Pausing in a McDonald's just outside Beaumont, TX on Sunday the 15th; driving progresses well, & I should be safely in Gainesville, FL at the appropriate time. I have discovered the perfect use for NPR's Lake Wobegon (& other programs), which I do not ordinarily listen to: making the time pass with at least mild entertainment while driving a long trip. Apparently it would be Woodie Guthrie's 100th birthday yesterday or today (I don't recall precisely), and there was a commemorative program about him. I hadn't realized Pete Seeger was one of his disciples, or that Arlo was from his second batch of kids with the second wife of three — or that he was one heckuva travelin' man. I've always loved the song "This Land is Your Land," though.

It got me thinking about old friends met and lost while traveling. I wish I had a better head for names, because there was a tall, easy-going, nice young man from Beaumont, TX who was in the zookeeper training program I took so many years ago at Santa Fe Community College. I don't doubt he's married and has kids by now, but it would've been nice to be able to say hi to him, maybe have lunch with him and his family. I don't regret all the places I've been and people I've met and things I've gotten to see and do… but I do sometimes wish I'd taken better notes, y'know?

On the other hand, if he's lucky, he's no longer in Texas. This place is not the place I knew — I'm traveling through the southern edges of Texas, and I used to live up farther north in Plano, near Dallas, which was far more cosmopolitan. However, I suspect what I knew there is gone too. To be fair, though, I suppose I should note by its sheer size alone, Texas is of necessity a mass of contradictions. I was quietly pleased to see a great many people of color in Texas; I remember the furor when Asians first started turning up in Plano after the Vietnam War. Also, I was startled today to have to shuffle through three different christian radio stations before I was able to find a station that was regular music rather than proselytizing. Just before I found the nice, solid station playing the NPR offerings, I found a squeak of classical for a bit, too.

Picking up the next morning, now in Louisiana: the Texas truck stop I stayed in last night was kinda weird too. Along with the regular drinks, food, mechanical gear, etc. for sale there, there was a peculiar mix of other things. For example, on the left of one aisle was a mix of LSU (Louisiana State University) Tigers and UTA (University of Texas at Austin) Longhorns paraphernalia… and on the right was a christian book rack of "Choice Books: Reading to enrich your life." Next to that were T-shirts, which included a great many variations on "Truckers for Christ"-style shirts. I have very mixed feelings about that, as well as the truck with "Jesus Christ is Lord, Not a swear word!" painted across one side. Yes, I think swearing less would be a good thing, and I guess I'd rather the truckers on the roads we share were trying for kinder and gentler behavior. I'd sure feel far more comfortable, however, if there were socially acceptable options available for those who were non-christian but still religious. I can imagine the likely reactions to a truck driving through this area with, say, "Know Allah, know peace" or "Smile! Goddess loves you" painted on the side.

The highways through the major cities aren't as clearly marked as I remember them being in the Dallas area, which was a little nerve-wracking as I drove through both San Antonio and Houston. However, Houston does have one thing I really like: it paints the name of the road you're aimed towards into each lane — which makes it really nice and clear which precise lane you want to be in. I had to laugh as I crossed the outermost edges of Houston: it was a classic Texas scene. Coming up fast on the horizon gleamed the city's high rises and corporations — and the sleek modern highway leading into the city took us right past a green pasture… full of longhorns. ;)

The weather really changed around Houston and through Beaumont too: suddenly instead of a desert biome we're starting to get into a swampier area by the Gulf. The signs over dips in the road are now for bayous instead of washes. The humidity went way up, but the temperature also dropped, and I felt almost homesick at sight of my first cypresses squatting firmly into green-edged waters. I'm amused, as well: I've been called "hon" and "baby" more times in the first hour of stopping in Louisiana, than I was in the entire rest of the trip!

Speaking of old memories of home, it's kinda fun to spot old names of businesses I remember from living in Florida years ago. It's sorta nice to see they're still around… and speaking of names, I've noticed a few doozies on the drive here! The following all made me laugh, or at least grin bemusedly: there's a Bucket of Blood Road in Arizona, a Woman Hollering Creek in Texas, and a Blue Elbow Bayou in Louisiana! The one that made me both grin and keep a wary eye on it, however, was the company name painted on a truck I passed: Pirate Logistics!

There is one thing that's weird about Texas to me: there seems to be a whole lot more roadkill on the side of the road. What, the vultures have become picky connoisseurs here?! Or… maybe there are fewer vultures? I don't know, but it's odd. I've seen quite a wonderful array of wildlife while driving, in fact: lots of mule deer in Utah and Arizona — they're quite blasé in the Grand Canyon! I saw lots of ground squirrels as well as a lovely stippled cross fox (the dark coloration form) in Yosemite, along with a small herd of more mule deer hiding amongst the trees off the road. There was also a long-legged and -eared, black-tailed jackrabbit that lolloped across the road before me in Arizona; several varieties of lizard in California and Arizona; pastured elk in Utah (males in one corral, females in another); a small family of buffalo in New Mexico — the calf was particularly cute looking — and a pair of pronghorns cantering along in Arizona! I'm particularly pleased by the cross fox and the pronghorns, since they're both quite shy. Also, I think the pronghorns were actually wild — the buffalo and the elk were both in pastures, I believe. There were guinea fowl at the Caverns of Sonora as well, wandering with the peacock and hen with chicks… but again, I think they were all domesticated. The random deer scat made me think there might be either whitetails or mule deer there at night, as well.

Amusingly, while I saw chipmunks in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, I noticed there are regional differences. The chipmunks in New Mexico carry their tails laid flat along their backs as they run, while those in Utah don't come out at all — they only peeked at me from amongst the tumbled rocks. Those in Arizona carry their tails straight out at an angle — a sort of half-mast as they run — then jerk their little tails straight up in apparent triumph once they've reached safety. Those in California are the cockiest of all: they run with their tails straight up in the air, like a proudly defiant banner!

Oh! One amusing thing: along with horses, cows, dogs, burros, goats, and sheep, I saw several llamas as well! I was fascinated to realize they're apparently becoming an acceptable fur or load-bearing domestic animal in the southwestern US. Also amusing: on the sign for one ranch someone had carefully painted the usual elk… and facing it, a zebra! That's got to be one brave set of ranch hands, is all I can say. :)

More later — need to keep driving. Must remember to mention the Dr. Seuss plants on the way in to Carlsbad Caverns, and the giant mind-control radar/lasers on the way in to Roswell! :)

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