Fall has arrived in Texas, and thank God.
There is no better time in the Lone Star State, for so many reasons.
The switch in season may be more subtle than it is in the north -- you never can get that far away from a Texas summer, after all -- but there's enough change in the air to signify that you've survived another August and are ready to enjoy the temperate conditions that come with fall down here.
If we had our way -- and we so seldom do --this
would be a state holiday every year. Commonly accepted as falling on September 24, we'd be willing to make it a movable feast like Mardi Gras if necessary.
It marks the end of a summer breathlessly tracking "Invest 93" or some such disturbance which every TV meteorologist has on his screen, accompanied by CGI magic that has it blowing up from a slight rainstorm over the Atlantic to a Cat 4 rushing up the Ship Channel.
Ain't gonna happen once fall comes, though. And that's reason enough to celebrate big time, and a fitting kickoff to the new season.
24. Down-jacket spotting You never need a puffy, North Face-style, full down jacket in Houston. Yet people start breaking them out around mid-October anyway.
A unique mix of fond remembrance, solemn heartache and celebration of life, it sums up the complicated but affecting mix of emotions and experience that autumn brings with it.
22. New Braunfels The toobing crowds are gone, Schlitterbahn is closed, and now New Braunfels is ready for a relaxed road trip through the Hill Country. Stay at a nicely historic hotel like the Faust, hit up all the German restaurants, walk the river and the parks -- and don't worry about getting run down by a pick-up truck packed with UT frat boys hanging on for dear life (to their beers).
You can save that for the summer.
21. It's oyster season again Let's double-check: Is that an "R" in the month? Yessir. Time to get a dozen raw at your favorite spot, and haggle about whose favorite spot is the best.
Don't forget the cold, cold beer.
20. Tailgating Oh, you can pretend it's great fun to be bent over a blazing hot grill on a melted asphalt parking lot in August waiting to turn some ribs and sausage, but we all know better.
Get the temps down to a reasonable range and suddenly being King Chef isn't that onerous a chore. And it's still you who gets to decide when the meat is cooked just right.
19. Oktoberfest beers Texas has a strong German foundation -- the aforementioned New Braunfels being the heart of it -- and we know how to celebrate Oktoberfest, whether you spell it with a "c" or a "k." ("Rocktoberfests" need not apply, unless you're pining for yet another countdown to "Stairway to Heaven" as Number One.)
Picking which one you think is best can be difficult, but it's a Texas journey that needs to be taken.
No one is more aggressively determined to proclaim its freak flag still flies -- even as it slides inexorably into a flavorless mass of cube-farm suburbia -- than Austin.
There are certain times when that effort gets more pronounced, and Halloween is one of those. Which is a good thing, because all gratuitous Austin-bashing aside, it's always fun to see the capital have some fun.
17. Chili weather (NO BEANS) There's some primordial trigger than goes off in Texans when a cold front comes through. All of a sudden the need for chili is irresistible, whether it's from a suddenly packed drive-thru line at James Coney Island, some fancy restaurant trying to be downhome, or your own kitchen.
One rule -- no beans. Take it up with the Official Chili Shop Steward (you probably know who she is) if you disagree.
You knew it was simply a matter of time until this subject came up, and it's not a ranking here.
High school football in Texas is everything that it has been mythologized to be, both in the past and in the new-wave era of books and TV shows. Get yourself out to a smalltown game on a chilly night far away from the city, and see what the magic is about.
15. Pumpkin patches in front of every single church and supermarket in the state Or, as one contributor put it:
I'm also going to say carving jack o'laterns. Specifically, wait until a neighbor tries to show off with a Martha Stewart special then purposely make yours look like a highly disturbed hulking manchild was trying to capture the loving image of his abusive late mother.
So there's that, too.
14. The Texas Renaissance Festival Nice walks under cooler skies with fall colors on the leaves while drinking honey mead and gnawing animal flesh off a stick wearing a chainmail bikini. Or watching people wearing chainmail bikinis, whatever works for you.
If it wasn't for RenFest, the word "wench" would be sadly underused in this modern era.
13. Christian haunted houses The dangers of heavy petting!! Bible-less schools!! NECKING!! Even -- (gasp!!) DEMOCRATS!!! (And -- the most cutting-edge ones of all -- GAYS!!)
There's nothing scarier than a church or Christian-school haunted house, we're telling ya. We're still recovering from last year, but eager to set our annual road trip for 2012.
Houston's annual homage to the finest and trying-to-be-finest in horror films,Splatterfest
is an excellent way to roll into the fall.
Locally produced or brought in by "stars" who are happy to meet with fans, the festival is a can't-miss deal for any serious or casual horror fan.
giveth and taketh away, according to our correspondent> The state park northwest of San Antonio is the only real place to see leaves change in Texas (though it's elbows to assholes there this time of year)."
10 The State Fair of Texas It might be a bit of heresy to tout the State Fair here in Houston, the land of the Livestock Show & Rodeo, but to be, ummm, fair, the Fair is for the entire state, even us.
Every Texan, every visitor, should hit Fair Park at least once.
And a road trip from the Gulf Coast to Dallas means going through Centerville, which mandates a sausage stop at Woody's, with DQ across the way.
And not that we would ever suggest breaking any open-container laws, but much of I-45 is dry between the two cities, so stock up the cooler if that's how you roll.
El Paso knows how to do haunted houses, and we're not talking anything involving drug cartels.
The Texas Terror Trail is a two-acre 2 acre, 19-room haunted house property featuring the need fpr zombie eradication, and it's relatively cheap.
If, you know, you happen to find yourself on the far side of the world (i.e., El Paso) in the fall.
8. Outside drinking Whether it's coffee on a sidewalk patio, beers at the Harp, overlooking a lake in Austin or the Riverfront in San Antonio -- or even being able to use your front porch -- everything's better with a cold nip in the air as opposed to a sheen of sweat on your skin.
7. East Texas Yeah, we rag on East Texas all the time -- and we certainly don't recommend your car breaking down on some godforsaken stretch of 59 as the sun sets -- but the Big Thicket is made for fall, and those rolling two-lane miles can be magical when the light and the leaves rhyme.
6. College football kicks in for real The games against directional podunk schools are gone, conference schedules and rivalries begin and all is right with the world. Fall is when college football is made for, not late summer, and finally the time is right.
5. Finding stuff you forgot you left in your jacket pockets Some Sweet-Tarts, a light-rail pass, even -- dare one dream? -- a spare ten -- breaking out that autumn jacket for the first time of the season can be an Easter-egg hunt for adults. Or, more likely, a massive lint-mining operation.
If living in Texas doesn't mean stealing shamelessly from Louisiana when it comes to food, then we don't know what it means.
If it's possible to have some Cajun expertise on hand when the backyard deep-frying is planned to occur, we highly suggest it. Otherwise giving a heads-up to your local fire & ladder isn't a bad idea.
3. "Cold front" The most magical words of all. There have been times when Texans thought they might never ever again hear this particular pairing of words from the English language, but every year we get blissfully fooled again.
2. Texas-OU at the Cotton Bowl Definitely a part of, but also definitely apart from, the aforementioned State Fair If you can only make the Fair on one day, it's worth it to do it the day of the Red River Shootout (no "Rivalry" here) -- climb on the bus and the light rail with the cheering, but generally friendly, fans as they brag on their squads; roam the fairgrounds surrounded by burnt orange and whatever that maroon-and-cream is OU sports.
And then everyone wearing jerseys heads into the stadium, leaving the rides free for you and your kid(s). Take the Ferris wheel and peer down on the classic stadium, divided by color from 50-yard-line to 50-yard-line.
A unique Texas experience, with a little help from Oklahoma, and Jerry Jones better not ever take it away.
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SHOW ME HOW
1. The festivals! ACL, Fun Fun Fest, Wurstfest, Greek Fests, Italian Fests -- everywhere across the state, Texans take advantage of dipping temps to party. And as one Texan put it: "The only festivals left this late in the year are usually an ode to serious drinking, not some Strawberry Festival."