The first-light rays of the October Texas sun hit me square between the eyes; shooting through the long thin crack I’d accidentally left between the blackout curtains in my room at the brand new Sheraton Hotel in McKinney, Texas.
Technically this was day two of my Texas drive, but if felt like The One—the day I had been alternately dreading and anticipating since summer. Back in August, in the moment I committed to driving from North Carolina to Arizona, I simultaneously felt the joy of exploration and the dread of a drive through West Texas. Having crossed its great desolate expanse once before, I knew I had scratched that itch. “Never again,” I reckon are the words I used.
Those who have crossed the country by land know that most often a bit of the State of Texas is required. And, being from Boston I had a certain view of Texas and its people. It’s not an uncommon one; they are proud, they are loud, they are Texan. But, after my first drive on I-20 through West Texas two years earlier, I truly questioned the sanity of Texans. Why? What is there to be so proud of? If they wanted to secede, I admired their independence with no sense of loss.
This was my state of mind, once again sitting on the edge of West Texas. I was listening to Tony Robbins for morning inspiration, “The path to success is to take massive, determined action.” Alright then. Giddy-up.
I filled my saddlebags at Trader Joe’s—God knows what kind of nourishment there would be between here and Arizona—filled up the tank, and me and the Scion xB hit the trail. My chosen route: the unimaginably straight line that is Texas 380. On this trip, I avoided the Interstate, instead following the feeling that I wanted to be places—not to be going by places.
At first the towns came one after the next, not unlike most other places. McKinney to Prosper, 10 miles—a steady drive through Generica the Beautiful—past the strip malls with Subway, the obligatory Best Buy and Home Depot, then on to Denton, 20 miles.
I crossed right over I-35, the freshly paved and well-marked swath leading up to Oklahoma City and down to Dallas and Austin. I could have hopped on going in either direction and journeyed most of the rest of the way to Phoenix on I-40 or I-20, avoiding much of Texas. Instead, I tipped my hat to the normal way and struck out to the unknown, determined to know Texas 380.
As it turns out, Denton is the gateway to the new frontier. The map reveals how the land and its people begin to spread out; Decatur, 30 miles, then Jacksboro, 35 miles. It was county fair time in Jacksboro, but Texas 380 had begun to lull me into a sweet and pleasant road trip state of mind, so I was not inclined to stop. The road was smooth, the vistas were wide open, and the further I went the fewer were the signs of humanity, until I found I had the road all to myself for good long stretches.
There’s a certain something that takes over the mind on long, lonely drives. I’m sure truckers know all about this. As the miles go by, a sort of settling occurs, and though the thoughts are certainly different depending on the thinker, a long and quiet drive unlocks a certain ability to have thoughts that just cannot be achieved with a normal day-to-day drive.
Eventually, I fully succumbed and turned the radio off. It only distracted my mind’s descent into itself, towards itself. This was true daydreaming. Time and space were insignificant. I couldn’t have told you what day it was and had only a vague idea of the time, guessing by the position of the sun.
In my daydream, I had the profoundest thoughts as I unraveled the mysteries of relationship, divined solutions for their human complications and consecrated my heart to love once again. I resuscitated my life in my daydream, formed a new structure for the book, assured in its ability to flow from me and touch lives. I made grand plans, re-designed and redecorated. I tidied up all the loose ends that had gotten away from me in recent months.
I slipped through the few quiet towns that, more than interrupting my daydream, entered it. Graham to Throckmorton, 40 miles, Throckmorton to Rule, 42 miles. I stopped for gas and found I did not have much to say as I paid and inquired about the restroom. Something had settled in my mind. A quiet sort of respect for the vastness and awesomeness of life, the planet, and this corner of Texas.
In Rule, at High Noon on a Wednesday I saw only two cars, and neither were moving. The stores were all closed, and I wondered if the old Mexican way of siesta had hung on. Texas 380 was Main Street, yet all the parking spaces were free, so I parked for a spell in downtown Rule, just to hear it.
The Texas wind was the loudest sound in town, and it ushered me along. At intervals, as if choreographed by a great and talented Western artist, the rhythm of Texas 380 would suddenly shift. The eyes take notice of something that doesn’t belong in a landscape like this. Oddities stand out. They have no place to hide. And the mind rises, welcomes the excitement of possibility, of a break in the persistence of the landscape.
While some of the surprises are more permanent—random art in the form of a 20 foot tall, rusty steel, longhorn bull—others are truly unique phenomena in space and time—an old man and his horse, laden with saddlebags, slowly making their way down the side of the road 25 miles from any town. These happenstances serve to break the reverie, to set the mind on something current and present, to wondering on the specifics of the scene, and in the solitude answering its own questions, certain of its conclusions.
By Clairemont, 57 miles, I am friends with West Texas. I don’t even stop in Post, and when I cross the 50 miles to Brownfield I know it’s almost over. The final 50 miles from Brownfield to the New Mexico border pass without fanfare. No marching band. No victory parade celebrating the vanquishing of my foe. I quietly slip into the next state, the Land of Enchantment, and so does my mind.
At the end, the day was like nothing real at all. The drive was like a dream. Texas gave me gifts of space and quiet and time and nature, with a few surprises thrown in. Texas lived up to its simple state motto: Friendship.
And Texas 380 gave me friendship on my journey, something I had never felt on I-40 or I-20. Given the choice between the hassles of air travel today—dirty airports, security lines, long delays and being crammed next to strangers—I’m inclined to choose the peacefulness of the road and the comfortable dirt in my own little xB.
I don’t really want Texas to secede. That was just something I said before I understood what was out there. And even though I’m from Boston and I’ll never be a Texan, I appreciate a Texas state of mind.
And I might just do it again.