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.