I hope this letter finds you and the First Lady well. I'm writing to let y'all know we're neighbors. I just moved to Washington with my First Lady (a little D.C. humor there).
You don't know me, but we're from your old stomping grounds, Austin, Texas. I'll get right to the point, sir, as I know you're busy. When you first got here, could you make heads or tails of this place?
I ask, because if you have any advice for a newcomer, a fellow Texan to boot, I'd sure appreciate it. Getting used to any new place is disorienting. But let me say, Mr. President, Texan to Texan, this place is weird. We called Texas "a whole other country." They ought to call Washington "a whole other planet."
Have you driven around this town? Silly question. Sorry. You have a driver. And let me tell you, it's a darn good thing you do. Half the time when I leave my neighborhood, I end up in Maryland.
Here's the rub. District residents act like the city's street design is rational, as if they're not constantly ending up in Maryland, too. "It's easy," a woman friend told me. "The streets are arranged in alphabetical order south to north by syllable, first one syllable, then two, then three, each time repeating through the alphabet."
I looked at her blankly. Repeating alphabets? Syllables? I have a hard enough time remembering to switch my blinker on when I make a turn. I'm going to remember which syllable I'm on?
But let's say I do catch on. Is Ablemarle three syllables or four? And why are there two W's, Warren and Windom, in the two-syllable streets? Why, heading north, does Alton come after Yuma?
I ask these questions rhetorically, Mr. President. I don't expect you to know the answers, having recently moved here yourself. Actually, I don't expect anybody to know the answers.
But something I do wonder if you know is, What's the deal with the state-named streets? They just come out of nowhere, some of them slashing diagonally across the city, others just curling through a neighborhood. There you are, looking for your syllables and counting your alphabet (L, M, N, O OK, the next street should begin with P) when, suddenly, completely out of alphabet or syllable sequence, is New York or Florida. What's up with that?
And how did they decide which state got what street? Rhode Island is huge. Texas is tiny. Mr. President, I think you might consider switching their names. Doing so might rankle the Rhode Island delegation. But, politically speaking, Mr. President, how many electoral votes does Rhode Island have? Know what I mean?
Then, you have your streets with multiple names, your abruptly ending streets, your one-way, oops, just-kidding, we're-actually-two-way-for-a-few-blocks streets, your streets that vanish when they come to a park the size of my dining room table only to reappear again who knows where. I suppose finding them is just knowing a simple formula that I'll learn in time, like realizing the street's continuation comes after the first syllable to the second power, divided by the year the nearest state street was admitted to the nation and multiplying that by the root of the sum of the letters of the street you thought you were on. Something logical like that.
But enough about the streets. The thing I'm really wondering is, can a guy get a decent plate of Tex-Mex in this town? We went to a place the other day. You know what they served as chile con queso? Microwaved Cheez Whiz. I kid you not. As you know, Mr. President, chile con queso is not Cheez Whiz. It's Velveeta. The difference is subtle, but essential.
By the way, sir, you might be happy to know that I've found El Gallindo tostadas in this town. Yep. I couldn't believe it either. El Gallindo! When I came upon them at Sutton's, I stared at the shelf in disbelief. As a former Austinite, I'm sure you know that these chips are made by a little company in Austin and that theirs is the definitive tortilla chip. A true taste of home, Mr. President.
Now the only thing I have to do is find some edible salsa to dip them in. Good luck, right, Mr. President? After searching this town high and low, I now just make my own. If you want my recipe, have your chef call and I will happily provide it.
Speaking of tastes from home, what do you do when you need a fix of Texas barbecue? I can't count the number of barbecue joints I've gone to. I've found a lot of brisket, the national dish of Texas, but none of it like we're used to. They either marinate the character out of it or smother it in herbs or make it too much like roast beef. Mr. President, I've gotten brisket here that came already sauced!
Can you believe that? As Texans, we both know that sauce is something inadequate barbecuers do to cover up the inferior quality of their 'cue. Especially in the Texas Barbecue Belt of the Hill Country, when you get sauce at all, it's a thin vinegar-based "dipping" sauce, always, and I mean always, served on the side. Here, even if they did get the brisket right, they'd then desecrate it by drenching it in a thick, tangy red sauce.
I'll bet you get kind of lonesome, too, for Texas sports, the way Redskins fans view the Cowboys. They just plain flat-out hate 'em. Remember what Steve Spurrier said a few months back at his first press conference as the new coach of the Redskins? He said his goal was to beat the Cowboys. Not get to the Super Bowl. Not even to get into the playoffs. Just to beat the Cowboys.
The newspaper at the time was chockfull of quotes from fans saying the exact same thing. I get the feeling that the Redskins could go 2-14 and as long as those two victories were against the Cowboys, Redskins fans would celebrate for weeks.
And have you checked out the radio, Mr. President? Not a lot of country on it. A lot more jazz and hip-hop. Of course, the thing they really like around here is to hear themselves talk. There are more talk shows on the radio here than pine trees in East Texas. The drone of them, I've found, is almost hypnotic, like an Eastern mantra. Interview shows. Call-in shows. They even have C-SPAN on the radio.
Which causes me to ask if you know, Mr. President, why Chicago is called the Windy City. It's not because of its winter winds, as most people believe, but because of the windiness of its politicians. Myself, I think the wrong city got that nickname.
I don't want you to infer from all this, Mr. President, that I don't like Washington. I do. It's more green and hilly than I imagined it would be. (Remember newcomers to Texas saying that, too?) There's a zillion ethnic restaurants. And I'll get the streets figured out eventually.
Mainly, I just wanted to say hey, Texan to Texan, new neighbor to new neighbor. If you have any advice to help with my transition or inside skinny on some Tex-Mex or barbecue places, I'd love to hear from you.
Also, and I hope I'm not being too forward here, if you and Laura ever a hankering for some good, authentic Texas barbecue, give me a call. I make a pretty fair brisket, if I do say so myself. I know how to make chile con queso, and we have plenty of El Galindo chips to dip into it. With a little Willie Nelson on the jukebox, it'll be like visiting Texas right here in D.C.
Lets just hope your driver doesn't end up in Maryland.
All the best,