Was it three years ago or four when I thumbed my way across the country’s biggest state, the beginning of an adventure that has taken me up and down the Coast, over to Hawaii, then Europe, then Hawaii, now here, the second-biggest state? Four, I think. A lot of stops along the way. Not a totally aimless, dumbass meander, neither has it been the focused pursuit of a well-defined objective. The main thing so far is to keep moving, pushing through the constraints imposed by earning a living and fulfilling enough family obligations to stay accepted by friends and family. Most of them.
Could that have been a mistake? Would a more comprehendible universe reveal itself to my thirsting soul if I turned my back on those things that nurtured my existence, made me me? Prevented my being the Colossus I’m not? Wasn’t nature itself a form of constraint? And wasn’t commitment repression? Wasn’t it all some form of punishment? For what? Wha’d I do? Pardon me for living.
What if I just cease to exist, just disappear? Start a new life? New name? New place? New me? Is my soul that thirsty? A cold Lone Star on the spiritual horizon? A promise? A threat? Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me. Let’s get on down the revelatory road and see what there is to see. Lord, Lord, Texas sure is big. Amen.
Come morning my Chevy starts up without a hitch and I amble along for over an hour, wishing its radio could give me the news, maybe catch a little Bob Wills? Deep within my heart, etc. Now I’m seeing occasional vehicles, a barbwire fence, distant outbuildings, billboards, gas and water just ahead. I stop, fill ‘er up, add water and oil. Good to go. Have mercy.
A half-mile up the road, barely up to speed, I spy a not-so-young cowboy, not dressed in white linen but with his thumb in the air, smile on his face. I stop.
“Far you going?”
“Far as you can take me.”
“Don’t mind going slow?”
“Happy to be going. Oren.”
I tell him my name and we bump fists.
“Dog?” he asks. “Woof?”
“Dag,” I say. “With an A. Scandinavian.”
He nods in understanding. “Nice car.”
“Was when I got ‘er. Still shuffles along, but she’s seen better days.”
“Ain’t we all? Talk about your better days, you know who used to burn up these local roads when he was a senator just startin’ out? None other than our own President Lyndon Baines Johnson on his way home from the airport with all his important friends. He’d have a convoy, ten or fifteen limousine Cadillacs, troopers in cruisers and on Harleys, lights flashing, sirens wailing straight on through the countryside doing 120 per and faster on the straightaway. Only saw it one time, cars screaming by so fast they almost didn’t register. Just a kid myself when I saw it. All the way with LBJ. Talk about proud to be alive and there!”
“Other cars on the road?”
“All the other cars were off the road, spectators like me. It was a public event, all set up ahead a’time. Announced on radio and TV, like — now he slips into a radio voice — ‘Calling all voters. Senator Johnson’s motorcade will pass through your vicinity at such and such a time. Come one, come all, but stay the hell out of the way.’”
“You grow up around here?”
“Various places here and in New Orleans.”
“I hear the locals pronounce it Narlins or Narleens, something like that.”
“You hear shit,” Oren tells me. “Tourists might think that, but they’re dead wrong. Folks from New Orleans call it New Orleans.”
“Like tourists call Chicago ‘Shy-town’ and San Francisco ‘Frisco’?” I venture.
“Whatever. Here’s one for you, since this general area is the start of what they call Hurricane Alley. Say you’re driving down this road like we are now, just a normal day, on a sudden the sky turns pitch black and there’s a roaring sound heading your way. What’s up? What do you do now?”
Oren guesses right. I’ve never experienced that kind of wind.
“Hurricane? Tornado? I donno. Turn around fast. Park under an overpass?”
“Truth is, there’s not a lot you can do. Concrete overpass is a good idea if it doesn’t channel water or cave in on you. Stay away from trees and wood buildings. Pray.”
“So is it a hurricane or a tornado?”
“Better hope it’s not a tornado. Could be both.”
“This time of year?”
“Not likely. You’re in luck.”
“So what’s your favorite Texas town?” I ask. “Houston? Austin?” I was going to say Dallas but stuck in Austin instead. Whitey’s middle name.
“New Orleans all the way, even if it’s not Texas, and the reason for that is the working girls. New Orleans has the nicest, friendliest, best-looking night ladies you will find anywhere — always ready to play. ‘You say you can’t afford to play?’” He says this in a mock sexy-female voice. “‘You buy me a beer this time, big boy, and next time it’s full price. No next time? You predict the future? Let’s go now and let the future take care of its own self.’ So they go out and go at it, quick. They come back, he buys her a beer, and she’s on her way to her next customer. No dirt bags. Beautiful ladies, neighborhood watch keepers, sisters of mercy.”
“How do they make enough to live on?”
“They do better than me and you put together. Save up dowries, move to Texas, get married, raise kids.”
“You know them pretty well, sounds like.”
“Used to work down there early mornings, loading kegs on beer trucks. I’d just be getting into my gig when they were ending theirs. Get this. They’d like check in together at the end of their shift, make sure everybody’s ok. No problems, they’d couple up, different pairs every morning, and, like the street was a dance floor, they’d rock and roll like nobody’s business to whatever silent music they could hear. They’d touch and hug, give each other hand jobs through their clothes. ‘Course they weren’t wearing much.”
“They know you were watching?”
“They wanted us to watch. Nothing dirty. They loved each other, and they adored themselves. And they wanted us to know that, wanted us to share their adoration. A’course we did. Wouldn’t been natural not to.”
“So you got to know some of them pretty well?” I don’t mean anything personal or insulting. Just trying to keep up my end of the conversation.
His voice gets very quiet. “Did I get to know them? You might say that, yes. Yes, you might say I did. Know them.” He leans forward and looks at me sideways. “Could you let me out here?”
“Why here?” I ask, pulling over a bit reluctantly. There’s nothing here, not a fence or a driveway. Not even decent sagebrush. But even before I stop, he’s got the door open.
“Truth is, baldy, you drive too God-dang slow,” he sneers, fixing me with a steely ballbearing stare. “No offense.”
He tosses his head, turns his back, takes his time getting out, gives the door a solid slam, kicks the rear tire, and I head on down the road.
“None taken,” I assure myself.