Monday, February 15, 2010

A sideways love letter: West Texas

There's a point, driving east in West Texas, where the long series of ridges vanishes into the horizon. On an overcast day, you can't tell whether you're heading over another hill or into the clouds; only the trees serve as a reminder that you're still on the highway, still fighting sloth-driven campers and double-trailer trucks.

If the wind's at your back, you can maintain an easy 75 all the way to Parker County without using much gas. At the Parker County line, things slow down. Their cops are known for zero tolerance of speeding and their courts impose heavy fines. Too, going east, things get more civilized. By the time you've turned south to get back to Bigtown, everybody is going pretty much the speed limit, even in the left lane.

Not so heading west. You climb and climb over a series of ever-steeper hills. Just east of Ranger, a little nothing town, there's one huge last hill. Your car, if it's a four-cylinder like mine, will act like it's fighting a headwind all the way up. At the top of that ridge, the post oak and cedar are replaced by leafless mesquite and prickly pear lining the barbwire fencing, and you're really on the high plains. The speed limit is taken as a gentle suggestion, and you can move at eighty mph all the way through and past Abilene, without a care in the world.

Where I live there are small hills, mostly topped with burr oak, live oak, and carefully-manicured grass. There are more people than there are free acres, so things are nicely controlled. Head west, though, and you confront miles of empty space, fading radio stations, and the knowledge that (if you should get into trouble) some old cowboy in a truck will stop for you within five minutes, because trouble out here means Trouble. The nearest rest stop is more than a hundred miles behind you, and all you have is rolling hills, tumbleweed, stands of trees all bending to the south, and hawks riding the thermals.

West means little bars where it's a good night to get knifed. East means women with big earrings and hipster girls with blackwork tats. West means barbacoa and tortillas; east means a subtle mix of herbs with your king crab and mussel stew. West means freedom. East means civilization. West means hoping; east means reality.

I should've kept driving.


AfterGirl said...

Beautiful, I have lived in West Texas, East Texas and now reside in South Central Texas and you have captured it in your beautiful prose poem. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes the I-10. The ride from Houston to El Paso is unreal.

woolywoman said...

OK, reading that is the closest I have ever got to loving Texas.

Anonymous said...

I-10 west will make your soul sing once you have navigated the crazy highways around San Antonio. Red desert, cacti, mountains, antelope,
cattle, can see for miles.