Monday, April 19, 2010

Day 116: White Pickup Trucks

Lamesa to Eastern Gaines County. 21.5 miles/2197.2 total

Monday, April 19, 2010

I’m leaving from vast and underused parking lot of the Dawson County Senior Citizen Center in Lamesa (there can't be enough senior citizens in the entire county to fill the lot), heading west on Highway 180 into eastern Gaines County, about halfway between Lamesa and Seminole.

It’s cloudy and cool, probably in the low 50s, with temperatures going up into the 60s. The clouds are arranged in subtle layers of pale blue and pink, giving the promise that later they will lift a little and let in some sun.

Even though its downtown is pretty empty, Lamesa seems like an economically viable place. As I go through the west end, I pass progressively nicer houses, first just some modest brick bungalows, then an upper middle class subdivision next to a golf course. That’s the second golf course I’ve seen in Lamesa, and it's a pretty good measure of the economic condition of the city. Poor and depressed areas don’t indulge in bourgeois recreations. Or, as Robert Duvall put it in Apocalypse Now, “Charlie don’t surf.”

One last factoid I should mention in connection with Lamesa. According to the Wikipedia article I read last night, it is widely considered to be the birthplace of chicken fried steak. It may be that the Germans and Austrians who came to Texas had something to do with this, due to the similarity of chicken fried steak to Wiener schnitzel. Same general idea—breaded tenderized meat, pan fried.

I took my new friend Tony up on his offer to have coffee at his auto repair shop, and at 8:00 this morning I showed up and spent an enjoyable hour chatting. And, just in time, his wife showed up with a box of donuts, so that worked out well. We talked cars, mostly. I saw a nicely restored white 1956 Cadillac in front of the shop, which (except for its color) reminded me of presidential motorcades from my youth and funerals and Nixon in South America. I commented on it, and we fell to talking about various classic cars, and how many nice old car bodies there are here, waiting to be restored. I had a bit of an ulterior motive in joining him for coffee, too. I noticed this morning that I needed water in the motor home, and I figured I could use an outside faucet at his shop to fill it up. And he proved to be very obliging on that score. But I think I would have gone anyway. Having these talks with the likes of Tony and the boys of Snyder reminds me of how starved I get for human companionship on this solitary journey.

One of the things I never fail to mention when I’m talking to people at length about my experiences on this journey is my discovery (or rather confirmation) of the fact that people are pretty nice and decent and willing to be helpful, no matter where you go in this county. For that I believe we can thank the relative prosperity, order, and liberty we enjoy up and down the socioeconomic ladder, compared to many grimmer places in the world (although I don't usually share this opinion with casual acquaintances). No bandits waiting to descend from the hills; no barbarians at the gates. Things could always be better, of course, I don’t deny that, and our economic system could use a great deal more work--an overhaul, in fact. My own person and property have been respected wherever I’ve gone so far. True, this may owe itself to the fact that I’m a fairly well-dressed white man of advancing years, who presents no threat to anyone, symbolically or otherwise. In that I am fortunate, since I certainly haven’t earned that status.

There are those, even among the readers of this blog, who take a darker and more melodramatic view of things, and see danger lurking behind every bush and across each new state border. I don't think I could approach life with such a narrow stance. If I did, I would never have undertaken this project.

I try to preach this message on the road because I believe it to be an antidote to the right-wing hysteria that fills the airwaves and has seeped into the fragile brains of so many. Republicanism, after all, is a sort of amalgam of fear of outsiders, hatred of those who are different, and selfishness in all its other forms. Yet I meet people daily who are undoubtedly Republicans who, on a one-to-one basis, behave with admirable generosity. If I can somehow convince them that others—from different regions, races, groups—conduct themselves the same way they do, they may be inclined to fear them less.

Out here in the country west of Lamesa it’s all cotton fields and the occasional oil well. And I’ve noticed that the vehicle of choice is the white full-sized pickup truck. Probably half the trucks are white. The brand doesn’t matter—Dodge, Chevy, GMC, Ford, Toyota—the truck has to be white. I suppose that’s because they’re better in the heat, but they sure do show the dirt. I can imagine a news story about a robbery in West Texas, where they’re describing the suspect as a white man, about five feet ten, with a pot belly, wearing a t-shirt and a ball cap, and driving a late-model white pickup truck. That wouldn’t narrow it down much.

Tony told me I’d pass several gins between Lamesa and Seminole, and not much else. I come to the King Mesa Gin, at about two hours into the walk. He says the gins were busy into March with the cotton from last year’s harvest, which was late and in some cases didn’t get picked until January. To me the King Mesa Gin seems like an oasis of buildings in the middle of nothing, but the truth is more the reverse—the “something” is what’s growing, or will grow, in these vast fields, without which there would be no gins or equipment or white pickup trucks.

I see a large herd of cattle at about the halfway point, perhaps a hundred of them. When the cow closest to the fence catches sight of me she turns and begins running, along with some others. But today I'm prepared and immediately begin singing “Werewolves of London.” On the howls, they all stop and stand still and look at me, bewildered. I think Warren Zevon still has the power.

Well into the walk I leave Dawson County and enter Gaines County. I can feel the road going gradually uphill amid the sagebrush and furrowed fields. Gaines County was named for James Gaines, a signer of the Texas declaration of independence. This is the last county in Texas on the route I’m taking.

Toward the end of the walk I begin to see some small patches of blue sky, as the wind shifts around and blows at my back from the east.

9 comments:

Ted said...

Pete,

At my current workplace the right-wing hysterics are in the majority - I wasn't sure I could survive there at first. Fox News-watching, Rush Limbaugh-worshiping folks, always on some sort of rant, eagerly carrying a banner for ideas that mostly serve the interests of the economic elite (a group that these persons will never be a member of). They really need to turn off their TVs and pay a long overdue visit to their OWN lives...

As you have observed, underneath it all they are decent people and not nearly as selfish and hateful as they might appear on the surface. They have one common trait - fear of the unfamiliar, disdain for the unknown.

- ted

Ted said...

Make that disdain for the unfamiliar, fear of the unknown - it's early and I'm not fully awake yet. Also, it's hard to type with a keyboard in your lap when there are also two cats curled up there - it becomes sort of an adaptive "hunt and peck".

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Exactly. I read this morning that a new right wing network is starting up. I thought, Another right wing network? We already have too many, including some that have been mislabeled the "liberal media," but which always dutifully toe the government line, whatever that may be, and give respectful and earnest coverage to the ravings of the right wingers and their chuckleheaded demagogue darlings. That leaves only wimpy MSNBC to anchor what by historical standards is at best a centrist viewpoint. You know things have backslid when you realize that Richard Nixon was more liberal than the average Democrat of today. What the country needs, and hasn't had since the advent of TV, anyway, is at least one left wing network. As long as we're competing for the minds of well-meaning weak-minded people, we might as well get some more muscle on our team. I guess it's like Yeats said (and I don't pretend to know what he really had in mind but it makes a snappy quote), "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

Billie Bob said...

Wow, now there is a coincidence. As I was reading your entry today, I thought about a bumper sticker I saw on the back of a white pickup truck the day before yesterday. It said, “When I was a boy, this country was free.” When I saw it I said to myself, yep, it was a free country all right: segregation, women making inferior wages if they were allowed out of the kitchen, age discrimination, the draft, etc, etc. And somehow that led me to thinking about how liberal Richard Nixon was compared to today’s "conservatives". And how when we were bigger boys, we thought Nixon was so right wing (I can still see McB up on that roof dancing the night Nixon resigned). Hidden among all his faults, he was the very last president with a sane drug policy; he was responsible for major environmental legislation that actually did (relatively speaking) help clean up the air and, closer to home, the Great Lakes. Can you imagine a Republican championing those causes today? Anyway… aw forget it.

Another snappy quote that I had written down a few years back, and I think you already used in an earlier blog entry: “Patriotism (and might I add, religion) is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” It seems to come to mind more and more.

But you know you are right. Basically, people are pretty decent, one-on-one. Some of my very best friends are screaming, Rush-loving, Sarah drooling, Joe Six-Pack, Foxy-Moron-Channel watching conservatives…bless their hearts!

PS I consider myself a moderate. I don’t particularly care for extremists, either way. At this point in history, its just too easy to make fun of the extreme right because they are so out there. And yes, moderates love and appreciate their country too…

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Hey, I was on Ed Wendover's roof that night too. I don't remember Randy up there, but then there's a lot from 70s I don't remember. And I'm glad that twisted red-baiting son of a bitch Nixon was driven out of office, no matter how much further the country has moved to the right since then.

Anonymous said...

Peter, As one who sees danger lurking all around I want to assure you that I,too, believe that most people are decent and nice. But it only takes one murderous psychopath, drunk or careless driver to finish you off, not to mention snakes, rabid coyotes, spiders, tornados heat or sunstroke.
The greatest danger to the country is the right wing. They have proven their attraction to the masses and got way too many people believing their insane ideology. To me, this is very depressing. It does answer the question how the German people could follow Hitler. Anguish

Randy said...

Peter,

Yes I was up on that roof too. Can not fully recall who was there but it was a celebration worthy of the event. Does anyone know if that house, rented by Ed and Jennifer, is still standing? It needs a brass plaque out front if it is.

Billie Bob said...

I believe it was you Randy who was up on the roof leading a cheer…”Gimmi a… something!” I can’t remember what you were spelling: Nixon, Dick, Resignation, I am not a crook…something. What ever it was, it was better than any cheerleader I ever saw.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Randy,
We were probably up there at different times during the evening. (For all I know there was a line at the ladder and everybody wanted to go up.) The only memory of it I have is looking down into the yard, which I think was lit by a utility pole, and doing a Nixon imitation. And I recall also that Ed was p.o.ed about people being on the roof. Something about danger and liability and all that adult stuff. Ed was such a grownup. If that area is anything like where we lived in the farm house (and I'll bet it is), it's been solid subdivisions for twenty years or more.