WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: Wanderlust 2000.15 - Del Rio, Texas
Date: Sun, 23 Apr 2000 18:48:14 -0700

    Getting kicked to death by a duck.

    That is what it is like to ride all day in the relentless Texas wind. If you let a duck kick you long enough, it may eventually kill you, but in the meantime it is just damn annoying. Kick. Kick. Kick. All day. Without once letting up.
    Combine that with a 104 degree temperature and you'll understand why I decided to pull up a little early and make it a short day.
    Texas is missing the biggest opportunity to generate electricity. I envision a 700 mile line of windmills from Brownsville to El Paso, like those windmill farms in California. What with the way this wind blows, half the southern US could get free electricity ... oh, ... that's probably why they don't do it.
    So, how hot was it? In numbers, not as hot as I've been in before, but with the wind there was no relief. The air was 104, the wind was 104, everything you touched was 104. My BMW has heated handgrips controlled by a switch. When on low, the special rubber grip absorbs and holds heat ... at about 105 degrees, which is just a little too hot to handle with bare skin (or very thin gloves like I wore today). It was hot enough today that if I reached up to adjust my helmet, or fiddle with the GPS, when I put my hand back the grip had absorbed more heat from the sun than if turned on. I had to keep my hands on the grips to keep them shaded and cool enough to handle!

    Ok, so what do you think of when you hear "fried fish"? Clumps of indistinguishable protein matter swaddled in thick glutinous batter, greasy, and tasting only like cooking oil? Wrongo, oh how wrong when it comes to the Kings Inn, hidden at the water's edge at the end of a county road in Loyola Beach. There is no town there, and nothing around for miles, but the parking lot is full of cars, which tells you something. I'll tell you in this case "fried fish" constituted hunks of white fish (may have been haddock) so lightly covered in a crispy meal batter - just enough to coat the surface without caking into a layer, then flash fried, served hot, tender, and dry, no oil, no grease. Along with the fish came very large shrimp, butterflied, and battered and fried like the fish. And large oysters, deep fried. And crab cakes the size of hockey pucks. And for the adventurous, frog legs also battered and fried. (These Texas sized frogs look remarkably like chicken drumsticks, but Don swears they never clucked.) Oh, and then there were mountains of home made french fried potatoes and also onion rings with the lightest crispiest batter I've seen yet - like fine tempura. To slather all this, Kings Inn makes their own tartar sauce with a healthy jolt of horseradish. Believe me, no one went away hungry.
    Don Moses arranged this, saying he liked this place since he came here when in college in Texas. Now that he lives in Reno (yes, Nevada) it doesn't stop him from eating here at least once a year. He rode here directly from Reno. And you think *I* am crazy ... Don's signature line is "Will ride to eat ...". Amen. This is what "fried fish" should be.

    I have seen a lot of Texas in my travels, and I have to say I firmly believe that South Texas is not settled. It may be populated, somewhat, but there is so much open, untamed space that either can't be or just isn't used for anything - it has to be charted as unsettled. (And I don't exactly consider 100 head of cattle on 1000 acres of scrub to be 'using' the land.) There is enough land between Kingsville and Mexico - in either direction - that you could build and 'lose' a couple of cities the size of Dallas. The thought that came to mind as I crested a slight rise was - out here "you can see until you can't see no more".
    And all you can see in what is called the Brush Country is an endless 'forest' of scrub pine, mesquite, bean willow, and cactus. If there is a reason people live here other than they just never moved away, I sure don't know what it is. How many people really get the chance to decide where they live? For many, their work determines where they must be. For most others, some familial association ties them to an area. I chose to live where I do because I wanted to live there. My choice is neither better nor right ... but I feel for those whom fate has cavalierly thrown into this baking and blowing blast furnace. And it isn't even summer, yet.

    There is something uniquely special and distinct about an abandoned Texas town. It does not become a ghost town as long as a highway passes through, but neither does it have a life. It is still there, but there is nothing there other than the shell of buildings. Businesses close but do not shutter and strip the building. Exteriors weather quickly and grass grows in the cracks of concrete parking lots. It is difficult to tell whether the town diminished suddenly or gradually, for a year old abandon looks no different than a decade old.
    I remember "The Last Picture Show", an old movie about the dying of a Texas town, and sometimes I feel I am riding right through the movie. Hebronville, Texas is the county seat of Jim Hogg County. Other than the courthouse and sheriff offices at one end of town, the main street is a historical relic. It is a town frozen in time, in some particular but not specific decade now long past. It waits for a revival that may never come. It silently tells many stories in the moment it takes to travel its length. And I ride on.

    Seventy six miles from Laredo to Carrizo Springs and not a drop of gas along the way. Goodness, some bikes could not make a round trip without filling up. Doesn't seem to make much sense when just going to get gas takes half a tank itself, does it? Riding into the wind used a bit more fuel than I expected, and I had to slow down to conserve a comfortable margin. Longer time in the baking sun left me dehydrated, so at the stop I lounged with a cold drink in the shade beside the station. I pulled a hat over my eyes and laid back.
    "Quiere trabajar?"
    I startled a little to see a man standing over me. "Excuse me?"
    "Do you want to work? I got some roofing needs repair."
    I don't know whether I just happened to recline at a pickup spot or if I am looking scruffy from too many weeks on the road, but he had mistaken me for a day laborer. I declined by saying I am 'semi retired'. (And I doubt my computer skills would help his roof much.)
    But this pointed out again a fact of the language. Where I live, ESL is taught to people who want to learn English as their second language. Here, and in much of the southwest, ESL means English is *the* second language. Even some of the dogs understand Spanish first. While strolling around a couple blocks in Laredo, I met a couple with a cute small brown and black mutt. His name is Poco. I said "Poco, come here." And he just wagged his tail. Then I said "Poco, venga aqui!" and he rushed right to me.
    And on that I'll leave you with the wonder I have of what one might find in a town I considered visiting but decided to leave for another time: Chihuahua Farm, Texas.

299 miles
Kingsville TX141 FM2295 TX359 I35 US83 US277 Del Rio on the Rio Grande
Sam Lepore, San Francisco

Previous Index Next
© 1997, 1999, 2000