The Austin Trip – 2003 I

[An alternative version of Spring of 2003]

The timing couldn’t have been better as far as having a good reason to leave town was concerned. Ol’ Blue had been pawin’ the ground for a month, itchin’ to get on the road. There had been no “Last Blast of Winter” trip to Colorado this year. My last “overnight” trip had been to Plano (Wowee! 15 miles) back on January 25th to watch the Super Bowl with Todd Deniger. So when my dear friend Dodi Brackin/Thompson emailed me that she was flying to Dallas (coincidentally, on my birthday) and suggested I drive her to Austin to see sister Suzi, I jumped on the chance like a chicken on a June bug.

Dodi was staying with her best friend Paula Bass and hubby Gary in suburban Irving. I called them to refresh my memory on how to get to 1404 Lookout Circle. As I was talking with Paula, I kiddingly said, “I feel a little funny having to ask for directions, but after all, the last time I was there was in 1948.” A good chortle at the other end. I asked her if I could get there by way of the old turnpike (I-30), thereby avoiding a bunch of traffic lights on Northwest Highway. She assured me I could take the MacArthur exit. Great! That looked easy enough Yeah, right.

I left the house at 10 AM so that we could make our getaway by noon in order to miss the rush hour traffic in Austin. That looked great on paper. I whizzed down North Central and onto I-30 when I noticed a huge backup of traffic in the opposite lanes headed east to I-35. That did not bode well. Then things became even more unraveled. My memory of where the MacArthur exit was had completely eluded me. My familiarity with Dallas geography west of the Trinity River was at its best minimal. Anyway, I took a premature exit thinking I had passed the MacArthur exit and actually headed back east on Singleton Blvd. I finally had to stop at a gas station for directions. I was lost in West Dallas! I eventually got headed in the right direction, realizing MacArthur was much farther west than I had anticipated. Sorry I had to put you through all that rigmarole, but I wanted to illustrate that even I, Mr. Geography, could get lost. When I eventually pulled up in front of the Bass residence, it was 11 AM. There was still an hour for a good visit.

I greeted Paula with, “Hey, the house looks the same as it did in `48”. Another chortle. I brought in with me a collection of prints of watercolors for the barracudas to indulge themselves in a feeding frenzy over which ones they wanted. Most of them were black and white watercolor washes of steam locomotives that I had recently finished. Dodi had brought me a “sussie” which was a metal plaque with a picture of a bird puffing a worm out of the ground and an inscription reading: “I’m the earlybird around here!” Now, wasn’t that special. My prize present was a Texas license plate for Dodi that she coveted beyond belief – one of those late model “picture postcard” plates with a space shuttle and a cowboy painted on it. Naturally, I had an aversion to such a request since I had spent three years collecting classic embossed plates from all 48 states dating from the 1940s to the 1970s (I still considered Hawaii and Alaska as Territories) . Anyway, I reassured Dodi that I had not purloined her precious plate from a “midnight auto supply”, but had been contributed from my own 1985 Buick which was about to be retired from active duty. I also gave Dodi a stack of Texas Highway publications and a print of a west Texas pump jack which I thought to be appropriate (along with the license plate) for her “Southwest Room” in her Vienna, Maine home. All in all, it was a great visit with three friends I had known since the late 1960s.

I had mentioned to Paula about the backup on I-30, so she suggested I take Loop 12 all the way south to I-20 and then head east to I-35. It looked great on paper. Once on Loop 12, I pinched my nose and did my impersonation of Willie Nelson singing On the Road Again. That livened things up a bit. Dodi was anticipating seeing the bluebonnets in full bloom, and she got her wish along I-20. Our euphoria waned as we approached the junction of I-35. There, like Armageddon, we could see a traffic jam for miles. Obviously, this mess was just a continuation of the mess I saw on I-30. I said, “You know, there’s no way to get in and out of Dallas except on an interstate. If anything goes wrong, it’s like a grain of sand in a rifle barrel. It messes up the whole works.” Cooler heads prevailed. I was so thankful I had a friend to talk to. I said, “Dodi, you’re going to set a record for the longest trip anyone’s taken with me. The last one was back in 1984 on a 30 mile excursion from Denver to Evergreen.” I was humming to myself the words of a 1960s song that went: “Just the two of us, we can make if we try. Just the two of us, You and I”. It seemed appropriate.

My passenger suddenly exclaimed the need for a pit stop. Her water consumption had finally caught up with her. I told a few jokes to get her mind off her situation while we looked for an exit. We finally extricated ourselves from the molasses and I said, “Let’s go for McDonald’s instead of Exxon. You always know where the restrooms are at McDonald’s. Besides, I think I’ll opt for a Big Mac for the road.” Back in the van, Dodi said, “What great timing. There was a line of women outside the door when I came out.” I remarked, “They must have been in those two stretch-vans parked over there.”

We inched our way back onto the clogged interstate. I felt like holding my hands in the air and saying, “I surrender. Take me as your prisoner. There’s no other alternative.” Dodi tried adding a little levity to the situation by relating a road experience with hubby Bill. As she told it: “We were driving from Dallas to Colorado. I was the designated navigator. We got to this Big Y and ended up in Topeka. All the time it was dark.” I couldn’t believe this tale of driving more than 100 miles without knowing they were on the wrong highway. Then I envisioned a map of Kansas, and immediately figured out what went wrong. I said, “You took the wrong turn in Wichita at the ‘Big Y’. Bill wanted to head straight north to Salina where you could take I-70 west to Colorado. You blew it, Hon.” She agreed it was a blown job. Nevertheless, I got a good guffaw from hearing her tell of that misadventure. I tried to console her by saying, “Hey, Dodi, you can be my navigator anytime.” Imagine that. I knew the state of Kansas like the back of my hand, and yet I could get lost in West Dallas! Geography plays strange games with your mind sometimes.

I was cursing the proliferation of 18-wheelers. I would occultly give an obscene gesture at the leviathans as they trucked along in the left lane. Dodi would reverently say, “No road rage, now.” I then got on my soap box: “These trucks should have their own roads, but better still, there should be more railroads to carry all this freight.” I went on to say, “Back in March, there was a terrible ice storm in North Texas that paralyzed the roadways. There was an aerial shot on the local news of I-35 south of Dallas, and there was a solid line of semis stacked up for miles. It was a harsh testimony to just how many trucks were on the highways.” I think my passenger had had enough of my dissertation.

You know, if I had not had Dodi to talk with in that malaise of traffic, I would have gone bonkers. She commented on what a great time of the year it was to be in Texas with everything a lush, sap green, and bluebonnets, Indian paint brushes, and sunflowers everywhere. I said, “But, by the time August rolls around, all these fresh colors will have turned to a drab, Army green.” Of course, the trip would not have been complete without a discussion about the Iraq War. It was short, sweet, and completely apolitical. Thank goodness we got that behind us.