Whenever I drove from one place to the next over a significant distance -- and by significant I mean more than a two-hour drive -- I always took the path of least resistance. "As the crow flies," is my motto when driving cross-country to whatever destination it may be. But, what if the drive is the destination? What if my intention was rather to see what is about me rather than getting to one place as fast and efficiently as possible?
I've only taken two trips like this, and the first one I can barely recall. It was a family vacation about 13 years ago. Our family of seven piled into the Chevy Suburban, which at that time was a shiny shade of red and has subsequently faded into a modest pink-like color, and set off from Northeast Houston on a seedy motel excursion across Texas. For most of the trip my small body was nestled in the front seat between my parents. I was treated like an expensive birthday cake my mother had just purchased from the market. Whenever there was a bump in the road, she put her arm in front or around me to make sure I wasn't jostled too violently.
If I remember correctly, our trip took us across the breadth Texas -- from the expansive Piney Woods of East Texas, through the beautiful exposed limestone and poetic scenes of the Texas Hill Country, to the far reaches of West Texas and the Big Bend National Park and then south, to our final destination along the sweet sandy beaches and salty air of South Padre Island.
In between our city stops we would stay in small, pre-booked, less-than-one-star motel rooms, complete with stains on the carpet or stains on the mattresses, slightly off and very ugly attendants and bug-zapping lanterns outside the clap-trap doors.
It was OK for us five kids though, because we resigned after the car ride to our snug-fitting sleeping bags on the floor. I vividly remember one of our stops through a town named Bakersfield, Texas. We stopped on our way to Big Bend, I think, to call my grandmother and check on her and our cat. Both were fine. The most remarkable thing about Bakersfield was that there was only one pay phone, one fuel pump and not a soul in what we could surmise would be a five-mile radius. A weekend ghost town, of sorts.
On our trounce through Pecos County, we stopped at a pick-nick site and historical marker near the vulture-laden Pecos River Valley. There was nothing surrounding us besides a cavernous river chasm and several miles of flat, sandy desert. We had pre-prepared sandwiches, soda and my favorite, chocolate milk. Our only problem was that it was incredibly windy and very hard to keep our paper sandwich wrappings down that were serving as placemats. It was much more difficult to pour the carton of chocolate milk into a small plastic cup.
My father, the innovator and red-neck handyman, stuck a moistened finger in the air, turned in a certain direction, held a cup at length in one hand and the carton in the other and began to pour. We witnessed a stream of chocolate milk pushed by the blustery West Texas wind into the cup in his left hand, which was distanced about three feet from the carton in his right.
My mother is an anything collector. If a fond memory is attached to an inanimate object, she's bound to keep it, and more likely than not, it still sits as a rotting memory in my parent's house. The last time I went there I stayed in the twins' old room, which now, like my old room, passes for a storage facility and part-time guest abode.
When I was unpacking a few pieces of clothing I noticed a stack of old T-shirts. On top was a small shirt that at one time fit one of us girls, but I'm sure that now I couldn't even get my thigh into it. On the front was a cow jumping over an observatory; it was a memento kept by my mother of our Texas-wide trip and our stop at the McDonald Observatory.
Why all this nostalgia, you ask? Just last weekend I went to the Frio River, a family destination for several years, to visit some of Dave's friend and spend part of the weekend away from civilization. Small deer roamed and played amongst us as we walked along the white-rock lined river. Frio means cold in Spanish, and although the river was as icy as ever, our November weekend was unseasonably warm.
But the real treat was the drive back to Dallas. We took Texas Highway 281 through much of the Hill Country. About a year ago I was constantly griping about the over development of the Hill Country and that Texas' history of private lands in the hands of greedy developers was going to result in the segmentation of Hill Country vistas, dotted with houses and ranchettes, tin roofs and tiny herds.
I wish I could remember the views from the once cherry-red Suburban as we drove from hilltop to hilltop. I wish I could remember what it looked like before large ranches suffered subdivision after subdivision. I wish I could remember what the great Texas Hill Country looked like before Baby Boomers and retirees decided they were willing to drop a few hundred thousand on their very own piece of the Texas Hill Country.
The exposed-stone hills and river-cut landscape is still beautiful, although now they are marred by fences and kalichi driveways with SUVs parked before gaudy stone-clad, three-story homes.