Monday, February 22, 2010

Day 92: Concrete Heaven

Day 92: Cypress to Hempstead. 19.2 miles/1687.8 total

Monday, February 22, 2010

I’m at Bauer Road and U.S. 290, heading down the access road for a few miles until I get to Business 290, which diverges a bit from the expressway and goes through a few small towns—Hockley, Waller, Prairie View, and Hempstead, my destination.

It’s cool and cloudy, in the upper 40s. The forecast calls for it to get into the low 60s, but I’ll believe that when I see it. After two days of walking in a t-shirt I’m back to wearing several layers and putting my hood up.

After two miles I pass a gravel yard. The almost perfect conical piles of gravel, sand, and stone, poured out from an elevator of some kind, remind me of photos of the Pyramids. And I marvel at the technology that makes these piles possible, just as people marvel at the Egyptian structures. I always get a kick out of those who say that the Pyramids and Stonehenge and things down in South America must have been built by aliens, because they just can’t figure out how they were done. I know a lot of that is just fodder for places like the History Channel, but it seems to me that we should be concentrating our efforts on figuring out exactly how the ancients accomplished these tasks instead of concluding, like a bunch of children, that it must have happened supernaturally. I'm assuming that the way the Pyramids were built was one block at a time, over a very long period, with very long ramps, lots of slave labor, and probably some beasts of burden, like maybe elephants. Likewise Stonehenge, except for the elephants. Tedious, but no mystery. And yet they can fill hours on those channels with so-called experts scratching their heads like chimps and coming to no conclusions. What a showcase of modern stupidity in the face of ancient ingenuity.

The other piece of that absurdity is that people would think aliens, were they able to get here, would spend their time constructing silly things like Pyramids, given their level of technical expertise.

A few miles into the walk Business 290 diverges from the expressway, and I take it. I come upon a herd of Texas Longhorn cattle. These guys are carrying racks almost as wide as the cattle are long. Amazingly long horns. A few weeks back I saw some of what I thought were longhorns, but they evidently weren’t.

Business 290 of course was 290 before the expressway was built. It goes along the railroad tracks with towns spaced about five miles apart, just like most of the U.S. highways. Hockley, the community I’m passing through (or bypassing) now, was established by George Washington Hockley, in 1835. That’s about all I could find out about it, except that A.J. Foyt has a ranch around here somewhere.

A word or two about road surfaces, from the point of view of the long-distance walker. Concrete is the hardest surface, of course. Most of yesterday and the day before I walked on concrete. As you drive you don’t notice much difference between asphalt and concrete, but over a twenty-mile distance walking on concrete will tire out the legs and feet more than the slightly softer asphalt. Walking on dirt and grass are softer yet, but often they are uneven surfaces, filled with bumps and potentially ankle-turning holes. Hard packed dirt, with no stones or trap rock, is probably the ideal surface to walk on, unless it’s wet. Today I’m walking on asphalt mostly, here on the edge of the outside lane of Business 290, a lightly traveled four and five lane road. Actually Astroturf would be the better, I think, but they don’t use it for roads.

On the way into Waller I’m joined for a half mile or so by a friendly yellow and white dog, who accompanies me into town, stopping regularly to sniff and urinate on light posts. He lets me pet him, then wants to play. But his days are numbered, I fear, because he has a habit of loping out into the road with no regard to whether there’s traffic. Eventually he ambles off behind a building.

Waller is in Waller County, but it’s not the county seat. That’s Hempstead. Waller’s a town of a little over 2,000. The county and the town were named for Edwin Waller, one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence. Waller was a big cheese in the early Texas Republic. He was chosen by President Mirabeau Lamar (author of the poem “The Daughter of Mendoza”) to lay out the grid for the new capital, Austin. He served as its first mayor. Waller was still around when Texas seceded from the union, and signed the secession ordinance, too.

The town stretches for a mile or so on both sides of the highway and the railroad tracks. A succession of one and two story buildings, a grain elevator, two hardware stores, a bank, and three antique store/flea markets. But no pocket knives. Anything of commercial value in Waller is probably up by the expressway, a half mile north.

Ahead of me about a mile or so is something I haven’t seen much of for a couple of months—a hill. It’s a slight rise in the road, that’s all. I know that Houston’s highest point is about 125 feet above sea level, and that Austin’s elevation is about 500 feet, so I am going gradually uphill. On the other side of Austin the elevation will climb much more dramatically, and by the time I get to New Mexico I’ll be at about 3,200 feet.

One of the billboards of which I’ve seen a number since I got into Texas reads, “Budweiser. El autentico sabor de Texas.” Which reminds me that there are, as you might imagine, a lot of Mexicans in Texas, about 36% of the population. I say Mexicans rather than Hispanics, because I assume almost all the Hispanics hereabouts are from Mexico. Which makes sense, since Texas was Spanish and then Mexican before it was part of the U.S. So some were here already. But of course the majority have arrived relatively recently. Coming back home.

The clouds have dispersed and the sun has come out, but there’s no way the temperature is going to reach 60. It might be in the low 50s.

I enter Prairie View, population 4,410. Prairie View is home to Prairie View A & M University, a traditionally black school of about 6,300 students, the second oldest state college in Texas. All of that lies about a mile to the north of where I’m walking now.

On the way into Hempstead I pass a place called Frazier’s Concrete Heaven. And if there’s a concrete heaven, this must be it. On both sides of the building is a vast Elysian field of items made of concrete and plaster—statues of gods and goddesses, nude men and women, Jesus and the Virgin Mary, lions with their paws on balls, huge pineapples, birdbaths, fountains. A bronze fireman in full regalia, a weeping angel prostrate on a gravestone, a soldier saluting. Gargoyles, horses, benches, tables, little Mexicans with sombreros, deer, gorillas, sea serpents.

Then I enter Hempstead, population 4,691. Hempstead was founded in the 1850s as a railroad town. Later it became famous for its watermelon crop, and in the 1940s was the largest shipper of watermelons in the U.S. Billy and Angela Dilorio were known as the Watermelon King and Queen. The town still holds an annual Watermelon Festival in July. I notice as I walk into town that Dilorio’s produce market is still alive and well. No watermelons now, of course, unless there are some concrete ones down the road.

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