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. CanciĆ³nes 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. SeƱorita. Bonita. Cerveza.

I’d finally found my Texas.


8 comments:

Mike Sepelak said...

It's important to note that the failure to find Texas while staying in McAllen was mine, not the town's. McAllen is a warm and inviting city with a deep and proud southwestern heritage. Time and opportunity simply did not permit me to appreciate it.

Someday I'd like to get back there - and do it justice.

Ross Brecke said...

Texas Radio and the big beat, soft driven slow and mad, Like some new language.

Mike Sepelak said...

Yeah, Ross. That's it, exactly. Thanks for weighing in!

Kevin Frank said...

"White vinyl noise swaddled voices in cotton"? Uuuh, I didn't understand half of what you wrote but it sounded good.

Mike Sepelak said...

Yeah, Kevin, that's one of the more obscure references in the post. It was written about 2am; a time when the rhythm of words starts trumping their clarity. I just let it go.

But it also shows your tender age. The shushing white noise of a needle on an old vinyl record is not something you grew up with. It's ingrained deep within me.

As for mixing the words, well, that's just the hour talking.

Stephen Heinzelmann said...

Wish I still had a few of my old 45s, still got some 78's laying around, lol
Funny stuff Mike, Hope your well.
Steve

Kevin Frank said...

When you bring up the shushing white noise I thought of older tv's when you couldn't find a station and all you'd get was that gray and white picture with a shhhhhhhhh noise. Sometimes you'd hear mumbling or what sounded like garbled voices in the background. I'm not that young Mike. I did have a hand me down record player. It had a built in 8-track too. I actually had Micheal Jackson's Thriller on LP.

Mike Sepelak said...

I actually had Micheal Jackson's Thriller on LP.

I'm so sorry.