Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 102: Snakes On The Move

Lampasas to eastern Mills County. 21.9 miles/1900 total

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I'm on the side of US 183 about four miles west of Lampasas, going through Lometa, then ten miles past that to somewhere on the side of the road about three miles inside Mills County.

It’s another nearly cloudless day. It’s becoming like a cliché. Temperature in the 60s, heading up into the mid-80s.

Now that I’m truly out in the country again, probably for the first time since arriving in east Texas, there’s no shortage of people offering me rides, waving at me, and generally being friendly. It confirms my belief that such behavior is characteristic of country folks no matter whether they’re in Indiana or the south or here in Texas. They seem to want to be decent on a personal level in spite of their grimly uncharitable political views.

About three miles into the walk I get stopped by two Texas state troopers. They pull off the road in front of me and both get out of the car—you know how they do, cautiously, with their hands on their guns. The driver, the taller of the two, who towers about a foot over me and does most of the talking, says they were just checking to see if I was all right because I looked “out of place,” or something like that. But of course that wouldn’t have required them to get out of the car. Any number of cops have pulled over to check if I was okay, and most barely even come to a complete stop. But these guys are very polite.

Something tells me, with these two cops standing there, that this is the time for full disclosure, so I tell them I'm walking across the country. Naturally this piques their interest somewhat, and the tall one says, quite perceptively, “You’re traveling kind of light to be walking across the country.” I tell him I have a motor home where I stay at night, so I don’t need to carry much with me. The tall one asks me where I'm from and I tell him I'm from Michigan, on my way to California. The other one asks where the motor home is. I tell him it's parked by the side of the road in the next county, about 18 miles away. He nods, as if this somehow computes. I think they might have seen it already. These are state police, so their range, like that of large predatory animals, is apt to be quite vast.

“So how did you get down here? Did you have somebody drop you off?” They are trying to figure it out. And now they're curious, having I think dropped whatever suspicions they might have had that I was dangerous.

“I drove my car. You see, I tow a car behind the motor home, and I use it to go back to the beginning of the walk.”

“Is that your car on the side of the road, back by Lampasas?”

“Yes it is.” They've been all over the place this morning.

The tall one is getting the idea, but still doesn’t have it all figured out. “So how do you do this whole thing?”

“Well, it’s like this. I drive the motor home with the car to the place I’m going to walk to, then I park the motor home, take the car off the dolly, drive it back to the place where I’m going to start walking, park the car, and walk from the car to the motor home. That’s what I’m doing now—walking to the motor home.”

They're nodding now. I am, frankly, impressed. Most peoples’ eyes begin to glaze over at this point.

“Then when I get to the motor home, I’ll drive it back down to the car, put the car on the dolly, and drive down to Lampasas, where I’m spending the night tonight. Then tomorrow I’ll drive the motor home and the car to a point about 21 miles beyond where it is today, and do it all over again.”

At this point a little smile is playing at the edges of the tall one’s mouth. The other one is smirking. I’ve been doing okay, but I’ve just stepped over the line. I know it immediately. The smiles say that while they know I'm not a danger to myself or others, I'm not quite right, either.

It comes down to this. What I do every day I walk, which I’ve done almost a hundred times now (the first few days in September I stayed at home at night and used the car and my bicycle), involves five steps. And most people can only stay with me for three steps. This seems to be the limit of the attention span of the average person, created by operative conditioning by means, I'm pretty sure, of the average interval between commercials on television.

Step one is driving the motor home and the car to point B. Step two is driving the car back to point A. Step three is walking from point A to point B. After that something happens inside peoples’ brains, and instead of picturing the motor home and the car, they begin to see something akin to the antics of one of those guys on the Ed Sullivan Show who’s spinning plates on top of sticks while juggling Indian clubs and balancing on a plank thrown across a large cylinder. Or maybe some elaborate cartoon plot by Wile E. Coyote to get the Roadrunner with a contraption he bought from the Acme Company, complete with slapstick penny whistle music.

The point is, I have lost these guys, just like I lose almost everybody. For the walking itself, there is endless interest and even some respect. For the logistics, there is very little of either.

They both shake their heads, bemused. Then the tall one says, “Why are you doing this, anyway?” It always does come down to that, doesn’t it? I give him the usual mishmash of answers, beginning with “to see if I can do it,” and dribbling on into a recitation of how friendly everyone is.

Now they know they're talking to a harmless crank, and they're eager to get on with whatever more serious work they have ahead of them.

“Just be careful out there and watch the cars,” the tall one says.

“Okay. I stay as far off the road as I can” I say, gesturing to the wide expanse of grass off to the side.

The other one glances at the grass and says, “Watch out down there. The snakes are starting to move.”

But the tall one wants to have the last word. “First watch the cars,” he says, “then watch the snakes.” And they're on their way.

Immediately I make a note to myself to check out the proper first aid procedures for rattlesnake bites. I think they've changed since I was a Boy Scout. The tourniquet and the knife are out, if I remember right. Too bad, because everything in Boy Scouts always seemed to come down to a tourniquet and a knife. You can build a bridge with a tourniquet and a knife.

At ten miles I begin to come into the outskirts of Lometa. I’m welcomed by the Lion’s Club, the Masons, the Eastern Star, the Boy Scouts, the FFA, the FHA, and the Methodists and Baptists.

A fence along the way has some large black things hanging from it. I can’t tell what they are, but when I get closer I see they’re huge catfish heads. Some of them are a foot square, and they’re all dried up and blackened, a dozen of them.

Lometa, population 782, begins about a mile later. Here’s a historical marker, talking about the Scholten Railroad, a 25-mile narrow gauge railway that operated from 1912 to 1925, carrying cedar posts and pilings from around here to West Texas. The Scholten brothers were Dutch, it says. I know that cedar posts were an important part of the construction of barbed wire fences, so that must have been what they were up to.

Lometa was started as a railroad town in 1886, for the Santa Fe Railroad, which still runs through the city, now the BNSF. Originally the town was called Montvale, and I don’t know why it was changed to Lometa, or what that signifies.

Highway 183 widens to five lanes through downtown Lometa, evidently to handle the heavy rush hour traffic in this town of 782. There is also a traffic light, and sidewalks, too. All this is a little on the optimistic side, if you ask me.

At the main intersection there are two or three antique stores and a bank. Next to that is the Shell station and convenience store, where I stop for something to drink. Next door to that is a spiffy drive-through beer store.

I leave Lampasas County and enter Mills County, named for John T. Mills, a pre-Civil War justice of the Texas supreme court, who was born in Ireland. Its county seat is Goldthwaite, through which I’ll be walking tomorrow.

I’m almost to the motor home. I got another eight ride offers today, in addition to my visit with the state troopers. Two of the offers were from military personnel in uniform, one Army and the other Air Force. Both of these guys looked like they were in amazingly good shape, youthful and vigorous, and their demeanor was like that of Boy Scouts solicitous of an old codger. “Are you okay, sir?” Tourniquets and knives at the ready.


Anonymous said...

Good readind these past two days. I'm seeing the movie with the troopers getting cautiously out of their car... "You seem out of place" could become a cult phrase!
I'd be worried about the snakes more than the refuseniks out there but that's just me. If there's a snake in the vicinity, I'm the one to spot it. The recommendation now for venom of any kind is to apply heat as close as possible to the site of the bite or sting, in the form of a lit cigarette preferably, move as little as possible and get driven to a hospital asap which also involves a lot of logistics! In a panic, I'm not excluding the boyscout recipes. Stay safe.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Most of the items I read last night said don't do much of anything except keep the affected limb below the level of the heart, try not to move around, and get to a hospital. For my money, that's not first aid, that's what you do after the first aid. But they're saying not to apply a tourniquet above the bite and not to cut little X marks on the punctures and not to suck or draw out the venom. I think the tourniquet prohibition is because too many people tied them too tight. Too bad--they've taken all the fun out of being a boy scout. In any event, I'm staying up on the pavement.

Billie Bob said...

I find your descriptions of encounters with people on the road to be pretty good reading. It kind of adds a current “human interest” component that compliments your accounts of some of the historic figures tied to the various locations.

When people ask you why you are doing the big walk, maybe you should tell them the truth: You’re a crazed psychopath on the prowl; a drifter hoping to be immortalized by Richard Avendon. Actually, maybe you should tell them, among other reasons, you are a writer doing research for your book.

If you do encounter a snake, maybe you should pick it up and start speaking in tongues. As Lucinda Williams once sang:

I would risk the serpent's bite
I would dance around with seven
I would kiss the diamond back
If I knew it would get me to heaven

'Cause I want to get right with God
Yes, you know you got to get right with God

Anonymous said...

Really got a kick out of your account of your face to face with the Texas lawmen. Was laughing quite hard which got the attention of both Kathy and Lindsey--they thought I was watching Everybody Loves Raymond or something--Art