long, strange journey it's been
journey through Texas reveals the character, and characters, of a place.
John Pascal '88
SAT outside round midnight, beneath a thousand tiny torches bursting white.
Roadie gulped a cold can of feel-better 'til he felt better, and it made
the man sing. He plucked his guitar and when he finished his song I clapped,
an audience of one. I figured he was going nowhere with that song but
this place, a dark quiet valley in the high Texas hills, where tree frogs
sang chorus to Roadie's lone lament.
another can of Lone Star and drank it down. "This guitar don't make me
feel anything," he told me on that warm summer night under stars burning
bright. "It lets me let out what I do feel."
a lot of things, I imagined. Those remnant lines in his forehead held
stories and lyrics and aw-what-the-hells. But worries? "I don't worry
'bout nothin'," he told me, "cause nothin's gonna be all right."
homeless, Roadie wrote songs for nobody but himself. He'd writ hundreds
of songs, thousands maybe, and kept some in a suitcase and the others
in his head. "I don't know if I have a lot to say," Roadie told me that
night in June. "But I sure have a lot of words wrote down."
I HAVE a lot of words wrote down, too. For three years I've been bicycling
through Texas, writing words in notebooks to put in a book. Roadie is
just one of hundreds of characters I've met since I myself became a roadie.
What began as the cycling equivalent of the U.S.S. Minnow's "three-hour
tour" has turned into an odyssey of Homeric proportion. When I left the
town of Uncertain, Texas, on Oct. 2, 1995, I planned an approximate 6-month,
6,000-mile bicycle trip through the state of Texas. Horse feathers! Three
years and 40,000 miles later, I'm still out here. Still riding. Still
writing. Perhaps you saw me at the Dairy Queen.
notebooks, however, are inferior to that which they dare describe, and
I fear the book that I'm writing will fail at the feet of its subject.
How might one describe something so grand as Texas while he pedals in
its midst? How might he write about her people? One might just as easily
chronicle Australia on the back of a pogo stick.
I've tried. And yet I wallow in irony: Each experience humbles me, for
I know there are too many more. And each new person merely serves to remind
that I did not know him before. How many others, then, might there be?
How many more strangers with stories to tell? And moments to share? Life,
I have noticed, is a fascinating way to spend the day. And people are
good folks to spend it with.
as I ate a plate of rice and beans in a Falfurrias diner, an old man sat
next to me. He had more hair than teeth, and his hairs totalled three.
The old man asked if I had a place to stay that night. I said no sir.
may stay with me at my apartment," the viejito said, "and I will love
you like you are my son."
I travelled to a remote area along Baffin Bay. There I found a home in
a little trailer park by the shore. Each night at 7 I played canasta with
a group of gray-haired ladies. And on one warm Saturday night I won $2.75
on O-72. Bingo!
each morning I had breakfast with my 71-year-old friend Doris Smith in
her small trailer. Doris always wanted me to finish my breakfast. She
worried about the rest of the world, too. "God loves everybody," she told
me one afternoon as we watched The 700 Club. "I'm sure in countries where
they never heard of God, God has a nice way of dealing with those people."
however, are not uniformly saccharine. In March I cycled south to South
Padre Island, where for the first time in a decade I participated in the
bacchanal that is Spring Break. "We'll just tell 'em you're our philosophy
professor," said my pal Cale Shively, one of a group of university students
who adopted me.
In the end,
my one enduring image of Spring Break is that of my friend Reed, a young
scholar who, inspired by the joy of the evening, sauntered about wearing
nil but a foam frog on his head. "You gotta put that in the book," Reed
told me. "Being naked."
is not without its misery. Many nights are a lonesome hollow. Days are
hot and miles are long and Ramen Soup comes in a variety of delicious
flavors. I am broke most of the time, living place to place on minimum-wage
jobs. I worked construction in Falfurrias, shucked oysters on South Padre,
picked peaches in Stonewall, hauled hay in Comfort. But misery's redemption
is an education like existential encyclopedias. While driving cattle near
Mason, for example, I learned unequivocally that a horse does have a mind
of its own.
like that, and the people who decorate them, are the images I place in
the scrapbook of my mind.
ROADIE looked deep into the yawning black sky that night. He took a drag
from his smoke. "I don't have any goals or aspirations or anything," he
told me as we sat together in the still valley. "Just to be like I am.
Don't hurt nobody. Help who I can. Leave small unnoticeable footprints
in the world."
I told Roadie
that he had failed, for his footprints will lead always through the portal
of my perfect memories.
Paschal continues to ride, collecting more tales for his Spoke Texas
novel and generating funds for the Family Matters program at the Lena
Pope Home in Fort Worth. Want to help John and Lena Pope? Send your donation
to Tires Across Texas, Texas Commerce Bank N.A., Box 1290, Fort Worth,