We were just getting over COVID when we had to start the long drive home. It was obvious that we weren’t going to be able to make the trip from Texas to Wisconsin in one 20-hour-long haul. We needed to split up the ride into shorter, more manageable chunks. The plan was to go from Bryan, Texas, to Texarkana on the first leg of the journey. Especially with a toddler on board, that amount of driving would be more than enough for one day. There is no fast way to go between Bryan and Texarkana. It’s all back roads and little towns along the way. That’s a more interesting route than staying on a freeway, but it is rather slow.
Driving when you are feeling ill is difficult. There is a tendency to slip into the drone mode until you are shocked into hyper-awareness by the sight of brake lights flashing right in front of you. Suddenly, you are very alert. That lasts for a while, and then the road lulls you back into the zone.
I did notice some things while we wandered through eastern Texas. One thing that caught my eye was the condition of the guard rails. It wasn’t that they were a little banged up. That’s typical anywhere in the country. What impressed me was how many of these guard rails were peeled several feet back, like somebody had opened the top of a can of sardines. That made me pause and wonder. Whoever struck one of those guard rails hit it hard, really hard. That means they were driving fast and/or drunk. It hurt just to look at that damage. Nobody walked away from those accidents.
We went through a number of little towns: Atlanta, Gladewater, Buffalo, North Zulch, etc. They are all proud Texan communities, and most of them look like they have seen better days. Some of them have downtowns that are half deserted. They didn’t look as bad as Bakhmut in Ukraine, but they are kind of desolate. Windows are boarded up. There are numerous “For Rent” signs. It’s more than a little depressing.
The establishments that seem to be thriving in these burgs are for the most part churches. They are usually Methodist, Baptist, or Apostolic. Occasionally, I saw a born-again startup church, some kind of independent group. I saw one Jehovah Witness Hall that had a curious boxlike shape with dark opaque windows. At first, I thought it was an adult video store. It looked like one.
The other operations that apparently do quite well are the liquor stores. That helps to explain the guard rail situation. There are many of those liquor shops in these towns. Oddly enough, the number of local churches was often equal to the number of alcohol vendors in the area.
As I drove through the countryside, I noticed a stark contrast between those who had money and those who didn’t. We went by large ranches with palatial homes. These places had cattle, horses, and working oil rigs. These huge estates screamed wealth. Close by were shacks and old trailers surrounded by yards overgrown with weeds that half-hid abandoned vehicles. People obviously lived in these dwellings, although I don’t know how. Most of these dilapidated houses could best be renovated with a can of gasoline and a match.
The curious thing about all these communities was the fact that no matter what condition they were in, they all had the Lone Star flag waving from up on a pole. It didn’t matter if they were rich or poor, white, Black, or Latino, everybody had a Texas flag flapping in the breeze.
Regardless of what else they might lack, they have their pride.
Frank (Francis) Pauc is a graduate of West Point, Class of 1980. He completed the Military Intelligence Basic Course at Fort Huachuca and then went to Flight School at Fort Rucker. Frank was stationed with the 3rd Armor Division in West Germany at Fliegerhorst Airfield from December 1981 to January 1985. He flew Hueys and Black Hawks and was next assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, CA. He got the hell out of the Army in August 1986.
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