I would stop short of labelling the ride back to Kendalia from Comfort, “breathtaking,” but I would have to tip my hat to anyone who needed the affirmation that it was, “a pretty ride.” If I wore a hat, or had to.
For most of the folks who live around these parts, this ride is what makes the Texas Hill Country a piece of heaven. Most of them will never know the ride from Cambria to Carmel, or Point Lobos, or the Old Coast Highway – and I would do my best to never tell them. We could leave such revelations to the shills operating out of the Chamber of Commerces’ from the greater Monterey Bay area, but all they seem interested in doing these days is selling the whole goddamn county to any idiot with a checkbook. “Henry Miller” this, “John Steinbeck” that and let’s not forget about “Robert Louis Stevenson,” or “Robinson Jeffers.” “Peter Gabriel took a big steaming dump right over there behind that tree, and, look, we have it on the monitor from Roseanna Arquette’s personal home video collection! See? The steam of a wintry morning in the Santa Lucia mountains can still be seen rising up from the angel Gabriel’s very feces!”
At least these folks living along this drive back to Kendalia are in no danger of having the evidence of their bodily urgencies captured forever and displayed among the holy relics of their childhood. Such are the blessings of anonymity and the comfort of the slightly above average.
Or so I thought.
I’m not exactly certain what compulsion to understand, investigate or comprehend the nature of a boarded up farmhouse overcame me, but it did. I lost track of time and purpose, forgot who might be waiting for my return back to Kendalia, and let questions overtake my mind.
Why board up the windows of a farmhouse in the middle of the Texas Hill Country? Did the Hauser’s make so much money from the Lottery that they no longer cared if they sold their property? Did someone try to set the place on fire? Surely no one in this peaceful place tried to throw rocks into the windows. Not even at their most drunk would any self-respecting Texan be seen destroying someone else’s private property. Not in full view of the local road, at least! What would the neighbors think when they saw a pickup truck parked nearby?
So I went to the garage and pulled back the creaking wood of an old fashioned barn door by a rope that also controlled a latch. There was never any fear of invasion here, save from the wind. Not able to pull anything by a rope, the wind could only push. Sometimes it pushed through a hole in the roof, forcing the large door to swing open, eventually requiring the latch. A spot of light in the middle of the dirt of the garage floor betrayed dust dancing and climbing up through the light, resting a while on the rafters before making a final decision to remain heavy and earthbound, or light and able to travel on.
With the garage barn door open I could make out the silhouette of a crowbar. Nearly new, the hunk of iron smelled not of rust but of purpose. And with purpose I would expose the damage done by the unneighborly, by those souls too jealous to appreciate the beauty of comity, or the sacred inconspicuousness of the way things have always been.
Prying plywood from sash with a squeal, I could see that no fire had touched this house, nor the work of any vandal. There could be some comfort in the purpose that drove me to see the fruit of my labor, to expose the core beneath a skin tightly nailed to a body. No one had scarred what was both landmark and reassurance of landmark.
But nothing of difference could be seen. All the furniture had been left in place, uncovered – as if someone had fully expected a family to return home for dinner, someday, to wash the dishes left in the sink or straighten the throw rug laying slightly off center, an end left upturned. Pressing my hands closer to the glass to hide the glare, I could see the tell-tale evidence of spiders spinning webs to trap dust and visitors. No matter how wide and comprehensive the web, the inside had been sealed from what lay just outside quite some time ago. Only the brush and whip of the wind animated the scene, sending a chill up my back and reminding me that my place was not here, my place was somewhere else – with Aunt Grace, perhaps. Falling back in disbelief, I dropped the crowbar to the porch with a ring and trotted back to my convertible to head back towards Kendalia.
A tightness in my neck occurred to me as I pressed down on the accelerator in the apex of each corner, squeezing time and speed into a slingshot that might quicken my pace. As I passed another farmhouse, this time on the left, I let the bleached, abandoned appearance of plywood over sash fly past my awareness, leaving raised pores only on that side of my body. Perhaps I was finally hungry. Aunt Gracie’s biscuits and Senator Russell sweet potatoes would suit me just fine right about now.
Alas, that was not to be. Just as surely as my mind began to work on not recognizing the familiar in the midst of the recognizable, a sheriff’s patrol appeared in my rear view mirror, lights ablaze – obviously this deputy of the law had caught himself a drug dealer, a crystal meth lab proprietor, or – given my pace – an armed robbery suspect. I pulled over at the nearest gate entrance since there really wasn’t much of a shoulder anywhere on this part of the road.
The sheriff approached my fancy little convertible with suspicious caution, hand on his holster. “how are you doing today,” the sheriff asked, mechanically, as he scanned the entire interior of my car.
“I thought pretty good, but just a second…” The sheriff cut me off in mid-sentence.
”I caught you on radar doing 70 back in those corners…” there was a look of deadness in this man’s eyes. He couldn’t care less how I felt about anything or how my day was going or what I was trying to understand about the tightness in my neck. In fact, his abrupt tone and disposition was almost provocative, almost but not quite a request to, “make his day.” He and too many other officers were competing for what few remaining speeders were left in the hills; no armed revolutionaries around here, even though there was enough firepower strapped around the officer’s waist to stand his ground while calling for backup. In the absence of drama an Officer of Drama will manufacture some. “you got somewhere you need to get to in a hurry? I mean, we caught you checkin’ out the Hauser property – clearly marked do not trespass – you got something you’re a-hidin’, boy?”
I may be many things to many people, but “boy” was an affectation I thought these parts reserved for black men traveling alone. I mustered up a show of respect, “no, sir. Just tryin’ to get back to Gracie’s house before everything gets cold.”
The sheriff just kept staring at me through his mirrored sunglasses expecting to see signs of a criminally guilty conscience. As he rolled the toothpick in his mouth from one side to the other, he uttered, “license and proof of insurance.”
I fumbled for a moment while he caressed his holster – again. I provided Officer Drama my paperwork, my proof that I understood that being able to drive anywhere, including to work, was a privilege, not a right. Shame on me for forgetting the fact that rules are rules and no one is above the law. As Officer Drama took my license and proof of insurance he turned, the black leather belt and holster creaking like a new saddle on an old trail horse. Plodding and creaking back to his patrol car, I wondered if law enforcement might have finally uncovered my plans to pull Trisha Vanallen’s hair right before recess in the fourth grade, or my successful felony career as the petty thief who stole 35 cents out of Miss Margaret’s center desk drawer in the second. Whatever my crimes, it is certain that Officer Drama would uncover them, turning me over to a criminal justice system that takes pride in its role as both protector from, and purveyor of, the fine crimes on which it feeds. Always nice to know that no matter what, the existence of Wackenhut guarantees one and all a place of stable employment, shelter and food.
Personally, I would much rather serve a higher authority, if Officer Drama and the army pushing him out on stage would allow it to be so.
[…to be continued…]