Without exception, every trip that I’ve taken has had at least one “first” of some kind or another, and what happened next had to be at the top of the list of my first-time encounters. A pickup pulled in and parked about 50 feet from me, dimmed the headlights and sat there for about 15 minutes until starting up again and moving to a spot even closer, still without any lights on. I was thinking that all of a sudden, my placid parking area was turning into a scenario that could only be choreographed by the horrormeister himself, Stephen King. To add to the spookiness, the darkened pickup started up again and eased up next to Ol’ Blue, as if driven by an apparition. I locked the cargo door and scrambled into the driver’s seat, anticipating a confrontation with some weirdo.
I grabbed a flashlight and rolled down the window, aiming my beam at a young redneck’s astonished face. I said, “Hey, what’s going on? I’m on my way back to Colorado and I just want to spend the night here. Okay, buster?” He simply grinned and took off, leaving me to gasp to myself, “Whew, that was scary! Thank goodness that critter was harmless.” There was now a good breeze coming out of the south, so I positioned the van accordingly by parking its back end facing south. I then left the rear doors slightly ajar and secured them from any intrusions with a lock and cable. I sat at the reinforced concrete slab of a picnic table (that included the rock-hard seat), finishing off the chicken thighs and listening to a Texas Ranger baseball game on my portable radio by way of the blowtorch station KRLD out of Dallas. Despite my “close encounters of the third kind”, the evening had turned out just fine. I eventually reclined between the sheets, comforted by the natural air conditioning wafting between the rear doors and through the open skylight.
The next morning, I was awakened by the unmistakable sound of motorcycles pulling into the picnic area. It seemed as if one of the gang was having some engine trouble with his Harley, and a group of his fellow cyclists gathered around to help resolve the problem. Without saying, those guys really stuck together, like a fraternity that would never leave a member to languish behind. They eventually got the “hog” running smoothly, and with a deafening roar, sped off down the highway in their signature two-abreast formation. It was quite a sight!
I continued north on Hwy 281 through the little town of Burnet and out into more of the beautiful Hill Country. The highway had a wide paved shoulder, and even though I was driving at the “prudent and reasonable” speed of 60 mph, I found myself constantly pulling off onto the shoulder allowing the NASCAR belch fires to zoom past me like I was virtually standing still. A convoy of five pickups hauling campers sped by along with another group of motorcyclists, some of whom gave an appreciative wave. The resonating roar of their exhausts always gave me goose bumps.
Fairly soon I was in Lampasas (pop. 12,005) where I stopped to call Vernon Gaston, my erstwhile mailman at the Bend East Village Apartments with whom I had developed a really good friendship over the years, and I always looked forward to meeting him at the mail house to exchange witticisms. I was about to use a pay phone in front of a H.E.B. grocery (Harry’s markets were all over central and south Texas), when I decided to make a surprise house call. After getting directions from one of the locals, I easily found 805 1st St., a very simple route compared to my endurance trek through Lakeway. I parked in front and walked up to the front porch where I was greeted by two youngsters and asked them if their dad was home. His son answered, “No, he’s in Quaite.” I wondered to myself, “Quiate? Was that some little town in Texas I hadn’t heard of?” Mrs. Gaston (Kay) finally appeared at the front door, and after asking about her husband’s whereabouts, she apologized for her son’s mispronunciation, saying, “Vernon is in Kuwait, delivering mail for the troops.” I replied, “That’s so typically unselfish of him. ” With that, I jumped in Ol’ Blue and took off, waving goodbye to Vernon’s family.