Steve’s column

“The only thing that comes to he who waits is kidney trouble.” – Pat Buttram to Gene Autry “The road goes on forever and the party never ends.” – Robert Earl Keen

Since shutting down my office computer May 30, I have traveled over 30,000 miles – nearly two-thirds by air and the remainder divided among trains, trucks and buses. Three countries, 10 states (including Altered) and two sleep studies later, I realize the seemingly-endless appeal of being and staying on the road. Fortunately for the oncoming traffic, over-the-road trucking and night driving clash with my profile. I endeavor to remain a day tripper. Nocturnal ramblings might send me to Kim’s Narcolepsy Center and Truck Driving School: the original home of Asleep at the Wheel. Love of the open road exceeds resources, though, and despite my love of Walt Whitman, “a-foot and light-hearted” in West Texas and other adjacent places can mean three days between motels. Walking remains good exercise for circular routes only. I have long maintained the world gets smaller, primarily because population growth means an ever-dwindling number of places where nobody is. And Texas remains a whole other country, albeit well-recognized, as evidenced by numerous encounters, both international and national. I submit several encounters, blended with off-the-beaten path experiences: * Descending Table Mountain via cable car outside Cape Town, South Africa, I exchanged greetings with a Dallas oil executive well-acquainted with the Permian Basin and the Big Bend. * We talked Texan outside of the Chugwater, WY Stampede Saloon and Eatery with a couple from Longview, only 621 miles northeast of Alpine. * We met high school buddies from Austin, working construction in a neighboring town, in a Minneota, MN parking lot. * In Interior, SD, population 67, in the heart of the Badlands, cowboy/bartender/swing and bench builder Jay Smith remembered his year of collegiate rodeo at Weatherford College. When I mentioned Sul Ross State University and Alpine, he smiled and recalled both the university’s annual rodeo and the Brewster County jail, lodging arranged due to post-competition celebration (A poster on the wall of the Wagon Wheel Bar and Grill urged competitors to “Ride Radar Naked.” Upon inquiry, the proprietor quipped, “The bull’s dead, so I guess I’m Radar.”) * St. James Catholic Church in Chamberlain, SD offers confessions by appointment and Lingle, Wyoming’s Open Range Coffee and Café offers the best cole slaw I have eaten in years and Whimsy, a thrift/variety store, offered both a hat and a hunting shirt that fit, taking my personal check to boot. In between shopping, a Casper resident noted that he lived all over West Texas as a lad, including Fort Stockton and Balmorhea. A collective 12 weeks on the road provided numerous non-Texas experiences as well, including a trip to Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, NM. In short, legalized psychedelia where the 60s left off. Visitors could slide through clothes dryers, crawl through fireplaces, wind up and down staircases, all aerobics in 3D glasses. Via sitting in a refrigerator minding my own business, I was literally the punch line of one of my favorite stories not to be repeated in this space. I visited the only street in the world home to two Nobel Prize recipients – Soweto’s Vilikazi Street – where Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela both resided. Numerous trips to thrift stores on our in-country route enlarged our library, expanded my Hawaiian shirt wardrobe and produced a genuine boomerang to add to my Australian collection. I saw a bartender in a Fort Collins establishment appropriately named “Whiskey’s” stumped when he admitted he did not have a certain brand of pineapple-flavored whiskey among his 1,800 choices. Farther up the road, in Chugwater, WY, we met a man with a vast record collection, from Victrola cylinders to a motorcycle-shaped Bruce Springsteen release. Visiting the Little Bighorn Memorial deserves its own essay, but word-wise for now, less is more. We heard stories including: a coyote hunt abruptly ended when Abba’s “Dancing Queen” boomed over the speakers instead of the wounded rabbit imitation; grasping a wild badger from a barrel for a $600 prize, then tossing the critter into the crowd; and an engineer/hunter who designed a glider to transport elk haunches from the mountaintop to land directly on the trailhead. We celebrated two birthdays and my official retirement on the same day, then three days later, decided that the Labor Day holiday constitutes an oxymoron. As Groucho Marx noted, “time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.” Just 45 years ago — or yesterday, take your pick — “American Graffiti” opened in theaters. “Happy Days” premiered a year later. And Ronny Howard, whose acting career began as the barefoot boy with fishing pole on “The Andy Griffith Show,” is eligible for Medicare.

Steve Lang presently rests in Alpine between road trips.