Texas was to me the first truly alien place we encountered after crossing the Mississippi, and my first taste of the scale of the American West. I’d read about it in novels and histories for years, heard stories from friends, family, and fellow travelers; how nothing out East compares to what’s beyond that river. As we sped along gently rolling, straight highways at 80 miles an hour, the intoxication of travel was in full swing.
Driving through the Texas oil fields I was struck by the irony of the ponderous wells dotted across the open plain, laboring their endless labors, rusting heads bowed in servitude and toil beneath the shadow of gargantuan electric windmills looming overhead, their long arms slowly marking time until the end of an era. I wonder how many oil wells one of those windmills is worth, or vice versa.
The AirBnB we stayed at in Dallas was run more like a European style hostel than a rented room in someone’s home. There were fifteen other guests sharing the subdivided suburban estate, including two charming young women from Brazil, some Latino city construction workers, a reclusive heavily tattooed couple and their kid, and of course, three white guys from Jersey.
However, none of these were the most interesting guests we met. I encountered Sharon and Chris in the kitchen around dinner time and struck up a conversation. The husband and wife couple are from Pennsylvania. She’s a tax preparer, and Chris does something with computers that is location independent. Sharon is sweet and motherly – she brought us water as Chris was showing us how to play disc golf out in the yard and told us about her adventures driving up the Pacific Coast, which we are about to do ourselves. Chris wears a bushy brown and white beard and long, thick white hair slicked back. His eyes are just a touch wild as he looks warily down the bridge of his nose, chin raised slightly. He giggles rather than laughs, revealing teeth slanting slightly inward within the fluffy beard. We enjoyed learning the sport with him on a course he created in the hostel’s backyard. He demonstrated a few techniques and asserted that “you really gotta huck that fucker” to get the disc to catch the air right – no wishy washy throws. You gotta mean it. Our lessons were interrupted briefly between holes when he’d take a break to sneak up on his wife as she was reading in a hammock, for a kiss.
He feels more like a nerdy college freshman than an older man, cemented by our conversations about self driving cars, Harry Potter, and his invite to play the psuedo-RPG card game Munchkin later that night, to which we enthusiastically agreed. As we prepared to leave the next morning, en route to Albuquerque, he knocked on our door to give us hugs and what I feel I can only describe as fatherly advice that “scientists don’t know shit, they’re always changing their minds. Always assume you don’t know shit too and you’ll stay grounded.” Then he was gone.
Altogether a charming character, and most certainly a character.