DAY 3: Poet’s Recession Road Trip: The Texases

Texas Hill Country

Texas Hill Country

El PASO, TX: Texas is a big f’ing state. I’ve just spent one long day traveling across most of it. I got to watch the relative lushness of the Austin Area and it’s oaks, yield over time to scrub, then prairie, then just out right desert. Likewise, the sandstone canyons west of Austin over time, open up into wide dry valleys, often with huge dust devils dancing through them. The canyon walls, opening up to for wide swaths of valley cliffs and then eventually plateaus then buttes.

I didn’t get to talk to many people today, mainly because there just aren’t many between Austin and El Paso. It would probably surprise some of my friends and exes though that I’ve become quite the chatty cathy. I’m usually painfully shy, but I’m a man on a mission, and what have I got to lose, I’ll never see these people again. I’m also glad there’s not a microphone in the car, since I spend most of the time scribbling notes on blogs, essays, or poems on a handy pad. Then try to work through them talking to myself (in my large public speaking/poetry voice) writing that tape in my head, so that later when I write up my notes those all come back to me.

Some highlights though were the people in White Mountain, TX. I think this is an old prison town according to the signs, but I couldn’t find out much information about what goes on their now. There is an old blues song though I found called “White Mountain Prison Blues.” I stopped for gas there, cause in this part of the country you don’t dare let the tank get more than half empty. This is the part of the country you see in all those horror movies where people get stranded in the middle of the desert and attacked by crazy inbred mountain people that come down from the hills. I did get to hear a 20 minute story from an old local, about how he was trying to get his old truck running, apparently from scavenged parts and a lot of trial-and-error jury rigging. I guess he didn’t have much else to do out here, this simple story took on almost a Wagnernian epic quality to it, after 20 minutes I finally had to excuse myself.

Almost to El Paso I had something scary happen, in fact, probably one of the scariest things that can happen when you’re out on long road trips like this. Fortunately, I was through the most remote areas, where I could have died of thirst, and have vultures picking on my bones – or worse, been attackd by mutant cannibal hill people. A whole bank of warning lights came up on the dashboard. With warnings and symbols I had never even seen before. A quick pull over and search through the operating manual, revealed it to be a Electronic Stabilization System error. I have no ideal what that actually does though (stablizes something I’m sure). One of the warning lights was a car with squiggly tire tracks coming out behind it, I was really concerned that perhaps the tires were melting in the desert heat after the long drive (can they do that?)

It didn’t help that the manual painted a dire picture, they can flash on occasionally and you’re okay. But if they stay on continuously (which they were) you weren’t supposed to drive over 30 mph, and were to seek immediate assistance. So I limped into El Paso, and got to my hotel, then called the rental car company. What luck, they said I could just take it to the airport and swap it out (just an exit down). So what could have been a disaster, wasn’t so bad – in fact, I got a free upgrade out of what was already a big discounted deal.

Now in Georgia there’s always talk of the “two Georgias” basially the wealthier, developed Atlanta area and then every one else. It leads to some odd politically scenes. Atlanta being the business hub and engine of the state but the state actually being controlled from the rural congressional districts, where popular, lifelong legislators hold an iron grip on the capital.

I thought maybe the same was true in Texas. Maybe the feedback I got in Austin was particular to Austin, a fairly well to do, state capital, university town, with a diverse economy. Maybe there were two Texases as well. But El Paso was saying some of the same things I was hearing in Austin, that they’re doing okay.

One thing I still didn’t understand, and I first heard it from a teenager and had to ask more people about it, was that El Paso benefits from being a border town, and has a huge economic driver in the retail and services trades from Mexicans that come over the border. This isn’t something most people would think about. I still have to do more research on that..

I realized though, that there really aren’t two Texases, but in fact many, it’s pretty much a country in itself (and some would actually like to see that) with it’s own regional interests and makeups. It’s own interest groups.

As someone who is miserable in his unemployment and current job prospects, I expected more people in the same situation, people I could moan and commensurate with. All these happily employed cheery people are just getting on my nerves. Not only is the recession regional, and taking on different looks and feels in different areas, even in the same areas, it’s all relative. If you have a good job still (as most people do) sure there’s an air of uncertainty about, but things are cheap, you can cut deals, it’s can actually be a plus. If you’re unemployed though you live in a different america, a different state of mind.

This applies to the whole U.S. as well though. Mass media often portrays “the country, “ “Ameirca,” or “The U.S.” as some monolithic, homogonous creature. I’m sure it’s easier for them that way, not messay asterisks to deal with or fine print. So in many areas we’re sold a story of what the nation is going through. And one thing that this journey is already teaching me is that this is a huge diverse country, we tend to forget that.

Even in my previous consulting job where I traveled extensive. I got that feeling for the sameness of this country. The airports, the Marriot Residence Inns, the rental cars, the strip malls and business parks that most businessmen see are pretty much the same across this cou ntry. I’ve often bemoaned the soulless, halogenation of our society, the strip malling and WalMartification of this great land.

I’ts comforting to be reminded that as a country we’re still a crazy quilt sort of tapestry.


Couldn’t resist this one: maybe a book cover?

Poem for the Day


Don Quixote in West Texas

Not the coarse and rough
brutes of his homeland.
These are elegant giantesses,
goddesses of the wind.
No flapping of canvas
or rough crumbling stone,
just the slow quiet
elegance of white metal
measuring the wind.
Perhaps here in Texas
along the dry plateau
even Don Quixote
could find love,
far from his fevered
rough mauraders.
These guardian spirits
of wind, they sing
they hum, they resonate.
“Don Quixote,
lay down your sword.”

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