tion period of the late Seventies. Could I have just witnessed in little ol’ Kerrville another manifestation of the migration phenomenon that is continually changing the face of America? I wondered. I learned about such things once in a graduate sociology course at The University of Texas, where I devoted one whole term to interviewing Austin-area cedar choppers to see whether they met enough of the criteria on somebody’s fiveor six-point scale to qualify as a legitimate “minority group.” \(I can’t remember if they did or not, or even what all of the criteria were, but the term paper had to open with a “thesis question,” and I amused my professor with this one: “How much cedar could a cedar chopper chop if a What I did learn talking to the cedar choppers \(on the pretext of studying were the direct descendants of the early Scotch-Irish settlers who took to the woods and followed the Appalachian and Ozark and assorted mountain ranges from northeast to southwest until the mountains and the woods ran out. Then they followed the cedar breaks all the way to Jonestown, where the cedar ran out, and that’s how West Virginia hillbillies ended up as Central Texas cedar choppers, more or less. Which is neither here nor there, except that quiche seems similarly to migrate by whatever route economically sustains intellectuals and guilt-ridden dogooders who like to identify with the common man and the working classes so long as they get together secretly at cocktail parties and eat weird food. By now, the migration phenomenon was bothering me a lot: hillbillies and quiche-eaters alike marching inexorably south and west and ending up in Texas, just as armadillos and killer bees are said to be moving north, with fire ants coming in from the Gulf States, followed by kudzu vines, for all I know. I remember when the beatniks finally reached Austin, about 1958, followed by genuine California hippies less than ten years later. Oh, how those ‘dopesmoking, long-haired communist peacefreak weirdos could brighten a Texas sheriff’s day and afford rednecks endless hours of amusement when their flower-festooned VW buses suffered mechanical failure! All this was the stuff of good horror movies, from Easy Rider to The Killer Bees to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Darn! Where’s my old buddy Tobe Hooper now that we need him to do Invasion of the Quiche Eaters? I spent about four days in Kerrville stewing about the quiche peril, worrying that if quiche had come to Kerrville, could brie be far behind? Austin years ago was lost to culinary foppishness, to the point where some of my best friends are using those ridiculous little plastic machines that force you to grind your own beans just to get the powder to make some of the worst instant coffee I’ve ever tasted. The prospect of Kerrville swarming with quiche-eaters and brie-brains was too much to bear. Quiche seems to migrate by whatever route economically sustains intellectuals and guilt-ridden do-gooders. I can tell you now that it took courage for me to walk into Polar Bear Ashburn’s Ice Cream Parlor on the excuse of buying a plain vanilla cone in order to ask casually, “By the way what’s that there quiche y’all got on the sign outside?” The young man behind the counter couldn’t tell me much about it and concentrated on describing its physical characteristics. “It’s round, sort of like a pizza, y ‘know, but it’s about yea thick and kind of creamy looking, but made out of cheese or something and we just stick it in the microwave.” Microwave! Bless me, but the boy must be talking about some kind of frozen quiche, something that had quietly slipped into town like a timid Easterner, probably not knowing quite what to expect but finding the casual acceptance generally accorded harmlesslooking strangers in this hospitable state. And this reminded me that migratory phenomena tend to be self-limiting. For instance, I understand that killer bees are interbreeding with local species during their trek northward, losing much of their viciousness, and may ultimately arrive in the U.S. in a fairly benign mood. This same dilution effect probably accounts for the gradual evolution of hostile and clannish Appalachian hillbillies into increasingly gentle forms of rednecks and good ol’ boys as they pass through East Texas and crossbred with Western stock to produce easygoing shitkickers. Nature’s way! The fact that quiche evidently reached Kerrville factory-made and frozen means to me that Texas already has accommodated and defanged this culture creature from the jungles of the sophisticated East and domesticated it before it could do any serious harm in the hill country. Which doesn’t, however, solve the problem of getting real barbecue, TexMex and “chicken-fried what?” in Chicago, where people like me are starving. This story could have and probably should have ended on that clever note, but I knew sure as hell some fact-checker would call Polar Bear . Ashburn’s to make sure I was telling the truth and then would call me insisting that I update the piece to reflect the current status of quiche in Kerrville. So I called Polar Bear’s myself as an exercise in journalistic integrity, and the nice lady who answered the phone seemed not a bit surprised when I said, “Ma’am, I’m in Chicago but I’m going to be down there soon visiting my momma and was just wondering if y’all still serve quiche.” She answered very brightly, “We sure do!” just as though she were proud of it, which was something I didn’t want to think. If anything, I wanted to hear something like “Oh, we tried to sell that stuff once, but nobody’d touch it, so we buried it out back deep enough so’s the dogs wouldn’t dig it up and get sick.” That wasn’t what I heard, though; what she said was that their quiches was very good and also very popular, and for a few moments I was reeling at the prospect that my next drive down the main street of Kerrville would take me past newly-opened boutiques and cutely named fern bars. Ach! As casually as possible, I asked if she happened to know where quiche, meaning the food itself, comes from. And she didn’t know, really! Polar Bear’s had it when she started there, was her answer. Here again I had prejudged. I thought maybe she’d say, “France, I reckon, by way of those over-priced side-street ersatz French restaurants in New York that are patronized by the fashion-conscious intelligentsia.” Either that, or “Billy Bob Bohannon Frozen Food Distributors in San’tonya, where we get our sno-cone makings.” But then I learned that Polar Bear’s maybe used to pop frozen quiche in the microwave, but since she’s been there it’s made fresh, and they’ve got all sorts of flavors, including taco. Taco? Taco-flavored quiche! Well, so much for my fears that Kerrville had turned into Wimpville. To discover that the local purveyors of quiche don’t know where it comes from, what it symbolizes, don’t care, and that it is available in taco flavor, only confirms my faith that Texas can handle the best and the worst that civilization has to dish out. 111 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23
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