In the Texas Panhandle

Our destination this morning was Amarillo, 94 miles away.

It didn’t work out.  We had a worthwhile day, though.

At breakfast, while the TV displayed “news” on the presidential campaign, Tom initiated a conversation about politics.

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Tom, a Texan born in Louisiana, is sick of political phoniness and journalistic hype.  He has a trucking business, moves oilfield equipment, and at first he seems to have a hard edge.  But talk to him and the depth of his humanity comes out.  He has seen whales and sequoia trees, hiked in Yellowstone with his kids, seen the beauty of New York State (he’s not the first person out here to mention it), and he has learned how small and short-lived is humanity.  He has issues with unauthorized immigrants; but when Jeffrey told him how our government treats poor asylum applicants, he said it was unfair; and when he heard someone rail against Mexican men waving Mexican flags in a bar, he told the guy that the Mexicans are entitled to their culture and waving a flag doesn’t mean they’re not also good Americans.  At age 55, he’s keeping himself fit so he can take his grandchildren backpacking in Yellowstone so they will develop a sense of awe.  Texas Tom and New York Jeffrey got on famously, and might still be talking if both didn’t have places to be.

The long talk put us behind schedule.  Jeffrey intended to make up the time.  On this Sunday morning, the roads were empty, the towns seemed dead.

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Shamrock’s iconic relic of old (pre-Interstate Highway System) Route 66.

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This relic in McLean is closer to what we imagined would be here.

The road was lined with wildflowers, including some we hadn’t seen east of Texas.

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And the northern edge of the east-west road was lined, for miles, with spent shotgun shells.  Fifty, a hundred, we didn’t count, but there were a lot.  Only a thin grassy strip separates old Route 66 (note the bumpy surface!) from parallel I-40.  Were the shells fired elsewhere and scattered here?  Were they fired here?  Fired at what?  We have no idea.  We’re new to Texas.

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In Texas, it’s legal to bicycle on the shoulder of Interstate Highways.  We didn’t attempt it near Shamrock, where from an overpass we could see perpendicular rumble strips to prevent cars from driving on the shoulder. Too bad.  The parallel service roads were mostly rough and horrible.

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Remember Blazing Saddles?  “Not Hedy!  Hedley!”

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It’s drier here than in Oklahoma.  Vegetation is less green.  Farmland is turning into badlands, although there still are vast stretches that are table-flat.  Not far from here (but out of sight) is the Palo Duro canyon, the largest canyon in the USA after the Grand Canyon.

On a bumpy downhill, Jeffrey noticed the Sprint 26 wasn’t handling right.  The rear tire was going soft!  He unloaded the machine, failed to find anything sticking in the tire, reloaded the cargo and topped up the air enough to get us onto I-40 and to a nearby rest area, where there would be water and shade.

Under a shelter at the fancy Texas “safety stop”, we met two Californians, Rich and Tish.

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Rich is a retired firefighter.  Tish, an immigrant from Mexico, recently retired after 38 years at her job.

Jeffrey, Rich and Tish had a long talk about politics, law, immigration, asylum, refugees, the sense of entitlement and the welfare state, the wealth of America, and more.  It was emphatic but respectful.  While they talked, Jeffrey found a tiny shard of wire, smaller in diameter than a sewing pin, that had pierced our rear tire and punctured the tube.  He extracted the sliver with pliers, patched the tube, and Rich helped Jeffrey reinstall the tire on our vehicle.

When time came for Rich and Tish to leave, they told Jeffrey they are glad someone is doing what we are doing.  Each said they had felt themselves becoming jaded and hard, and that our talk softened them again, reminded them that things are complicated and multi-faceted.

These kind words made up for our disappointment that the delays would shorten our trip.  We wouldn’t reach Amarillo today.  The next-farthest place with a motel, Groom, was 40 miles closer.  That’s life on the road.

Our trip shortened, we had time to chat with Olga, with whom we had shared the shade.  She had watched and listened quietly while the rest of us talked.  Jeffrey gave her a Ride sticker; she said she already had taken a photo of our Ride sign.

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Olga is an early childhood education expert from St. Petersburg, Russia.  She and her husband are moving from Indianapolis to San Diego.

We had a lovely talk about immigration (it took her years to join her husband here), real cities (as distinguished from suburb-dominated American venues), culture, work and family.  She was very much taken with the idea of the Ride and wished us a safe and happy trip.  We wished her the best for her new life in California.

We took a gander from the rest area . . .

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Note I-40 visible over the hilltop, in the upper right corner.

. . . and headed west on the I-40 shoulder.  What a pleasure!  It was in far better shape than the slower roads we had been taking.

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No danger that we’ll be scofflaw speeders here!  Those perpendicular rumble strips had disappeared, and the smooth area to the right of the parallel rumble strip is ample for us.

At Groom’s only motel, where our marvelous Nancy had given advance notice of our arrival, the hotelier gave us an extra discount in honor of the Ride.

Sometimes, as the Beatles sang, the farther one travels, the less one knows.  We traveled less today, and from Tom, Rich, Tish, and Olga, we learned more.

It was a good day.

3 thoughts on “In the Texas Panhandle

  1. So great to read about your travels in Texas, Jeffrey. I spent 12 formative years living there (Dallas, San Antonio) when I was growing up, and my parents and one sister are still there. Glad to know you are finding kindness and wildflowers. You know how to look–and to see. Vaya con dios, my friend.

    • Excellent quote from The Beatles “Inner Light” song…coming to us from ‘deep in the heart of Texas.”

      cousin Joel

  2. What a day! Glad there was a town short of Amarillo and that you have spare parts and can fix anything that goes wrong. Love the photo of the old gas station.

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