The following is an excerpt from the book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, to be published May 1, 2014. This excerpt comes from chapter 6 – “Excess.”
The plane neared its destination; we looked out the window with excitement. Halfway expecting to see tumbleweeds and brown stretches of barren land, we saw green terrain and trees—lots of trees. My wife and I, both from the Land of Lincoln, were flying to Houston for my first interview at a church; it was 1990 and neither of us had been to Texas before. We were pleasantly surprised by what we saw out the plane window. The particular Texas stereotype that we brought with us, constructed of sagebrush and desert, was crushed by reality. Houston was lush and—as we would find out later—got its fair share of rain. Over the plane’s intercom, the friendly Continental Airlines flight attendant, complete with Texas twang, informed us of the local time and temperature. What we heard next, however, from our hospitable hostess shockingly showed us that not all our Texas stereotypes would be poleaxed: “Y’all have fun in Houston and hope y’all make lots of money!” My wife and I looked at each other with mouths agape, our faces betraying abject disbelief over what we had just heard. Did she really just say that? Our Upper-Midwest sensibilities took a direct hit; we wondered, what awaited us in this land of big profits and tall talk?
Truth be told, that jarring introduction to Texas more than twenty years ago didn’t scare us away. We love it in Texas—and for many reasons: the people, the mix of cultures and traditions, the food, the opportunities. Texas is unique historically; a big part of that history is commercial boldness. When we came to Houston in the early 1990s, low crude oil prices had made parts of the city go bust. Earlier, when the rest of the country suffered economically because of the Middle East oil embargo, Houston boomed. High oil prices were and are good for Houston; the romance of the energy business is reflected in its sprawling urban geography and lack of zoning laws. Houston, in the words of Enron chroniclers Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, was “wide open to opportunity and worshipful of money.”* Houston hasn’t changed. In 2011 Forbes named Houston the fastest growing millionaire city in America. The reason? It’s still oil and gas.
*Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron, Penguin (2003), 1.
Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, Blue Ocotillo Publishing (2014), 132. All rights reserved. Paperback edition available at http://www.blueocotillo.com.