Bastrop to Austin. 21 miles/1793.1 total
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
It is 9:40 a.m. and I am leaving from the parking lot at Walmart in Bastrop. It’s such a pleasant place, under some shade trees, with birds singing overhead morning and evening, that I think I’ll stay here another night. This morning as I was getting ready to go I looked out the front of the motor home and several chickens were pecking around the little bit of grass next to where I was parked. One was a rooster with beautiful long tail feathers. I think maybe after the encounter with the giant Gallo Rey the other day the rooster has become my spirit animal, replacing the raccoon.
Today I’ll walk west by northwest on Texas Route 71 to just inside the Austin city limits.
The sky is filled with high clouds and it's already in the high 50s, headed into the 70s again.
I’m on the access road alongside Route 21/Route 71, going past the heavy-duty commercial area of Bastrop, the chain motels and strip malls. After I leave Bastrop it’ll be another day in the country pretty much all the way to Austin. Bastrop, the city named for an impostor. Well, I’m sure there’ve been more than a few more those.
The carefully manicured front lawns of restaurants and coffee shops are being tended by men with weed whackers, and everywhere people are busy in trucks and on machinery and in the bays of oil change places. A man is on a Bobcat with a jackhammer attachment, breaking up a 25 foot square slab of concrete, probably to make way for some other building. “Break up that concrete so we can pour more concrete,” someone said somewhere. It’s a busy day, like in a Richard Scarry kids’ book where the little animal people are hard at work.
A couple of miles west of Bastrop, on a hill, I go by a large field of prickly pear cacti. Wildflowers are everywhere along the road—the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes, but others, too, which I discover have interesting names, like false nightshade, pennyroyals, bull nettles.
Texas 21 splits off from 71, and I remain on 71. Just past the split, I pass through Wyldwood, a community of 2,310, consisting of a few dozen businesses lining the highway on both sides. One of them is called The Barbeque Bakery, and another, on my side of the road, is Clyde’s Wildwood Bar-B-Que Shop and Casino, in front of which sits a slightly dilapidated black convertible that purports to be the Batmobile. Actually it’s a 1959 Chrysler Imperial with enhanced fins, stripped of its chrome and painted black. I know this because right in front of the Batmobile is a regular stock ’59 Imperial. As many of you will remember, 1959 was the apotheosis of tailfins on cars, so it doesn’t take much to turn these fins into bat wings. And wouldn’t you know it, Clyde’s is open Wednesday through Sunday, and today is Tuesday.
For most of the walk today I’ve been able to stay on old side roads running parallel to the highway, although this one has an ample shoulder. At almost ten miles into the walk the old road narrows into a one-lane track in places, still walkable. It’s dirt now, but tiny bits of fifty-year-old asphalt show through the sand and gravel in places.
Here, on a rise, is the Williams Family Cemetery, an acre or so of old gravestones, heaved out of the ground and placed at haphazard angles to one another. The place is overrun with bushes and scrub trees. White irises are blooming and proliferating between the places where the members of the extended Williams family lie dead. A bouquet of artificial plastic lilies is on its side, looking ridiculous in the face of nature’s own, including wildflowers of a dozen varieties—reds, yellows, and a blue so pale that it’s almost invisible in the bright light of noon.
From this promontory I can look down the hilly road to the west and see a fifty-foot telescoping black pole, with a crow’s nest just underneath a huge rectangular sign like the top of a T, on which a series of red words pass in succession: … PECANS …. WHITE CHOCOLATE COVERED PECANS … CHOCOLATE COVERED CARAMEL CLUSTERS … CHOCOLATE COVERED STRAWBERRIES … PECAN HONEY BUTTER … JALAPENO JELLY. The sign is so tall that it dominates the area for miles around. I daresay Davy Crockett saw it from the Alamo down in San Antonio. It must have whetted his appetite for independence.
And speaking of the Alamo, at about thirteen miles I enter Travis County. Travis County was named for Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis, commander of the Texian Army, defenders of the Alamo in 1836. Of course, like the rest of the Alamo guys, he was killed at that battle. That gets you a county, at a minimum, just about anywhere. And this county has almost a million inhabitants today, something young Col. Travis could never have anticipated.
Next I pass the water tower of Garfield. Actually, there are two of them, and I pass them both. Not much happening here.
I have to say that I feel that my nearing this capital city is of some significance—perhaps more so than my arrival in other large cities on the walk, including New Orleans, Memphis, and Houston. Maybe that’s because I know it’s the last city of any real size for another thousand miles, until I get to Phoenix. Maybe it’s also the fact that it’s a capital city, and I like visiting state capitol buildings. Well, I’ll have to see. Right now I don’t know much about Austin.
I get to a high spot in the road and look down to see the skyline of the city. In the foreground there’s a new expressway, a toll road. It’s a pretty spiffy piece of infrastructure, snaking high above the ground on huge concrete “T” shaped pillars, with stars in relief on the ends of the beige and brown painted crosspieces. As my wife’s late Uncle John might have said, "this highway ain’t even got the new out of it. Sheeeit."
At 20.7 miles I pass the sign that welcomes me into the city limits of Austin, population 656,562. I will only get into the far southeastern edge of Austin today.
Indigent folks ply the street corners at rush hour, each with his or her sign, competing for originality, but looking for something very unoriginal--money. A woman has part or all of one foot missing, so that’s a plus for her. One guy’s sign says “Drive Carefully” on one side and on the other is his pitch, whatever it is. Veteran. Homeless. Hungry. Will work for food. I am blind and my dog is dead. I sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t be easier and more direct just to have a sign that said, “Toss me a quarter.” No promises, no conditions, no representations that you’re homeless, jobless, headless, whatever. You have the money. I need it. Give it up. Thanks.