. Why risk your neck just to push the envelope?

After all, that’s why we’re here.

We can tell you that while the rumors about Texas yokels are pervasive, they’re largely false. They are what we call stereotypes, and while there may be bigots everywhere, we’d like to think they exist at the fringe of society, a tiny minority living in tents and voting Republican. Most Texans, as it turns out, are as friendly and curious as a Quaker who’s accidentally swallowed an overdose of Viagra.

In an unscientific poll we conducted during several of our trips through the state—which we usually undertook in a cruise-controlled marathon of coffee and piss breaks while trying to get to the next state as fast as possible—we found Texans to be among the friendliest people we’ve ever met. Much friendlier, as it turns out, than the drivers we encountered in Boston (for proof, see The Roads to Ruin, January 2009).

Nowhere was the Texan attitude more apparent than in Amarillo. While traveling west once some years ago, we stopped in the city for lunch. We found this small diner that exuded charm and the down-home smell of BBQ. The service was impeccable for such an inexpensive place, and afterward, we needed to walk off the meal. Along the way, we ducked into a local watering hole.

The woman in charge was just cleaning up the debris from the night before. Apparently, the nights in Amarillo last pretty long. The place was open, though, and she invited us in. The pool tables and neon beer signs looked commonplace, but the sawdust on the floor and the overturned chairs spoke volumes about the bar’s normal clientele.

As we sauntered up to the bar, we figured, “Well, we’re in Texas; we should try the state beer.” So we ordered a Lone Star. That was a mistake.

After the proprietor stopped laughing, she said, in her drawl, “Yer not from around here, are ya? What you want is a Kers Laht. That there’s a good beer.” It took us a moment to figure out she meant Coors Light, not a brand we would normally order (“normally” meaning “any other day of any other week”). Given the circumstances, though, how could we refuse?

She served us ice-cold bottles, and while we drank, she described the night before in colorful detail, mentioning regulars by first names like Bubba, Hank, and “Bobby Joe, who puked in the alley.” She offered to show us the stain, but we demurred. Texan generosity obviously knows no limits, but we had ours.

All too soon, we were on our way again, with a broad smile and a lasting memory. We’ve never yet had a bad experience in Texas, and we’ve been back, oh, several times. If it weren’t for the arid climate—the kind that makes your eyes permanently squint like Clint Eastwood’s—we might still be there. Luckily, virtually all of the state’s highways are straight, and they lead to other, more scenic places. Like Oklahoma. Lucky us.

Lessons Learned: If you ever get the chance, take a trip to Texas and find out for yourself. Visit the Alamo in San Antonio. Pay tribute to the Stevie Ray Vaughn memorial in Austin. Stop in for the Dallas nightlife. Spend a winter holiday in Houston. It’s a big state with lots to offer. They know how to make you feel at home, and they won’t stop until you burp with satisfaction.
How We Saw It
Blight-Seeing: 2
Communication Breakdown: 2
Customer Dis-service: 1
Discomfort Level: 1
Grunge Factor: 2
Inactivity Guide: 2
Rent-Attainment: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 1
Fun Fraction: 3/5
Vibe-Rating: 4

If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Amarillo International Airport
Native Population: 175,000
Normal Attractions: Cadillac Ranch and the Palo Duro Canyon State Park (both nearby), and lest we forget: Wonderland Amusement Park (maybe this is why the locals are so friendly: they’re all looking for a ride to somewhere else).
Final Point of Interest: The Big Texan Steak House offers a free 72-ounce steak if you can eat one (and the meal that comes with it) in under an hour. Good luck.

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