Almost 10 years ago, when I moved from Connecticut to Houston, I went looking for a townhouse. New ones were being built in a part of the city called Freedmen's Town, where formerly enslaved people had settled after emancipation, living for generations in small white shotgun houses.
From the kitchen window of one of the townhouses, I could see an old shotgun house. "Don't worry," said the developer. "That'll be gone by morning."
Where were the preservationists? Where were the protesters? I knew right then I was not in Connecticut anymore.
Now don't get me wrong. I love Connecticut. One branch of my family showed up there in the 1600s, and from then until now, I'm the very first one to think of decamping to Texas.
If you think of Texas as a land of sprawl and swagger, and maybe with a bit of an environmental problem, you're not wrong. Is it the whole story? Hardly.
If you make $50,000 in Hartford, you have the same buying power as someone making about $36,000 in Houston, the fourth largest city in the country. In other words, your money goes a lot farther, and none of it goes into a state income tax.
Sure, there are plenty of rich folk in Texas — I make a game of guessing what over-the-top car I'll see on the road. Lamborghini? Ferrari? (A woman I know who travels in those circles laughed when I told her I'd seen a Maserati with a baby seat in it. The Maserati, she explained, is your everyday car.) There are also plenty of very, very poor.
But the untold story is the huge, diverse and thriving middle class. You can get a big, new four-bedroom house in Pearland, a nice suburb, for less than $200,000. Chances are your suburban house is near a sparkling-new public school, too. Come election time, some of your neighbors' lawn signs might be disconcerting, but those same neighbors are generous and bighearted. Strangers will greet you on the street. The toll-taker on the highway will tell you what a terrible cook her daughter is.
Think what you will of our peripatetic governor, but he has challenged state colleges and universities to figure out how to offer a four-year college degree for $10,000. Imagine how not having to worry about your kids' college costs would change your life.
Texas has gotten other things right, too. Unlike the so-called "sand states," Texas had relatively stringent mortgage regulation, thus largely sparing it — and its homeowners — from the foreclosure crisis. On undocumented immigrants, Texans, unlike many Arizonans, are by and large rational. It's apparent to anyone with five senses that the state could not function without the infusion of cheap, earnest workers. And sure, we love our big pickups, but head out to West Texas and you'll see forests of wind turbines.
So, my dear Nutmeggers, you needn't really fear that your job and you will wind up down here. Just think how nice it will be to sell your snow shovel at the tag sale.
Kyrie O'Connor is a senior editor and columnist at the Houston Chronicle and a former editor at The Courant.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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