Trying to walk after just awaking from anesthesia in a canoe on a sea of Jell-O while being bungeed to a two by four is kind of what it feels like when stepping out of a car after an all-day road trip. I am way too familiar with that feeling and I recognized it this past weekend when my Wife’s Aunt and Uncle got out of their packed vehicle while passing through Dallas on their way south to a tiny Texas town time share.
A missing purse snapped them out of that disoriented stiffness as a panicky inner-auto search ensued. No matter how perfectly arranged a car might be at the beginning of a cross country drive, within miles after departure a distinct disorganized mess always seems to develop. Somehow car seats shift and swallow your neatly stowed stuff making whatever you are looking for just beyond your fingertip’s reach. The momentary fear that her purse might be laying on the ground by the bucket of nasty squeegee water at some random roadside gas station several States north of here quickly passed when the hiding handbag was found behind some under-seat impedimenta. I felt bad for them; no one is at their best seconds after stopping during a road trip.
I had not seen this Aunt and Uncle since my wedding and I wondered if I looked as different to them as they did to me? I know I had hair last time I saw them… not a lot… but some. I recall him being thinner and her being taller but that could be my mind transferring years of stories and perceived personality traits to their actual physical appearance. Of course, while coasting through middle age, 15 years of growth is somewhat noticeable but during both the earlier and later years of a lifetime 15 years causes some dramatic changes in height, weight and facial features. First as a child you unshrivel, grow and eventually become a proportional human than if you live long enough the opposite starts to happen.
There was no deep dark family secret for why I had not seen them for so long. It’s simply that I’ve lived in Texas while they were outside Minneapolis. Not that I have anything against walleye fishing through the ice, the play choices at the Guthrie Theater, the Snoopy themed amusement park inside the ginormous Mall Of America or the Magnetic Mine Shack at Paul Bunyan Land. Heck, I could even handle the fist-sized mosquitoes of summer and mountains of winter snow but having been there several times already, I just haven’t considered Minnesota the place to spend my precious little vacation time. It’s the same reason I assume my sister gets more visiting company at her Florida house near the beach and Disney versus what I get here in Dallas. Or so I like to convince myself.
On the rare occasion out-of-staters do come visit us here, the wife and I have taken it upon ourselves to deliver a yippie ki-yay, yee-haw y’all’ traditional Texasy experience… at least for a few hours. Not that we are experts on the subject. In my closet the closest thing to cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat are Hush-Puppies and a hoodie.
Growing up in New York, the school’s local history lessons were about Peter Stuyvesant not Sam Houston. I can tell you how the Dutch stood near Wall Street 400 years ago and pulled off a typical legal but somewhat shady Trump-ish style New York real estate deal when they bought Manhattan from the local Indians for $24 cash and a bucket of QVC quality junk jewelry, but I don’t know bupkis about the bloody brutal Battle of San Jacinto. I’ve read more about David Bowie than Jim Bowie, I’ve never actually seen an entire episode of Dallas and all I really know about Davey Crockett was that he had a cool coon cap and a popular reality-less Disney kids show in the 1950s.
My wife and I did visit the Alamo a few years ago, when we were vacationing near San Antonio but rather than take the long formal tour to learn about its rich historic significance, we just walked around for 15 minutes before heading back over to the junk shops and restaurants on the touristy Riverwalk. In our defense, it was a very hot day and I think my Wife was getting really fed up with me repeatedly saying “there’s no basement at the Alamo”.
We do have a handful of restaurants we drag people to that have a sort of stereotypical home-town hoe-down (the hootenanny kind, not a stumbling prostitute) Texas-ish feel to them. I mean, what’s the point of schlepping a visitor to a Chili’s or Denny’s that they could go to in any town. We took the visiting Aunt and Uncle to Babes, a barn like joint famous for their massive portions of fried chicken, bottomless bowls of taters, beans and biscuits along with cowgirl dressed waitresses’ meal-interrupting raucous renditions of kitchy country classics like the Chicken Dance.
Unfortunately, our tour of traditional Texas experiences usually starts and ends with that. Granted we could go to Gilly’s to dodge the quick footed line dancers to watch people get tossed off the mechanical bull or drive over to the Ft. Worth Stockyards to get a sarsaparilla at the hokey tourist trap saloons down the street from the daily cattle runs, but there really is only so much faux Old West I can handle before it feels like I’m trapped inside a real-life version of Disney’s Country Bear Jamboree.
Aside from shopping and eating, pretty much the only other famous Dallas stop for our visitors is to push past the conspiracy theorists selling home-published books by the grassy knoll to get a better view of the tasteless ‘X’ painted on the ground that marks the exact spot Kennedy was shot. We also have museums, sports teams like the Cowboys and amusement parks too but I can’t really say those are really unique Texas-centric experiences.
After a couple of hours at the table catching up on our current worlds and slowing down to reminisce about the past, our relatives uncomfortably contorted themselves back into their car for the final few hours of their drive. My wife kept apologizing to me afterwards about all the ‘old times’ talk but I enjoyed it. These moments are precious and few. And though the names and places were different than those in my family’s stories, they all seemed vaguely familiar and strangely similar.
As time flies by and I get older, I have grown to treasure those moments that connect me to the past and solidify my roots. As much as I have run, where I am from still helps define who I am now. I’ve learned it’s important to understand both. So friends and family, if your passing through our neck of the world and want to make some new memories, stop by for a stretch and a meal. The Tex-Mex place down the street makes a mean margarita and they let you in without boots and a bolo.