I made an album called Shifting Weather Patterns. It is here. Here it is. It’s available only on digital download from my Dropbox because I’m so completely professional and on my I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T shit hustlin’. Also I didn’t record it the right way to release it on Bandcamp (and more than that, screw Bandcamp for requiring FLAC files!!!) so this is how it is.
There is a longer entry elsewhere wrt The Great All Hail West Texas Roadtrip of 2k13, but I’d like to get some stuff down for now about what’s been happening.
I left Denton early on Wednesday morning to beat the traffic to downtown Dallas. I hit a little bit of traffic merging from the highway to the interstate, but other than that I was pretty golden. I got downtown and milled about Dealey Plaza (!!!) for a while and talked to some dude about JFK conspiracy theories. I saw the storm drain and the grassy knoll and all of the other alleged shooter locations and this dude reenacted some possible escape routes and locations that jive w/ the Zapruder tape chronology of events. There wasn’t much else I cared to see in Dallas so I bounced so as to arrive in Odessa before dark. I got off the interstate after I passed Fort Worth and began my traverse of West Texas on US-180.
It was pretty uneventful, except for when my car broke down, which (thankfully) came with a whimper and not a bang. I broke down about 4 miles east of a town called Anson, which, as my luck would have it, was the home of West Texas Ford, and apparently the only Ford dealer within something like 100 miles. If luck is a thing that is capable of blessing people, then I am one of those people. Only by association, though — my mother is very lucky and re: genetics I am half as lucky as her, which is still pretty lucky. Unfortunately my father is unlucky and also re: genetics, well, you can figure it out. Each day is a new opportunity to discover which pole the compass is pointed to for now.
I was told that my car wouldn’t be ready until after lunch on Thursday. Okay, fine. I checked into a bargain price room on Commercial Avenue and set myself up for the night. I made the mistake of landing myself in a dry county, so I stocked myself up on Powerade and Jolly Rancher frozen ice cream treats and settled onto the bed with my guitar and my laptop. I ended up doing more television-watching than guitar playing, but I certainly thought about playing my guitar, which is worth something.
I slept in Thursday and had an awkward exchange with housekeeping. I am very cranky when awoken, plus I am known to sleepwalk — so let me begin this story by saying that I am not to be judged or held accountable for the things I say after you’ve woken me up, or the things I do or say while in a sleepwalking state (which happens with unfortunate regularity). Usually it’s mostly harmless stuff like poorly folding blankets in my living room, relocating my slumber to another surface, fetching items and bringing them into bed with me, etc. Once in a while I do things that are a bit more worrisome, like leaving faucets running, sitting on the toilet to pee but forgetting to take off my pajama pants or undies (which when I realize what I’m doing I always bolt awake and get really fucking pissed at myself, no pun intended), and on a few rare occasions I have verbally assaulted people. The worst part is that I either don’t remember doing these things, or have a hazy kind of dream-memory of them, where I remember doing them but I don’t remember having any control over what I’m doing. Luckily I haven’t yet done any serious damage and as far as I can tell these episodes are infrequent enough that they aren’t a cause for concern.
Anyway, housekeeping knocked on my door at 8am. Admittedly, I didn’t put the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door, which obviously I should have. Housekeeping was one single girl, who doubled as the front desk receptionist. From what I could tell, the situation was that this girl is the adult daughter of the owners of the place. This recepti-housekeeper also happened to be either shy, nonverbal, or did not speak English. Whenever I talked to her or asked her questions she would, without fail, smile and look at me and nod slowly. Spanish was met with the same thing, but wide-eyed. I don’t think it’s fair to assume that she didn’t have good English skills based on her race, but it’s clear that she really did not seem to understand what was happening. Whatever the reason was. I think there was a coordinated effort of language skills and social awkwardness going on and I’ll never know the details which honestly is not going to haunt me.
So she knocked on my door just after 8am, and it took a while for me to wake up because I was sleeping deeply and I went to bed sorta late (I had to stay up late enough to download the Nashville season finale that had aired earlier that evening. OH MY GOD!!!!), so by the time I put on shorts and got to the door she had her key jammed into the lock. I opened it and said something along the lines of “Can I help you?” or “What do you need?”, perhaps a bit too familiar for her taste, maybe, I don’t know, but she sorta backed away with a look of horror on her face, then smiled a weird smile and then sorta just stared at me with this painfully passive look on her face. I asked her again if she needed anything or if I needed to do something and she DID NOT MOVE OR CHANGE EXPRESSIONS OR SAY ANYTHING. She just stood there like a fucking statue so I fastened the DO NOT DISTURB sign to the outside doorknob and shut and bolted and chained the door, then went back to sleep for three hours.
At 11 I had to be out of the room so I woke up and piled my belongings up outside. I saw the receptihousekeeper again and I said “hello” and “thank you” and “how are you” and she mostly just stared at me — I’m not even kidding, she was walking down the path while I was sorting through my belongings and I watched her walk all the way toward me, STARING AT ME AND SMILING THIS WEIRD PASSIVE SMILE THE WHOLE TIME and then stop in front of my, looking like she wanted to say something, BUT SHE SAID NOTHING. It was all kinda Stepford and weird.
I couldn’t get ahold of anyone to give me a ride to the Ford place so I just walked, it was about a mile, which was fine, but I was carrying a guitar and a backpack full of items and it was sunny so it was just sorta uncomfortable but I just accpted the fact that I was going to be sweaty and gross and resolved to take a shower asap when I arrived in Fort Davis for the evening.
After dropping my things at the Ford dealer, I walked around town a bit, explored the library, peeked into a few of the several destroyed/abandoned buildings around the downtown square (I am pretty sure they were abandoned; most of them had several public safety citations taped to the doors). The town was super dedicated to the local high school sports team in a real caricature-like way and it kinda hurt my heart to see the economic depression and the sad glass-paint odes to the local sports stars. Half the houses had signs in the front lawn boasting the last name of an athlete and the sport they played. Even worse, I went to the library and looked through the yearbooks for the past few years (which…was a pain of its own) and I saw that in the most recent yearbook (2010) the varsity football team only won three games.
And they all had these beautiful and very professional Football Player portraits with them all on one knee, their hands resting tenderly on their helmets, and faces boasting a pretty even mix of tough-guy scowls and goofy grins. There were photo collages from game nights, ALL UNDER THE HEADER “Friday Night Lights”. OH MY GOD my heart broke so hard. Even worse, though: I looked at yearbooks from the late 70s and early 80s, when those kids’ fathers would have been playing (I didn’t go so far as to cross-reference names, though now I wish I had) and apparently the varsity football team was really good at one point, receiving all-state honors and maintaining at least a 2:1 win-loss ratio for most seasons.
The library was definitely killing me softly so I didn’t stay there too long.
I ended up in an antique mall where I chatted with some lovely ladies about antiques, boots, local history, Texas, and miscellany for a few hours, until I got the call around 4:30 that my car was ready. As soon as I paid (which, let me just say, that this was by far the most expensive repair job I have EVER had on my car, and I’ve had an emergency transmission replacement) I was out of there like tupperware. I had a 6 hour drive to Fort Davis and I still had to eat dinner.
The rest of the drive was very uneventful. Apparently I scooted out of town at exactly the right time, because storms were rolling in from the northwest as I was headed southwest. I managed to skirt around some pretty angry-looking clouds (I even stopped for gas at one point and joined a group of townspeople (!!!) gawking at a wall cloud to the northeast) and I only hit a few light patches of rain.
I made it through Midland (surprisingly developed — it had skyscrapers ffs, BLOOMINGTON doesn’t have skyscrapers (parking garages don’t count as skyscrapers), though Bloomington has about 30,000 fewer residents) and Odessa (ugh, talk about depressing — as a side note, I remembered my Odessa geography from the Friday Night Lights book and even though I stopped for food on the right side of town, it was sketchy as fuck and I did not even slow down enough to look twice at the place I had planned to eat. Odessa has really suffered as the Permian oil reserves have slowly been exhausted over the past few decades, it’s fucking heartbreaking, the whole town was sketch city), then got on I-20 just as daylight turned into twilight.
By the time I got off the interstate in Pecos, it was well after dark and it was increasingly clear that the food options between Odessa and New Mexico were criminally limited, so I stopped at a gas station for beer and a Lunchable (dinner of champions). Also at this point, there was a steady persistent rain sheening the streets and making the 70mph speed limit on the state highway look like a patently bad idea. I prepared myself for the two-hour drive between Pecos and Fort Davis, down a dark deer-infested state highway snaking up into the mountains of southwest Texas. Fortunately I did not encounter any deer, but I did encounter the following things in the road: a snake, two field mice, two larger mice (or rats?), a fox-like creature (it was dark, I just saw eyes), and a cat. Key point there being that I ALMOST RAN OVER A SNAKE WITH MY CAR. Add those things to the several armadillos and two turtles I saw in the middle of the road in Mississippi and I think this trip has been the most exciting safari I’ve ever been on.
I made it to Fort Davis after what seemed like forever on the winding mountain road. I checked into my room at the hotel (which is super nice and super cheap — $95/night for a pretty suite room (pun intended)), and I booked a second night since my day of hiking the Jeff Davis Mountains was clearly not going to happen what with a 6 hour drive to Carlsbad planned for the morning.
As much as it pained me, I woke up early Friday morning after only 5 hours of sleep. I gulped down some coffee and biscuits, stocked my car with water and gas, and began the two hour drive due south to the Mexican border.
When you see the Mexican border in movies and television, or you see photos of people wading through the Rio Grande en route to the golden freedom (lol) of US-America (sigh), you get this idea in your head of what to expect in south Texas. You expect this desolate wasteland with these long open expanses of desert for people to run across with border patrol SUVs tailing them. As a modern person I know to take media representations of reality with a grain of salt, which is why I was so surprised when I discovered that media vastly understated what south Texas is really like. There is desolate wasteland, yes. Once I passed the burgeoning arts town of Marfa, I did not see another hint of civilization until the border town of Presidio. It was just mountain after valley after mountain after valley, all baked yellow and dotted with bunches of flat cactus, century plant, yucca, and a number of deserty things that I could not identify — specimens not present in the high deserts of New Mexico that I’m so familiar with.
It was stunningly beautiful. I was driving down in the mid morning as the fog was lifting and the morning clouds were dissipating. The air was chilly and dry, until 11am when it became hot and dry. Out of the hazy horizon, mountains began to materialize until I realized I was surrounded by mountains as far as the eye could see — and this was Texas. Certainly Big Bend country is not a part of Texas that is well-advertised, and it’s certainly not the landscape one thinks of when one thinks of Texas.
Presidio was also a bit of a shock. The whole thing was like a strange blend of two different movie sets. The buildings were gorgeously run-down and old; it didn’t look like any new buildings had gone up at all since 1960. The culture was also amalgamous, dutifully displaying signs in English and Spanish. The place also had a dense and thriving population of palm trees with tall, thin trunks, lining the streets and stretching into the air Sunset Boulevard-style. I really wish I had spent more time exploring Presedio, or that I’d crossed into the Mexican town of Ojinaga, but alas I cut my way through town quickly and hopped onto TX-170, which runs along the Rio Grande for 60 miles from Presedio to Terlingua, through the Big Bend Ranch State Park (according to my Texas tourism guide, National Geographic has named it multiple times among the most scenic drives in the US).
I have done a lot of driving in this country, and nothing I’ve ever seen holds a candle to that drive along TX-170. I was driving at least 2/3 the speed limit at all times, just taking it in, stopping at every crest to take pictures, climbing rocks to see just these stunning vistas looking into Mexico, all framed by these magnificent desert mountains. I thought the Mexican border was all flat and boring and wastelandy, but it’s not, it’s mountainous and absolutely gorgeous and wastelandy. The Rio Grande was also surprising — it was low and barely flowing, due to the high water demands from the border towns and surrounding areas, which has given the need for diversion dams that had pretty much stagnated the water. It was all this light, cloudy blue-green-grey color and varied pretty well between narrow, shallow passages lined with trees and wide, deep areas with the water pressed right up to the rock walls on either side. I’ve seen the Rio Grande up in New Mexico, and up there it’s nothing but a four-foot-wide rapids collecting water from the peaks of the Rockies. This was a very different river, and I wish I’d had the chance to get a bit closer to it. Of course, I did not want to alert any Border Patrol agents (the highway was crawling with them) because that was a misfortune I was not ready to have befall me.
Nevertheless, I had a splendid drive and decided to stop for lunch around noon once I passed through and landed in the town of Terlingua. I stopped at this little pre-fab trailer with a big “BBQ” sign. The proprietor of the establishment was a man named Bobby. I talked to him while he prepared my food; he’d lived all over the world and seen endless locations and times and moments in history. He found Terlingua while on a motorcycle trip through Big Bend country, and after a few nights of camping on a ridge just outside of town, he decided to make it his home. He moved about one mile closer into town, took up residence in a small home across the street from a small trailer, spent his life savings opening a barbecue joint, and now serves the best barbecue in the state of Texas to the touristic masses.
Terlingua is an interesting little town. It can’t have more than a few hundred residents, but it apparently has three recording studios, which attract a lot of big names in the music business — big names who all find hospitality at Bobby’s Blues and BBQ. Bobby had lots of stories about folks like Willie Nelson rolling up in a pickup truck, ordering ribs, perching on a picnic table, playing songs while they wait, then eating and drinking with the laypeople. Bobby also had stories to tell about people from all over the world who find themselves indescribably attracted to Bobby’s Blues and BBQ — he claims to have met a wider variety of foreigners right there in Terlingua from inside his little trailer than he did in 6 years of living in Europe. He rattled off a long list of countries who have sent delegates to Terlingua to sample his literally world-famous BBQ (he’s been making it for decades, since he lived in the Mediterranean; he uses a mango and orange base. ?!?!).
As an aficionado and connoisseur of road food across this great country, I have yet to stumble upon a place that matches the high marks of Bobby’s Blues and BBQ in atmosphere, taste, and service. Bobby’s place is exactly what I want from my Americana, and it’s one of those rare places in this country that is 100% completely unlike anywhere else you’ve ever been. There’s no gimmick here, no irony. It’s just pure existence. It’s lovely and refreshing, and if for some godforsaken reason I find myself back in Big Bend country anytime soon, I’m going to make a pointed effort to visit Bobby again.
After my lunch experience, it was going to be hard for anything to reach the top of my Daily Awesome Experiences list but I kept an open mind. Alas the drive up Hwy 118 was extremely boring. It was almost two hours before I passed the first sign of civilization, a small and painfully dull town called Alpine (granted, I did not stop in Alpine, perhaps it had a warm gooey interesting center somewhere), and right outside of that I passed uneventfully through an immigration checkpoint. I arrived in Fort Davis in the mid-afternoon, changed for a hike, started a hike, twisted my ankle and fell down, limped my way back to my car, took one of the longest and most satisfying showers of my young life, went to dinner, met some lovely grad students from Austin who I ended up eating with, then settled into my bed with my guitar and did some songwriting while enjoying some Texas beers that I had stuck into a bucket of ice before dinner. The weather is cool and beautiful; the windows are open, blowing in a cool, fresh breeze (finally, finally, that lucid desert air that I long for so much during the muggy nights of the Midwest) and I can hear the pulsating whine of crickets. Tomorrow I head up to Carlsbad, and after that to Roswell and then to Cimarron. I think this trip has been an auspicious way to begin my stint in New Mexico this summer. I hope that despite all of the struggles I’ve had with my mental illness these past few months, that this summer is free from that struggle. As always, being on the road has mellowed me out and given me strength, and I feel ready to begin work on a good mental note. I really hope.
My plans for the next few days include Carlsbad Caverns, Roswell, and Santa Fe. I’ll update with any interesting news.
(Originally published here in the Mountain Goats fan forum on May 27th, 2013.)
Hello y’all!! Some of you may remember me saying in a thread somewhere that I had to drive through Texas for work and I would be visiting some Mountain Goats locations. Well I did just that and now I have things to show and tell you.
As soon as I entered Texas on Monday afternoon, I put All Hail West Texas into my car’s CD changer and vowed not to remove it until I crossed the state line into New Mexico. For the most part, I held up my end of the bargain, though by the end I was kinda at the point where if I heard “Source Decay” one more time I was sure that I would decompose. The only time I listened to non-AHWT material was during the tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings. In all I’d call that dedication.
My whole point with driving through Texas was originally to follow my vow to take a different route to New Mexico every time I had to drive there for work or pleasure, which happens a couple times per year. I’d never been to the areas of the country along the I-20, so I decided to take a route down US and State highways parallel to the I-20 corridor. This would coincidentally take me along several AHWT destinations and it seemed like fate was nudging me in a particular direction, so I ran with it. Also, it seemed like a great opportunity to try to gain some insight into this album, which has haunted me ever since I first heard it.
So, Monday night I stayed in a town called Tyler in east Texas. It’s a cute little college town that I wish I’d had more time to spend getting to know, but I had one week and (I kid you not) 666 miles of Texas to traverse. I stayed in Tyler with a musician and she invited friends over and we all jammed together. They asked me if I knew how to play any songs and as I thought through my catalogue, the options were limited and I was not sure if “Best Ever Death Metal Band” would land too well. Not wanting to offend, I played “Rockin’ Rockin’ Pet Store”. Lo and behold, I discovered that a few of the people there were Mountain Goats fans. Already my time in Texas was auspicious! Imagine, meeting a Mountain Goats fan!!! In Texas!!
The next day I continued on my journey to Denton. I arrived there just as hell itself rained down from the heavens. I was certain that death was imminent, as I waited to lunch with my friend at a TGIFriday’s (tried to convince her to take me literally anywhere else but c’est la vie). I made it through alive, survived TGIFriday’s food, and drove around Denton for a bit. It’s an extremely boring town and I didn’t see much going on outside of the two colleges (University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University). I hear it’s an interesting town, so perhaps I just wasn’t looking in the right places. Anyway, I stayed that night in Lewisville, which lies between Denton and Dallas. The only thing I learned from visiting Denton: Denton is clearly not in West Texas, which for some reason never registered with me.
Wednesday morning I took off for Dallas at an ungodly early hour to make it to Dealey Plaza and miss the famed Dallas traffic. I only hit traffic during the last few minutes of my journey, which I count as a win.
Dealey plaza was pretty cool. The tourists really did mill about, and minions flowed all about. I talked to some dudes about conspiracy theories and did some investigating of my own (I have my reasons). My conclusions are not relevant to this post so I’ll spare you.
After visiting a JFK museum and a holocaust museum, I hit the road outta Dallas right after the morning rush stopped. I had to make it from Dallas to Midland that day, which with my route was approximately a 6.5 hour drive without stops.
I was pretty on track, and even stopped a few times to record some songs at rest stops along US-180. About 4 hours into my trip, my fuel pump went out, about 4.5 miles east of a town called Anson. I got a tow into town and discovered I’d be stuck there overnight (and even better, it would cost me almost $1000 to get it fixed).
So, with no other options and a dangerously depleted repository of ca$h, I checked into a bargain-priced room on Commercial Ave. and set myself up for the night. Given that this town had a population under 2500, even the bargain-priced room was pretty okay in terms of quality, save for the dead bugs that littered just about every surface in the room (no live bugs, though, that I detected).
I walked down to the corner store just before nightfall, but not in my bare feet because there were no sidewalks and it didn’t seem like a great idea.
Jones County was a dry county so I couldn’t purchase B&J, and I couldn’t find St. Joseph’s baby aspirin, so I made do with what I had. I purchased my sundries and when I came back I spread out my supplies on the counter by the sink…
…and looked myself right in the eyes.
I ducked behind the drapes when I saw the moon begin to rise…
…gathered in my loose ends, switched off the light…
I decided to abandon my plans to visit Midland since I already had a nonrefundable room booked in Fort Davis. By the time I left Anson on Thursday, it was almost 5pm and I had a 6+ hour drive ahead of me, so there’s that. The drive was pretty okay. I could really feel the blues in a lot of these towns I passed through; most of these places looked just completely run-down and abandoned, with loads of boarded-up buildings and completely desolate streets. I could really feel the desolate nature of AHWT coming to life in my heart. I remember “Pink and Blue” coming on while driving through a particularly depressed town and shedding a few tears just because it all felt so futile.
I arrived in Midland just as the sky was beginning to darken. I learned the following things about Midland: 1) it’s the childhood home of George W and Laura Bush, 2) the whole town smells like cigarettes and crude oil (or cat piss, the two smell shockingly similar), and 3) Midland is a pretty big city. It has skyscrapers. It has a population of 111,147. A hundred thousand people!!! If I wasn’t pressed for time I would have spent more time there, it seemed like a lot of fun. My original plan had been to stay with a friend in Odessa, but I was pressed for time after losing a day in Anson so I couldn’t stop. I decided to just pass right through Odessa, which, in retrospect, is still too much time in Odessa. What’s wrong with Friday Night Lights-ville, you ask? Well, talk about feeling the blues. That place has seen way better days and they are far out of sight. No skyscrapers there.
By the time I neared Jeff Davis County it was raining steadily and it was pitch black. I was tired and road weary. I was sick of that stupid album. I had almost run over a snake. Things were bad and I just wanted to get to my room in the hotel in Fort Davis and sleep. I did, of course, stop to get a quick pic:
At this point I can literally recite all of AHWT in my head and keep almost perfect time. I discovered this when I turned down the music to pay closer attention to the signs and found that I had kept near-perfect time from halfway through “Jeff Davis County Blues” all the way to the second verse in “Blues In Dallas”.
After a short rest, I took off at the break of dawn toward the Mexican border and Big Bend National Park to do some sightseeing. I’ve been to just about every state in this country and the most beautiful places I’ve seen goes about like this:
1. Grand Canyon, Arizona
2. Glacier National Park, Montana 3. Southwest TX
4. Oahu, Hawaii
On the road south from Fort Davis, I only passed one town (Marfa) in the entire three-hour drive to the border town of Presidio. The whole drive was just this stunning mountainous land completely free of pollution and mostly free of development and just so freaking rural, I mean, more rural than I’ve ever been and I’ve been pretty freaking rural.
Presidio was awesome, Mexico was cool, the drive along TX-170 (which runs along the Rio Grande) was kill-me-now beautiful. Am I the only one that wants to die when they see beautiful things? Because how can it get any better? Ha-ha-ha. Anyway, Big Bend National Park had a $20 entrance fee so I just drove the perimeter for a bit, then headed up to Fort Davis in the early afternoon.
After two nights in a cheap motel / I head north from Toyahvale / switch to 285 in Pecos / head up to Red Bluff (+1). I want to mention that none of the locations he mentions in that song are actually in Jeff Davis County. Pecos (which is home to the most repulsive Travelodge I’ve ever visited and that’s saying something) and Toyahvale (which is a cool town, has a sweet state park with a giant natural freshwater pool that they call a “desert oasis”) are in Reeves County. Midland is in Midland County. Red Bluff is in Loving County. I mean, not to be a nitpick, but where does Jeff Davis County come into play here? I didn’t even see a police station in Fort Davis, except for the Texas Highway Patrol office. The only place in Jeff Davis County besides Fort Davis and the adjacent Davis Mountains State Park is Valentine, a town consisting of 172 people as of the 2000 census.
But who am I to say.
Red Bluff is actually not much more than a reservoir and a trailer park. I almost missed the sign on 285-N pointing me toward Red Bluff, but I took the turnoff and began a really genuinely dangerous journey to the reservoir. Now, I’ve taken my car through some pretty unforgiving terrains before, and despite the fact that my car is a 2007 Ford Focus, it’s always come out a winner. Driving down the 2 mile road to Red Bluff was the most certain I’d ever been that I’d finally written a check my car couldn’t cash. I was certain I wasn’t making it out of there. There were potholes LITERALLY BIG ENOUGH TO SWALLOW MY CAR. I drove about 7mph down the stretch of road past oil rigs and oil storage tanks and oil derrick after oil derrick. Heading in, I never saw another soul on the road besides two oil tankers that were really struggling with the terrain.
By the time I reached the above sign, I was getting base survival reactions out of my body. Everything happening on the other side of that sign screamed “NO GOOD”. Thoughts flashed through my head along the lines of “this would be the perfect place for the world’s largest meth factory or a Cartel hideout, because it’s so inaccessible” or “the government isn’t stupid enough to keep aliens in Area 51 or Roswell, they would keep them two miles down a nearly inaccessible road in west Texas and then they’d indefinitely detain any humble Mountain Goats fans that stumble upon the location on a self-discovery road trip”. I tried following the turnoff to the actual reservoir, which was 3 miles east, but a few minutes of inching down the turnoff road (inching being the fastest I felt safe traveling given the condition of the road) and I decided it wasn’t worth the hour-long drive.
When I made it back to the Red Bluff road after exiting the turnoff road, I was greeted by two big white pickup trucks. They were just sitting there by the sign. I waved at them and turned down the road back toward the highway, and they followed me. I’m not going to make any assumptions about whether or not they were intentionally following me, but I will say this: they stopped about 100 feet from the intersection with US-285, watched me turn onto the highway, then turned around to head back toward Red Bluff. I got some real bad vibes from that place and I won’t be going back ever again and I would advise anyone reading this to heed my words.
Red Bluff is just 8 miles south of the New Mexico state line. I had three days before work and no plans, and since I had no place to go, I drove up to New Mexico, and fixed my eyes on the rearview when I crossed the state line.
I actually ended up going to Carlsbad Caverns, which was cool. I was headed up to Carlsbad proper to look for a bargain-priced room, but right about that time, I heard on the radio that a line of tornadoey storm cells was headed right for Carlsbad and Roswell. Tornadoes are my biggest fear (besides allowing myself to be loved) so I did some math and if I booked it up to Roswell right at that moment, not only would I make it to the UFO Research Museum before they closed, but I’d be off the road before the storms hit. However, then I wouldn’t have time to take the first exit to 128, which meets up with US-285 several miles south of Carlsbad. If I waited in Carlsbad for the storms to pass, though, I wouldn’t be leaving until after 6 and as far as I could tell there were no vacancies in Carlsbad (being Memorial Day weekend and all), and no viable rooms in Roswell, which meant I had to drive up to Albuquerque to stay with a friend (I had to head north anyway).
So I headed up to Roswell (and snapped this picture,WARNING: CONTAINS FRIGHTENING STORMCLOUDS), learned about UFOs, then got to ABQ in time to go see a 10:00 movie.
Tonight I’m in Santa Fe and tomorrow I start work in rural northern New Mexico. I can’t yet put into words my new insights into All Hail West Texas, but as of two weeks from now I’m going to be in the mountains for almost three months with limited electricity, limited cell service, and sporadic access to internet. Also, very limited capacity to listen to recorded music, though I’ll be performing all summer. Luckily I can play many of the songs on All Hail West Texas on guitar so I may survive. The point is, I’m going to have a lot of time to do some thinking and I’m sure I’ll be able to reserve a bit of mental airtime for All Hail West Texas, and when I emerge with rifles from the haystacks at the end of summer, perhaps I’ll emerge with an essay about All Hail West Texas, so if/when that happens, everybody act surprised. If I get desperate for some Goats up in the mountains, I know for sure that I can at least entertain myself with the content between verse 2 of “Jeff Davis County Blues” and verse 2 of “Blues In Dallas” in near-perfect mental replication.
Editors note (April 3rd, 2017): I still can’t write anything about this album. I’m still scared of Red Bluff but no longer afraid of tornadoes. RIP 2007 Ford Focus.
I’m driving in Texas, going on road-hour 8 en route from Jackson, MS to Tyler. I’ve been off the interstate since the state line, because I’m on a mission. I’m looking for a place called Ray’s BBQ Shack.
Let me be clear: Ray’s BBQ Shack doesn’t exist in any tangible sense. Well, that’s sorta untrue because there is a place called Ray’s BBQ Shack and it’s in Houston, but I’m not talking about a literal RBBQS. Ray’s BBQ Shack is a state of mind. It’s a tier of restaurantry. RBBQS is the beautiful, perfect roadside diner that lives as-of-yet only in the realm of my fantasies.
I’m a road-food junkie to the max. I have literally wept with delight over a breakfast at an Iron Skillet in northern Wisconsin, and I change the lyrics of Tony Bennett’s classic ode to The City By The Bay to proclaim that “I left my heart at Penny’s Diner” (the one in North Platte AS OPPOSED TO THE ONE CHEYENNE). I love walking in to a trucker-friendly diner attached to a gas station, with half the town piled in while shower numbers are rattled off over the loudspeakers. I love everything about it, right down to the gag in my throat when the whites of my “over-medium” eggs run clear when I slice them open. Road food is a special slice of americana that just takes me to the place of oblivion that I love to be when I’m on the road.
Food delivers you. That’s not a tired Soviet Russia joke at all, I’m being completely serious. I should say, food delivers me. In Vicksburg, MS yesterday I went to a glorious locale called the Main Street Market Café. It was a small family-dining-room-vibed place with New Orleans jazz blaring over the speakers. It was packed to the brim with denizens of Vicksburg finishing up their Monday lunch hour and the menu boasted things like NOLA GUMBO and NICK’S CORNBREAD OF THE DAY (cornbread of the day!?!?!?). I ate the most glorious biscuits and gumbo and fried chicken my head was swimming w/ endorphins and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
But the most amazing thing about that experience (well, second to the gumbo, god damn…) was the place that that food took me. I felt The South in that moment, with the jazz and the biscuits and the thick Mississippi accents, and for a small moment my body was made of The South. I think food gives me a sense of place, which is something I hunt down with dogged perseverance as a way of life.
And that’s why I drive through vast lands, going thousands of miles out of the way to reach my “destination”. My destination is always a place, but never the final place on my list. In all the travelling I do, I’m looking for like this sense of place—a feeling, mostly, that I am in a place. To me, experiencing locations is intricately tied to the traditions, the idiosyncrasies of life there, the slang, the accent, and the food. That is what makes a place, the collection of these things, and immersing myself in them right down to picking up the accent and reading the Wikipedia article for the high school, that is how you can say “I’m been in Tyler, TX” as opposed to “I’ve been to Tyler, TX”.
Which is a pretty ridiculous semantic complication, I undertand, but it’s important to me. I find it infinitely fascinating to experience a place and let my heart be filled with its spirit. I’m not sure what created the void of place that I have inside me, but I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. As a result, I’ve travelled thousands of miles through every state, in what I consider to be the only true way to see the country: by car. Not only by car, but by non-interstate highway (not to denigrate interstate culture, which rules).
Today I’m driving from Tyler to Denton via non-interstate roads with intermediate stops along the way at any relevant food stops. I’ll keep y’all updated.
I wrote a poetry chapbook in Spring 2013 for a college poetry class. It was very bad. I sat on it for four years and then started editing it again. It was still bad, but I published it on Amazon. It’s not that bad. Read it, please. Love it. Love me.
The poems were heavily influenced by the Mountain Goats’ 2002 album All Hail West Texas, which is something you guys should totally expect from me at this point. The title is taken from the final song on AHWT, “Absolute Lithops Effect”, a song which alone heavily influenced several of the poems in the ebook.