Friday, November 18, 2005

Comanche, Texas

Friends: The clots of populace on route 67 have thickened enough that I'm being re-introduced to the stop light, a device I hadn't encountered for over 400 miles. Wal-Marts have begun popping up again, not that I could easily forget them, as the highways are amok with their trucks advertising they are hauling goods for less. And trees are once again appearing, sometimes in clusters that could be considered a forest, the first I've seen other than in towns or around ranch houses in over a thousand miles across the Mojave desert and Arizona and New Mexico and the western half of Texas. They aren't as majestic as the pines of California that awaited me once I climbed out of the deserts of Nevada, but they are most welcome greenery.

The highway at times is even widening to four lanes, which isn't wholly necessary. But they are an indicator of development and the roadkill plummets in such areas. There have been stretches that have been corridors of death akin to a war zone with carcasses so frequent there is a perpetual stench in the air of putrefying flesh. The deer in particular, in these parts, aren't well-educated at all. I've seen them in broad daylight dart across the road without abiding by that dictum drilled into every first-grader to "stop, look and listen" before crossing the street. They are usually in groups of two or three and if one goes the others blindly follow.

Deer aren't the only casualties along the roadside, but their numbers are far greater than the combined totals of all else--skunks, rabbits, coyotes, armadillos, various feathered creatures, cats, dogs and jackalopes. One fifty-mile stretch was in a class by itself for roadkill. And I contributed to it myself.

As I neared a town, my eye was suddenly caught by a big black evil mutt of a creature bolting out of a farmyard as if shot out of a cannon off to my left on the opposite side of the road. His ears and tail were flying parallel to the ground and he wasn't barking, always a bad sign. He was charging with an all-out fury and determination such as I've rarely seen, as if I were dogdom's devil incarnate, responsible for centuries of whatever woe could possibly be the dog's lot.

I accelerated to what passes for an all-out sprint on a fully-loaded touring bike. I didn't know if my survival instinct could summon a surge of energy to outrun this ferocious critter. I quickly glanced over my shoulder to see if there might be a vehicle coming from behind to provide interference. No such luck. As I looked up I noticed an 18-wheeler barreling towards us at full speed. It had a chance to be my potential savior.

For you dog lover's out there I'll say I was rooting for the truck to cut him off. But for all you bicyclists and delivery personnel and others who have been terrorized by crazed territorial canines, I will say I was exhorting that trucker with all my might, "Come on, come on, get 'em, get 'em." This could be life or death for either of us. As the three of us converged, with only I continuing at a pell-mell pace, I could see the other two slam on their brakes, the dog's feet flying out from under him as he entered the road-way. I caught the whiff of the trucker's brakes being applied, but the scene was surprisingly noiseless. There was no sound of screeching brakes or yelping. As I looked back over my shoulder I saw the upraised legs of a dog-no-more. I looked back several more times to see if its master came rushing to the rescue, but there was no motion to the scene, not even a quiver from the dog. I felt as if I had been saved, but tried not to celebrate.

In all these miles only once have I encountered someone who couldn't direct me to the local library, a guy working road construction in Nevada who exclaimed, "Do I look as if I'd know where the library is." But yesterday I had to ask twice to find the library in Ballinger as I didn't think I'd been correctly directed. But lo and behold, the stately, two-story, columned building that I had mistaken for a church was the library. It was one of 32 Carnegie-funded libraries built in Texas in the early 1900s. Only twelve other remain.

Ironically, it was presided over by the orneriest, least-likely looking librarian I have ever encountered, a pot-bellied Bubba of a fellow who might have been a part-time or former sheriff. He was sitting in an office with his feet propped up on his desk talking on the telephone. As I approached him to ask about the Internet, I heard him say, "I've got to go. I've got a situation to deal with."

When I asked to use the Internet he wanted to know if I had a library card. "Not to this library," I said.

"Well, I'll let you use it but no chat rooms and no pornography."

Half an hour later after, I'd barely settled, in he kicked me off, saying there were others waiting to use the computer even though there was no one else in the library.

My second library for the day was the first I've encountered that didn't have computers. They had an annex with computers but it wasn't open.

Despite the lack of a favorable wind the past three days, I'm within 150 miles of Dallas, so I ought to arrive at Mike and Jill's Saturday before dark in plenty of time to watch the Bears game Sunday and get a taste of Dallas before my Monday train. Just one more night in my tent. I'm already growing nostalgic over the memories of the past two months and 4,000 miles, but also looking forward to the next venture, wherever it may be.

Later, George

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