Progress in Texas: Wind Farms and Where to Be a Liberal

The American Southwest still conjures images of rugged terrain, ancient civilizations, and hidden treasure. Mapping a course from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Austin, Texas by car, my boyfriend Rowan and I set out to experience the Southwest more slowly than is typical of our flyover lives.  As we drive east, the Sangre de Cristo mountains turn into foothills, which slowly fade into arid plains on reaching Clovis, NM and Lubbock, TX.  Barren and lonesome, the small towns of eastern New Mexico and west Texas are slow and constant.  The big sun transfixes the landscape of tilled fields.  Sky and ground meet in equal parts, creating the illusion of water, an oasis on the road, a lake in the flats.

Old TX oil rig

Old West Texas oil rig. (photo by Katy Crocker)

West Texas is an open stretch of land that harvests many exported goods, including renewable energy.  Nearing Lubbock, the most aesthetically striking moment of the voyage approaches – wind farms on the horizon. The wind turbines, like extraterrestrial beings converging on the edge of civilization, are beautiful, three-pronged, kinetic sculptures — all moving slightly out-of-sync. They live there, giants foreboding the dawn of new era.  For every 100th wind turbine, I notice one person, or cow, on the plains. Texas is leading the country in wind energy, and the landscape is thus changing.

Places like Lubbock, Texas are notoriously slow to change. But since, on the plains, wind is an inescapable asset, wind energy promises new income streams for farmers — a cotton processing plant is using wind energy, Texas Tech University has a wind energy graduate program — and the farms themselves get paid to put turbines on their land.  Additionally, Texas has a vested interest in leading the country in various exported goods.  Now, West Texas boasts itself as a leader in renewable wind energy.  Organizations are cropping up to support the continued growth of the “Texas Wind Power Project.”

Texas wind farm

West Texas wind farm (photo: Katy Crocker)

Although the “winds of change” (quoting Willie Nelson) have swept across west Texas, enduring traditions remain:  two-stepping, churchgoing, and Bar-b-q included.  With 221 miles left to our final destination and hungry, I find myself in Abilene, with a half rack of ribs piled on the Dixie plate front of me, at Harolds Pit Bar-B-Q (right) on Walnut Street, Harold himself at the helm.  The red-and-white, plastic checked tablecloth sets off  framed portraits of Dallas Cowboys teammates; my meal is handed over with prepackaged towelettes.

We arrive in hill country Austin near daybreak. The air is thick and humid, fog is low on the highway.  Rowan (my boyfriend) and I are moving to Austin, partly because of the University of Texas being there.  We both have graduate school on the horizon.  As we drive to the UT campus, we notice a flood of burnt-orange people “swimming” downhill from the football stadium – literally thousands of bodies making a mass exodus after the game.  Strikingly out of place, Rowan and I are the only ones in black!  I ask some locals at a near by hangout whether, or not the longhorns won the game, to which they reply (full of excitement), “yes.”  I could feel the mood of the entire city lift.

I then find my way to “So Co” on South Capital Street between Oltorf, and E Ben White streets.  So Co is separated by two rows of quirky retail shops; sushi restaurants; coffee houses; crêpes served from the windows of an Airstream kitchen; and a clear view of the state capital in the near distance. Emblematic of the beer and the movie trend is Alamo Drafthouse-a Euro-style cinematic experience, where dinner and drinks come with the movie.  Inside the Drafthouse a little T-shirt shop, called Mondo, features punky screenprinted tees boasting tech-happy slogans like, “Chaos Reigns.” Austin continues to grow, supporting technology corporations, recently adopting the nickname “Silicon Hills.”  Dell is the most notable Fortune 500 in Austin.

I suddenly began to think, a liberal, capital city, deep in the heart of a Republican state? I found this ironic, until I began to recall a little Texas history.  Texas was predominately a democratic state for 100 years before the 70s.  Ann Richards is the favored Texas governor from the 90s.  And, although Austin has remained a democratic stronghold since, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio also went for Obama in 2009 (those cities suburbs are a different story).  So, Texas politics have been as diverse as the states history.  The 28th state is the only state that has been ruled by six different nations, which would suppose it is flexible to change!  Austin is, thus, the perfect capital for Texas — heavy with young liberals exploring new ideas, wind farms, with exports of environmentalists, and libertarians planning to barnstorm art and culture.

There are two sides to the great state of Texas:  a state capital where the reputation of the states best school includes the party; and the solidarity that seems to come when everyone, who lives in a place, agrees on something. In Austin it appears part hedonism part hard work and the freedom, in Texas, to be a liberal!

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