Texas Roads

June 22nd, 2020

I was on the road for eight hours last Wednesday. Most of the journey was made within the boundaries of the state of Texas. The GPS took me mostly along back roads, and it kept me away from places like Houston and Dallas. Instead, I passed though Buffalo, Palestine, Madisonville, Canton, Sulphur Springs, and Paris, Texas. It’s a long way from Bryan/College Station to the Oklahoma border, and I had plenty of time to think and ponder.

My first stop on the journey was to buy gas and postcards at Buc-ee’s truck stop near Madisonville. There are several Buc-ee’s travel plazas in Texas, and they are all awesome. Each of them has a statue of a beaver in front of the building (the beaver in Madisonville was wearing a COVID-19 mask). Buc-ee’s is a huge place. The store is clean. It’s open all the time. They sell damn near everything.

I had left Hans’ house in Bryan before dawn. It was just getting light out when I was filling my tank at Buc-ee’s. By the time I drove north again, the sun was peaking through the trees. I had a cold Mountain Dew, a plethora of old CD’s, and no air conditioning in the Ford Focus. The morning was still cool, but I knew it would be sweltering hot by the time I crossed the Red River into Oklahoma. I would be opening the windows wide, and cranking up the volume on the stereo soon.

The Texas countryside is beautiful. At least I think so. The blue bonnets are done for the year, but there are other wild flowers to see. I am partial to the Indian paintbrushes and the black eyed susans. Eastern Texas has rolling hills with thick stands of oak and pine. Most of the open space is ranch land, spotted with black cattle. In some ways it reminds me of my home in Wisconsin. It’s just much warmer.

The little towns are all speed traps. I didn’t mind slowing down while going through them. No matter how small the village is, there are always several churches. Some of them look like churches, and some look like old warehouses. Occasionally, I saw a stray Catholic church, but mostly these were all Baptist congregations. I never realized how many types of Baptists there were: Southern Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Missionary Baptists, Reformed Baptists. It’s endless. Occasionally, I drove past a “Cowboy Church”. I want to check out one of those someday.

Jesus is big in rural Texas. So is Trump. The two of them are sometimes co-mingled. On the long road back home, I saw a sign that said “Jesus and Trump: 2020”. That kind of says it all. There must be a primary election coming up in Texas. I saw plenty of signs for people running for office. Some signs indicated the candidate to be “Republican”. Other signs said that the individual was a “conservative Republican”. That seemed redundant, but it means something to the folks working the land.

I did not see any Confederate flags while driving through Texas. Texans don’t generally go for the nostalgic Civil War schtick. Instead, they proudly wave the Texas state flag. The Lone Star flag reminds them, and everybody else, that Texas was once an independent country, and, by God, it might be one again.

I should note at this point that everyone I met on my drive through Texas was unfailingly friendly and polite. Do I agree with their politics? Probably not. Are they good people? I believe that they are.

I listened to music in the car that reminded of people who are long gone. My brother, Marc, turned me on to southern bands like the Indigo Girls and the Reivers. He also introduced me to the songs of Nanci Griffith, a resident of Austin. Nanci Griffith has a twang in her voice that sounds like somebody pulled a bow string tight and then let it go. When I listen to her I remember my brother, and how I would visit him all those years ago. I don’t necessarily recall specific events. I have been making the journey to Texas for over thirty years now, and the trips are all a blur. I only remember feelings. Sometimes, while driving through the fields and forests of Texas, the feelings suddenly rise up and overwhelm me. I’m okay with that.

I especially like Griffith’s song “Gulf Coast Highway”. It’s ridiculously sentimental, but I still like it. Maybe “like” is the wrong word. It moves me, and I’m not sure why.

“Gulf Coast Highway
He worked the rails
He worked the rice fields
With their cool dark wells
He worked the oil rigs in the
Gulf of Mexico

The only thing we’ve ever owned
Is this old house here by the road
And when he dies he says he’ll catch
Some blackbird’s wing

Then he will fly away to Heaven come
Some sweet blue bonnet spring
She walked through springtime
When I was home

The days were sweet
The nights were warm
The seasons change, the jobs would
Come, the flowers fade

This old house felt so alone
When the work took me away
And when she dies she says, she’ll
Catch some blackbirds wing
Then she will fly away to Heaven come
Some sweet blue bonnet spring

Highway 90
The jobs are gone
We tend our garden
We set the sun
This is the only place on earth
Blue bonnets grow
Once a year they come and go
At this old house here by the road

And when we die we say, we’ll
Catch some blackbirds wing
Then we will fly away to Heaven come
Some sweet blue bonnet spring

And when we die we say, we’ll
Catch some blackbirds wing
We will fly away together come
Some sweet blue bonnet spring”

It’s a good song for remembering.

2 thoughts on “Texas Roads”

  1. Road trips are great with the right soundtrack. thanks for reminding me of Nanci Griffith. I’ve worn out her album of country covers, “Other voices, other rooms.”


  2. Songs are often more about personal memories than about the music itself. Sometimes a particular song will trigger a flashback in me. It’s like I am suddenly back in a different place and time.


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