Driving across Texas takes a long time. After all, it is a large state. The second largest after Alaska and the second most populous after, uh um, California. What stands out most about Texas, at least while driving, are the trucks. They have pickups here so large; they are twice or three times the size of Dusty, my Jeep Grand Cherokee. It feels as if I am in a compact driving along Interstate 20. Not only are they large, but these Silverados and Ram 1500s have special names such as “Texas Edition” or “Lone Star Edition.” I’ve never noticed a “Golden State” release or “Empire Edition” of any car.
As for driving, however, there is not much scenery. West Texas is mostly flat, dry desert that is a hotbed of mining and oil production. The landscape is pierced by flaming pipes, oil wells, and the ever present “iron horse,” which exists to pump black crude out of the dusty earth. One would think that gas would be cheaper here than any other place in the country, but it’s not. In fact, it is closer to California prices than to many others states in which I have filled up.
My goal is to reach the town of Yantis where my aunt Barb and Thom have set up homestead, about 90 miles east of Dallas. I will cover 600 miles in one day, not much less than the entire 773 mile-width of Texas. South of there in the northern suburbs of Houston, live my uncle and his family. I will visit these sets of relatives, then continue on to the Deep South.
To pass the time while I drive, I engage myself in several activities. First, I make phone calls. My father had called a few days back and left a message of bells, gongs, clicks and a dying chicken (remember he lost his voice box to cancer some years back). Normally, when I return his call, I fill him in on my side of things. This time, I just quack at him for five minutes:
“Quack, quack, quack,” I say.
He responds with bells, “Bing, bong, ding.”
“Quack quack, quack quack.” I hear him laugh with no voice.
After several minutes of this, I simply hang up. No goodbye, just “Quack, quack,” then click.
This, and the relationship my father and I maintain, brings a certain amount of joy to my life and a smile to my face.
After I have called practically everyone in my contact list, even those people I either shouldn’t or have been asked not to, I play a game of “I Spy” and try to find out-of-state license plates. I start watching the backs of the trucks. Texas. Texas. Texas. Texas. Oklahoma. Texas. Texas. Texas. I give up that game.
I then get lost in my own thoughts. Even the radio I turn off, so it’s just the road, other hardtops and me. Miles start to tick by, as do hours. I fill up once or twice at large truck stops where the Macks refuel. Here I find Walmart-like facilities which have products of all kinds: food, coffee, truck parts, hats, hunting gear, replicas of oil wells, plus showers. Loudspeakers announce, “Number twenty nine, your shower is ready.” I consider, briefly, the idea of taking a rinse – just for the experience – then reject it based on the mental idea of what might be found on the floor of one such facility.
After what seems like days, I approach Dallas. The highway moves from two lanes to four, then six. The speed limit drops by 10 MPH and an HOV lane (high occupancy vee-hicle – I’m pronouncing everything with a southern accent in my head now) appears. Suburbs, manicured lawns, overpasses, strip malls. Then, sparkling skyscrapers in the distance. They scream: “Come visit, you’ve never been!” In fact, my only experience with Dallas is the television show and layovers at DFW.
There is not much traffic – or many small cars for that matter – in Dallas and soon everything happens in reverse: the highway returns to four lanes, then two. I turn off onto a country road, indicating I am closer to my aunt’s house. Just another 60 miles or so. In this state, one can haul ass at 70-plus MPH on these roads. I do. The landscape is now rolling hills, beautiful ranch homes, white farm fences and trees – lots of them. East Texas is prettier than West.
My Aunt Barbara lives on a golf course in the middle of farmland. The road leading to her development makes me question whether I am on the right path. Alice, my GPS, indicates all is well. As I get farther back, the roads are named “Private Road 1970” or “Private Road 56” abbreviated to PR 1970 or PR 56. Alice thinks this means “Puerto Rico” and pronounces this at each turn. “In 200 feet turn left on Puerto Rico 1970,” she exclaims. I snicker at the technical glitch.
Texas is in a drought and has been most of the summer and fall. “Our lake is down eight feet,” my aunt says as we climb into her golf cart for a tour of the surrounding lake, golf course and housing development. To my aunt’s chagrin, I bring my camera. We stop at the lake front. “See how far down the water level has fallen?” she asks pointing at those lines that droughts cause on a lakeshore. I bring my camera up to my face in preparation to snap an exposure or two of sunset over the lake where tree stumps have been exposed. To me it looks like swamp land, interesting, photogenic.
“No!” pleads Barbara. “They’re ugly.” I go for the exposure anyway. “No!” she pleads again, this time stepping on the gas, which causes the golf cart, and me, to lurch forward. I miss the shot. We round a corner, practically screeching as we do, to a wooded area, then to a putting green, well out of range of the lake. “Oh, look, there are some deer; take a picture of them,” she says pointing to some long-legged rats. I point and click the camera in the direction of the wildlife.
Thanksgiving with Barb and Thom is a relaxing and adult affair. For the three of us we have two turkeys plus all the fixin’s. One of the sacrificial birds has been smoked and is basically black and shriveled. “This is an area favorite; people wait in line for days for these things,” Thom claims carving the dehydrated carcass. I’m skeptical, but upon closer examination and mastication it lives up to its reputation.
“You have to promise me you’ll come back when the lake is up. It’s much prettier and you can take all the pictures you want then,” Barbara says as I prepare to depart for the next set of relatives. “Ok, I will,” I say back. As I leave, it starts to rain, then storm. The state is finally getting some needed precipitation, just as I have to drive 200 plus miles south straight through the worst of it.