It is 800 and 30 miles from Beaumont (at the Louisiana border) to El Paso. El Paso is the eastern-most tip of Texas. Compare that to this: it is only 790 miles from New York to Chicago. Texas is huge and beautiful. A four hour drive is nothing to a Texan.
The Texans I met were very friendly and helpful. Everyone was friendly. I got an oil change in San Antonio this morning. It took about half an hour. I bought and ate a burrito while I waited. Not a bad burrito, but not a great one either. By the time my car was ready, everyone at the Jiffy Lube was asking me about my trip and wishing me farewell. This was not fake. It was not a fluke. Texans are really nice.
I stopped to pump gas and stretch my legs an hour or two west of San Antonio. Remember that an hour or two in the north-east is like ten or twenty minutes in Texas. It was a dusty service station in a very remote town. I pumped my gas and drove across the lot to stop and take a picture of this home. There were a couple semis parked about fifty yards off. Their drivers were chatting. I took my picture and tied my shoe on the rear bumper. One of them whistled across the distance to me. Whiiiiiirrrrrrrriiiiiiit, your gas lid is open. Sure enough it was. He was perched atop the steps to his white cab, too far off in the distance to make out his face, but his whistle carried clear.
George W. Bush is a Texan, and I have a new soft spot in my heart for him. I had dinner with a progressive Democrat in San Antonio last night. As governors go, George was a good one. He compromised and worked well across party lines. Red and blue Texans liked him. He had progressive immigration policies. My dinner companion said he didn't know what happened when George became president. George was a bit of a simpleton, he said, a likeable simpleton. We ate nachos and drank beer (good beer) in a noisy brew-pub. We talked about politics and poetry. San Antonio is the seventh most populous city in the United States. We talked about the day, which is not too far off, when the color of political power will more accurately align with the color of the populous. In twenty years, Bill said, Texas will be a blue state. God, I hope so, I said. There's nothing wrong with powerful old white men, I said. I'd cling to power, too I said. But it's time for politics to represent the truth, we said. We'd had a few beers. We were feeling hopeful
I must have looked at that cloud for half an hour. The big one. It looks like Louisiana. Louisiana which apparently has a new, post-Katrina order. Baton Rouge was not hit as hard as New Orleans, and some of the center of Louisiana life moved from New Orleans to Baton Rouge after Katrina. I was there during post-Isaac time. Isaac was a relatively small storm, but still there were huge piles of fallen branches on every curb throughout the city. After Katrina, the piles were fifteen feet high, and they stretched from home to home down every street in Baton Rouge. My host in Baton Rouge was jumping in the air with his arm stretched above his head while telling me this. He's a short man and so it was difficult for him to show me just how high the piles of post-Katrina branches were. It was not, however, difficult for him to be totally entertaining. I was able to see the damage Katrina did, and I had a fun time to boot. But we're talking about Texas now.
Texas is a place that I now love. If I had a million more lives, I would drive across Texas, slowly and a million more times. The road between San Antonio and El Paso is a beautiful stretch of highway. It's pristine. Distance and time collapse. They fold into landscape. You are alone, but it is not the kind of loneliness that makes men weep. It is a kind of silence. It is peace. On cruise control you can rub your feet for stretches of fifty miles. You can zone out and move through country. There is really nothing like crossing Texas. I am not surprised that Texans are so Texan. You can pass through thousands upon thousands of square miles and see nothing but roadway and hawks. For every car I saw today, I saw at least one hawk floating on a current of air above the land, its black wings extended above the earth, looking for a rodent kill.