Tuesday, March 18, 2003                       Odessa, TX to Clovis, NM

By the time I got on the road, the previous night's rains had all but evaporated, leaving behind only a cold front. The chill discouraged me from bicycling. Besides, my vacation time was running out and I had many counties to visit. First, I drove through Odessa and neighboring Midland.

This colorful mural caught my eye in Odessa.

Midland's Greyhound station featured this classic sign.

I drove a bit north then way south collecting counties, and  four hours later I found myself in Big Spring. I was hungry for some good Texas barbecue, and Al's & Son did not disappoint.

Al's & Son Bar-B-Q was excellent.

After a satisfying lunch, I headed north into the panhandle region. Ranch Road 669 took me to Gail. I have fond memories of Gail from my cross-country ride in 2002. Oddly enough, I remember Gail not for what happened there, but because nothing happened there. It was Easter Sunday, and the town was virtually deserted. Ever since, whenever I was feeling restless and couldn't sleep, I would picture myself back there in Gail, in complete solitude on a sunny spring day. It worked most of the time. For a photo tour of Gail from that trip, click here.

Gail wasn't much more active this Tuesday than it had been on Easter a year earlier. A couple stores were open, but the streets were quiet. After briefly reminiscing, I continued north toward Post.

Here in the panhandle, driveways went on forever.

I imagined Great Pyrenees running around with frightened Chihuahuas underfoot.

Just north of Post on US 84, a pick-up pulled alongside me. The passenger made a circle with his hands. I cluelessly assumed that he was noting the bicycle tires in my backseat. It was only a mile later that I realized that maybe he was trying to tell me I had a flat tire.

I pulled over onto the shoulder, and sure enough, my right rear was flat. No sweat, I thought. Since this is a rental car, they'll take care of it for me. I called Alamo and learned that this was not the case. I was responsible for anything that could be attributed to a road hazard. I was given three options. I could change the tire and drive back to Chicago, but that meant I would have to drive 55 mph on the space-saver spare. The best option was to change the tire, get the flat fixed and request reimbursement from Alamo. Reimbursement was not their policy, but the operator would make a note since I was " a good customer" (actually, it was my first rental ever from Alamo). The most ridiculous idea was to change the tire and drive to their location at  Lubbock International Airport where I could exchange my car for another. Alamo would still have to fix the tire anyway, so why hassle with putting me in a different car? Besides, I didn't want to pack up and move everything to another car just because of a flat tire. When I later  told this story to a Hertz service rep, he was amazed. He said that if I had rented from Hertz, they would have sent someone out to fix it for me on the spot for free.

I emptied a bunch of stuff out of the trunk to access the space-saver spare tire. I hadn't had a flat on a car in at least ten years, but I did okay changing it. The next town was Slaton, and I got off US 84 to try my luck getting the tire fixed. It was 4:30 PM, so I got there just in time, while businesses were still open. I found a small garage run by two men. This was the first time I watched  a pro repair a tire. One man put the tire on a machine, and < wham-wham-wham> popped it off the wheel. He patched the hole, then < wham-wham-wham> popped the tire back into the wheel. Then he jacked up the car, removed the space-saver and installed the fixed tire. It wasn't quite as fast as a NASCAR pit stop, but it was surprisingly quick and efficient.  When the other told me it would cost $8, I was so happy that it was so cheap (I wouldn't bother to seek reimbursement) that I gave  him $10. He said thanks and, glancing at the clock on the wall, told his partner that tonight they'd have beers on me. I was in and out of there in fifteen minutes.

With that little bump in the road out of the way, I drove west from Slaton, skirting the south side of Lubbock to avoid rush hour there. At least I didn't have to drive to the airport.

It was nearly sundown when I drove through Sundown, TX.

These fantastic clouds foretold of a rainy night's driving.

As the sun set, I remembered something else that I should have thought of back in Slaton--gas. I was running low, and more importantly, I was out in the middle of nowhere. I managed to nurse it into Littlefield, but barely. When I got back on US 84, it started to drizzle. I drove up to Muleshoe, then west into New Mexico. I added two more counties in that state before stopping at the Motel 6 in Clovis.

I wanted to head north to Colorado then east toward home, but the weather forecast for Wednesday was a Townes Van Zandt song: " Snowin' On Raton." There were also snowstorms over  the Great Plains.  Under those circumstances, I would be wiser to go east toward Arkansas  then north instead. I would have to be content collecting Texas and Oklahoma counties.

Artist of the Day: Robert Earl Keen, Jr. - I had three of his best CD's with me on this trip (Picnic, Gringo Honeymoon and Gravitational Forces), and I heard him a lot on the radio, too. As I chowed down on beef brisket during lunch at Al's & Son Bar-B-Q, I thought of   Keen's song " Barbeque" :

Barbeque sliced beef and bread
Ribs and sausage and a cold Big Red
Barbeque makes old ones feel young
Barbeque makes everybody someone
If you're feelin' puny and you don't know what to do
Treat yourself to some meat eat some barbeque

Then the jukebox played another  of his songs, " I'm Comin' Home." With just two more days remaining on my trip, the timing couldn't have been better.

Honorable Mention: The Gourds - These guys are in a class by themselves. Their own material is clever and irreverent. They do interesting versions of others' songs, too. Their cover of Snoop Dogg's " Gin & Juice" is the ultimate example of this--imagine hillbilly gangsta rap. The Gourds teamed up with Doug Sahm in 1998 for " Get A Life" on S.D.Q. '98.

Return to Texas 2003: Day By Day

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