Of Canyons and Cadillacs

I’ll begin with a story:

I like to drive fast, and for long distances, with purpose – generally to places where there isn’t much to stop for until the very end.  I have a car named Clyde (he is boring and old and white), and together we tackle Texas on a roughly bi-annual basis. The most recent adventure involved dropping a friend off at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, but was motivated primarily by finally getting a chance sample the margaritas at Blue Mesa Grill (note: worth it). Post-dinner, at roughly 9 pm, I came to two very serious realizations: I will likely not be in Texas after graduation, and I have not yet visited the Panhandle. Solution? Drive seven hours to Palo Duro Canyon, in the dead of night, to satiate my ridiculous drunk personality and complete the map of my home state. Events of note are as follows, times taken from texts:

11:05 pm – I’m outside of Wichita Falls, and owls begin swooping across the road: at least five, massive things, figments of J.K. Rowling’s imagination rather than anything I would ever expect to witness. I swerve madly, thinking that I would be the worst goddamn Rice student in the world if I hit an owl while driving. Best: one was carrying my first in-person view of a wild 3-foot snake.

2:23 am – Rainbow-variety of flashing lights in the distance illuminate what might be cornfields. They go and go and go and stop and suddenly the fields fade away to empty storefronts, lights still blazing in the distance, leaving my headlights for all other purposes useless. I blare the radio and bite my tongue hard, thinking I’m beginning to hallucinate (not out of the question – Critical Mass the night before, anyone?). But no – Quitaque, Texas, is actually where any potential alien invasion will begin. No David Duchovny sightings, to my dismay.

5:45 am – Pull into a Starbucks in Amarillo (This is a real town! Not the ex-cowboy-turned-railway haven of my imagination, though there is a bit of that) and witness FAR too many hipsters. There’s no way, there must have been a convention – the man at the table next to me, all skinny jeans and Pitchfork, is certainly en-route to Austin. But the barista calls his name and chats about his dog. Madness.

7:30 am – This absurdity:

     

I found an abandoned bright-orange can and added something to the ten-car collection, one step closer to completing Texas Monthly’s bucket list.

9 am – Make the short drive back to Palo Duro Canyon, endure the typical Memorial Day Weekend state park entry extravaganza, and set out on the Lighthouse Trail to a brisk 76 degrees. Straightforward, easy trail, but entirely distinct from anything I’ve done before – something that belongs in Arizona or Malawi, rather than a spot of rust on the sea of wheat. I’m in Birkenstocks like an idiot who didn’t plan to be here (surprise), but three miles from the trailhead I come across three figures straight out of a Cormac McCarthy book – old men with boots, horses, sun-worn skin who greet me with “how’d’you do” and a tip of the cowboy hat.

I return to my car to be greeted with a heat index of 116, rest with the AC on for ten minutes, stand up, and promptly pass out. Not a joke. Ridiculous first-time occurrence. Awful. But whatever had been afflicting me (low blood pressure, my best bet) fades quickly and I begin the drive back to Houston.

2 pm – And what a motherfucking drive it is. There is no way, none, that this wind and this landscape are real things, no way I’m still on earth. I’m surrounded by stripes: graying asphalt at the bottom, light yellow, and then sky. The only thing on the horizon? A few windmills, maybe, far in the distance, only if I’m not deluding myself. How can I tell? The sky is purple. I indulge my inner high school physics nerd by toying with my driving, seeing how long it takes me to drift across two lanes, trying to calculate wind speed, but mainly this is just terrifying.

12:23 am – I’ve just finished getting lost in Ft. Worth and my phone is dead, I’m approaching my third day of very little sleep and my 18th hour of driving during that same time period. Fifty miles outside of that city, my least favorite thing happens: the check engine light comes on. Ten minutes later, I’m looking for somewhere decent to pull over when my car starts bucking, physically rattling beyond anything that should happen when you’re not on an angry horse – so I take the next exit and drift into a closed gas station and get out. Bars on the windows, closed liquor store nearby, the sketchiest set of cars I’ve seen in my life, and a skittish Dachshund in the parking lot. Panic panic panic panic panic. Like a freakshow, I circle the building, searching for somewhere to plug in my phone: I eventually pry open a rusted metal cabinet and unplug the “closed” sign.  And then I’m delirious and panicked and alone and terrified and I grab pepper spray from my car and literally cower, tethered to the aluminium wall and trying to stop hyperventilating long enough to place an intelligible call to AAA.  This is less than productive, as there will be a three hour wait. So I sit and panic some more until a homeless guy shows up and starts, pardon the stereotype, crazytalking at me and telling me I’m pretty. CUE: batshit insane bitch. Flee to my car, lock it, start it until he meanders off. Charge my phone for thirty more minutes until I realize the car was normal when I had trapped myself inside; decide to risk at least partially driving back (within the 100-mile tow circle, perhaps?), and crawl at 40 miles per hour back to Houston, radio crooning country music from the 90s all the while.

This is a good example of things that I do. Likely this attempt at blogging will fall by the wayside, but ideally I’ll keep being interesting enough to have things to say.

Of Canyons and Cadillacs

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