The Stars at Night Are Big and Bright
7 May 2008
El Paso, TX—
I took one for the team tonight, folks. With apologies to the citizens of El Paso, their city is merely a stop on this trip, not a destination, so I didn’t bake in time to research local cuisine. I did get a very specific recommendation from Austin’s own Scott Sims about a good Tex-Mex place less than a mile from my hotel. But by the time I checked in, I couldn’t bring myself to get back in the car, and this unfortunately just isn’t a walkin’ part of town. So, in the interest of having time to write about today’s events, work on a little something for Mother’s Day, and maybe even get to bed at a reasonable hour, I took the path of least (edible) resistance: I strolled scowling into the Chili’s restaurant across the parking lot.
Chili’s welcomed me as only Chili’s could—with splatters of vomit on the sidewalk, a bartender whose laugh could cut glass, a flirty hostess who failed to seduce this taken man, and a TV with unreadable all-caps serif captioning. Oh, and the “food.” But I did it for you. This trip is a big deal to me, and it’s very encouraging to know that people are enjoying following along at home. It helps me not only document the trip, but also feel less isolated on the road. So keep those e-mails coming. Even if I’m not able to respond to them all, they are all very appreciated, and they all contribute to what’s making this trip worthwhile.
Anyway, that was all just a long way of saying that I ate some crap food to expedite today’s post, whose actual content is shorter than its introduction. I should go into politics.
Much like yesterday, the majority of the day was spent on I-10. Unlike yesterday, I was not in a rush to get where I was going, partly because of the aforementioned stop vs. destination thing, and partly because I found my surroundings so interesting.
Leading up to I-10, I did a good stretch on 290, which led me through a handful of tiny towns and about a million peach orchards. The amount of ground I’m covering on this trip doesn’t give me much chance to get off the interstates and get a taste of people’s day-to-day lives in the locales I’m traveling through, and it was great to get a closer look into the fishbowl, especially in an area whose geography alone requires its inhabitants to live very differently than the way I do. Though it slowed me down a bit, it was a nice change of pace and scenery.
Once I did get back on I-10, the remainder of the day was spent hurtling through sun-baked desolation. It’s quite humbling to drive for hours at a time being able to see for miles in every direction but still seeing little evidence of civilization beyond the road you’re on and the vehicles sharing it with you. Recognizing that humility at 80 miles per hour with a device in my pocket containing music from every continent and up-to-the-minute communication with friends half a world away gave me a new appreciation for the profound achievement of the generations of frontierspeople that made a trip like this possible. I’ve got Michael Jackson and Google Maps at my fingertips; they didn’t even have a road. (I would not have made a good frontiersman. I got a sunburn today from indirect sunlight. Think about it.)
When I crossed into El Paso County and actual communities started popping up, I almost had to scoff. How pedestrian, this “settled land.” After hundreds of miles of plains, desert, and mountains, the billboards and buildings were sudden and disquieting. So I guess that Chili’s thing is what you call irony.