The Society Diaries’ Rob Giardinelli takes an insightful look at each major city of Texas in his new book Being In The Room…you might recognize some of the characters in your own life and hometown.
In our life experiences, we encounter many types of people and families, ranging from the mundane to the larger than life. In fact, I’ve found a way to personify the people and personalities of the state of Texas. It’s by comparing them to a nuclear family unit you might be familiar with, too – a tale of several cities that is represented by the people in this particular analogy. I’ve gotten to know this remarkable family of the state of Texas and the people in it rather well through my experiences with these individual cities. It’s a family headed by a man named Tex. A larger than life personality who loves playing by his own rules, Tex is strong, rugged and competitive. He fosters a large and boisterous bravado with an independent spirit.
This spirit is often oversized and from time to time he creates rifts with his siblings such as his sisters Florida and York, or his brother Phil. What Tex’s siblings often misunderstand is that his bravado is as big as his heart. He is often charitable to a fault, giving hundreds of millions of dollars to causes ranging from children’s organizations to the arts… and everything between. With his wife Grande, they have five beautiful children. Each one shows flashes of the bravado of their father, yet possessed their own nuances that make them unique. While each sibling is very different, they have various traits in common with one another. As in the case with most families, these traits link them inextricably.
The oldest son, Dallas is most like Tex. He is larger than life, unafraid to use his confidence to get ahead, and is proud that he is the oldest, the biggest and the strongest. Charitable to a fault like his father, Dallas loves giving back to make his way of living as beautiful and fruitful as possible. At the same time he is extremely competitive and unafraid of confrontation to the point that others view him as aggressive. He often tries to outdo his personal best immediately after a triumph. Think about him running a marathon in three hours on Saturday, only to turn around and run fifty miles in six hours on Sunday. The fire in him to do better is constant. Faith is important to Dallas, but so long as you can deliver the goods and contribute in a substantial way, he does not care if you subscribe to his faith. He believes that the differences others bring to the table will usually yield a better product that only makes him stronger.
Dallas is a man of many interests and is happy making money in various ways. Be it in technology, defense, media, retail, oil, or finance, he feels that this array of interests creates more competition, which is ultimately better for everybody. Most importantly, he is always up for a good time, and he is known for his legendary parties that draw thousands of people. From a football tailgate to a multi-million-dollar gala, these extravaganzas are always a blast and he knows it. These events often occur to the embarrassment of his siblings who think they are more spectacles than they are parties. They perhaps are a little jealous at the same time. As long as you are up for a good time, you are welcome by Dallas – boots and all.
Houston, Tex’s oldest daughter and Dallas’ sister, is a woman who loves tradition and decorum. As president of her sorority in college, she developed an insatiable passion for the arts and architecture. She spent a year studying abroad in Paris and also completed a prestigious internship at a top art gallery in New York. These experiences yielded an incredibly fine, sophisticated palate as well as exemplary taste. After college, she went into oil, the legacy family business and the hub of her universe.
Like her older brother, Houston takes her faith seriously. Unlike her brother however, the more-is-better attitude is less on display. She instead opts for what feels comfortable and familiar rather than going all-out to impress as many people as possible. This can be seen in the parties she hosts, which are beautiful, elegant affairs that are more intimate than the over-the-top affairs for which her big brother Dallas is known. At the same time, Houston’s parties raise impressive sums of money for as many charitable causes as her big brother’s fundraisers. She prides herself on having impeccable manners while demonstrating the ability to carry on lively and fun conversations with whomever she may encounter. Most admirably, as an expert in the art of discretion, Houston masterfully avoids encounters with those she chooses not to engage.
The third of five siblings, Antonio is the good son. He’s the child who is always going to do well no mater what. His personality is one that values tradition and decorum in a similar way to his older sister Houston. At the same time, Antonio has created a mutual distance between himself and his older brother Dallas. In fact, they often do not even notice one another in the same space. If Antonio is perfectly happy sticking to tradition and decorum, his older brother Dallas is continually seeking the next big thing. This tradition is driven in large part by Antonio’s role as the family historian. He appreciates and celebrates his past and thereby, his role in the family.
The way Antonio entertains is emblematic of this sense of tradition. Rather than focusing his energy on continually trying to create something new like his older brother, or exquisitely curated intimate events like his older sister, he has chosen to follow his own path. He’s taken the best traits of his older siblings: Houston’s love of tradition and Dallas’ love of bravado. Antonio creates a spectacular array of parties once a year that everyone in town celebrates, like an unforgettable Mardi Gras. It’s an array of envy, really. The round of galas and parades, combined with music, food, art and history, celebrate both he and his family in a way that none of his older siblings ever would.
Austin, the fourth sibling, is the youngest son. He’s the free spirit who has a different, more progressive view of the world than his siblings and parents. Austin came out as gay to his family in high school and after attending college, he spent a year backpacking through Europe and climbing Mount Everest. He then returned home to spend another year in the hospitality industry as a bartender before landing a key marketing job at a hot successful technology startup.
Austin is the most casual of his siblings. He has a unique sense of style that is sophisticated in its own way. Unlike his siblings, especially his oldest brother and oldest sister, he entertains in a hip and fun way. He’s charitable in a way that is very different from Dallas’ bravado, Houston’s elegance or Antonio’s tradition. Austin is about giving from the heart. In his individualistic way he is open to any and all incredible experiences like his oldest brother, Dallas, open to enjoying intimate evenings with friends like his oldest sister, Houston, and appreciates traditions like his older brother, Antonio.
As with most large families, there are plenty of secrets. One secret is of a dalliance that Tex’s wife Grande once had with a younger man named New Mexico, who was the son of Mexico. Her husband Tex regularly conducts business with Mexico and unbeknownst to him, Tex has been having an affair with Mexico’s wife Baja for years. Grande discovered this and used this discretion to get even with the affair with New Mexico. It was an affair that produced a daughter named El Paso. Grande decided to pass it off as Tex’s daughter and picked the name El Paso by design. In Spanish, El Paso means “the passage,” giving a strong sense of irony and amusement to her name.
Growing up there was always a distance between El Paso and her other siblings. Sensing she was different from them, she created her own way in the world and is naturally drawn to Mexico and New Mexico in social situations for reasons known only to her mother Grande. She sees the similarities to her natural father and grandfather every day, which allows El Paso be her true self and celebrate her own unique sense of individuality.
As with all families, Tex’s extended family is comprised of all kinds of relatives who have personalities that exhibit similar family traits. This proves their family connectedness and as with most extended families, some relatives get along better than others.
One of the most notable extended family members is cousin Angel, who is from the West Coast and is known for her indelible mark on the entertainment industry. Under this context, you can see why the various children of Big Tex have a strong affinity for Angel. Her home town’s gay community appeals to Austin, who will occasionally go for weekend visits loving the idyllic weather that allows everyone to show their well-toned physiques year ’round. At the same time, Dallas appreciates cousin Angel’s perfectly manicured lawns and the way she always seeks the next new cool thing. It creates a healthy, competitive landscape. Like Dallas, each of Angel’s lavish fêtes is soon matched by an even more over the top production that continues in a seemingly never-ending cycle. This is why some in Tex’s family feel that Angel and Dallas are kindred spirits.
Then there is Uncle Phil and Aunt York on the East Coast who are the straightforward relatives who always say what’s on their mind. While Tex’s wife and children may feel uneasy about their bluntness, these two have special characteristics that their nieces and nephews admire. Antonio appreciates his uncle’s role as a historian for the extended family and is fascinated by the many long-standing established traditions he relishes supporting. Many of these traditions precede the existence of Tex’s family in the United States. Houston appreciates her aunt and uncle’s love of culture and their sharp wit. Hers is similar, yet more nuanced. Houston’s disdain for others is not through the verbal confrontation for which her aunt and uncle are known. Rather, that disdain is shown through the old adage that “actions speak louder than words.” Instead of creating a scene at a family event, Houston will simply not attend if she might run into relatives and others she does not care for. However, Phil and York are also charitable to a fault, sharing a great appreciation of the arts, which resonates with Houston and influences her deeply.
In navigating through this wealthy, complicated, yet relatable family that represents the essence of the Texas, I have learned that while we are in many ways different, we are also much more alike that we realize. In many cases, more than we would ever care to admit – rich or poor, famous or anonymous. Throughout the stories in my new book, which occur in and beyond Texas, many of the settings, locations and characters will not explicitly be named to represent the city in which they occurred. This is meant to allow you to interpret each story through the filters and lenses of your own experiences. You can apply these lessons to your own life, family, friends, colleagues, strangers, and situations that are part of your own story.