Thursday, June 5, 2014
Finding My Texas
Four days in McAllen. Might as well have been Cleveland.
Airport to hotel on the shuttle. Hotel to convention center by air-conditioned bus. Return and repeat. Views of the city through dark safety glass. Interior courtyard and square meeting rooms. Southern climes masked by thermostats set to “Icebox.”
I longed for the Lone Star vibe.
So as the meetings came to a close it felt good to get in the rental and go. To head east out of town toward the Gulf. But I wasn’t in Texas even then. Seventy miles-an-hour on Interstate 2. San Juan, Weslaco, Mercedes. Southwestern labels, but indistinguishable from anywhere else with their end-to-end Home Depots, Burger Kings, and La Quintas. The ubiquitous acres of Wal-Mart. Only the occasional HEB gave a clue.
So I tried to shake my case of the “wherevers” by turning on the radio. Satellite XM, Outlaw Country, seemed a good place to start. But it was country as generic as the asphalt I traveled. Corporate cowboys, polished and precise despite the clodhopper drawls. Sterile. I was looking for roots, dirt and all.
I-2 dumped east into Texas 83 and I switched to FM. Began to feel the southwest sun and attitude creep into my bones. Strip mall sprawl gave way to cattle land, manicured six lanes to concrete divided four, and meticulously mastered rock to something more earthy. Something more don’t-give-a-damn. Digital perfection acquiesced to analog authenticity. Big stage to front porch. A grittier sound on a grittier track.
But I wasn’t there yet.
I escaped the expressways onto State Road 100. Shook off the highway and found my two lane. Rolled down the windows and punched up AM. Sagebrush and mesquite flew by never-ending. Fruit stands, flat land and big sky with a soundtrack of scratchy mariachis. The soft background hiss of carrier wave, like tires on pavement, lent texture and life to squeezebox and guitar. White vinyl noise swaddled voices in cotton as if they’d been packed away for generations like precious artifacts. Canciónes that crossed cultures and borders and time.
I understood little of what was sung as I drove, but that didn't matter. Enough of the words were transcendent. Señorita. Bonita. Cerveza.
I’d finally found my Texas.