On the third night we decide to eat a decent dinner at what seems to be a popular place, and we pay for it dearly

Texas Christmas Tree
Christmas Tree in Town Square, Texas
Light box enlargement

So there we were gassing up on Monday morning, November 20th, somewhere on the fringe edges of Abilene but right off I-20. We were at a lonely little dusty convenience store on a road that appeared to get very little traffic yet here in this place surrounded by big long stretches of brown grass and an occasional falling down building were what seemed to be some of Abilene’s homeless, one loitering at the gas station looking like he hadn’t bathed or changed clothes in quite some time and later there came a woman wandering down the road and passed by, but I was uncertain if they were homeless as they were porting backpacks and big branches as walking sticks and that’s something I just haven’t seen in Atlanta. The homeless here tend to live out of plastic bags and grocery carts, not backpacks. They didn’t look like the hitchhiking homeless we get through Atlanta either.

A man was gassing up his car that was more rust than anything else and he’d caught my eye as he looked as rough as the countryside and gave the appearance of being somewhat confused. Then he climbed into his car and proceeded to begin to drive off with the gas pump still lodged in the tank and we yelled and honked and caught his attention and noting this he looked even more confused but then realized what was happening. And we figured we’d kind of done our good deed for the day.

We asked for the best route to get to highway 180. As with everyone else we asked on this trip, we were given wrong directions (but that was OK because I had the map in hand and knew their route was impossible) and someone else at the convenience store spoke up and said the directions we were being given were wrong and that we were right. So we drove up to 180 and we rode 180 and then 380 through Texas into New Mexico. And we had a great time.

I’ll go ahead and now note that Honda Elements don’t appear to be very popular cars in the South outside of GA, because between Atlanta and New Mexico we only spotted two other Honda Elements on the interstates and highways. Both of those Elements were bright orange, the color we would have liked but they didn’t have when we got our Element. I have read that psychologists say people choose silver and gold cars as expressions of status and wealth. Maybe for some, but we got our Element in silver because for a great price it was either that or blue, those were the only two colors the dealer had available, and I wasn’t going to have a blue car. I just don’t like blue cars. Dunno why.

I don’t know what town it was but at one point we came upon a sign that said to watch for ducks and geese crossing the highway, and I looked and saw a park and water and had co-adult turn into it, thinking it would be a nice place for H.o.p. to get out and burn some energy. I guess it’s some kind of migration point because there were hundreds of ducks and geese there. More ducks and geese in one spot in a town (a very small town) than I’ve ever seen in my life. There were so many ducks and geese that the grounds were spotted all over white with bird droppings and feathers and the playground equipment looked long abandoned to the birds, also covered with droppings.

There were about three large connected ponds. We were the only visitors and some of the geese and ducks, seeing us, expected a meal and came running. A park service guy pulled up and watched us from a distance for a while then finally drove off. We stayed for a while, long enough that we were still there when he later returned.

H.o.p. had entertained himself the day before tossing a few leaves into the gator ponds hoping to get the gators to budge. Here he entertained himself pitching rocks into parts of the ponds free of the ducks and geese.

There was one lone, battered butterfly on the ground near the play equipment. Its wings occasionally fluttered but it was clearly at the end of its journey. H.o.p. was at first happy with this butterfly who sat quite still for us, then learning it was at its end he tried vainly to think of ways we could help it out. He ended up just watching out for it while we were there, making sure it wasn’t stepped on.

Here’s the lone butterfly surrounded by duck and geese droppings.

Just a pic for the blog

They grow cotton back in this area of Texas. Lots of cotton. And they were in the middle of harvesting it. Some places there were huge fields of cotton unplucked. Other places, bits of cotton covered the sides of the road and mega-huge oblong modules of it sat on the far edges of the harvested fields. I would have called them cotton bales but today H.o.p. and I were studying cotton since we’d seen it in Texas and I learned those big things in the fields are not bales but called modules.

“Look, cotton!” I pointed out to H.o.p.

“Look, cactus!” I pointed out to H.o.p.

“Look,” I pointed out to co-adult, “there’s a cactus and tree that always seem to grow together, I wonder what they are and why that is?”

Maybe someone who reads this post will know what I’m talking about and will be able to answer me.

“Look, oil pumps!” I pointed out to H.o.p.

“Look, cows!” I pointed out to H.o.p.

“Where’s McDonalds?” H.o.p. periodically inquired. “I’m hungry. I want a McDonalds.” What he really wanted was a certain toy from McDonalds that he’d not collected yet.

After a while this became kind of irritating.

“Look around you,” we finally would say, “what do you see?”

“Nothing,” H.o.p. would reply, peeved.

“Right, no McDonalds. We are in the middle of nowhere. There is no McDonalds here.”

“I’m hungry!”

“We have peanut butter and graham crackers and peanut butter crackers and cheerios.”

“I want McDonalds,” he’d reply, determined.

“Look! Tell me what you see!”


“Can we go to a McDonalds when there is no McDonalds?”


“It is impossible to go to a McDonalds when there is no McDonalds. We are on Texas rural back roads surrounded by cotton fields. We are not in the city. We can’t make a McDonalds magically appear on a street corner that isn’t there. We will go to a McDonalds when we can, but there is no McDonalds for miles and miles.”

“Oooooh, all right!”

We drove into every small town, all only about a few blocks wide and long, to ogle their courthouses and little bitty town squares. They were mostly little towns that are very near dead and thus still have some character to them because not even a Wal Mart considers them lucrative.

I didn’t know quite what to think of this area of Texas, if it was the kind of place where you have mega-rich hidden away in ranches behind the cotton and the towns were repositories of workers for the mega-rich and the mega-rich didn’t mind the towns falling to seed because they could go elsewhere for goods and entertainment. I don’t know.

“H.o.p., look, more cotton! H.o.p. look, a school! This is where kids around here go to school. H.o.p. can you try to imagine what it would be like to live out here?”

Yes, yes, lame of me, but I was wearing out on trying to find something to point out to H.o.p. in my effort to make things kind of interesting on our way to what I knew H.o.p. would really enjoy, which we wouldn’t get to until after hours that night and wouldn’t be able to explore until Tuesday. Though the back roads in Texas were a great break from the Interstate, we had started out on the trip tired and were already fighting not to fall out on the side of the road and lie there for days gazing at ants, listening to H.o.p. wail for McDonalds, and this despite the fact we were this trip spending every night in really honest to god hotel rooms with cushy mattresses and real sheets, which was quite nice except each night would find the hotels getting pricier and the quality steadily falling though we were sticking with the same chain throughout. It didn’t help that we were dining already on crap food that we didn’t want and because we didn’t want it every time we drove up to a McDonalds we’d quite often get H.o.p. something but opt out on anything for us and munch on packages of peanut butter crackers. I was deep into rereading Tom Wolfe’s “Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test” about Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters and the speed that propelled Cassady’s ability to drag the Prankster bus across country in the early 60s was starting to sound pretty good.

Ray Charles helped out. In Texas I plugged in a Ray Charles CD and for several hours I felt no pain. I sang and beat time on the car and occasionally stopped and apologized to co-adult for being annoying, because co-adult is a musician and for some reason three decades into our marriage I was suddenly, for the first time in my life, feeling self-conscious about singing along to music and beating time.

H.o.p. and I were having skirmishes over music. He wanted to listen to Tom Waits. “I’m Tom Waits’ greatest fan,” he’d say.

Eventually we got H.o.p. to agree to an arrangement of each one of us taking turns selecting CDs.

Dusk had fallen when we drove into Roswell, New Mexico. And if you can’t guess why I thought H.o.p. would love stopping here and what we planned on taking him to see then maybe this will help. I took the same exact photo but I was using the Kodak camera those first few days of the trip because the new Canon was a dud and had yet to be returned (I did eventually take pics with it out of desperation, before exchanging it).

So, even the McDonalds at Roswell, New Mexico is tricked up to let you know Roswell is all about alien legends and flying saucers. The streetlights all had alien faces.

It was perfect. More than I’d hoped for. H.o.p. was loving it.

If you’re going to Roswell, New Mexico ever and entering from the east, around 20 minutes or so out of it you crest a hill and come upon a spectacular view of the valley. I didn’t even try to get a shot as it was dark twilight, and even in the twilight it was breathtaking. (Well, co-adult says it was about 20 minues. I think it was a shorter time.)

We got ourselves a room and the co-adults decided to spend money on a real dinner. This was great. It was only 7:30! We weren’t checking in after midnight like we had been the previous nights. We would go get a good meal finally and come back and veg for several hours before going to sleep. Rest time!

We never visit places like steak houses but for some reason we decided we wanted steak and we were directed to a steak house that was said to be good. We also went there because the person at the counter at the Inn told us the Mexican place next door wasn’t so good. She didn’t tell the people before us it wasn’t so good. They were grouchy with her and she told them it was fine. Us, she said don’t bother with the Mexican restaurant because it’s not so good, go to the steak house instead.

The steak house was jam packed with people. It was a chain, I realized, looking at pics on the wall of old cattle driving routes. The large party before us went elsewhere because they wouldn’t be able to get a table for 30 minutes, but we were a party of 3 and were sitting at our table in ten minutes.

We ended up with the waitress who looked overloaded and confused. She kept forgetting to bring us things. We tipped her well anyway because everything about her service reminded me of nightmares I used to have of waitressing and being overloaded and realizing I’d forgotten customers–nightmares that had a deep, panicky Twilight Zone feel to them. Because we were her nightmare customers that she kept forgetting to attend to we tipped her well so she wouldn’t go home feeling like it was too much of a nightmare.

And we went back to the hotel and our intestines immediately started making strange wretched grumblings and we spent all night being totally wretched in the bathroom because the overly tenderized meat made us really, really sick.

Except for H.o.p., because he’d opted to eat at McDonalds first and ate nothing at the steak house and was therefore just fine.

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Juli Kearns

Juli Kearns is the author of Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine and Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World (or) In Search of the Great Penguin. She is also an artist/photographer, and the person behind the web alter of "Idyllopus Press".

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