Friday, February 12, 2010

Day 84: The Yellow Eye of Texas

Louisiana Welcome Center to Bridge City, Texas. 19.7 miles/1526.1 total

Friday, February 12, 2010

I park in the Welcome Center on I-10 and head west for the bridge over the Sabine River and into Texas, where I will go through Orange and Bridge City.

It’s cold. Earlier this morning before the rain stopped it was coming down as snow flurries. I understand other parts of the south got snow, too. Now it’s overcast and about 35 degrees, probably the coldest day I’ve had so far on this journey.

I’m trying to keep a low profile here on the expressway, where pedestrians are prohibited. I’m way down in the ditch now, and heading toward an abandoned car on the side of the road, so everyone will think it’s my car, and after I pass it they’ll think I’m going to the next exit to get help, or whatever.

Except for the heavy traffic, this is a very safe bridge to walk over. The shoulder is almost two lanes wide, giving about fifteen feet and some rumble strips between me and the oncoming cars.

At 1.6 miles I reach the center of the bridge, halfway over the Sabine River. I am now in Texas, leaving Calcasieu Parish and entering Orange County. And for my friends who understand the reference, let me say, GOD DAWG! I JUST GOT INTO TEXAS!

Just a few feet before the state line I stop to pick up my last money in Louisiana, a quarter. Shortly thereafter I pick up a quarter and a dime, my first Texas money. And, in what might be a sign of some kind, the sun comes out for a few seconds, like the big yellow eye of Texas. (That's what Lewis Carrol might have called a "portmanteau" phrase--combining "The Yellow Rose of Texas" with "The Eyes of Texas," both of which I've been singing as I go, to the limited extent that I can remember the words.) After a little over three miles I get off the interstate and down onto the Highway 90 business route, without incident.

It’s time for a Louisiana statistical wrap-up. I entered Louisiana on January 11 and I’m leaving it on February 12. I walked 20 full days and two partial days in the state, for a total of 407.1 miles, the most in any state so far. I averaged 19.8 miles per full day, including that 12 mile day I had in New Orleans. I found $10.28 in change, plus a dollar bill, easily the most of any state so far. I got 18 ride offers, a little less than one per day. After I got down out of the Florida Parishes and New Orleans and into Cajun country the ride offers became more frequent.

And now the all-important road kill numbers. Here I must say that there were hundreds of animals I didn’t count because I couldn’t identify them. Possums led the way with 70, followed by 61 birds. I counted mostly larger birds, like egrets, ducks, one pelican, hawks, owls. There were many little songbirds I didn’t count because I wasn’t sure they’d been hit by cars. Next came 39 raccoons, 22 rabbits, 14 cats, 13 armadillos, 9 turtles, 8 dogs, 6 skunks, 5 minks, 3 frogs, 2 nutrias, 2 squirrels, 2 groundhogs, 2 snakes, 1 deer, 1 rat, 1 beaver, 1 mouse, and 1 otter.

And to the State of Louisiana I bid a fond adieu. Like each new state I enter, I entered Louisiana with some trepidation and uncertainty, but after a few days began to feel right at home there. I hope the same thing happens in Texas, because I’ll be here for a hell of a long time.

At a little over six miles I enter Orange, a city of approximately 19,000. Orange’s early wealth was built on the timber industry, and it later became a deep-water port. I walk by Lamar State College of Orange. The name Lamar is big in Texas history. I don’t know specifically who the Lamar of Lamar State College is, but a guy named Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar was the 2nd President of the Republic of Texas, from 1838 to 1841. Later he wrote a poem called “The Daughter of Mendoza,” a minor league ode that continues to make it into anthologies of American poetry. Probably its best verse goes like this:

How brilliant is the morning star,
The evening star how tender,--
The light of both is in her eyes,
Their softness and their splendor.
But for the lash that shades their light
They were too dazzling for the sight,
And when she shuts them all is night—
The daughter of Mendoza.

Well, back to Orange. Its streets are wide. I pass the First Baptist Church, which from a distance I thought was the city hall or the county courthouse. It’s a big broad brick affair with a silver dome on top, looking more like a public building than a church.

Down the street there’s the beautiful W. H. Stark House, a sprawling Victorian job painted two shades of green, and across from that is the modern white Stark Museum of Art. I go inside to check it out.

The Stark Museum was started by Henry Jacob Lutcher Stark, 1887-1965, and his wife Nelda Stark, who died in 1999. It contains much of the private art collection of these two, including paintings by N. C. Wyeth, Albert Bierstadt, Georgia O’Keefe, paintings and sculptures by Frederic Remington, and sculptures by Charles M. Russell. Also some Audubon engravings. Everything is around the western theme—cowboys, Indians, landscapes, and so on. Very nice. Food for the soul on this cold gray day.

Henry Jacob Lutcher Stark was the grandson of H. J. Lutcher, a wealthy timber baron, so he had plenty of money to spend on art to enrich his native Orange. On down the street is another domed building, the First Presbyterian Church, a gigantic pink marble Greek Revival building dating to 1912. This was originally the Lutcher Memorial Church, dedicated to the memory of old H. J. Lutcher himself, who had just died. The place is locked, but the stained glass windows in front have a Pre-Rafaelite look to them. The marker out front says they were prize-winning windows from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The dome is topped by a copper cupola.

I pass the Dies Building, containing law offices. One of the lawyers is named Martin Dies. I’ll bet he’s a descendant of Martin Dies, Jr., the red-baiting Texas congressman who started the House Un-American Activities Committee.

I pass out of Orange, past smells of Mexican food and fried chicken. Little by little the culture of a state emerges, often subtly. I don’t know if this indicates anything, but at the gas station where I just bought a cappuccino there was a rack of magazines up by the cash register, and at the top, next to Seventeen and Teen Vogue was a copy of Combat Arms magazine. Something for the boys.

Over the second of four bridges for today, I enter West Orange, and the sign says the population is 4,187. A memorial garden is filled with bronze vases full of brightly-colored artificial flowers (and, as I discover later, glow-in-the-dark crosses). No Louisiana-style French vaults here. I stop in to check out the surnames. Mostly Anglo. White, Kelley, McKinney, Beulah Mae Teal and Raymond Lewis Teal. [I wondered whether this was the same Ray Teal who played Sheriff Coffee on Bonanza, but the dates didn’t match when I looked him up. I also found out that the actor Ray Teal was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan.]

The temperature has hit 40 degrees according to a bank sign. I begin to cross the third bridge of the day, which goes into Bridge City, population 8,651, a city so named because it has bridges on both sides of it. Actually it was called Prairie View until the Rainbow Bridge was finished in the late 30s. The one I’m on now crosses Cow Bayou, and the eastbound side of the bridge, on which I’m walking against traffic, is low, whereas the westbound side arches up more than thirty feet higher. Not quite sure what’s going on here, but maybe they’re going to replace this low piece with another like the high one, so watercraft can go under.

Bridge City is a fairly young community, mostly laid out here along Texas Route 87. It has interesting goose neck street lights leaning over the street from the west side. At about 15 miles I pass the Walmart where I’ll be staying tonight, and head into the wetlands and marshes outside of town toward the last bridge of the day, the Rainbow Bridge. This is one of two bridges, like the last one, but these two are much higher. The Rainbow, the older of the two, is a cantilever bridge finished in 1938. At 170 feet it's the highest bridge in the state. The northbound span, completed in 1990, is called the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge. It’s a cable-stayed bridge, a little lower than its neighbor, and it’s the one I’ll be walking across, which is good, because I wouldn’t walk on the Rainbow Bridge.

There’s a wide shoulder on this bridge and it should be no problem. I begin my steep ascent. Off in the distance are several refineries, lights beginning to twinkle like miniature city skylines in the late afternoon. I see a pelican taking off lazily over the marsh below me. At the top I look out over the Neches River and at the Gulf of Mexico to the east. Far away in front of me I spot the motor home, parked in a turnaround in the wide median between the two sides of traffic. It’s about a mile away as I begin to descend the 150-foot span.

1 comment:

dfinagle said...

For whatever reason most Texans let alone folks in general will be surprised that yellow in the "possibly unofficial" state song refers to the writers love for a girl that is "high yaller" an exceedingly light skinned negro girl.