Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fuel City

Next time you’re speeding through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas headed for the Stemmons Freeway underpass, don’t hightail it to Parkland Hospital. Instead, hang a left on Industrial Blvd and head on over to Fuel City.

Technically, Fuel City is a gas station. But it’s a big one right in the middle of a tangle of elevated highways. And it sells every possible brand of mainstream domestic and Mexican beer to go. Plus it has a swimming pool with a bikini girl sitting on a plastic lawn chair. And, according to some scientific polling methodology, it has the best tacos in Texas.

The name enchanted me and came for a visit last night.

Fuel City could easily be a kitch landmark if some hipsters from the coast latched on to it but for now it’s a disappointment because it’s for real. There’s only the barest hint of irony. The tee shirts, which they will dig out from the far back somewhere if you ask for one, say in huge block letters, “FAMOUS FOR FUN” though I doubt Fuel City is even famous for fuel.

I guess the girl by the pool is a bit contrived but other than that, it seems to be more in tune with the Texas vibe than anything alt. Of course, for most of the coast hugging United States, Texas, and flyover country generally, is authentically alternative to what passes for officially sanctioned coolness. The huge signs pointing out the President George Bush Freeway are enough to make the whole area radioactive to sophisticates.

Texas doesn't allow you to forget where you are. Everywhere there are Texas flags. “Texas” is incorporated into most signs and brand names. And little Texas shapes are ubiquitously sprinkled over the landscape. And where Texas-jingoism leaves off, Americana begins.

This must be what Europeans feel when they come to anyplace in the United States . . . the flags, the overconfidence. It could certainly come off as arrogance, but it's actually far more benign than that.

I like jingo. Unlike the usual connotations, I think it’s hopeful and inclusive. After all, anyone can be Texan if they buy into the values.

The same with flag-waving America. If you buy into it, you're as American as George Bush. Can't say that about France or Sweden. And that may be a reason why those countries have such difficulty absorbing immigrants.

I'd like to compare assimilation success in chauvinistic states like Texas and less well defined states such as Connecticut. I suspect Mexicans feel more like Texans after a few months in Dallas than they feel like Nutmeggers after years of living in Hartford.

Anyway, it's remarkable to think that if JFK had simply said, "Ah drivah, don't ahh tahn heah. Take me ahh straight to ahh Fuel City," he'd probably be alive today.

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