Apr 222012

Got a seriously late start the next day, not hitting the road until about 11. Our excuse was that we needed the sleep, which was not a lie.

Unfortunately for me, Mom could not stay awake more than an hour whenever she got behind the wheel, which meant that I ended up driving the entire 1500 miles to Texas. She’s also one of those people who doesn’t “get” technology well, so I usually had to navigate as well.

As an exception to that, she decided to ask about any upcoming construction at a manned rest stop east of Louisville, and found out that some big fireworks event called “Thunder” was happening downtown. The whole area was jammed, and we would have spent at least an hour or more getting through without her alternate directions. Yay Mom!

Overall, she’s good company and we’ve always gotten along well, even on long car trips. The closest I came to losing my temper was when we were circling the perimeter of Memphis trying to find the correct exit to I-55. When I needed confirmation of the original directions, she somehow pulled up different directions, so I had to call Aaron to get me back on track.

All in all, those were minor bumps, and the rest of the trip was enjoyable. We stayed in Forrest City, Arkansas on Saturday night and, after a quick Burger King breakfast, we were rolling at 7:15 am to make up for the late start the day before.

Outside Texarkana, we passed slowly by a Car-B-Q burning on the shoulder. The entire front end was engulfed, while a young cop and the driver were standing nearby, and the fire truck had yet to arrive. We were so close I could feel a bit of the heat, and hear the popping noises from the engine.

Stopping at a gas station just over the Texas border, we stretched our legs, and I walked the dog a bit while Mom got snacks. There was a warm wind blowing, and the air smelled amazing: trees and flowers I couldn’t identify. After a minute or two, I sneezed. Then sneezed again. My eyes felt a little dry, so I rubbed them for a second.

Big mistake.

The air smelled so good because it was full of frickin’ POLLEN. When I got in the car and looked in the mirror, my eyes were solid red from edge to edge, and I could hardly see. Luckily, Mom had some eye drops which helped, and we closed the vents and turned on the AC. Within about a half hour, things were almost back to normal, and I could put away the ruby-quartz visor.

We decided to take the smaller state highways instead of the interstate. As I told Aaron, I’ve seen the United States of Generica, and I wanted to see something else. The state highways (271 and 155) go through a lot of small cities and towns, almost certain to not be paved over with Targets, Applebee’s, and Best Buys.

During my quest for allergy medicine through all this “real America”, however, I discovered a fact about small Texas towns: each and every one contains a Dairy Queen, a Family Dollar, and four churches per person, but NOT ONE DRUG STORE.

At last, I found a Brookshire’s (the Kroger equivalent) with a pharmacy, and Allegra saved the day.

Northeast Texas is beautiful: rolling, forested hills, winding roads, and green pastures. I’d assumed it all looked like the suburbs surrounding Dallas or San Antonio: hot, flat prairie, with chain restaurants and big-box stores packed densely around the freeway, surrounded by miles of identical sand-colored subdivisions; devoid of walkable city centers or indeed any character at all. It was nice to see that, in some places anyway, reality didn’t match my snarky cynicism after all.

We finally had to rejoin the mass of humanity in Waco, and the special stretch of Hell that is I-35 from Dallas to San Antonio. I actually feared for our lives more than once, and this from someone who’s driven in Chicago and San Francisco.

We rolled into a Logan’s Roadhouse (it doesn’t matter which one; they’re all the same) in one of the San Antonio suburbs (it doesn’t matter which one; they’re all the same) and met my sister for dinner and a couple of much-needed drinks to celebrate the end of the drive.

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