Lone Star Loner: Culture Shock in Lubbock, Texas

A misplaced prof gets fed up at Texas Tech

| January/February 2000

At 26, I took my first teaching job, as a visiting assistant professor of English at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Given the state of the academic market, I was fortunate to get it; but at the time, with my Eastern upbringing, secret ambitions, and new Harvard Ph.D., I felt like the unluckiest man imaginable. Though "culture shock" was becoming a much-overused term, it seemed applicable to the disorienting blend of Larry McMurtry and David Lodge that was now my life. I had a number of good students, but they don't make many appearances in the journal I kept; 20 years later, I blush for my snobbery.

I arrived, never before having seen the city or university, a couple of weeks before classes began.

August 15, 1978: As the taxi heads "downtown," I'm struck by a flatness so absolute as to be unreal: The dusty ground is relieved only by patches of exhausted grass.

August 19: When you walk along the sides of the roads—plenty of them don't have sidewalks—people in cars sometimes stop, asking if you need a lift. They're just puzzled by the sight of anyone not in a car.

August 30: In the morning, before going to the office, I have to stop at the bank, and at the Buster Hanks men's store to buy a tie for the faculty meeting in the afternoon. There is no tie in the two suitcases I'm living out of, and not being sure of the customs of the country, I decided that I ought to wear one just in case. Going out the door, I'm told by the salesman: "Y'all come back; I've got your suit size." (Meaning, by Lubbock standards, extra small and scrawny.)

September 4: On the way to a movie I slipped down a gravel-splashed incline near the shopping center. I cut up my forearms and nearly blacked out. This is the way I discover what must be the only hill in Lubbock.