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.