High and Dry on the Texas Plains



I’m at the far western edge of Texas, about 10 miles from the New Mexico Border. I’ve been in the state a little more than a week, which took me from Louisiana to Galveston up to Austin, then Dallas, then… west. There’s little out here for someone like me. Out of Forth Worth the road rolled over hills and what I’m pretty sure is called chaparral, then the ranchland heaved up into some wide mesas which, over the course of a smooth afternoon of 65-mph highway driving, shattered back into flat nothing. We’ve gained in elevation but lost features. To the north are the endless plains of the Texas Panhandle; just to the south are the oil riches and fracking boomtowns of the Permian Basin.

I camped at an RV park in Lamesa, full of seasonal workers. I felt out of my element there, as I have in similar bare-bones farming communities in the far west. The park was nearly full, and as best I could surmise most of my neighbors were seasonal workers involved with the cotton harvest. I arrived late and left early, so I didn’t have a good conversation with anyone. The recurring note of this trip appears to be cotton, though I might now be seeing the last of it as I enter the true West. I also passed through vast wind farms with slow-moving turbines that tower over the brown-and-white fields.

It’s dry here. Drought is pervasive. I drove over a dried-up lake yesterday, where a marina and boat ramp dead-ended in high brush. The water tastes a bit odd around here—more so, I’m told, down around the oil wells of Midland and Odessa—and I was urged by the park’s management not to use too much. I’m driving around with an empty water tank, ever since I dumped it on a freezing night in Austin this past weekend. I’ll fill it in New Mexico.

Austin was a few restful days with family, and a continuation of the crash-course in young children that’s probably expanding my horizons. I wandered some nice parts of the town a little bit, and came to the conclusion that Austin would have too many people like me crammed into it, so I don’t want to move there. All this way, I’ve been sort of hoping I’d find myself in some place I want to stay forever. Well, with those kind of high expectations, that will never happen. I did replace my power steering pump in Austin. It had been leaking fluid and whining, and the leaking was getting worse. I also replaced the rusty old hydraulic lines, which were ready to rupture at any moment. That helped my peace of mind.

When I was done with the repair on Wednesday morning I hustled up to Dallas to take a look around and say hi to Mike Mooney, a former New Times coworker of mine who is the staff writer at D Magazine and a favorite alumnus of the University of North Texas journalism program. I was a little nervous about seeing someone from that part of my life, because I’ve sort of been hiding in shame from nonfiction writing after I gave up on freelancing in Philadelphia. But he thought the camper was cool and, over some good drinks, we caught up on the writing world and our Voice Media days. It even got me thinking about pitching some stories again.

I dreamed of this: driving through a wide Texas road under the sun at high speed with nothing to stop me for half a day or more. Now that I’ve done a little of it, I’m reminded that such pleasures have a flip side: there is really nothing to do. You can drive, you can stop, you can write (as I’m trying for a few hours this morning, at a picnic spot by the highway). But where cell service is spotty, the people seem a world removed, and even the Walmarts are stripped down to necessities, there’s little to do but keep on driving. New Mexico: here I come. Texas: I will certainly be back.

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