How the West Was Lost
I don't think of myself as being easily shocked, but I have to tell you this: I attended the World's Championship Bar-B-Que Cook-off on the Astrodome grounds recently, and it left me badly shaken.

I can't say I wasn't warned. "Be careful," a friend said. "There's a lot of vulgarity at that cook-off. It's far from pretty."

"Oh, give me a break," I said. "I'm an adult, aren't I? Believe me, I've seen more than my share of depravity. It would take more than a cook-off to startle me."

How horribly, horribly wrong. I was braced for drunkenness. I was braced for lewdness. I was braced for behavior that offended every standard I hold dear.

But the cook-off exceeded anything I had imagined. I saw things there I didn't think I'd ever see. Things I will never forget. Things that will haunt me for the rest of my days.

How can I possibly live with this knowledge? God help me. I think I'm going mad.

Perhaps, if I were to talk about it.... If I were to unburden myself....
But where to start? With the cowboy drinking a Pepsi-Cola? Or the man who declined my offer of a beer? "Never touch the stuff," he said.

I saw signs that said "Police Officer on Duty" and "No Drinks In or Out." I saw people form orderly lines outside the port-o-lets. I saw men with creases in their jeans and a shine on their boots. I heard a man apologize for being scatological.

At the championship barbecue cook-off, for God's sake -- an event that used to be a bacchanal.

I did see one thing that was mildly questionable: Someone in a cow suit dancing the boogie-woogie, its udders juddering the while. But that was the extent of it.

The people attending this cook-off were models of rectitude. I half expected them to strike up the Barney song: "I love you, you love me...." Honestly, I've seen worse behavior at the Second Baptist Church.

Driving home -- to keep my hands from shaking, I had to grip the wheel really hard -- I thought of the 80-year-old woman who told me recently how she wished I could have seen Houston when "Texas was Texas."

"Isn't it Texas still?" I asked.
"God, no," she said fiercely. "Now it's America."
I realize now she was right.


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