The Austin Trip – 2003 VI

In all my hundreds and hundreds of overnight stops at rest areas and the like, I had never experienced what was about to happen. One of those super-cab pickups with running lights on the running boards, bumpers, and on top of the cab pulled in and parked at the other end of the rest area. He turned off the lights and I thought, “I guess maybe he’s going to spend the night here.” Well, he repeatedly started the engine, turned on the array of lights, and moved closer and closer to me, turning off everything each time. By now, I was getting a little suspicious about his movements and intentions. I thought, “What was this guy’s modus operandi ?” Then he made his final move. He circled around and backed up right next to Ol’ Blue on the driver’s side, turning off everything. That did it! I closed and locked the cargo door and slid into the driver’s seat. I rolled down the window and gave him a shot in the face with my flashlight. I could see he was a mangy-looking redneck. I shouted. “Hey, what’s goin’ on? I’m on my way back to Colorado and just want to spend the night here. Now, bug off” With that, he hightailed it out of there. Whew! That was little scary for a few minutes. My knees were knockin’ as I walked to the back of the van and secured the rear doors in an open position with my trusty cable and lock, thereby letting the cool south breeze flow through – nature’s air-conditioning. I really had to thank The Lord for getting me there safely to my arcadia.

Sunday morning started off with a roar, like that of a band of Harley Davidsons easing through the rest area. They had stopped so that one of the gang could check out his bike. It seemed as though it wasn’t cycling just right. He eventually fixed whatever was buggin’ his “hog”, and they all roared off down the highway. Have you ever noticed that the females straddling the rear saddle of the bikes all seem to have the most perfectly-round derrieres? I sure have. I had my usual “Roady” breakfast of a banana and milk, then headed north on U.S. 281. Just as I had predicted, a strong south wind was pushing me northward. I remembered telling Dodi when we were riding a north wind, “I bet you by the time I head back, I’ll have a south wind at my back.” The two-lane highway had wide shoulders, so I was constantly pulling over to let the SUVs, Suburbans, and pickups speed by. Only a few would wave an acknowledgement, but when I let a gang of motorcyclists pass me, they all waved a “thank you”. Gosh, the sound of those motors gave me the goose-bumps!

What a pleasure it was to drive the old highway, rolling through the Hill Country. The obvious amenity was the absence of those abominable 18-wheelers. I stopped in Lampasas at another H.E.B. market. The city limit sign had read: “Population 6,248”. I thought: “My gosh, that’s almost 2,000 less than that new town of Lakeway.” It was a sign of the times, the old versus the new. I thought about calling Vernon Gaston, who I had befriended when he was my mailman at the Bend East, but decided to just pop in and surprise him. I detained a local gentleman just long enough for directions.

805 W. 1st Street was easy to find, and as I pulled up to the curb, his teenage daughter appeared on the front porch. I walked up and introduced myself, then asked if her dad was home. She replied, “No, he’s in Quaite.” I thought, “Quaite? Must be a little town in Texas I’m not familiar with.” Then Kay Gaston came out, and I asked, “When do you expect him back?” She said, “In August. He’s delivering mail to the troops in Kuwait.” “Oh, Kuwait,” I exclaimed. “Well, that’s so typical of Vernon, always going out of his way to help people.” While we were talking, her cell phone rang, and who should it be but hubby Vernon. She was only able to talk for about a minute, but got in a “hello” from yours truly. Now, if that wasn’t great timing! It was a nice visit, and I thanked the Gaston family for their time.

I continued north on U.S. 281 and stopped in Hamilton at the town square surrounding the 1886 Classical Revival limestone courthouse. It had not been on my water coloring list because of its squared-off top and sans clock tower, but it looked strong enough to last a thousand years. I noticed an elderly gentleman seated on one of the dozens of benches that encircled the courthouse under a panoply of great oaks. It was such a serene Sunday afternoon with a gentle breeze whispering through the leaves. I sat down next to the man who was chewin’ the fat with a crony seated in his car. At the appropriate time, I asked, “Did this handsome courthouse ever have a clock tower at one time?” He replied, “Nope, not to my recollection.” Well, I spent about two hours with him, asking questions and listening to his tales of what Hamilton was like back in its more prosperous days.

He appeared to be in fine physical shape, with no potbelly (which his friend in the car obviously had), a ruddy complexion, and blacksmith-like forearms and hands. He had graduated from highschool at the end of the Korean War, which made him only three years my senior. His cap bore the inscription: “Gromansky-Kreuger Farms”. I took it as a Polish derivation, which he confirmed by telling me of his Old World ancestors who settled there. He said, “People were stand-offish at first about Europeans moving in here, but they came around after seeing how hard-working and honest people they were.” He told of how the town used to have a grocery store on all four corners of the square, and cotton gins and feed mills going full time. I had to ask him where the train depot used to be, and he said, “It was a block off the square, just behind those buildings. The Cotton Belt ran through here, splitting off to Waco and Dublin. When I was a kid, we would go down to the station just to watch the trains come in.” Oh my gosh, was I ever reveling in the past. He went on to tell about all the hundreds of acres he had owned around the county and how he had sold a good portion of them. And he loved driving cattle trucks. Well, it had been one great afternoon talking with Mr. Gromansky. I thanked him for his time.