Rembert Explains America: Texas. Forever.
I drove through Massachusetts in 90 minutes. I did Atlanta to the Florida-Georgia line in an always-surprising four full hours. I made it through Tennessee, east to west, in a brutal seven hours.
Texas: five days.
It took five full days to get through a state that, I swear, could comfortably house the other contiguous 47. It just refused to end. Like one of those giant, said-state-size margaritas that you sip for 45 minutes only to find the glass still 88 percent full. That’s the drive through Texas.
There was only one destination in Texas that was planned, and that was the first stop, Houston. After that, it was a mix of atlas-scanning, storm-avoiding, darkness-induced halting, and the simple pursuit of “going west.” Between July 8 and July 13, these unwritten rules steered a Texas trip filled with stops, some fantastic and others not so much, but all unwaveringly Texas.
10 Texas Scenes From 10 Texas Places
Stop 1: Houston
In even the iglooiest part of the shade, it was 102 degrees in Houston. And there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Despite these realities, I was outside, sunglasses-less, walking through a Houston residential neighborhood, because it seemed right and, more importantly, because I hate myself.
After 10 minutes of weaving through streets, I began walking back to the hotel, only to have my trip halted by an object moving my way. It wasn’t a car, because it appeared to be bikelike, but it wasn’t any old bike. There was some contraption attached to it. The lone passenger of this vehicle was wearing jeans, a sight that almost gave me heatstroke.
I walked toward him because I wanted to know more, and he pedaled toward me because it became increasingly clear I could do something for him.
Upon seeing what my guy had to offer in his bike cart, I knew this would become a mutually beneficial three-minute friendship.
He wanted my money and I wanted his ice, which, when finely cubed and placed in a container and topped with a squirt of red and then four more squirts of red, would become a “cherry” slushie.
I gave him two dollars and demanded that he keep the change, seeing as he was the only human in America who deserved a tip at that moment, and then sought refuge under a tree not far from where the transaction took place. My guy needed a break, too. He was, after all, entirely too dignified to exist in this sub-Saharan heat wave. So he briefly paused under a tree to take his quick break.
Losing myself in the icy treat like a child, I got a brain freeze after two minutes. After learning extreme heat does not, in fact, cancel out a freezing of the brain, I looked up. My guy was back on his bike, cowboy hat atop his head, jeans still on, well up Mercury Drive, announcing his presence in the quiet residential neighborhood via honk. My guy was a legend.
Stop 2: Hempstead
Less than a minute after making the first real turn north in Texas, toward Dallas, a giant field of stuff presented itself alongside Texas Route 6.
All of the stuff.
Frazier’s Ornamental & Architectural Concrete was a fantastic place for a thrifter like me to stumble upon. Would I be lugging home an 80-pound Buckingham Palace guard? Probably not. But these two little über-American boys?
There was also an inside area to the establishment, where you could buy anything from household supplies to root beer floats. There was a real charm to the pl—
I caught the eye of my friend and fellow traveler Graham, also a man who is black. Upon seeing this, an unspoken conversation took place with just our eyes:
Rembert: But like—
Graham: We gotta go.
Graham: But why they gotta—
Graham: Seriously, let’s leave.
We made our way to the entrance. Somehow, caught up in our excitement over the statues in the field, upon our arrival, we missed the door guard:
I guess you can’t say they didn’t warn us.
Stop 3: College Station
When you go to a place like College Station, home of Texas A&M, it briefly — and intensely — makes you question your college decision.
The place is dripping with a scary amount of pride.
On the hunt for some expensive Johnny Football merch that he’ll never be compensated for, we landed on Aggieland Outfitters, adjacent to the campus on George Bush Drive. Everything that could be turned into a Texas A&M piece of gear was present, from cowboy boots to T-shirts highlighting upcoming 2013 games.
Quickly realizing that Mr. Manziel was out of my price range, I settled on a Texas A&M straw hat, partly as a way of doing as the Romans do, which is not always by way of the snapback, and partly because it gives me a glimpse into what I’ll look like at 52.
Stop 4: Dallas
Dallas is amazing. So great, in fact, that I had no issue skipping Austin on this trip.
Many a thing could be discussed about the 48 hours spent in Dallas, from the food to the museum culture to the high quality of strangers, but nothing tops what could be the greatest regret of the trip:
Showing up to the Prophet Bar jam session two hours late.
The night before, Dallas-based music publication Central Track’s cofounder Pete Freedman spoke of an Erykah Badu–related jam session. The details were slim, and we knew she wasn’t in town, but it still sounded interesting enough to consider. The following day, in the midst of an attempt to see as many neighborhoods in Dallas as possible, the jam session slipped my mind. But finally, after repeated inquiries about our evening location from Freedman, all centering on the fact that we needed to get there ASAP, we finally made it down to the Prophet Bar.
Within 30 seconds, it was clear this should have been our entire night. Yes, there was no Badu, but all of the musicians onstage were associated with either her or Kirk Franklin or Snoop Dogg or other popular musicians. And, in the spirit of a jam session, people in the bar would appear onstage and tell the band what they wanted and the band would figure it out and then magic would happen.
No one was bad. It was the opposite of karaoke. It was like Dallas’s Star Search.
The session, a weekly occurrence on Wednesday nights at the bar, was unfairly good, in the sense that I would be somewhere the following Wednesday that wasn’t a jam session in Dallas, and that simply wasn’t fair.
Stop 5: White Settlement
It was a pretty simple series of events.
1. I’m driving.
2. This happens.
There are two schools of thought upon seeing this sign: (a) Drive as fast as you can in the other direction, or (b) slowly follow the “Exit Only” instructions and make your way into town.
So I drove past it. And then, out of curiosity, did some Wikipedia research on the town. Assuredly, the “White” was a reference to the color and not a people. Right?
Oh, well that’s nice. Anything else?
Progress? I like that.
Somehow, this information made it a no-brainer to turn around and head to White Settlement. The trip was quick, with some photos mockingly taken in front of the town’s sign, highlighting the town’s motto, “Preserving the Past! Preparing for the Future!”
That’s really all I’ve got on White Settlement.
But 2,388 to 219. Never forget.
Stop 6: Midland
About 30 minutes before arriving in any town on this trip, my procedure had been to call hotels and find the cheapest rate, and then proceed. I began this process for Midland, thinking it would be no different, but was shockingly unsuccessful. The first hotel: $270. The second: $240. The third: $250.
Not to be rude, but who did Midland think it was? Are they still riding off the Friday Night Lights rival town tourist wave? After eight hotels, one reasonable option finally sprang up.
After checking in, we walked across the street to Outback Steakhouse, because what sounds better than a Bloomin’ Onion in the middle of Texas at 9:45 p.m.?
A tweet was directed my way as we waited for our food:
We followed that information to a recent New York Times story on the region’s oil boom, and just like that everything in Midland made sense. That’s why the hotels were so expensive (and why one hotel was very cheap, to undersell the competition); that’s why Outback was “now hiring servers and cooks” (a message communicated on many signs in town); and that’s why everyone dining in Outback that night was having rich-dude conversations.
Because everyone at Outback was rich. Oil rich.
Stop 7: Guadalupe Peak
“LEGENDS OF HIDDEN GOLD IN THE MOUNTAINS GO BACK TO SPANISH RULE.”
Like I said before, perfection.
Stop 8: Salt Flat
After driving through the hills for an hour, and then a whole lot of nothing for another hour, what appeared to be water was on the horizon. Looking at the GPS, however, nothing suggested water. But it looked just like water, so it was probably water. As we inched closer, the water turned into something silvery and shiny, something I’d never seen before. Then the shiny became completely white and suddenly we were surrounded.
As far as the eye could see, everything was white. Not sand, just brittle, white ground. A beautiful, startling sight to see, but more importantly, ground great for playing football.
And running away from ghosts.
And embarrassingly misspelling fashionable words.
Were we not always a few steps away from imminent heatstroke, we might have stayed for hours. But we were always a few steps away from heatstroke. So there’s that.
Stop 9: The El Paso–Mexico Border
At this point, the fifth day in Texas, I was eager to leave the state. I’d seen enough and was ready for something new. We’d stayed the previous night in El Paso and we knew we were close to the border, but our hotel was on the outskirts of town. It seemed foolish to miss out on seeing the border, a sight I’d never seen, so we began driving in the general direction of Mexico.
Not knowing if we could get close, I wove through one of El Paso’s closest neighborhoods to the border, finally coming upon a grocery store, Silvia’s. Its neighbor:
So there it was. The entrance to Mexico. Walking in its general vicinity, even with just a Medio Litro Coca-Cola and a cell phone in my hands, I felt like I was committing multiple crimes.
This only increased as we drove along the ominous border.
And then this:
“You are now leaving the United States” really sneaks up on you. It completely rattled me behind the wheel, almost causing a panicked turn into the “autos” lane toward Mexico. But I held it together.
Because that would mean I’d be leaving Texas. Something I simply didn’t know how to do.
10. Texas–New Mexico Border Flea Market
With the New Mexico border in sight, just minutes after successfully not driving into Juarez, it was finally time to bid Texas adieu. It had been five days, and at this point all I wanted to do was get into another state. And then, with less than a mile left:
As much as I put up a fight, I can’t quit you, Texas. You put my greatest weakness, a dusty, open-air, unregulated flea market, at your border. I was so impressed.
For 20 minutes, I walked around and learned exactly what this was, a weekend flea that essentially operated as a first-come, first-served market, with most sellers returning every Saturday and Sunday, selling just about anything they can get their hands on.
There were car parts out on display, along with military surplus gear, children’s clothes, and, of course, the full range of items that can be found in an attic.
The selection wasn’t necessarily “good,” but the fact that this place existed was wonderful.
Because where else could I have met Edward and his daughter, Marlene?
After talking to Edward for 20 minutes and buying everything from him that we could, it was time to leave. We had to. It was time to leave Texas.
But not forever. I’d be back to this beautiful, backward, disgusting, charming state soon. I couldn’t wait.