deep in the heart of texas i received blessing on the following theory: the texan is a parisian turned inside out

the texan, who is always under the sun, develops tough skin and very hard exterior. unlike the parisian, who sits inside, in cafes, and talks. paris is a soft city and there is no longer a reason to get roughed up. but because parisians are always inside and talking they are exposed to many things of the heart. parisians are very curious. and so the parisian heart becomes hard. the texan, by contrast, who is tough, talks to no one and so has an innocent and child-like heart (albeit still violent). but the texan has a hard skin from all the shoveling and dust and the wind. .

i hitch hiked from Austin over to Mason, Texas to see a 2m long bullsnake and enough bullets to kill the state of New York.

eric speaks as much english as i speak spanish so i'm able to gather a few details. he's on his way to Brady to see his girlfriend, who he visits each weekend. he works in austin, about a 45 minute drive away, doing construction and landscaping. he's a nice guy and has an A tattood on the back of his hand and two dots. his parents live in southern mexico and he's been in texas for a while now. he makes enough money to send some hundred bucks or so to his family each month and he visits them a couple times a year if he can, but definitely at least once each year. at first i thought he was pissed off then i realize he's sad. he's 17 and he has a kick ass stereo.

vic has mixed feelings about vietnam and he tells me some stories about his girlfriend, too. she has a car that has, effectively, broken down because the air conditioner stopped conditioning. so, effectively, she can't drive it in this fucking heat. it's hot but i think she must be a bit of a princess. fortunately for her dennis owns a repair shop in some town i've never heard of near here. so he's got her car for the weekend while she drives his air conditioned set of wheels. after all, as he puts it, "Nobody should have to live in Texas without air conditioning."

vic was born in Phoenix Arizona. before he went to Vietnam the view from his mother's house was rolling hills. now it's all houses. he couldn't recognize it when he got back.

his name will be easy to remember since he has it tatooed on his right shoulder. he has thick glasses.

the doctor, is 77 years old now. he drives a nice car and has a little pin for his blue silk tie. he came from Shrevesport Louisiana and moved to Llano 40 years ago. he doesn't like the development, he doesn't like the lawyers but he sure likes to talk.

he dropped me off in the middle of fucking nowhere.

.. and so i start walking. the road has become a one-lane highway now and there are no cars whatsoever. i walk over one hill and through a valley and up a curved hillside again and i'm thinking, "If i make it to that part about a mile ahead where the asphalt changes color i think that will be some symbol that i'm not doing well." and i don't really know if it is the hot texas sun that made me say a thing like that or if it was, in fact, the case and that hillside WAS some weird symbol.

i walk.

and no cars come by and it is silent save for the wind and an occasional hacking or screaming from the birds.

and i walk past the holsteins that slowly stare.

and the sky seems oppressive and big and somehow heavy in its infinite span. but it isnt desert. the countryside along the road is lush. more like the south. puffy reeds like cat-tails, creeks and streams, another crushed armadillo, and an occasional budweiser can has been thrown far enough off the shoulder that nobody's noticed it and its turning white under the sun.

i keep walking and i'm getting thirsty and my throat is the thing that's most bothersome, being dry like it is and i'm such a damn fool that i set out on this excusion not realizing the distance and i don't have any water and i'm probably going to die out here.

i hear an engine coming so i wait until they're a good long ways off then make a production about turning around too early and sticking my arm out long before they get close as a sign of polite desperation.

they keep on going and i keep on walking.

cactus flowers are green and spongy and if you're thirsty enough they look downright appetizing, so i pull out my pocketknife and slice a head off and avoid the big spikes and keep walking. i'm careful to peel it cause they have little spines too that you can't really see and those are the ones to be avoided.

it tastes like a strange lime or prune but its moist inside. moist enough so you think "okay, my system can put this water to use even if i'm not drinking anything." its only about half as wet as an apple.

three more cars are coming. i stand on the side, again prematurely, and take a polite stance, arm out, thumb up, walking backwards. i have a white buttoned shirt on and blue jeans and so i look texan enough to be local. maybe. but it doesnt matter since the RV that had room for 20 in the back, the guy with the pick-up truck that was empty in the back, the SUV hauling a boat behind it (i've never ridden in a boat on the highway and i'd be glad to do so now) and the mutherfuckers dont even slow down or so much as wave.

the sun is a nuclear orange stabbing through trees along the horizon. hitching after dark is a nightmare i figure i've walked about 9 miles since i walk about 3 miles an hour and it was three handspans from the sun to the horizon when the doctor let me out (in north america a handspan is worth about an hour). but the sun is setting and if its dark and i'm out here in the middle of it i'm going to have one helluva night to remember.

i'm still walking as i think this and a huge hog or some sort of wild pig starts gruffing around in the bushes on the other side of the road. i about pee myself to hear a real hog at sunset in texas runphing around in the manzanitas or whatever the hell tree it is. but he's making a lot more noises than i'd expected and its clear that their coming from large vocal cords.

another 30 minutes go by and the headlights come on.

i keep walking and i see my next ride coming, but from the opposite direction.


yes, and the part that hurts the most is waiting for it to happen. he drives towards me, i pretend not to notice more than a sane, normal texan would; a casual glance and i return to the ground in front of my toes, walking, like its normal even though there arent even any cars on the road, let alone Walkers somewhere between Llano and Mason, Texas.

he drives past me and i hear the engine slowly decelerating. a fucking texas cop. i'm jailbound. but sleeping in a cell is probably better than sleeping with 500-pound pigs in the bushes with the cactus. but maybe not since the company in the Llano county jail will not be nice fuck fuck fucking pioneers never had to deal with cops. i'd rather deal with anything than a cop.

so i get asked a lot of questions by the skinny cop and his Ride-Along Buddy that's dressed in jeans and t-shirt. i answer appropriately and they're checking my california drivers license. they look at my passport too and notice i was in the middle east but don't ask me about that. we wait in an imbalanced silence. the cop comes back and the Ride-Along Buddy asks me,

"So how are you gettin around? Just walkin? You're walkin to Mason?"

"well, i'm hitch-hiking."

the cop looks at me and says, "That's what I thought you might have been doing."

"well, it's a bit far to walk," i point out, hoping that it makes enough sense that they won't arrest me even though we all know that it's illegal to hitch pretty much everywhere in texas except in your own driveway.

the cop is biting his lower lip and walks back to the car. i don't know what to make of that move.

"Isn't that hazardous to your health?" the Ride-Along Buddy asks me.

it's such a stupid way to make such a stupid point i act like i don't understand and say, "how so?"

"Well, there's alot of crazies out there."

ten minutes later we're in the car and i'm in the back seat. the cop has changed the tide. he's offered to give me a ride to the mason county line, which is about half the distance i have left to travel - about 20 miles total. it means two things. first, i'm going to be closer to mason, but second it means that i'll be hitching in the dark or walking another half dozens leagues through a scruboak saturday night highway in the bigsky country.

but he's a cop and he wants me out of his county and he's being nice so i say thanks.

Ride-Along Buddy looks at me with one eye through the grate and asks me if i was nervous in the middle east, with all the arabs.

i tell him, no, i wasn't really nervous.

"But don't you get a little nervous catching rides with people?"

"frankly, this is the first time i've been nervous riding in a car in some time." jumps out of my fat mouth and i realize that this was a stupid thing to say since they wouldn't take it as 'you guys make me nervous because you have guns and lock people up' but would instead hear, 'because i'm a criminal and you haven't found out yet.' after all, nobody thinks of themself as a criminal. but we all are.

the cop stiffens and asks, "why's that?"

i answer, honestly, "well because i'm locked in back here and i usually have a habit of keeping one door open in case i have to get out fast. and i always have my bag with me but now its in the trunk."

they seem satisfied with the answer but i follow it with "at least i'm sure the car won't break down, hey, is that a video camera you have under your rear view mirror?"

the cop gets on his radio and i hear him asking what units are free. i'm wondering if my chances of getting a ride are improving.

"Yeah, Hi Bob. I have a... subject here that I'll be dropping off at the county line. I've run a ten twenty-seven and a twenty-nine. He's headed for Mason. Six feet, white shirt, carrying a black bag. Can you sixty-nine that?"

sounds like he's setting up my next ride.

the sun has set now and the outside world is becoming a greyish tunnel broken bone blur outside. the Llano county line rises up in the headlights and they pull over and just as simple as unlocking handcuffs, let me out of the car and drive away.

and i realize how silent it is again, out in the middle of the heart of texas. just some chirping crickets and the stars humming overhead.

... and so i start walking.

in some confidence that i'll be bailed out of this. because here comes a car in the wrong direction - the direction i'm coming from - and augh how i hate having car headlights come at me - and i stick the thumb out and look humble and they pass and i keep walking since i aint got much else better to do. they have a boat in tow, too. rich and scared.

the cop cruiser comes up from ahead, pulls over to his right, does a u-turn and i stand on the side of the highway (in his brights) while he drives the bumper up to my knees. why is it that both cops that will both give me rides today do u-turns for me? something seems fragile.

he's not as skinny as the Llano county cop, but a lot nicer.

"You don't have any weapons in your bag do you?"

"no, officer." i'm still kissin ass cause i don't know when this could backflash or what might happen next even though i think i'm out of the clear and actually glad to see this guy.

"Let's get you into town then. Where you headed?"

and so begins our rather enjoyable conversation that lasts for the 10 or so miles into Mason.

Deputy Fischer has been through some rough times. he has a wife and two kids and was just transferred from the county next door. he doesn't mind the graveyard shift since everyone has to do it - they rotate their shifts - but he's hoping to make more money and see a little less of the druggies around. "..he was in the act of domestic violence when I arrived at the scene. He was so high on drugs that he ran at me before I had even exited the vehicle and we were engaged in manual combat for the following ten minutes. It took ten minutes and I held that guy off. When my support arrived he was on the ground in cuffs."

Deputy Fischer lets me out in front of Mason's local 7-Eleven, "Country Corner" or something like that. he suggests a good restaurant just over there. a mexican restaurant.

i have to thank Deputy Fischer and his compatriot from Llano county. they save me a lot of walking and behaved like reasonable human beings.

while in mason i eat chicken fried steak and can only finish about a third of it. the fries are almost as good as they are in Holland.

i stay with some friends and they show me their little grain dispenser that drops corn on the ground every day, for five minutes, at 2pm. down the way they have a green tower that you can sit in to shoot the deer when they come to feed. they're cleaning up their property, they tell me, returning it to the state it was in in 1850, before the germans arrived.

several days later i help Glen Marshall, one of the great knifemakers of the world, translate a review that has been written on his handiwork. the cozy and complimentary review will read a little strange for him. the following day i watch expensive jewelry - tiny, refined slabs of gold and pearl and silver - trade hands on a dining room table in a kitchen deep in the heart of texas.