Still Messin’ with Texas.
Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route from Travels with Charley around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”
The Route: After leaving Amarillo, Steinbeck passed through Sweetwater, Balinger, Austin and, after bypassing Houston, Beaumont. As is often the case when angling North to South across a state, he followed country roads, as did I. Although too numerous to mention, those roads were a fine way to see the Lone Star State. Max and I spent the night in Beaumont, near exit 851 and not yet too Louisiana.
The Landscape:. Just as soon as you feel you have Texas pegged, it changes. In general, the state is more lush and tree-covered, such as with pin oaks, than expected. In terms of landscape there are many faces to Texas, but the people only present one—exceptionally friendly and helpful. Somewhere in Central Texas I felt like I passed from the Western U.S. into the South.
Profile: I made my miles to Beaumont, Texas by 7:30 p.m. and after taking care of Max, walked to Joe’s Crab Shack with three things on my mind; seafood, beer and baseball. All that was forgotten when I met a very charming barkeep named Krista. I knew she was local and I was back in the South when I heard her say, “do what?” as a way of saying “say that again, please.” Krista explained that Beaumont was just a “huge small town of 250,000.” She is 23 and has been tending bar for 5 years. Four little Texan boys sat near the other end of the bar in their baseball uniforms and watched the game while bantering with Krista (I overheard one remark about the Joe’s Crab Shack slogan stretched across her chest —”Bite Me.” The boys swilled something out of a dark bottle—root beer perhaps. When I suggested that the characters at the other end of the bar might have had too much to drink. Krista said they had been cut off after one beer. “Texas law, she said, if you can’t see over the bar you only get one beer.” Krista’s boyfriend recently moved to Florida and she says it is hard to maintain a relationship from 5 states away. Krista likes the Yankee pitcher because he used to play for the Astros. She likes football too. Krista has all the well-know qualities of a southern belle. She is blonde, cute, and smiley-warm as a southern summer night. She also possesses the best kept secret of many southern belles, she is very smart. Of Mice and Men was her favorite book in high school. She really got the relationship, the dream, the tragedy. She wrote several papers about it. When I told her it was one of Steinbeck’s most banned books, she remembered parents of schoolmates who complained about the language. I heard her commiserate with an angry co-worker in an “I’m Feeling Crabby,” t-shirt who had been jerked around by customers and then left a 2-buck tip. Pretty tough, Krista said, when you’re only paid $2.16 an hour plus tips. Krista reminded me that Texans “bleed orange” for the Longhorns and presented me with a gift, an orange Joe’s Crab Shack shirt. Today, I’ll drive to New Orleans, bleeding orange, thanks to Krista.
So as not to overly gush about Texas, I should report that, near Abilene, I experienced the worst RV park of the trip. I expect interstate traffic sounds in RV parks, and trains near highways are pretty much commonplace in this country, but the manager of this park in Tye, Texas failed to mention we were right under an ear-splitting flight path for a nearby airport.
The Dog: Max is doing great. I hate to think how his health will deteriorate after he returns home and Dimmie puts him back on organic dog food. Eggs and Arby’s beef seem to suit him (as long as I don’t forget his fish oil, baby aspirin and glucosamine).
Sweet Notes: Krista, you were the sweetest of the sweet in the sweet state of Texas. Thanks for the t-shirt and thanks for riding along.
Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?
Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later
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