A few weeks ago I wrote a column titled “You know you’re in the Valley when . . .” For that column, I envisioned waking up on the streets of McAllen or Mercedes. I wondered how I would know I was in the Valley, and not in the suburban sprawl of Dallas or Houston. After all, IHop, Denny’s, Tinsel Town, and even Barnes and Noble, all look the same, whether you’re here or in Arlington or Pasadena. So do the subdivisions and gated communities.
I hadn’t really worked out what I might be doing sleeping on the streets of McAllen or Mercedes in the first place short of homelessness or liberally borrowing from the plot of Bachelor Party. I was simply interested in what makes the Valley unique, what makes it feel like home to so many of us despite the fact that it pretty much looks like any other suburb in the state.
Some of you joined in on the blog, sending me your own, “You know you’re in the Valley.” One thing they all have in common is they’re less about what it looks like in the Valley than it is about how it feels to be in the Valley.
JR wrote simply “Tortillas for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” I’m not sure if he was complaining or bragging. What makes his idea fun, and fun eating, is that from gas station steam tables to the most expensive botana platter in town, with a little creativity you can have a different filling in that tortilla every meal for a week and repeat yourself: egg and bacon, egg and potato, egg and . . . you get the picture. But that’s just breakfast. There’s also barbacoa, beef and chicken fajitas. (A traditionalist friend once insisted that you can’t have chicken fajitas because chickens don’t have skirt meat. I didn’t tell him I didn’t know what skirt meat was, and really didn’t want to. And there’s no telling what he’d have to say about shrimp fajitas.) Don’t forget tripas and other fillings made from parts of the cow we’re uncomfortable thinking about.
For some reason, many of the comments were about food. That in itself must tell us something about the Valley. CH wrote:
“You choose a restaurant by the quality of their beans.”
“Raspas are more popular than ice cream.”
“People love to eat lemon or lime on everything.” Don’t forget the chili powder, CH, which is often sprinkled liberally on fruit, lollypops, and even candied apples.”
CH was also intrigued by the Valley’s unique horticulture, and wrote:
“Springtime fills the air with the scent of orange blossoms.”
“The retama trees bloom from spring through summer with yellow flowers.”
“Most homes have a citrus tree in the yard.”
No mention of what makes the Valley unique would be complete without mentioning the weather, complaining about it, bragging about it, wondering about it. In the Valley that inevitably means talking about how hot it’s going to get this summer. From Mari, “You know you’re in the Valley when the temperature tops 100 degrees for three or four months straight. The Valley sizzles!”
From from John Paul comes what may be the ultimate “You know you’re in the Valley” moment, something that would happen nowhere else. (After all, you can get tacos in Dallas, even in NY City. Even if they won’t have tripas on the menu. And they tell me it sometimes gets hot in Death Valley.) But where else, as John Paul writes, is “the music at a rock club is stopped for mariachis to play?” Probably so they can sing “Mi ñina bonita” or “Fotos y Recuerdos” for someone’s quinceanera. The Valley indeed sizzles.