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"What's the matter with these shortsighted Republican state senators who don't want Texas 130 named for Willie Nelson just because he's a big hippie?" writes columnist John Kelso in the Austin American-Statesman.

Kelso says since Texans hate toll roads, he's surprised Willie isn't suing for defamation of character at the very thought that they might name something like that for him. Kelso writes that the GOP senators fear Willie isn't a proper role model. He has been known to smoke grass and not pay his taxes. But Kelso says, "By not paying his taxes, Willie was in at the forefront of the GOP revolution. Republicans are always crabbing about taxes. Willie took it one step further by not paying them."

I guess the GOP under President Bush is more entrenched in the Lone Star State than even I thought it was. The other night at a dinner given for me in Austin by former governor Ann Richards and the banking genius young Eddie Safady, Ann got up in Eddie's beautifully restored downtown house to say a few words. She told those assembled that she and Eddie had wanted to see me made an admiral in the Texas Navy. (Texas is the only state ever to have its own navy!) They made the request, but the current governor, the Honorable Rick Perry, refused to do your old friend Liz such a great honor. Even arguments that I was a distinguished alum of the University of Texas and had been given the Wm. Randolph Hearst Award didn't cut any ice with the governor.

Maybe the governor knew that Ann and Eddie had invited Jean and Dan Rather to this dinner along with two of Bill Clinton's best friends, the very rich Tom and Lynn Meredith. The revolutionary writer Bud Shrake and Liz Carpenter of LBJ fame were also there. So perhaps we were eating too liberally.

Well, never mind. It all reminds me of the time I wore a sequined navy jacket to dinner at Barbara Walters, (I must have already aspired to be made a Texas admiral) and Sen. John Warner, the former secretary of the Navy, said to me that he disapproved of my wearing some ribbons I'd stuck on for decoration. "You are not entitled, Liz, to wear the Marine Good Conduct Medal!"

I told the senator in no uncertain terms, "John, you have no idea how entitled I am nor how many marines I've had good conduct with!"

Regardless, even with no rank whatsoever, banker Safady laid on for me an epic Texas dinner by chef Jeff Blank from Hudson's on the Bend restaurant. Get this menu: Diamond Back Rattlesnake Cake in Pistachio Nut Crust coiled atop a Biting Chipolte Sauce and guacamole. Then came the wedge of iceberg lettuce with beefsteak tomato and green goddess dressing. The piece de little resistance was Chicken Fried Steak with Green Chili Smashed Potatoes, Braised Collard Greens and Green-Cream Gravy, plus a Bubba-Lynn Texas Dewberry Cobbler.

After dessert, everybody got up and told tall Texas tales and I autographed a lot of books. I definitely must send one to Gov. Perry, and to columnist John Kelso. And to one of the most loved, most admired and most modest men in all of Texas -- the giant Willie Nelson.

In Austin I also saw one of the great wonders of the modern world. It's the big, new Whole Food emporium that lies near the Colorado River. We have a smaller version of it here in New York in the new Time Warner Building, but the Texas original has to be seen to be believed. Every kind of food known to man, numerous restaurants where they cook it before your very eyes, fantastic ice cream, wine, coffee, whatever your heart desires and gizmos that send your purchases down into the garage right next to your car. They also have tilted escalators that seize and hold your grocery cart.

Then, before Texas Monthly magazine's bash in my honor, I dropped by the Four Seasons Hotel for some biscuits and gravy to fortify my soul. I was nervous. Evan Smith's publication had printed up a big interview with me for May that might not make me too popular in Texas. (Maybe the governor saw an advance.) I picked up the white linen napkin at my place and suddenly it was whisked away by a waiter who substituted a black napkin instead. "So you won't get lint on your black trousers," he said deftly.

I tell you. Texas is going exotic. Coiled rattlesnake cake and napkins coordinated to your pants and the biggest, classiest grocery store one has ever imagined all in one place, plus a mostly red legislature, a truly blue, first-rate university and the GOP's very own president in the White House.

Tribune Media Services

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