Mamas, tell your babies don’t mess with Texas.
Don’t let ’em throw cans from them old pickup trucks.
Don’t let ‘em throw bottles and papers and such.
Mamas, tell all your babies don’t mess with Texas.
Keep your trash off the roads; she’s a fine yellow rose.
Treat Texas like someone you love.
— Willie Nelson, “Don’t Mess With Texas”
I sometimes wondered as I rode across Texas in the autumn of 2009 on a cross-country bicycle trip what the non-Americans in our party might think of the ubiquitous anti-litter signs “Don’t Mess With Texas.”
Would that stark commandment instill fear in the hearts of the gentler souls among us – my riding companions from the Netherlands and England?
How exactly, they might have thought, does one mess with Texas? What’s the penalty for messing with Texas? This state, after all, leads the nation in executions. What degree of messing with Texas would earn a one-way trip to the death chamber at Huntsville?
And does the slogan have a broader meaning, aimed at Washington bureaucrats or anybody else who might suggest that all is not sunflowers and bluebonnets in Gov. Rick Perry’s Lone Star State.
We did our best not to mess with Texas during our 1,000-mile slog across the state from El Paso to Austin to the Sabine River.
The bloke from Britain, once it was explained that the “Don’t Mess With Texas” signs were part of an anti-litter campaign that began nearly three decades ago, found the slogan jolly amusing.
Somewhere along the way, he acquired a “Don’t Mess With Texas” sticker, which he affixed to his bike frame for the rest of the ride to the Atlantic Coast.
Lately, a new sign has been popping up along the state’s highways: “The eyes of Texas are upon you.”
It features a menacing-looking man in a cowboy hat, looking like a stylized Texas Ranger wearing either a black mask or reflective aviator shades, depending on the viewer’s perception of the image.
It urges cellphone users to “please call 911 to report criminal activities or emergencies.”
I like the word please on the sign.
And the state is getting out the word that anybody who messes with the “Don’t Mess With Texas” slogan — i.e., infringing on the federally registered trademark on the phrase, owned by the Texas Department of Transportation since 1985 – will face legal action.
“Since 2000,” said a Sept. 14 story in The New York Times, “Texas transportation officials have contacted more than 100 companies, organizations and individuals about the unauthorized use of the phrase, often in the form of strongly worded cease-and-desist letters that tell violators to stop using the slogan or obtain licensing for it for a fee.”
So the next time a swaggering drunk makes a threatening move and growls “Don’t mess with Texas,” step back slowly and say in a calm, measured voice: “Cease and desist, please. The eyes of Texas are upon you.”