Take These Sunken Eyes

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free
—-The Beatles, Blackbird

Bird, Scavenging along an Interstate Highway in Texas

A lot of people wax enthusiastic about Buc-ee’s. These are giant, giant convenience stores, now mostly set along Interstate Highways in Texas as immense gas stations.

Most people rave about their clean bathrooms. In 2012 the New Braunfels Buc-ee’s won the Cintas Best Restroom Contest. When I was in college, a long, long, time ago, I ran a gas station in the middle of nowhere (sadly, it’s long closed now) during the summers and vacations. I would open up the small bathrooms ’round back at closing and hose them down good. That seems enough for me.

A typical Buc-ee’s has 60 gas pumps, 80 soda fountains, and 31 cash registers. You order your food from tablet-equipped kiosks and your selection is cooked (probably microwaved) to order. When I worked at that gas station in the 70’s I had two pop machines and a couple of shelving units full of candy, but … well, I mostly sold a lot (and I mean a lot) of cold beer.

There was one guy that would stop by every day, purchase a longneck bottle of Dr. Pepper out of the machine and a small bag of beer nuts. He would pour the sugar-coated nuts into the bottle of Dr. Pepper – some would always foam out. After selling him these for a few years I decided to try the concoction myself.

It wasn’t as good as I had hoped.

So, finally, after hearing so much about Buc-ee’s and seeing the beaver shirts – even eating a bag of beaver nuggets that someone gave me, I decided to stop at a Buc-ee’s and see what the hoopla was about. I don’t remember where I was coming from but I pulled off the interstate and parked along the grassy border (full of people letting their dogs shit) and walked in.

I was not impressed. It was huge… but simply more of the same. The restrooms were clean, I’ll give them that. I bought a fountain drink, and the ice was cold – so no complaints there. But it seemed to be so big and so tacky that it went beyond amusing to obnoxious. Actually, it was worse than that – it was boring.

When I walked out to my car the villainous bird in the photo was giving me the evil eye. He was hopping around looking for dropped Beaver Nuggets or any other misplaced sugary snack.

He gave me the creeps.

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Like Spiders Across the Stars

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Wind Turbine blades on Tractor Trailers, Interstate 35, Oklahoma (click to enlarge)

Wind Turbine blades on Tractor Trailers, Interstate 35, Oklahoma
(click to enlarge)

All up and down Interstate 35 you see trucks hauling giant turbine blades, destined for the wind farms that have been growing like mushroomy weeds all across the wind-swept plains.

“Shaw banged on the door of the shack and explained to the farmer what had happened. The farmer started his tractor and the two men rode back to the car. After tugging, digging, and a push from the tractor, they were able to free the Model-T. Shaw continued toward Clayton. Anxious, thinking about the baby, worried about more drifts, he kept the speed up, pushing the car to its limit. When he came to a sudden swerve in the road, he was going too fast to correct his speed. The Model-T teetered on two wheels and tipped on its side. For an instant, Shaw thought he was pinned. He was bruised and bleeding but otherwise all right. As he crawled out the window, he saw two wheels still spinning in the dust. He was able to pry the car out of the dust and tip it back, right-side up. The engine started. He finished the drive and made it to St. Joseph’s Hospital. Just as Hazel went into her high contractions, in walked a bruised, bleeding, dusty man, his eyelids clogged with mud, his fingers oiled and dirty. Hazel gave birth to a girl late that day, April 7, 1934. They named her Ruth Nell. She was plump and seemed healthy, but the doctor was concerned about taking her outside. The air was not safe for a baby. He ordered Hazel to stay in the hospital for at least ten more days and remarked that the young family might want to consider moving out of No Man’s Land. Others were buttoning up their homes and getting out before the dust ruined them. But the Lucas family had planted themselves in this far edge of the Oklahoma Panhandle at a time when there wasn’t even a land office for nesters. They were among the first homesteaders.”
― Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl

Ramp 40

Graffiti

Art Park
Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Ramp 40 - Deep Ellum Art Park, Dallas, Texas

Ramp 40 – Deep Ellum Art Park, Dallas, Texas

No more speed, I’m almost there
Gotta keep cool now, gotta take care
Last car to pass, here I go
And the line of cars goes down real slow

And the radio played that forgotten song
Brenda Lee’s “Coming On Strong”
And the newsman sang his same song
Oh, one more radar lover gone

—-Radar Love, Golden Earring

I Am Deep Ellum

Graffiti

Art Park
Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

iam1

iam2

If you go down to Deep Elem
Just to have a little fun,
You’d better have your fifteen dollars
When the policeman come.

Oh, sweet mama, daddy’s got the Deep Elem Blues.

If you go down to Deep Elem,
Keep your money in your shoes;
The women in Deep Elem
Got those Deep Elem blues.

If you go down to Deep Elem,
Take your money in your pants;
The women in Deep Elem
Never give the men a chance.

Now I once knew a preacher,
Preached the Bible through and through,
He went down into Deep Elem,
Now his preaching days are through.

Now I once had a sweet gal,
Lord, she meant the world to me;
She went down into Deep Elem;
She ain’t what she used to be.

Her papa’s a policeman
And her mama walks the street;
Her papa met her mama
When they both were on the beat.

—-Deep Elem (Ellum) Blues – Trad.

About the size of my head

One of the highlights on the drive from Dallas to New Orleans is crossing the Mississippi river on the Horace Wilkinson Bridge going into Baton Rouge on Interstate Highway 10. It’s also a lowlight, because the traffic through Baton Rouge is usually awful and it is often stop and go all the way back over the bridge.

This trip is wasn’t so bad. Now that I think about it, the last two drives I made to New Orleans were over Mardi Gras… and there were a million other folks doing the same thing. Also, there is so much construction around Baton Rouge – after Katrina a lot of people fled the Big Easy a few miles north to the capital, which sits on ground a few feet higher… at least it’s above sea level. Interstate 10 and the feeder roads are being rebuilt and that makes for slow going.

Like I said, this trip wasn’t so bad – no stop and go, only a little slowing here and there. There were no full closures due to construction, but there was still a lot of work going on. Out of Baton Rouge and into the swamps was all narrow, crowded, and fast – speed and steel.

There is no choice. You are rapidly carried along by the inexorable stream of metal, rubber, gasoline, and flesh. Bumper to bumper, going seventy five miles an hour, with cars closed in on both sides, lanes narrowed by construction cones, equipment belching diesel fumes flying by only a few feet away… that is life in this best of all possible worlds. So I am being as careful as possible, concentrated, both hands on the wheel, staring straight ahead.

So I saw it. Had a really good look at it, for a slice of a split second.

It was about the size of my head.

When it appeared from under the giant eighteen wheel truck in front of me, I saw the round shape rolling and I hoped that it was a chunk of Styrofoam, but I knew it wasn’t. I knew it was concrete.

At seventy-five, more than a mile a minute, there isn’t much time when there is something in the road right in front of you like that. It is amazing how much goes through your mind in the tiny bit of time before the collision.

I knew I was looking at a hunk of debris abandoned by the workers alongside the highway and somehow flung out into the shooting line of speeding vehicles. I fought my first reflexive urge to swerve – I knew there were cars right alongside me in both lanes. Avoidance would be suicidal. At that speed a hit on a tire would probably flip the car – certain death again. My unconscious lizard brain quickly found whatever knowledge it had of the stuff under the car – drive train, fuel lines, and exhaust system and came up with the impression of hunks of strong steel about a third of the way in from the tires.

Of course, I can remember thinking this afterward – but didn’t know I was thinking it at the time. There was not enough time. It was pure survival reflex. A tiny adjustment of the steering wheel to put the chunk right there… and it was gone.

At first there was the sound. A tremendous thump as concrete met steel. The amount of power involved at those speeds is almost unimaginable. We all drive that fast all the time – I have to purposefully will the physics involved out of my head – otherwise I would freak out. Along with the sound there is a feeling of a punch as the car jumps… and that’s it, we’re past.

I glanced at the rearview and saw with horror as the concrete, now a spinning blur, jumped up about six feet into the air. The car behind me took a little swerve, as I did, and the missile missed its windshield and then disappeared. That was it… I have no idea what happened behind me. The past is over and done before you even know what hit you.

Then there was the smell. Awful. The sharp acid of vaporized iron and a burned odor of concrete pulverized into lonely molecules. It filled the car immediately and was as frightening as the sight of the projectile itself.

There wasn’t much I could do right away. As the odor dissipated I began to test what I could. I moved the wheel a bit back and forth and tapped the brakes gingerly. All seemed to be fine. I smelt for gas from a ruptured fuel line and looked for brake fluid on the road, but saw nothing.

At the next exit I pulled off and rolled into a little rough grassy lot. I crawled down and peered under the car. The plastic boot on the front had a nice new crack and, looking from the front, I saw a line of fresh scars running down the heavy steel support beam. It was scratched, but unbroken. I had hit the thing exactly right, it had rolled along the almost indestructible beam, avoiding any of the valuable or vulnerable organs across the belly of the car.

We climbed back in and finished the drive to New Orleans.

I don’t like to think about stuff like this too much. I mean, I know I should be thankful it wasn’t any worse than it was. But I can’t help but think about how lucky we were – what if the concrete was a little bigger, or had hit a tire, or smashed a steering strut. I really don’t like to think about that bouncing rolling ball of death that kept going down the crowded highway behind me.

But in the end, you have to do what you have to do. I do have to thank the lizard brain stem that can out-think a chunk of concrete the size of my head at seventy-five miles an hour.