Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 96: Refuseniks Revisited

Giddings to Bastrop. 21.6 miles/1772.1 total

Monday, March 22, 2010

I head out from the intersection of U.S. 290 and County Road 200 in Lee County, five miles or so west of Giddings, to Bastrop, a distance of 21.6 miles.

Just a few high clouds this morning, with the temperature in the high 40s, headed up into the low 70s.

For the first mile or two I go down C. R. 200, because it affords me a little break from the highway. All along this road, in the pastures and by the disused railroad tracks between here and 290, are clumps of prickly pear cactus, reminding me for the first time that I’m getting into the west. I’ve seen cacti in the south on peoples’ lawns as part of their landscaping, but I can’t remember seeing it growing wild before on the walk (except, curiously, in a ditch in Michigan once).

A couple of miles in I leave Lee County and enter Bastrop County, and the sign says I’m on the Henry G. “Bud” Lehman Highway. I wonder why people are so fond of inserting nicknames into otherwise official mentions of peoples’ names? It seems unnecessary to me. If everybody called the guy Bud, that’s fine, but that was his nickname, for Christ’s sake, not his real name. If you’re going to honor someone by naming a stretch of road after them, then just use their Sunday-go-to-meeting name, the one mom and dad gave them. Or use just the nickname. But don’t use both. That’s just ridiculous. It smacks of the way the media insists on referring to infamous personages by all their names together, including their nicknames: I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby; Alfonse “Scarface” Capone; Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo; Vincenzo “The Chin” Gigante. All I can say is that if they name a road after me, I don't want it to be the Peter A. "Pete" Teeuwissen Highway.

After 5 miles I enter Paige, which is a widening of the road and a blinking light, along with a Chevron station and The Old Frontier Bar and Grill, plus a few more shops. Paige was established as a railroad water stop in 1872 and named for Norman Paige, a railroad engineer (not the kind with the striped hat, but the kind who designs and builds roadways). A few years later Germans moved in and the population to this day is mostly of German ancestry. But it’s not much of a population. It reached a high of 500 in 1886, and today stands at about 275.

At one-third of the way through the walk, I leave U.S. 290 and head off west on Texas Route 21, toward Bastrop. The shortest way to Austin would be to stay on 290 and go through Elgin, but going through Bastrop puts an additional Walmart between me and Austin, and it’s not that much out of the way.

Several miles down on Texas 21, right before the two sides of the highway divide into a rolling parkway, I come to an old monument, whose letters I can barely read. I have to trace them with my fingers. It says, “King’s Highway. Camino Real. Old San Antonio Road. Marked by the Daughters of the American Revolution and the State of Texas. 1916.” And that's what most of Texas 21 is, from the Rio Grande to the Louisiana border.

This parkway is nice and shady, planted on both sides and in the median with loblolly pine trees. I don’t have my tree book with me today, but just down the road from the start of the parkway is a sign that says, “Loblolly Pines Village Motel and Resort.” So I’ll take that as circumstantial evidence.

Here the shoulder is just as nonexistent as it was earlier on today's walk, but in the tiny unpaved space just off the road the layers of pine needles and sand and gravel give the roadside a sponginess that’s pretty easy on the feet, except when it slopes down at a precipitous angle.

A freshly-killed vulture lies on the dotted line in the middle of the oncoming lanes. Every time a car whizzes past a small cloud of pinfeathers rises from the corpse and one of the wings waves like a beckoning hand. Join me, it says. Soon other vultures will dine with their old friend. Like when Claudius asks Hamlet where Polonius is, after Hamlet has killed him. Hamlet says, "At supper." Claudius says, "At supper? Where?" Hamlet says, "Not where he eats, but where he is eaten."

At 18.3 miles I enter the limits of Bastrop, a city of 5,340. Today for the first time since returning from hiatus, during which I wrote about the Refuseniks, I’ve spent all day walking without shoulders, close to the edge of the road, watching the responses of drivers to my presence. I’ve been kind of hoping that my observation that the great preponderance of the drivers who refuse to move over are female wouldn't hold up. But it has, of course.

I don’t like it, because I don’t like clich├ęs or stereotypes. It makes me sad, really, because although I can think of several possible reasons for this behavior on the part of female drivers—feeling more inhibited behind the wheel, relatively poor spatial judgment, being less likely to pass or otherwise move around on the road—I can think of no good excuse for it. And as many reasons as there might be, there is ultimately no good reason why a person in a vehicle hurtling towards a pedestrian at a high rate of speed, who has two lanes at their disposal, should stay firmly ensconced in the lane closest to the pedestrian. There’s really only one correct response to such a situation, and that is to give the pedestrian a decently wide berth.

And there’s one more thing about the behavior of the female Refuseniks that comes through, one I see in maybe about half of them, during that last fraction of a second before they pass. It shows itself in the set of their mouths and in their eyes, which seem to say, “Why don’t you get out of my way and off the road? Can’t you see I’m driving in this lane?” Young, old. Black, white. It’s a look I don’t get from the men.

The deafening silence with which female readers have met my request for theories or ideas about the Refuseniks (with the notable exception of my cousin S., who is invariably helpful) suggests either indifference to the issue or that very few women read the blog.

Where Texas 21 joins 71 and takes a loop around Bastrop, I go straight through the center of Bastrop. How the city got its name is an interesting story. The place was originally set up in 1832 and named Mina, after Francisco Javier Mina, a hero and martyr in the cause of Mexican independence. Then in 1837 it was renamed for a flimflam artist who called himself Felipe Enrique Neri, Baron de Bastrop. But he was really a commoner, a Dutchman named Philip Hendrik Nering Bogel, who was wanted for embezzlement back in the Netherlands and escaped to the Spanish colonies to avoid arrest. He became Moses and Stephen Austin’s land commissioner. (He had earlier set up a town in Morehouse Parish in northern Louisiana, also named for him.) Old Baron de Bastrop puts me in mind of Colonel Tom Parker, another fast-talking Dutch imposter. Parker, who was born Andreas Van Kuijk in Breda, came over here and joined the U.S. Army. Afterwards he took the name of a captain under whom he served, and added the title “Colonel” to enhance his reputation. Before managing Elvis he worked in the circus, as a dogcatcher, and in a Florida pet cemetery.

The good stuff of Bastrop, commercially speaking, is out along the bypass. What’s left of downtown Bastrop is given over to some restaurants and a couple of cleverly-named beauty salons--the Hairport and the Best Lil’ Hair House in Texas. Also bail bondsmen and lawyer’s offices, the things that stay downtown because of the courthouse. Oh, and a tanning salon. Those white folks. They want to look brown, but they still want to be treated white.

Leaving downtown I cross the Colorado River and head over to Walmart. This isn’t the same Colorado River that runs through the Grand Canyon. The Texas Colorado empties into the Gulf of Mexico.


Anonymous said...

So why don't they opt for the only decent course of action or do you think that they maybe making a statement to you from a position of power? Anguish

Peter Teeuwissen said...

I think the statement they're making is that they're annoyed and irritated by my presence on the road.

Billie Bob said...

How about this for a theory: Seeing wandering vagabond men brings to mind the huge number of perverts and low-life-types out there in the world. Maybe in their presence, women don’t want to show any vulnerability, even if the smarmy old man is walking and they are driving. It has to be an unconscious reaction to seeing any man wandering about because otherwise, if they analyzed the situation and saw that it was a handsome, upstanding man like yourself, they would slam on the breaks and offer you a ride.

Billie Bob said...

Oh, and one other thing. About naming highways using nicknames, the R "McBozo" McMoses highway sounds pretty good to me.

Anonymous said...

Please consider another possibility why you haven't heard any theories from you're female readers. Maybe others, like me, are not indifferent to the issue but did not offer a theory because they cannot relate and have no clue why anyone (regardless of gender) would be so stubbornly possessive of the road. I give pedestrians and cyclists as much room as possible as I speed by (and slow down to creep by when there isn't room to go around). I figure it is as much in my own best interest to do so as that of the walker/cyclist. MLG

P.S. Glad you're back "on the road" again.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Thanks, Mary Lou.

To Billie Bob: That would be the Randall Brian "Superman King Father" "McBozo" Moses Highway, I believe.

Billie Bob said...

I stand corrected. It still sounds pretty good.