It was on down the road to Lubbock, and the little old spare was holding up just fine so far. I called the Thompsons from a pay phone on the outskirts of town. Again, I fibbed a little, saying I was in Muleshoe just to give every one time to adjust. Virginia said, “Come on by. We’d love to see you. All we have is left-over stew and a salad.” That invitation sounded vaguely familiar. Was it Beverly in Abilene? I dallied at the KwikStop station, pumping gas and writing in my journal, then meandered over to the Thompson residence. I wasn’t about to come in empty-handed, so I presented them with another framed portrait, this one of an Indian warrior titled Little Wolf. As I dined on the sumptuous stew, they embellished their South American trip with more interesting stories. Then they asked me about my trip, so I capsuled my account by saying, “It was one beautiful time in Albuquerque and the carburetor froze up on Monarch Pass and a tire blew out in the middle of New Mexico. Any questions?” Before retiring, I had to say, “Thank you for putting up with me two times within two weeks.” Dudley said in his incomparable sardonic way, “Just don’t let this happen again.” We both guffawed. You had to love the guy.
You’re not going to believe this, but Dudley was out mowing his precious lawn again. Well, I certainly knew better than to ask if I could take over the controls of his mower. After he finished, I japed, “Do you just cut the grass when someone is sleeping in your driveway?” He grinned and said, “I thought you’d enjoy being awaken to the melodious sound of my mower. No, seriously, it’s been ten days since I mowed and we’ve had more than normal rainfall lately.” I bought that. I showed him the mangled remains of the ruptured tire and he was aghast at the sight. He said, “It’s a wonder you survived that.” I told him how close I had come to not avoiding disaster. I used his phone directory to locate a Firestone Store even though he had suggested trying The Discount Tire Co. I explained, “I like the way they look – just plain jet-black sidewalls. It’s just a peculiar thing with me.” I was guessing he understood. I thanked the Thompsons for their warm hospitality. We’ll let it happen again.
I found the Firestone Store not far away just west of Loop 289 on 19th Street. Nothing in Lubbock was very far away from anything else. My trustworthy little spare had finally got me safely “home”. What a relief! I told them to also mount a new tire on the right front to balance things out, so to speak. I then specified that I wanted the lug nuts hand-tightened instead of using those power fasteners. I wanted to be able to loosen the lug nuts with my 4-way. I asked the head honcho, “What could have caused that blow-out? Those BridgeStones had about 45,000 miles on them with enough tread to last another 10 or 15 thousand miles.” He said, “You might have hit a sharp hole in the pavement causing a rupture in the steel belts inside the tire.” Well, that was a reasonable explanation.
Out in their parking lot, I went about the business of mounting the spare tire on the rear door rack and reassembling the bike shuttle on the spare tire. It was a tedious chore, but I persevered. I mounted the bike and was finally ready to roll. I went by United Supermarket to stock up on my usual breakfast fare of milk, orange juice, and bananas. I was dawdling. I had my sights set on spending one last night on the road somewhere. I headed east out of the “Hub of the Southplains” on U.S. 82 through the flattest country anywhere on earth. I could see remnants of the roadbed of the old Santa Fe tracks. I passed a sign pointing north to Petersburg where their favorite son Charles Lambert had been reared. I eased through the “picturesque” hamlets of Idalou, Lorenzo, Rails, and Crosbyton. Sooner than I expected, I dropped off the Caprock and passed by the Silver Springs Rest Area, an idyllic spot to stop for the night (I had rested there before). Unfortunately, it was way too soon to pull off, plus I was still almost 300 miles from Dallas. I was hoping to find a roadside area somewhere about midway.
I stopped at a gas station in Dickens to get a bag of ice. The lady attendant asked me if I had a cooler, and when I said I did, she said, “Bring it on in and fill it up over there at the ice chest.” I couldn’t believe my ears — free ice! Only in West Texas. In appreciation for her generosity, I filled up the tank. According to my Atlas, there was a rest area just east of Benjamin, about 40 miles down the road. I crossed my fingers. From my experience, road maps had an annoying habit of designating picnic tables and rest areas where they actually didn’t exist. The sun was getting low in the sky and I was chasing my shadow on the roadway in front of me. Outside of Benjamin, the rest area appeared right where it was supposed to be, like a God-send from above. It was perfect, replete with restrooms, a dramatic view of the adjacent canyons, a resplendent sunset, and a bright half-moon above. And to top it off the temperature was a cool 68 degrees. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
I awoke the next morning with cattle trucks and RVs still in the parking area. It was obviously a popular stop-over spot. I eased along U.S. 82 at 55 mph to Seymour where I split off onto TX 114 through the derelict towns of Westover, Megargel, Olney, and Jean. Again, I could spot the former roadbed of the Santa Fe and thought, “Once the tracks were torn up, the spirit of those towns died.” It occurred to me that over the past fifty years a definite demographic imbalance had taken place. Multitudes were moving into the metromesses, leaving little towns to wither away. The attraction, other than available jobs, was the false sense of convenience to shopping malls, freeways, and jetports. The uninitiated had not bargained for all the traffic congestion. Sadly to say, Texas was a prime example of the mass migration to the inner cities and surrounding suburbs. Well, times change.
The one thing that hadn’t changed yet was the beautiful scenery along the two-lane highway. I rolled up and down through hills covered with live oaks, and indigenous scrub cedars and mesquites. I noticed a bunch of cattle reclining next to the fence line amongst a thicket of mesquites. I wondered if they were lost, but then I figured they knew instinctively when it was time to get back to the trough for feeding time. At Jacksboro I split off east onto U.S. 380 and at Bridgeport I made a last-minute decision to continue on east to Decatur instead of taking TX 114 to Boyd and Rhome. Impulsively, I wanted to revisit one of the granddaddies of all Texas courthouses, the one that really motivated me to start watercoloring the Temples of Justice throughout the state.