Oh, how I miss the trains! I could see fields of rusting rails. Reverting back to my trusty McNally Atlas, I realized that this town of 75,000 was once the hub of the plateau region, as evidenced by the intersection of three national highways: U.S. 67, 87, and 277. Yes, it had its glory days in the first half of the 20th century. Now it’s a town that time has passed by, much like Cumberland, MD, Asheville, NC, Ft. Wayne, IN and numerous other mid-size cities across the country. More often than not, these towns were founded by, prospered through, and dependent on the almighty railroads. Nowadays, if a town doesn’t have an acre-gobbling truck plaza, it just isn’t in the mainstream.
I’ve made a habit of forming pre-conceived images of places that I’m about to visit. A majority of the time I play this mental game with a prospective host’s house, and, by golly, I’m usually right. Postcards of San Angelo aren’t exactly floating all over the state, so I had to conjure up a skyline on my intuition. I just couldn’t visualize any gleaming skyscrapers poking their rooftop pediments into the West Texas sky. Instead, I pictured a cityscape similar to that of, say Waco, or Big Spring: one, maybe two at the most, brick-clad, 12 to 15 story office buildings built in the 1920’s. And sure enough, there it was.
I was glad that I made my little western trek. After all, Mom’s formative years were spent in and around that harsh and unforgiving environment. Her parents and grandparents, and on down the line, were true denizens of that region. The farther you go back, the more Indian blood you will find. I can never remember the name of our ancestral tribe, but I know they never attacked a cavalry post or a wagon train. They were a peace loving nation, and that’s all that matters to me. I thought how much more difficult it was for the plains tribes to forage for food and provide shelter than it was for their eastern counterparts, who had all those amenities like wide fish-swollen rivers, and verdant, deer-stocked forests.
I believe West Texas has always been permeated by that poor, much-maligned tree known as the mesquite. Oh, are they ever ugly in the winter! Scraggly, scrawny, and stunted, they would make a perfect Halloween prop on a moon-lit night. But they do have their moment in which to be proud, and that’s in the first week of April. It is then, as I well remember from a spring trip a few years back, that the mesquite comes into full bloom with its apple-green foliage. It’s quite a sight! Actually, this native decidual, as one particular meat company advertises, has one redeeming quality: its hard, slow-burning fiber is excellent for cooking. Mark one up for the mesquite. Seems as if I cannot drive through West Texas without seeing at least one tumbleweed rolling across the highway. Now, I know our Omniscience has placed everything on this great earth with some purpose in mind, but, for the life of me, I have never figured out just what the tumbleweed does in the great scheme of things.
As I headed north out of San Angelo, I noticed that I was on a frontage road for a future super-duper highway, the size of which could be compared with LBJ between Central and Stemmons. What on earth-moving day were they anticipating? Had EXXON committed itself to relocating their entire operations to this burg in the brushes? I had driven right through downtown, and could have fired a cannon down Main Street and never hit a soul. The previous afternoon at “peak rush” hour, there was hardly any bumper-to-bumper traffic exiting to the suburbs. I figured that the Texas Highway Commission just wanted to keep all the boys on the payroll busy doing something, even if it’s just moving dirt. Or maybe the Chamber of Commerce wanted to instill some big city imagery by laying a swath of concrete, replete with extra long exit and entrance ramps, adjacent to its downtown. Well, that’s Texas – bigger and better.