Texas, 2001

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If you enjoy this tale you'll probably love our lengthy tale from our trip to Italy in 1996:

We headed to the wide open spaces of Texas and beyond for Consumass and New Year's. The hours and hours in the car staring at the empty spaces between towns generated a zombie-like state, yielding flashing images in between. So here's your surrealistic trans-Texas journey:
The slow crawl pre-holiday traffic outside of Atlanta and Birmingham, then out into the nothing of central 'bama and Mississippi to Jackson.


Stopped for a night, grabbed a bite at Hal's & Mal's for fried pickles and beer where Righteous Buddha was playing jazzy stuff with a moog organ leading the jam session. Across the parking lot to Martin's where a few bucks cover got us two bands.
"We're The fuckin' New fuckin' You!" the lead singer blurted out before whipping into music vaguely reminiscent of Sonic Youth but on a cocaine binge double espresso poured into two guitarists suffering from random, violent bouts of epilepsy - could've been great if they could've only held on to their guitars as they thrashed about, or if they could have kept up the momentum instead of stopping between every song to replace broken straps, strings, mike stands, all destroyed by the chaos they created on stage and out into the crowd, onto the backs of booths and slipping across table tops, back onto the stage and up onto the drum kit for another string-busting windmill leap back to the stage.
Somehow the crowd has managed to time travel here from 1984. Freakish. The ambisexual hair, Adiddas jackets, K-mart shirts, a tie with a leather jacket - creepy. Exactly like a bar that would've been my high school hangout if we'd had such a place. Only difference is the geekiness here is intentional, cool and comfortable instead of accidental, hopelessly uncool and uncomfortable.
Next up on stage The Cash County Survivors doing a fun mix of surf and low-key versions of Judas Priest. Interesting, but we slipped into the back room for more retro-people watching. Everywhere an 80's celeb look-alike. A Henry Rollins from his Black Flag days, Robert Downey Jr. from Less Than Zero, Jim Ignatowsky from Taxi, the lead singer of Spandau Ballet - where are we? WHEN are we??

Up in a haze, breakfast at Frank's World Famous Biscuits. Good eggs, good bacon, damn fine biscuits. Frank himself, a jovial smile, checked on us personally, twice.

Back on the road, through the nothing between Mississippi and Dallas to our first family visit for a small holiday gathering. Little time to linger, just eat, sleep and roll on.
Huge swaths of empty tan and gray make up central Texas in winter.

John Lee Hooker is the perfect soundtrack for the drive - sparse, sometimes nonsensical, rambling, rugged, gravely, and often lonely.
Look, more nothing. Nothing over here. And down the road a bit... more nothing. You'd think with nothing to do BUT think that Texas would have produced some really great thinkers. But no, it's nothing but cattle, cactus, and men like LBJ and W. Proof that nothing is created in a vacuum and mankind is a social species.

I've detailed Brownwood, TX, in previous broadcasts - nothing new except the overpass. Downtown still empty, all the life sucked out of it by the Wal Mart on the edge of town.
Across the bridge is Early, a suburb of Brownwood, if such a town could sport such a thing, with an empty shopping mall (thanks again to the Wal Mart) and a sparkly new theater where we caught Lord of the Rings.
A traditional Texas holiday feast where Noah's Ark has been slaughtered and all vegetables are insulated against coming in contact with your taste buds by layers of cheese, jello or fried crust. Good stuff, though I think a week later some of it is still struggling to work through my system.


Salad, Texas style.


Dogpile!

What happens when Frederick plays Santa.


The Old Brownwood Jail is the most interesting thing in town.

A few days of TV and Consumass later we're back in the saddle again, a few hours later it's the next stop, Copperas Cove, an ugly little crossroads of fast food set up to service Fort Hood where the best local dining is the Applebee's.
Back out across the prairies and low, rocky hills, scrub, cactus, gnarled Live Oak that are barely bigger than scrub with the shallow top soil, and countless deer roadkill.


We got to see some interesting sky, including this banded cloud formation.

Austin is the oasis in the desolation, both for the Lower Colorado River and the wonderful shopping, cool night life, and the manna that is the breakfast taco.

A few fun-filled days of delicious Tex Mex, thrift stores, and bars ranging from the English flavored Dog and Duck Pub to the tikki-themed Oceans 11 (established before the remake, filled with Rat Pack images and music) to Texas BBQ/beer joint Stubbs where we caught a local all-star lineup including The Dismukes, The Tinys, and Prescott Curlywolf. Austin's music scene still seems vibrant on a casual glance through the local paper, though Stubbs was only half full between semesters and with an icy wind blowing outside. Even still, more cute girls per square foot than any other city in the U.S. I've seen. Damn hot women everywhere and rarely did another male in the room get more than my share of attention - excellent hunting for those in search of the fairer sex.
I couldn't live in Texas but I could handle Austin - they're only barely the same thing, like Atlanta vs. the rest of GA.


Our Austin welcoming party.


Our Austin hosts.

Time to move on, westward wagons ho, where the tan and gray give way to an occasional burst of burnt orange, into a sunset that's a rip in the cold gray winter roof overhead, a contrasted peek into a hot, fluffy pink hell - incredible.

 


Our San Angelo guides.
San Angelo, the largest city in the country without an interstate, college town in the middle of nowhere west Texas. Mention of the San Angelo tourist guide in our hotel room to our local guides generated sarcastic jokes, "While you're in the area why not visit... Austin!"
Sunday night before New Years and there ain't much to do but shoot pool at Giz N Hums, a good sized place with worn, tired tables and cheap Bud on draft.

Breakfast at Bo Bo Kitchen, where the waitress is helpful to the point of rude.
"What'll you have?"
"One egg over easy and..."
"Over medium is better."
"OK... over medium then, and..."
"Because over easy is... you know... runny. And over medium..."
"Fine, fine. With bacon and..."
"And the whites will be firm. But over easy..."
"And coffee?"
"OK then. How about you?"
"What are the soups today?"
"Chicken noodle and a Mexican vegetable soup."
"I'll have the vegetable."
"You want the chicken noodle."
"OK..."
"The vegetable soup has cabbage in it. I don't like cabbage."
Wonder why she bothers to take orders at all, seems like it'd be faster to just bring us what SHE likes.
Back to the truck, now headed south where the land is even more desolate and passing another vehicle on the road becomes a rare treat, a vast stretch of rock and scrub without even grass to hold down the dust that masquerades as topsoil in the rest of the state, just raw exposed rock. Occasional bridges over dry river beds with names like "Dry Devil River."

 

Del Rio, a small border town, not much to it but a few hotels and the bridge of the Rio Grande to Villa Acuna. Unfortunately SW and I were feeling mildly ill. The usual sinus problems for me, the usual stomach problems for her. Neither of us were motivated to party hardy but we hopped in a limo full of Texas youth on their way across the border to cheap underage drinking.

First stop, Crosby's, for $1.50 Dos XX. A festive crowd of drunken Texas teens and twenty-somethings. Then across the street to the Corona Club, used in El Mariachi and Desparado, but tonight it's not dressed as a Mexican dive bar, instead SW put it perfectly, "Welcome to the largest frat party in Texas." Not a Mexican in sight, save the staff.


A view of the Corona Club from just inside the door.

Not what I expected, nor what I wanted, but we made the best of it. Snatched a pair of seats at the bar and watched the chaos over a few beers.

Here's a view to the left

and the right

Midnight came and went with barely a noticeable change in the volume or crowd.

Happy New Year!

Back across the border and in bed earlier than any New Years Eve I've had in the past 20 years. Problem with adventuring - sometimes it's misadventure, sometimes it's no adventure, but you never know until you go.
Eastward again, across the southern tip of Texas through dessert and plains, miles and miles of fenced in nothing.

Fences everywhere you go in Texas, enclosing nothing but scrub and cactus. A stretch of road without a fence on both sides is as rare as a river bed with water in it - almost never. Once every few hundred miles you'll spot a handful of cows or goats in the enclosures but for the most part I think they've just fenced in the land to say it's theirs.
"These rocks are mine."
Pass a sign on the road, "For sale, 2015 acres" - look beyond the sign to the 2000 acres of desolation you can own, already fenced in so you'll know it's your particular patch of nothing.
The fences are growing taller too, for private deer leases. How sporting - a high powered rifle with a scope, a scent-blocking suit in a deer stand with your deer call, deer feed and scented bait a few yards away, and the deer already fenced in. It's more challenging to get a burger at a McDonald's. Every town has a banner, "welCOME HUNTers!" Yet you can get the special Texas license plate that reads "The Animal Friendly State."

Texas was once covered in high grasses but overgrazing destroyed them and the desert is taking over. So in addition to being carved up by fences it was mowed flat by cattle and is now being blown away by the winds, slowly replaced by sage, catcus, scrub, rock and dust.

Out of the dessert and into the ice, sleet and snow falling in Louisiana. A night's rest in Lafayette and they won't let us back on I-10 because the bridges are iced over, detoured south through recently harvested fields of sugar cane, the trucks overloaded with the stuff on the way to the processing plants, and on into the Mississippi delta for hours of driving through swamp.

Whiz past New Orleans and Mississippi, Alabama a long stretch of boredom as the sun sets.
First bridge across the Georgia state line and the back end of the truck wants to be in front. Someone has already run into the ditch, cops everywhere. The road is ok, but the bridges are iced over. A few miles later the road is getting tricky. A few miles later the road is impassible, a solid sheet of glass-smooth ice. Cars in ditches on both sides. 20 mph for an hour, the back end dancing back and forth, until we hit the traffic jam where nobody is moving, cars everywhere just sitting, wheels spinning. We inched up to the next exit over half an hour, found the surface streets passable and wound our way home on the back way. In the morning there are still people stranded on I-20 but we're home, tired but warm and dry.


"These people could put us out of business!"
Photo Editor, Creative Loafing

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