10 Subtle Differences Between Texas and California

Nearly four years ago I wrote a series of short stories called The Transplant Chronicles narrating the experience of moving from San Francisco, where I lived for 12 years, to a beach town near San Diego called Encinitas. At that point in my life I'd been a surfer for over 15 years and always had a strong desire to live, at least for a little while, in an area with warm waters and great waves (outside of Santa Cruz, which has some of the greatest waves in the world, Northern California doesn't exactly offer tranquil waves and the ocean is frigid year-round).

I had sold my business of two years, San Francisco Surf Company, due primarily to financial struggles from the Great Recession, and my relationship with my girlfriend of five years was simultaneously coming to an end. I was in a very dark place in life and had planned on a year-long respite of being a surf bum in the warm waters and sunny beaches of Southern California. Joining me was my longtime companion Dr. Indiana Jones (Indy for short), a half-English Bulldog, half-Boxer who I had rescued years earlier from the San Francisco SPCA.

This was an insane transitional period in my life. And I thought, for better or worse, it might be fun to chronicle making that 500 mile move and the quirky stories that come with it.

I was envisioning The Transplant Chronicles being a three-part story. I wrote two parts of it and never got around to writing the third part. Time just gets away from you. Next thing I knew, after I wrote the second part of the story, nearly four years had passed and yet again I moved, this time to my current home of Conroe, located near the Sam Houston National Forest north of Houston, in the great state of Texas.

In those three and a half years in Encinitas I did a lot of surfing, hosted a surf talk radio show that aired on ESPN radio in San Diego, and I was an instructor of journalism courses at San Diego State University while concurrently earning a Master's degree from SDSU.

That led to my new current position as a full-time professor at the University of Houston. And as crazy as the transition was moving from San Francisco to the San Diego area, that was nothing compared to moving from California to Texas.

I've only been here for eight months. It's enough time though to start noticing subtle differences between the two regions. There are the obvious differences that most people already know about, such as ideologies, politics, government regulation (or lack thereof), guns, religion, weather, and geography.

I want to focus more on the little variances between the two states that aren't discussed much. In many ways, this article perhaps offers a conclusion to my trilogy of short stories focusing on a surfer and his dog moving from San Francisco to the San Diego area, and then three and a half years later to Texas. And given the number one destination for Californians who leave the state is Texas, I figured it was apropos to publish the subtle differences between the two most populated states in America.

It's very important to note that Austin doesn't count in the comparison. Austin in many ways is California. It's certainly more California than Texas, that's for sure.

Here are 10 subtle differences between California and Texas.

Feeder Lanes

The formal name for the roads that run parallel to the freeway, go one way, and typically serve as the entrance and exit points of the adjacent highway, is a frontage road. Everyone in Texas calls them "feeder lanes" though. I don't know of any other place besides Texas that have these sort of roads. They don't seem to make much sense besides serving as an alternate when there's heavy traffic on the freeway, and even then feeder lanes are often congested. Businesses typically line feeder lanes so all along the highways of Texas, at least in the major cities, you get a view of chain stores, mini-malls, auto dealerships, and pretty much every form of store front. Feeder lanes serve as the ultimate eyesore and while studies have overwhelmingly shown they're detrimental to the flow of traffic and actually cause economic harm to the immediate vicinity of the road, for whatever reason they continue to exist in the state of Texas.

Texting and Driving

Incredibly, amazingly, and appallingly, texting while driving is legal in Texas. There have been various attempts throughout the years to ban the incredibly unsafe driving practice, yet the measure continues to not pass because of a stubborn refusal by the majority of elected officials in Texas to enact the ban into law.

A Legitimate Fear of Uninsured Drivers

When I first moved to Texas, I was flabbergasted when my agent notified me that my automobile insurance rate was going to literally triple in cost compared to what I had been paying in California. According to the agent, as dangerous as it is to drive in a state where texting and driving is legal, what makes driving in Texas even more hazardous is the amount of uninsured drivers. According to the insurance agent I was speaking to, a staggering one in five drivers in Texas don't have automobile insurance. Meaning there's a good chance that if you get in an automobile accident in Texas, you might have to pay the cost of repairing your vehicle regardless of who's at fault.

Big Rig Trucks in the Fast Lane

As if legal texting and driving coupled with 20% of all drivers in Texas being uninsured wasn't bad enough, you also have to deal with psychotic big rig drivers who operate their gigantic vehicles like maniacs. With a lack of regulation comes all sorts of manufacturing, processing, chemicals, etc. and big rig trucks are everywhere in Texas, shipping whatever cargo is sitting in those beds. While big rig truck drivers are somewhat civilized in California (you rarely if ever see them speeding or leaving the slower lanes of the freeway), in Texas they'll often pass you, drive well past the speed limit, and are often flying in the fast lane of the freeway, peddle to the metal. I even had a big rig truck smash into me once while I was sitting idle in a gas station near San Antonio waiting for traffic to pass.

A photo posted by Cyrus Saatsaz (@dogwild) on

Chemical Plants
HOUSTON, Texas (Dec. 11)--The Port of Houston, the busiest in the nation in terms of foreign tonnage, is accessed by a 54-mile long ship channel.  In an average day more than 700 vessel transit the channel.  Here, a ship passes under the Fred Hartman bridge on the Houston ship channel, December 11.  USCG photo by PA2 James Dillard
People in California take the environment seriously. And rightfully so. While Southern California is on the cusp of being a lost cause due to the vast amount of people that live there, and the endless development lining the coast, the rest of the state still has large swathes of pristine open space throughout and undeveloped coastlines that bloodthirsty developers continue to try to infringe upon. And while conservatives often critique the state's government for overregulation, those same parameters are what keep the water relatively clean and the air fresh (provided you're not stuck in traffic on the 405).

Those same things can't be said about Texas, where its largest city has a complete lack of zoning laws and the majority of the state seems to have complete apathy towards the environment. A pro-business and pro-development political atmosphere has resulted in major industries developing manufacturing and chemical plants pretty much wherever they desire. This has resulted in the vast majority of the state's coastline polluted with disgustingly brown water, air quality measures ranking among the worst in the country with the state releasing more carbon dioxide emissions than any other state, and "where power plants, cement factories, refineries, and other facilities produce far more ozone-causing pollutants than those in any other state."

It's this aspect of Texas that makes me miss my home state of California more than anything.


Line dancing was a relatively strange concept to me prior to moving to Texas. In fact, pretty much any form of synchronized dancing among large groups that don't involve a theater troupe or cheerleading squad is a relatively foreign concept in California. In Texas, they have huge drinking establishments such as the Big Texas Dance Hall & Saloon where massive crowds numbering well into the hundreds will simultaneously drop their drinks, hit the dance floor, and begin line dancing in a synchronized manner to various songs, chief among them Steve Earle's Copperhead Road. Sociologically speaking, it's a fascinating phenomenon of which I have zero explanation for.


Your typical high school homecoming dance in California consists of a tuxedo for men, dresses for women, and maybe a corsage for one or both of the guests. That's the extent of formalities with a California high school gala. Which is all the more reason why I was bewildered upon finding out that Texans have this bizarre tradition of wearing these massive floral pins called mums when going to a homecoming dance. I don't know how to precisely describe these enormous corsage-type accessories, though the phenomena has been getting some media coverage recently from the Houston Chronicle and Jezebel, and their photos and descriptions could probably give you a better idea as to what these things really are.


I'd never heard of a Kolache prior to moving to Texas. My old college friend who I was visiting in Austin decided one morning we should have these delightful morsels of dough wrapped around either a sausage or desert jelly for breakfast. They serve them at various establishments including Shipley Do-Nuts, a Texas staple that doesn't exist in California either.


With the exception of maybe The Alamo, there isn't much in Texas for tourists across the country, and the world for that matter, to visit. California on the other hand attracts hordes of annoying tourists from around the world visiting the beaches, mountains, national parks, cities, forests, and the thousands of tourist attractions ranging from Disneyland to Universal Studios to the Golden Gate Bridge that the state has to offer (and which are often ruined due to the massive crowds of tourists who visit them).


It took me a while to figure out why there's so much damn pride in the state of Texas. I mean, what exactly is there to be proud of? The miserable heat and humidity in the summer? The freezing conditions in the winter? The relative lack of such naturally beautiful aesthetics as beaches and mountains? The overabundance of an armed society? Air pollution? Traffic? Ranking last in the country in the percentage of adults with high school diplomas?

I couldn't figure this out when I first moved here, and when I'd ask my students why Texas residents have so much pride in their state, I never could get a rational answer from them.

I slowly came to the realization though, at least theoretically, as to why Texans are so proud of their state.

What Texas has that California lacks is history. It's the only state in the union to have been its own nation, serving as an independent sovereignty for nearly 10 years while fighting a heavy war with Mexico to claim its independence. And as I learned from my students who grew up in Texas, learning about the history of the state is a mandatory part of the early education curriculum. Texas incredibly has its own state pledge, so when students get up in the morning for the Pledge of Allegiance, in Texas they also have to add a second pledge for the state.

California has none of this. There might be a small portion of the curriculum dedicated to the state's history, where students learn about the 21 Spanish Missions or the gold rush, but there certainly isn't a state Pledge of Allegiance for students to recite, memorize, and potentially take pride in.

The most pride people have in California is either in their own individual narcissistic selves, or my beloved Golden State Warriors.

Cyrus Saatsaz is a Professor at the University of Houston, a Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Regional Award winner, host of The Dog & Surfer Roadshow on Yahoo Sports Radio, and is the author of the book Dogwild & Board: Stories, Interviews and Musings from a Surf Journalist. Saatsaz was an editor for USA Today, wrote for The Huffington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, AOL.com, and Fuel.TV, hosted nationally syndicated action sports radio talk shows called WaXed and The Extreme Scene, and owned San Francisco Surf Company, an eco-friendly surf shop/bookstore/art gallery located in San Francisco. Saatsaz was a sports broadcaster at KNBR radio for nearly a decade, and the webcast commentator for the Maverick's Surf Contest. You can find the native Californian on road trips across the great North American continent with his dog Indy.

Photo by Philip Capper via Creative Commons