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About A Week: Texas - Biggest And Best

Peter Hinchliffe sings the praises of the Lone Star State.

This hoarding was wider than three houses, stretching out beside Interstate Highway 27, south of Amarillo. "Eat the biggest steak in Texas. Yours free if you finish it in less than an hour."

I ignored the challenge. I had another 350 miles to drive that day. Eating half a side of beef for lunch isn't the best way of staying alert at the wheel. I settled for a bowl of chili in a humble road-side diner.

Even though I never saw the epic steak, I would have happily bet that if it was the biggest in Texas, it was also the biggest in all America.

Texans are brought up to believe that everything about their state is the biggest and the best. They fire out a fusillade of statistics to back up their convictions. These are mind-numbing for anyone from cramped little England.

Texas sprawls over 267,000 square miles. Two-and-a-half times the size of the British Isles.

It contains 23 million acres of woodlands.

It has 625 miles of coastline, with more sunshine and beaches than the south of France.

It boasts 91 peaks more than a mile high—each of them higher than any mountain in Scotland.

Not so long ago, only a handful of British people went to America for holidays. Now hundreds of thousands go there every year. Most of them head for Florida, New York or California.

My message is: Think Texas!

You could say I am repaying a long-standing debt. I spent two vastly enjoyble years in Texas in the 1960s. I was made royally welcome. The least I can do is to point a few tourists in their direction.

Texas is no longer cowboy country, with leathery men riding the boundless range. It's sophisticated, Twenty-First Century, with more art galleries per head of population in Dallas and Houston than there are in London.Helicopters are used to herd cattle on the big ranches.

However, every other Texas male still wears cowboy gear. Stetsons. Beat-up blue jeans. Big-buckled belts. Fancy, high-heeled boots. A store big enough to house a herd of elephants, set on the highway between Dallas and Fort Worth, stocks nothing but western dclothes. This store is within earshot of Dallas-Fort Worth airport, which, as you might guess, is the biggest airport in America.

These days, the Big State is better country for cars than for horses. You can drive all day and never encounter a traffic jam. Passing through a host of splendidly named little towns. Nacodoches. Muleshoe. Waxahachie.

The further south you go, the nearer the Mexican border, the more Spanish the towns become. San Antonio. Del Rio. El Paso.

Drive those Texas highways, and you see long horizons, wide, wide, spaces. You feel as though you can breathe properly for the very first time. You can count on a big blue steel-plate sky. And it will be hot!

Tumbleweeds drift across the highways, carried by a gentle breeze, as though languidly avoiding your approaching wheels. From time to time, there's a curious smell. Burnt rubber, maybe? No, not rubber. The lingering confirmation of a passing skunk.

When your throat grows dry and dusty, pull into one of the numerous road-side stalls and feast on cantaloupe, the sweetest melon you are ever likely to taste. At the end of a day's driving—and Texas is a place where driving is still a keen pleasure—you are sure to find a good motel, with a swimming pool, a sauna, even a vast indoor entertainment area containing a putting course.

And there will be good Texas food. The aforementioned chili is the official state dish. It's made with best minced lean beef, and comes in graded tongue-tingling measures of hotness. Two alarm. Three alarm. Four alarm. Five alarm. If you order Five alarm, make sure you are within reach of a cold tap. Or a fire station.

You also require an asbestos tongue for some of the hotter Mexican dishes.
Mexican food is a whole new eating experience, and you will find Mexican restaurants wherever you go - Guacamole salad. Tostadas. Burritos. Enchiladas. Helped down with a dry Mexican beer, and a shot of tequila.

Excuse me while I drool awhile.

If you want to drink tequila like a native, you need salt, plus a large slice of lemon. Pile a pyramid of salt on the back of your left hand. Lick it up at one go, down the glass of tequila at a gulp, then bite briskly into the lemon.

Suddenly, I find myself overwhelmed by the task of telling you about Texas in one brief column. It's like trying to write the Bible on the back of a postage stamp. There's too much to say. So much to see.

I haven't told you about the cities. Dallas. Houston. San Antonio. Fort Worth. Full of skyscrapers and buildings which are works of art. Of shopping centres of a luxuriousness to make Meadowhall and the Ridings Centre seem like corner shops.

And what of Texans themselves? Wonderful.folk. They really, make you feel at home.I have a very special affection for Texans. One in particular. A lady called Joyce Ann.

I married her.

All right, so I am mightily prejudiced in favour of the Lone Star State. But I really do think you'd enjoy a Texas holiday.

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