Bigger is better in Texas

 

No wonder this little fella looks nervous. He's yours--free!--if you can eat him in under an hour.

Size matters: No wonder this little fella looks nervous. He's yours--free!--if you can eat him in under an hour.

I’m on Day 3 of my cross-country road trip–with dog and cat in tow, in a Mini. Driving along the I-40 for 10 hours a day is bound to lead to a few epiphanies:

  1. Obama’s plan to create new jobs to shore up our nation’s crumbling infrastructure is smart. I thought I’d lose a kidney while bouncing over the rutted stretch of I-40 in east Oklahoma. 
  2. I am a modern-day Okie. The car is packed to the gills with crap and animals. There’s even a soup pot–albeit an All-Clad–on the front seat (I’d forgotten to pack it). So I can always stop and whip up a roadkill soup if things get really bad.
  3. Texas is all about big.

Of course, the third item isn’t really anything new, but I still enjoyed many examples while driving across the Texas Panhandle. It’s home to some of the swankiest rest stops I’ve seen. In Gray County, heading east from Oklahoma, there’s an environmentally sound welcome center built into the hillside. On the westbound side of the interstate, in neighboring Donley County, they’ve upped the ante with a huge, Art Deco-style rest stop. Places like these are enough to make you think, “I should stop for a spell to check this out.”

The largest cross in the Western Hemisphere.

The largest cross in the Western Hemisphere.

A scene from "The Life of Brian"?

In Groom, just east of Amarillo, you can stop to admire the largest freestanding cross in the Western Hemisphere. It’s a soaring, 190-foot-tall, cement achievement that even a heathen like me can appreciate. Although the Stations of the Cross sculptures surrounding the main event made me think of “The Life of Brian.”

Driving away from my stop at the cross, I was greeted by huge (of course) billboards touting the Big Texan in Amarillo. The Big Texan is a cheerfully gaudy Route 66 landmark, as it’s the home of the 72-ounce steak–free, if you can gobble the thing in under an hour. It’s not a challenge I was up to (though my dog Rascal would have been happy to take it on). A free 4 1/2-pound steak is the ultimate in eating cheap–if you succeed. But you must pay the $72 upfront. It’s refunded if you meet the challenge, and 8,500 people have since the Big Texan opened in 1960.

You have to admire people who are willing to create their own grandeur on such a breathtaking scale–not just a steak, but an enormous one. 

Ultimately, the emphasis on superlative size is what I admire about this part of Texas. There’s not much there, really, just miles of barren, windswept (T. Boone Pickens is right about harnessing that wind to generate some energy) ranchland. You have to admire people who are willing to create their own grandeur on such a breathtaking scale–not just any cross, but the biggest one; not just a steak, but an enormous one. I usually subscribe to the less-is-more school of thought. But in Texas, bigger really is better. Or at least more entertaining.

 

Big and gaudy, that's the Texas Panhandle.

Big and gaudy, that's the Texas Panhandle.