Texas is a big state. I know that's stating the obvious. But seriously. It is. Though it's not that tall. Having grown up in the Rocky Mountains, I assure you Texas is not very tall relative to some of its neighbors. But it has tremendous girth. And one tends to feel a bit swallowed up by it.
West Texas has some mountains. Lots of dirt, too. Cattle ranches and such. After a good long while, you pass through that region of girth, and enter the hill country part. Gently rolling hills, grassland and oaks, little rivers running through. One could make a case that the Hill Country is the heart, or maybe the seat of the soul, of Texas. It's quite pleasant, and the highway rest stops are open and functional, and the people are nice as can be... if you don't mess with 'em, of course.
I stopped again for gas in Kerrville. It was lightly raining. I ate an omelette of some sort at the International House of Pancakes. And I hit the road again.
Fifteen miles or so out, heading toward San Antonio, the van died. Rolled to a stop. I pulled over to the shoulder. It was raining harder.
Honestly, I was feeling pretty stupid. I undertook these kinds of adventures in my youth, hitchhiking all over North America with no particular destination. Riding freight trains north to the border from deep in Mexico when I ran out of money and had no train fare. I got stopped at the border of Canada once, getting off the ferry from Alaska, and was told I couldn't enter Canada because I didn't have enough money. Which left me in kind of a pickle, because I didn't have enough money to get back on the ferry either.
The Canadian border official's name was Paddy. I'll always remember him. He said to me, now don't you feel foolish having come all the way to Canada and having nothing to show for it? And I said no sir, I don't. Or something to that effect. What I didn't say, but thought, is don't you feel like a damn fool spending your whole life stopping people at the border and asking them for their paperwork?
The point is, I've slept more than once on the side of the road with trucks going by my head. But I was young then. I had the youthful delusion of immortality going for me.
I'm in my fifties now. I have a house. A mortgage. A wife and three grown sons. I have a "career". (Which always goes in quotation marks). I have somehow put my left foot in front of my right and then my right foot in front of my left and things have worked out. More or less. I'm a grown up, dammit. Or as much of a grown up as I'm ever likely to be. At least I'm well aware of my own mortality now.
Yet I'm out here acting like an adolescent, doing things adolescents do. I'm broke down in Texas in a van with who knows how many miles on it and expired tags and a bunch of music gear in the back. Did I mention the speedometer quit working when the odometer did? But it tops out at 85 miles per hour. I really don't worry about speeding tickets.
I realize I've booked this trip poorly. I should have picked up gigs between L.A. and Houston. I'm beating myself up, and some of the punches are connecting.
So I call my wife. Who else is gonna listen to me whine? I explain to her I'm a damn idiot, in case she hadn't noticed. She tells me to calm down, it's not the end of life as we know it. I get a grip. I call the auto club. See? I told you I'm a grown up.
The auto club sends a tow truck, and gives me a number for a mechanic in Kerrville. I call the mechanic. He sounds like the guy from the cartoon series King of the Hill. Hank Hill. You gotta like Hank Hill.
I've broken down in strange towns before. At a certain stage in your life, you've done almost everything before.
It's raining pretty hard now. The tow truck finally comes, and the young driver puts the van, looking small and fragile at this point, on the back. It reminds me of what the first space capsules looked like. You look at 'em and go really? Seriously? You went into space in that thing?
We get to chatting on the ride back into Kerrville. He's lived there his whole life. Been to Colorado once on a ski trip. We talk about football. I tell him Kerrville looks like a real nice place to live, and I mean it. It reminds me of a song that Gary Smalley wrote that has the line "everyone's got to be from somewhere, and it might as well be here".
The tow truck driver drops me and the van at the mechanic shop. The rain has let up. I go in and talk to the guy in the office. Hank Hill has gone to lunch. I fill out some papers, then go wander the streets for a while.
It's a quaint little town, with galleries and cafes and such.
I call Kenneth Dunn... booking agent, record company entrepreneur and the guy who I was bringing the herbal gift for. He's booked a show for me in Houston day after tomorrow. I tell him what's going on. He says to keep him posted, don't worry. I call Ed Starkey, the bass player I work with in Houston. He tells me I've broken down in the garden spot of Texas. If need be, he'll come get me and the gear.
I walk back to the mechanic shop. I wait. I read magazines. About guns and hunting and mechanical man stuff. Finally, the mechanic comes back from lunch. He even looks kinda like Hank Hill. Everybody in the shop could be a character from King of the Hill. I love a good cartoon. Especially if I'm in it.
In these situations, you wait, you hang out, you wait, you shoot the breeze. Finally they get a bay open for the van. They run this diagnostic and that. Finally, Hank Hill figures out that it's not getting any fuel. He tries this, and he tries that. Eventually he figures out it's the fuel pump.
He calls around, and actually locates a fuel pump for an '83 Toyota in Kerrville, Texas. With that occurrence alone, I could make a reasonable argument that there is indeed a God.
But the fuel pump ain't cheap. He shows me the price. It's hundreds of dollars installed. Turns out my van is the first year Toyota went to the electronic fuel pump. Hank Hill actually feels bad about how expensive it is. Do I wanna fix it or not?
I ponder briefly. A friend gave me the van years ago when I helped clean out the belongings of her recently deceased father. None of the heirs wanted it. They wanted the classic Cadillac. It has served me loyally and well through the years. The only major repair I ever had was the clutch. And my good friend and ex-neighbor Greg Snaer, who is a 'car guy', assures me the engines are legendary among car afficionados. With the new fuel pump, I will have put maybe a thousand bucks into it total. What am I gonna do... abandon it in Kerrville, Texas? Besides, I'm a grown up. I've got plastic. Yeah, let's fix it.
By this time, it's the end of the day. Hank Hill calls around and finds me the cheapest motel that isn't a total rat hole. Another mechanic gives me a ride to the motel, even points out where the best Mexican food is within walking distance. He tells me he owns an old Toyota pickup himself. Says he doesn't know how many miles are on his either. His has the old style manual fuel pump. They cost about twenty bucks.
I check into the motel, which is run by a nice family from India. The room is clean. The television works. The water in the shower is hot. I clean up, and walk across the street to the Mexican restaurant, which is in a strip mall.
I sit in the corner, looking at the other diners. Mostly couples, some older, some not. I'm definitely the stranger in town. I'm comfortable with the role. I finish my enchiladas, and leave a pretty generous tip. I live on tips myself, and try to keep the pump primed. I pay the bill, and walk out, forgetting my leather jacket, which is older than the van, at the table. It's cold when I get outside, and I realize I've left my jacket behind. I go back in, and the waitress has already brought it to the front for me.
I return to the motel, and turn on the television. There's a Spanish language game show on.
At this point, before I've even played my first gig, my budget is shot to hell.
Regardless, I sleep well.