I settled into my new apartment here in the “Heart of Texas” (the town shall remain nameless to all but those close to me) which is, from all outward appearances, an intellectual wasteland, I began to make some observations. Trying my best to acclimatize myself to the heat and realign my sense of direction, in the beginning I would sit for a while on a neighbor’s steps and endeavor to de-simmer.
The town is like Las Vegas; tawdry on one hand, without character on the other. It shares also with Vegas the heat. However, whereas in Vegas, there are few pleasantly cool mornings, until the heat that collects in its basin soars dramatically as the day wears on reaching the uppermost neighborhoods, here there are many evenings and nights when I needed to cover myself with a blanket, it was so cold. The mornings are pleasant enough, until the heat builds and climaxes a little past noon. And here, because the place is relatively flat, winds blow the heat around, but not fast enough to make it miserable. Air conditioning is an absolute necessity. It makes one wonder, as I often did about Vegas, how people managed to live without A/C, crawling in their wagons at oxen-speed through hostile terrain and onto Death Valley and California beyond or ensconced in their adobe or tin roof huts cooking hot meals under broiling sun
There is a nursing home beyond the wire fence facing my patio. I have a magnificent view of two of its dumpsters, and a regular parade of nursing home personnel hauling trash to those dumpsters, taking their time to have a smoke on the way and to yak about the day’s developments inside the home. The nursing home itself resembles a morgue or a crematorium.
For a while I would sit and stare at the pitiful sight of a dead sparrow that had tried to fly through the fence, near the bottom. Its head and neck drooped on the wire, and its feathers would flutter in the breeze. It served to deepen my depression for my circumstances. I felt like I had a personal connection with that bird.
I grew tired of seeing it. One afternoon I rose and walked over to the fence to nudge it with my shoe so that it would drop out of sight into the nursing home parking lot and I wouldn’t need to see it again. To my surprise, it wasn’t a sparrow at all or any other kind of hapless bird; it was a tiny twig with several gray-grown leaves. The discovery served to raise my spirits a smidgen. I nudged the faux bird over the fence.
The town is not a hub of intellectual vitality. It is top-heavy with “plus size” fat people whom I think have never cracked open a book since high school. For all the brands of food sold in the local grocery market – a huge affair, almost as big as the local Wal-Mart – the ones that feature “reduced fat” advisories on their labels, the admonition doesn’t seem to sit well with so many of the inhabitants with the mandatory calorie counts and highlighted announcements of the twelve essential vitamins on packaging It’s mostly women who are balloon-size or near clinically defined obese. And mostly they’re white.
I made another observation, that there are more “mixed couples” here than I’ve seen anywhere else, that is, of black men with white wives or common law wives. Or just companions. For some reason, black men almost universally prefer plump, slobbish white women. The women have children, are homely, and there is a dullness in their expressions that confesses a certain level of mental inertia that could be deemed criminally stupid and obsessively short-range. I can’t explain that. I don’t think personal esthetics has much to do with the pairings, either from the men’s standpoint or from the distaff side. The men typically are bruisers with dreadlocks, which may be a sign of virility in black sub-culture. Black sub-culture is so malevolent it repels any kind of prolonged investigation, by me, at least. The main “attraction” between them seems to be a matter of convenience. Any port in a storm and it becomes permanent anchorage.
The drive to Texas from Virginia was incident-free. I was not in a hurry and did not push my car to extremes. I kept a steady 60-65 mph pace and rarely got up to 70. I just let all the highway traffic pass me. When I had the road to myself, I would “thread the needle,” that is, feed into a curve in the road on my left and then feed into the opposite curve on my right. I learned that trick years ago while driving across country. The maneuver slices miles off of one’s mileage. It has to be done when there’s no one behind one.
Truckers rule of the roads. Except when they decide to call it a day and “coop out” in their cabs for much needed sleep. That can occur day or night. There were countless “truckers only” spots off the highways where perhaps a dozen rigs would be pulled up, their drivers stretched out in their bunks, if they had one of those double-decker cabs atop the seats. I don’t know what else the cabs are equipped with. Perhaps with fridges and water. At night, or close to morning, one could see swarms of these behemoths grouped at the stops, their cabs and haulage lit up like horizontal Christmas trees, looking like snoozing creatures. The Highway Patrols of each state keep out automobile traffic.
Truckers by and large are the safest drivers on the road. They’re more considerate of automobile traffic than the drivers of cars are to anyone else.
I did see one major accident on the way through Arkansas. It seems that a big rig had a passing dispute with two cars. The cars got bumped off the road and were demolished, and I guess so were the inhabitants. The rig itself went off the highway and landed upside down in a gully, its cargo strewn all over, and the cab itself smashed to pieces. Ambulances, fire trucks, and two dozen police vehicles had blocked the northbound traffic for two or more miles. That was the only mishap I witnessed on the entire trip from Williamsburg, which lasted about a week and a half.
It is a little-known fact that truckers did not always rule the roads. When President Dwight E. Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway law in 1956 (it may have been in 1955), truckers in short time took away a lot of business from the railroads, and once the interconnecting interstates had been built and were linked up. The federal highways had to integrate with state and local highways. Railroads had to scramble to save their business, aside from having to kowtow to the rules and regulations of the Interstate Commerce Commission. Highways, said the law, had to have portions of them long enough to accommodate landing military aircraft, at least a mile in length. For a long time, railroads used to supply every nook and cranny in the country with food and other necessities. But no more.
Readers may have noticed that Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which focuses on the fortunes and misfortunes of railroads under government regulation, particularly Taggart Transcontinental, was researched and written before Eisenhower’s stroke of a pen created the interstate system. Rand’s opus debuted in 1957, a year after transcontinental shipping was doomed to second class status by federal fiat.
From my perspective, the most “romantic” places on the road are the truckers’ stops, They have names such as the Flying J, or Love’s, TA, or Petro. This is where trucks are refueled at special pumps, their tires re-inflated, engine repairs are made, and their haulage weighted, as well, in anticipation of trucks having to stop at state weighing stations. They usually feature “truckers” only lounges, bathrooms, and shower stalls. The shops inside sell every imaginable thing one could want or need for long-distance driving. There are restaurants and other food concessions. Some stops promote entertainment and gaming arcades for children.
Of course, this is an awkward time to be extolling truckers, on the occasion of the Islamic truck massacre in Nice, France.