This town was the gateway to the ole West. In Texas, there are about sixty five towns that tell you they are the ‘Gateway’ to the ole something – in letters seventy feet high, so it is said by NASA you can see them on the moon and get a real homelike sensation – failing to note, however, that calling the town ‘a gateway’ really means that it’s nothing but a piss stop for folks with their hearts set on getting somewhere else. But as I have said before you get the impression at times that the guide book is grasping. In Texas, The Interstate rates as an attraction in itself: families will send postcards home to their loved ones that say “We’re on the Interstate!” That’s 30,000 glaring concrete miles with a vista of telegraph wires, pylons and over carriages, cleaved between green banks and rocks covered with a thin layer of cactus weed; road signs overhead like banners; a sparkling succession of broken lines disappear under the bonnet of your car like ticker-tape or sticks of gum. For the first 30 miles all of the cars travel alongside you – all at the same speed, so it feels like you’re going real slow & the arrowhead of a great migration; we are new souls full of purpose and borne upon the wave of simple sunny optimism, or hope in its early Christian form (before they discovered America). This goes on for a while; the cars drop back, or disappear into the mouths of canyons or tunnels up ahead like wind-up toys, they turn off and never reappear from the other side of signs that say “Welcome to Wonderful Waco!” and then list a bewilderingly small population.
So we rolled on back into town in time for the nine o-clock news and after all of that it was not as though the town was waiting breathless for news of our safe return, in fact I had begun to suspect that we could have perished on the mountain and it wouldn’t have made the six-o’clock news next morning or even the seven-ten mini news update brought to you by Demerol, which is entertainment news mostly, and which yesterday spent six minutes interviewing college football players about a muck-up day incident with a greased pig. HILARITY as you can be assured INSUED.
In the clear Texas morning light I was feeling a little more kindly disposed toward the man who had driven us off the mountain and so allowed him to shout me a craptastic Texas diner breakfast with the coins we had scavenged like cheap-skate carrion birds from between the rocks while awaiting our doom. I mean could there be anything more awful than the sight of a waffle crisped into the shape of the State of your nightmares and the implications which come with being served a child-sized tub of light yoghurt alongside a pre-packaged apparently Swiss bagel, and filtered coffee with a peel-back lid.
Outside there was a family of umpteen children like babushkas in evidently hand-me-down clothes (and even the parents seemed to be dressed in versions of the same thing: checked shirts, shorts, brown sandals and fanny packs) toddling around with bewildered expressions directly related to the ice-creams which they had been gifted. It was an overcast day and a weird town in which nobody really ever expects to enjoy themselves; even the penguin on the side of the ice-cream shack looked bewildered if not traumatised by his ice-cream, as if wondering how the fuck it (looking like the bloodied sawn-off horn of a unicorn) was supposed to make up for the millions of square miles of melting ice bergs now drip drip drip dripping like an air-conditioner and forming a warm dirty pool at his feet, and what the fuck an Arctic animal was doing at all deep in the heart of Texas.
Now the birds in some bizarre pre-feasting ritual were hurtling themselves vertically out of the trees. The spaces between the trees began to fill up as though there was a black lake silently rising from below. The scent of the Spur became a desolate one, the scent of pine boxes or rooms cleaned out after someone has died there. At this point it became obvious to me that we were in a pretty bad fucking way, and all the bad words that could have been said, screamed or spat at that fucking gent and all the fuckwits like him the world over simply got swallowed up in the dark, echoed back thin and tinny. But I could not find the words to swear. In fact all I could really think of was the ‘Wuthering Heights’ song,
Oh it gets dark, it gets lonely / On the other side from you
I pine alot, I find the lot /Falls through without you …
Too long I roam in the night
I’m coming back to his side to put it right
I’m coming home to wuthering, wuthering
Heathcliff, it’s me, Cathy, I’ve come home–
I’m so co-o-o-ld, let me in-a-your-windo-o-ow
Heathcliff, it’s me, Cathy, I’ve come home–
I’m so co-o-o-ld, let me in-a-your-windo-o-ow
In fact since I was basically dead and had no care for the good opinion of my sickly-looking companion I may even have sung and danced it along the wiley road according to the 1970s pseudo historical-floating sleeve fashion, while the wind did, in fact, go wuthering around the pines, it got dark, it got lonely, and I was so fucking cold that my voice wavered on the word.
We waited and waited on the road. I don’t know how long we waited. We had not passed another vehicle on our way up or down, only evidence of them, like an armadillo smeared across the road, or a splatter of feathers, but in an act of faith, in a civilised country, we waited by the roadside never doubting that help would come. It did not suit me that I should die like this, moronically, on a mountain, especially when there was so little sense in me being there in the first place. If Chip had been some kind of star footballer or promising cadet – sure, the movies could make something noble and tragic out of that, I guess, but there was little about him that hinted at anything other than a lonely masturbator, complexion milky with the blue glow of gaming computer screens and Saturday nights spent in Batman pyjama bottoms. He had that undeniable scent that boys have when they don’t wash their clothes, like the stems of broken weeds. I couldn’t believe his own family would to mourn the loss of someone so unattractive. If we perished together here they would be tempted to guess that we were dating, just to redeem the misery with romance; and I hated him for it.
Finally I heard a car coming from above us. Chip stood waving so his big unclean shirt flapped and he looked like a scarecrow. Then a glossy new midnight blue SUV with a huge glittering front drew to a stop. There was an oily reflection of the yellowish sky and the black tree tops in the windows.
The driver was a huge man in a collared shirt and navy suit jacket; his fat florid wife lay sleeping in the seat beside him. The whole car gleamed with new fine leather, glossy speckled wood finish, an odometer the size of a grandfather clock; a little paper pine tree dangled from the rear vision mirror, flipping in the breeze, and they were playing some pleasant twangy voice who rhymed wrong, song and so long…
We made our pleas. “Our car has gone off the mountain,” we said. “Can you give us a ride back to town?”
Perhaps it was a mistake to pose it as a question. I could see the man considering. In Texas, thoughts cross a person’s face like the shadow of clouds. His eyes flickered across the his obese recumbent wife, as though she was the picture of loveliness, of innocence in sleep, then he looked at us – our wild, disarrayed, dirty clothes, our hands full of cassettes, loose change and a single glove – as though there was no limit to the shit which we in our deranged youth would steal.
It was clear as day he thought we were murderers. He said, “Sorry, no room,” and just like that the window slid up and the break released, we stepped back as he rolled away – he had never taken his hands from the wheel. We watched the big glare of his red tail lights disappear round the bend and once they vanished we were in total dark.
As I was saying there are a lot of places in Texas and the States generally which boast of having only a single lonesome pine but which arguably have more than one pine, an accompanied pine, if you will. One of these places in Texas is the famous Piney Woods region in East Texas, where as has been discussed previously there are a multitude of pines… enough to constitute a wood. Following the U.S. 287 I run on into Groveton which also has its Piney Woods and its unsealed Piney Woods road which runs on into Piney Creek Road and then V B Woods Road and finally roads that have desisted in having a name at all. There were a great number of pines there. But what I was looking for was the archetypal rustic ‘lone pine’.
So I was kicking along one fine Texas day under a full blaze of infernal sunshine (it was so hot the last town I passed Thru days before had their “Fire Danger Today 🙂 ” signs out) far enough out in the rustic regions that the google street view car can beam back only pixelated images, and has little else to capture other than its own shadow, radiant skies, and unnameable unmanned steampunk-style drain pipe holdings. There was a graveyard’s vista of telegraph poles loping alongside the road where both the painted yellow lines and the tarmac itself had faded to a tea-stained brown supposed to be nostalgic. There are 79, 535 miles of public highway in Texas. I walked for some time.