Chapter 4
Down to Houston
The Tales of Texas

1a - The Mysterious Ski Rack
1b - Wheres the Other Half of That Moose
1c - The Waiter Who Didnt Yall
1d - Scorpions, Scorpio
2a - Diet Soda
2b - Riding into the Sunrise
3 - Modest Magazines
4 - Down to Houston
5a - What Does That Sign Say
5b - Just Follow Your Nose
5c - They Call It the Sunbelt
5d - The State Tree
6 - The New House
7a - Billboards
7b - Billboards Again
8 - Stereo Upgrade
9 - Wineries
10 - Unintentionally Left Blank
11 - CBW in TX
12 - Ice House Radio
13 - Goats and Cotton
14 - Dig We Must
15 - Dan Moody
16 - Dry Heat
17 - Dead Animals
18a - Bookstore Culture
18b - On the Open Road
19 - Weather
20 - Sightings in Bertram and Buchanan
21 - Too Many Birds
22 - Road Hazards
23 - Sightings to and from Houston
24 - The Great Wall of Train
25 - In the Heat of the Day
26 - Bite Me
27 - Bid on This Skeleton
28 - Willie
29 - Rural Countryside
30 - SUV SUX!
31 - Kinky on the Texas Monthly Hour
32 - Strange Yellow Sky
33 - Football is a Serious Enterprise in Texas
34 - Remember the Alamoo!
35 - What's That on the Radio
36 - Trip to Houston through the small towns
37 - Shoe Story, an Austin Anecdote
38 - Unintended Fireworks
39 - Flash Flood Warning
40 - Sin City
41 - Live music in Austin, but in theaters not in clubs
42 - Fear of Overpass
43 - The Big Sneezy
44 - New Texas
45 - Front Ended by the French Fry Mobile
46 - Dirt Farm
47a - Heard at the Texas Book Festival 2008
48a - Texas Book Festival 2009
49 - Central Time Sucks
50 - Temple Texas
51 - Christmas in Austin
52 - Pennants in the Wind
53 - The Road Less Traveled
54 - Texas-size Thunderstorm
55 - Cool Van
56 - Your New House Is That-A-Way
57 - C.S.I. Austin
58 - New MTV Game Show
59 - Equine Technology
60 - Look at That Prairie
61 - Get Your Water Here
62 - Corporate Anniversaries
63 - College Sprawl
64 - Hire These Guys
65 - Preparing for Winter
66 - Careful What You Overhear
67 - Bonnie Raitt
68 - Perfume
69 - Questionable Skills
70 - All-American Day
71 - Read Me
72 - Weird Fog
73 - Overpackaged Food
74 - What Town Was That
75 - Texas Book Festival 2010
76 - Bulletproof Roof
77 - The Oldest Photo
78 - Cheesesteaks Part 1
79 - Cheesesteaks Part 2

Down to Houston

Rick Landau 2000/02/20

Q: What has 40 wheels and one muffler? A: All the pickup trucks in Giddings, Texas.

I drove down to Houston to see my brother today. A hundred and fifty miles of roads through the back country, ranches, farms. Some of the country is lovely. Between Elgin and Giddings is largely pasture: grass, trees. At this time of year, the mesquite trees are leafless, and their bare shapes are beautifully twisted and gnarled. The local cedars are green teardrops, from three or four feet up to about twelve, I think. (We will probably plant a bunch of these, or some other fast-growing variety, along the back fence of our new house as a privacy fence.)

It is hard to absorb much detail as one zips by the landscape at seventy miles an hour. By the way, I think that speed is often better thought of on a more human scale. For example, 70 miles per hour is a hundred and five feet a second. Sounds like a lot more, doesn't it? Well, it is. In the scale of human distances and human reaction times, feet and seconds are understandable. Miles and hours are not. Let's see, if it takes me about a quarter of a second, optimistically, to see a hazard and react to it with braking or steering, that's twenty-five to thirty-ish feet. Half a second, fifty feet. Sounds like a fair amount, but it isn't. That's just the distance to *start* the maneuver, not to change direction or change speed. This is short enough in good visibility, but much too short at night, for instance, when we are all over-driving our headlights.

Back to the story. The land in this area is not flat. It's not so much rolling hills as it is just wavy, sort of like the ocean on a breezy day, but frozen in dirt and rock. At least it's interesting to look at. On the other hand, whoever named the little town I drove through named "Hills" was at least a little optimistic.

The road is frankly dangerous, at least based on my experience. This road, with a speed limit 60 to 70 (mph), is only 4 lanes wide. It has no center divider, and it has no shoulder. And the lanes are not the roomy, twelve-footers on limited access roads. Oh, and the road is not "limited access" highway. There are crossroads and turn lanes all over. The combination is dangerous as hell if your attention lapses for a second. I found it very tiring to drive. That night, I came back on a much bigger road, mostly interstate and nearly all freeway.

Back to the mainstream of this evening's symposium. . . Along the road, one sees some unusual farms. Such as ostrich farms. Got *my* attention. Almost as strange as the llama herds I saw in Utah. On one that I passed, there were dozens of little metal lean-tos to keep the sun off something. They were just two pieces of corrugated metal a foot or so wide and two or three feet high, leaning against each other like a pair of cards. What was under them, I wonder, eggs or chicks?

And along this road are many, many windmills. But is there, in all of central Texas, a windmill that turns? Dozens of picture-perfect windmills, the kind you see in old movies, old pictures, usually creaking along slowly in Auntie Em's back yard. But here, not a creak in a carload. And it was windy. You'd think that along a hundred miles of road, *someone* would have a can of 3-in-1 oil.

At the end of the trip, near Houston, the land gets flat. Really flat. Really, really flat flat. In the Houston terrain, the only hills are freeway overpasses.