RIDIN’ THE RANGE – by bill orth
I make a couple of road trips to Texas every year, delivering cars to two old customers. Since there’s only one direct route, and I’m always pressed for time, I drive the same roads over and over. This month I had two back-to-back trips down there and was able to take a little more time, so I not only got to look at things a little closer, I also had two passes each way to look at them. I found myself noticing interesting little items overlooked before. Like the overpass bridges along Rt 287 between Dumas and Amarillo. There are NO cross roads along this 70-mile stretch of scrubby rangeland, but a railroad zigzags roughly parallel and crosses over the road at least six times on steel-truss bridges. Although each is marked with the obligatory height clearance signs for big trucks, each one is all bent up and scarred underneath from dimwitted semi drivers whanging into ‘em!
I have noticed before on various road trips elsewhere that you rarely see high-end European sedans out on our nation’s interstates. The vast majority of passenger cars crossing rural America are invariably domestic or Japanese. I took notes this time to see how many Euro cars I saw, and observed a total of eight BMWs out on the highways in 3000 miles of driving! There were also two Mercedes and one Jaguar….that was it! The world’s best road cars….aren’t used out on the roads! (I didn’t count while passing through larger cities, but there weren’t many there either) Tell you what was out there though: Cadillacs. The big slab-sided new ones. And they’re all silver or a funny brownish-grey. They each have a cap from some golf tournament and a box of tissues on the rear shelf, and a pleasant-looking pair of seniors inside heading off to visit grandkids somewhere. Remember travelling salesmen? You just don’t see them any more. Always was a single guy driving a late-model, but lower-line, domestic sedan with small hubcaps and blackwall tires. They were great guys to follow, since they always had the best radar detectors and were usually flying. Stay a mile behind one and you were practically immune from prosecution!
Speaking of speed enforcement, the 85-mile stretch of I-27 between Amarillo and Lubbock is patrolled very diligently for some reason. It’s a near-new, beautiful straight stretch of perfect pavement; lightly traveled, flat as a pool table and about as safe as a highway can be. But the Texas State Patrol is all over it…with pickup trucks! They have black-and white Chevy half-tons with light bars on the roofs and big stars on the doors and they’re gunnin’ for you. Along this stretch you pass the little town of Hale Center, and they have a group called the “Lariat Cow Belles” that keeps the roadside litter-free.
Twenty miles farther South is Plainview, a city with a sense of humor. Nearly every business near the Interstate exit has a life-size fiberglass steer in front of the store, decorated in some delightful fashion. McDonald’s is painted like Ronald, of course.
The Texaco station’s is in the red, black and grey corporate colors and labeled ‘Texacow.’ There’s about ten of ‘em and each a testament to someone’s imagination.
Another fine idea employed in Texas is a unique two-lane-road courtesy. If such roads are reasonably well traveled, they nearly always have a wide paved shoulder. If you come up behind someone just moseyin’ along, instead of you having to wait for a passing zone and a clear opportunity, they simply maintain their pace but move over onto the shoulder allowing you to buzz on by. This is really appreciated when you’re driving a big diesel truck & trailer that can’t make quick passing maneuvers. (However, New Mexico, which frequently has the same wide shoulders, puts up signs warning that its illegal to drive on them, so you get to stay behind the farm truck loaded with hay for twenty miles)
I will say that the Texans do a pretty good job of keeping the trash picked up along their highways. There are the ubiquitous cast-off tire treads, of course, one of which my own trailer contributed, and the occasional hubcap or muffler, but by and large the Cow Belles keep things pretty tidy.
However, I did get a litter surprise while Eastbound on I-20 and passing one of those seniors’ Cadillacs. There was a pickup truck ahead of the Cadillac, which had a mattress and box spring in the back. The dummy had put the heavier box spring on the bottom, though, so all of a sudden the double mattress reared up and blew off into the road! The Cadillac and I were side-by-side about fifty yards behind when the mattress took off. It sailed up high and came down on its edge in the middle of the road. I was deciding just how afraid of a mattress I had to be with a big ¾ ton truck, but expecting the Cad driver to bury his brakes in a panic. But the old boy surprised me by keeping the hammer down, apparently gambling it was going to bounce into my lane instead of his! Fortunately, it flopped back up and the wind blew it into the median just as I thundered by. When I went on and completed my pass, the Cadillac driver was calmly fiddling with his radio—I don’t think he ever even saw the airborne Posturepedic!
My customer had arranged a treat for that evening, after he had gotten acquainted with his new Ferrari—we went to the rodeo! Now, I’ve been to the Stock Show and Cheyenne Frontier Days, so I know what a big-time rodeo is like, but this was a much smaller, rural Texas country affair. It was great! Torrential rains for two days had turned the arena into a sea of red mud that made the traditional events like steer roping and bronc riding even more fun to watch. They have another event that was new to me, though, called Cowboy Poker. In this one, a card table with four folding chairs is set up in the middle of the arena and a contestant sits in each chair. Then they let a bull loose in the arena and the last guy still sitting in his chair after the others have been knocked silly, wins!
Beside the bulls, another thing you want to avoid in Texas is the donuts. Call me a pastry snob if you like, but these big ‘fat pills’ are terrible. They somehow manage to soak up a lot of the heavy oil they’re cooked in, making them lumpy and distended, and the thick fish-belly white (or pink) glazing that’s gobbed on a quarter-inch thick makes the things truly disgusting—but every motel ‘breakfast buffet’ has lots of ‘em, and not much else.
On the North-bound trip back to Colorado, just outside Clayton, NM, is a dilapidated drive-in movie whose screen I have been watching disintegrate for six years—on each trip there’s a little more of it blown away. Last month it was all gone and let me notice for the first time the ticket booth at the weed-choked entrance. This structure is a dead-ringer for the Long Island toll booth where Sonny Corleone met his end in the first Godfather movie. Not surprising, since each was probably built in the late ‘40s. Clayton is famous for its nearby tarpits, which pass for a tourist destination, and are promoted by two dinosaurs penned up behind white picket fences in the middle of town. Same-old/same-old for the next three hundred miles, and by the end of the day I was getting close to home again. The same dearth of sophisticated European ‘touring sedans’ was still evident in Colorado, among all the silver Cadillacs still looking for the grandkids.
-- Bill Orth --