Driving all night takes its toll on the body and mind, but driving all day and all night and all day again through Texas is something quite else. While at first, you excitedly exclaim, in a proper Pee Wee Herman manner, “The stars are bright, and big at night!…” and wait for the clapping and response that inevitably does not follow. But then, after a few hours of open, featureless terrain, it really, really starts to wear thin. The initial excitement at having waded into John Wayne country fades into mild annoyance, followed by bitter shouting at no on in particular: “When the hell am I going to be out of Texas?!”
As if to add insult to injury, the rough, hot tarmac of the West Texas portion of Interstate 10 was apparently not to the liking of my left rear tire. The car began to shake enough to make my eyeballs rattle, and after I had determined that it was a wheel and not some catastrophic engine problem, I backed my speed down to about 65 and waited for the moment of impact. The words of Charlie Daniels’ Uneasy Rider floated though my mind for a few moments, and BOOM! That left rear tar (tire) went. I nearly lost control of the car, but managed to force it over onto the shoulder without causing any major disaster.
The tire wasn’t just flat, it had completely come apart. Chalk one up to my attempt to save money by purchasing used tires at Tijuana Tire in Goleta, California (cash only, ghetto as hell, amazing deals on new tires of indeterminate origin). As luck would have it, midday heat was at its worst, and the jack and tire iron were buried beneath more than a few heavy objects in the back of the car. Not wanting to go though the ordeal of unstrapping surfboards from the roof, I decided instead to perform a contortionist unloading procedure through a partially-opened back hatch. With a huge pile of crap still in the car, operating the painfully slow jacking mechanism was nothing short of torture. Though I worked with the all the alacrity of a recalcitrant slave, I finally got the bald spare on, and set out again across the sweltering desert.
It was dark by the time I reached anything resembling civilization — in this case, a little town called Ozona — and there were no tire shops open for spare replacement. Although Ozona is a quaint little town — replete with a Nineteenth Century city hall building, bandstand, baseball diamond, Davy Crockett monument, and a really killer Mexican restaurant (they put bacon in their rancho beans!!), I decided that it was best to hit the road and continue my quest to escape the Lone Star State.
It was about 1:30 a.m. by the time I reached San Antonio, and the air’s relative humidity had taken a decided turn for the worse. Still, if I was to rescue my bike from the basement of the Alamo, there was little time to lose. Wait, my bike was affixed to the top of the car and I’m not Pee Wee Herman…
The Alamo was actually much prettier than I imagined it would have been, and that part of San Antonio charming as well. I think that had a lot to do with the fact that I was there at a time when the sun was not out, and there were no annoying tourists thronged around an attraction which has been described by many of my friends as fairly hackneyed. While the place was devoid of tourists, there was, however, one cowboy hat-clad park ranger pacing about in front of the chapel, there, as he explained, to discourage people from decorating the venerable piece of Texas history with grafitti. He was a pretty friendly guy, and very knowledgable about all of the characters involved in the Alamo’s drama. Of particular interest was that Santa Ana, the Mexican general who was the victor of the Battle of the Alamo — in which Davy Crockett and a number of his compadres met with an untimely end against scores of Mexican Army regulars — was eventually captured and brought back to Washington, D.C. for trial. As my new friend told it, the powers that be in our nation’s capital decided against executing Santa Ana because he was a Mason. He was given the option of the Nineteenth Century equivalent of the witness relocation program, and ended his life penniless in New Jersey. (I think I would’ve opted for the firing squad.) The official history of Santa Ana’s life differs somewhat from the ranger’s account, but hell, his version was funnier.
With the two o’clock hour fast approaching, I took leave of my new friend and beat a hasty retreat out of the city, determined to get the hell out of Texas before daybreak. The further east I went, the more humid it got, and the more annoying the regularly placed “Don’t Mess With Texas” signs became. My fingers and toes were slippery against one another, and my portable CD player began having problems functioning. By the time I got to Houston, the humidity seemed to have had a cumulative effect on the psyche of other drivers on the freeway. Apparently, the prevailing method of changing lanes in that city is to turn on the indicator (if at all) as the steering wheel is being jerked violently in the direction of the desired lane change. I almost wiped out several times, and began to wonder if my trip would be cut short 1,500 miles shy of its intended destination.
Although it was well past daybreak when I reached the Louisiana state line, I made it. I was free from Texas, and set about to get my shredded tire replaced and find a place to sleep for the day. Even though I’d told myself that my only accomodations would be free camping and my only food trail mix, the temptation of a Chinese Buffet (in Sulphur, Louisiana, of all places) and an air conditioned hotel room were too much to resist, and I spent the next day resting in the dark, cool quiet of a $53 abode. I was pretty sure that the next day would be hotter than hell, so I took advantage of the comforts while I could.