Beaumont to Nome. 20.6 miles/1566.7 total
Sunday, February 14, 2010
I’m heading out this morning from the parking lot across from the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in downtown Beaumont, through the city and out Highway 90 to the small city of Nome.
It’s much warmer today. Partly cloudy, expected to rain later in the afternoon, but dry now. Temperature is in the mid 50s, expected to get into the mid 60s. This is more like normal for this time of year around here.
I go past the large Beaumont Public Library, downtown branch, and north up Main Street. The streets are cavernous and empty, which I would expect on a Sunday morning.
Here’s a green copper sculpture of four men, slightly larger than life-sized. They’re wearing suits and look very 20th century. Underneath it says “Men of Vision” and it honors Vic, Sol, Ben and Nate Rogers. They were brothers from a family that come down to Texas from Chicage in the first half of the 20th century and founded an optical company and dealt in real estate. And they got involved in civic things. They probably had something to do with the Texas Energy Museum, in front of which this sculpture is located, or perhaps the next door Art Museum of Southeast Texas. If I were planning things out more carefully, I’d like to visit both these places. But it just happens that I’m here on Sunday morning. Maybe I’ll get back here.
I walk past Bowie Street and turn west on Crockett Street. The first block of Crockett is brick, and blocked off to traffic. It contains a string of fashionable restaurants and bars. There’s nobody here at this hour except me and a guy who is checking the ashtrays under the outside awnings for smokable cigarette butts. He ignores me as I pass, intent on his work. Well at least somebody's downtown.
Even the parking lots of the huge central churches are quiet and mostly empty. At Orleans and Liberty there’s a beautiful block-long art deco building called Kyle’s, most of it empty.
Here’s the federal building and the First Methodist Church, rivaling St. Anthony Cathedral in its dimensions. Down by Broadway and Forrest I go by Congregation Temple Emanuel. The congregation began in 1887, and this building was built in 1923. Rotund and solid.
Although it has its share of vacant lots and empty storefronts, downtown Beaumont looks like it probably bustles during the week when the courts and banks are open, then closes up tight after dark, which is pretty standard for many American cities.
I’m out on U.S. 90 now, saying the long goodbye to Beaumont, which drags on for several miles of fast food joints and small businesses.
Well out into the country and almost halfway through the walk I leave the city limits of Beaumont. I come to a cemetery called the Claybar Haven of Rest Cemetery and Crematory. Here the graves are American style, and the dead have mostly English names. I sit on a pink marble bench that reads “Balcom” across from Mrs. B, who died a few years ago, and is waiting for Mr. B. to join her. He’s probably in no hurry. So much grief has filled this piece of ground. So much sadness. Sometimes I feel that more than the peace of the place.
The railroad tracks run parallel to Highway 90, and at least four long freight trains have passed this afternoon, all heading west. At 15 miles I enter China, population 1112. The smell of cow shit greets me. A child’s bicycle lies half-submerged in the ditch. The sun shines brightly, and I think I’m going to beat the showers that are moving in slowly from the west.
The name of this place comes from the fact that the railroad water stop in the late 1800s sat in a grove of China Berry trees. A post office was set up under the name China Berry, and later the name was shortened to China.
I stop at the Snappy Mart Exxon station. Inside as the Indian guy is ringing up my drink I am tempted to say to him, “When you came here all the way from India did you expect to end up in a place called China?” I don’t. He bobbles his head pleasantly and says, “Have a good vun.”
Here’s Mr. Snip’s barber shop. The center of China lies a block north of the intersection and there are a few streets of houses to the south. Out in front of the Church of Our Blessed Lady of Sorrows there’s a little brick serenity garden, nicely planted with bushes and low trees. I take a seat on the bench and relax. A sign in front of me says “In Memory of Uncle Earl Kibodeaux.” I raise my diet Coke to Uncle Earl.
The sign at the other end of China is exactly like the one I passed when I entered the place a couple of miles back. I’ve noticed that they do that in Texas, at least so far. They use the same sign to designate the end of the city limits, with the population on it, as they use at the beginning. This is potentially confusing, especially if you aren’t paying attention and happen to miss the first sign. You’ll think you’re entering a place when you’re leaving it.
The change is coming in pretty well in Texas so far. I have found $1.18 in three days, about half of that today. Change and silverware. And a few hand tools. Not much road kill yet.
Very near the end of today’s walk, at the intersection of U.S. 90 and Texas Route 326, I see the sign that says I’m entering Nome, population 515. The internet says it was a stop on the Texas and New Orleans Railroad called Congreve Station back in the 1860’s, but when they discovered oil in the early 1900s and people started coming in, the name got changed to Nome because the influx reminded them of the Alaska gold rush. A bit of a stretch, if you ask me. Despite its rather small population, Nome incorporated as a city in 1971.
And that's it. A rather uneventful day.