Bothered by the culture of the Interstate and wanting a straight shot into Austin, I left I-40 in Amarillo, TX for the US Highway System. US-287 to Childress, US-83 to Abilene, US-84 to Brownwood, and then US-183 into Austin. I stopped in lots of small towns in various states of disrepair. Maybe if these places were on the Interstate, they could throw up a Love’s and a McDonalds, a Shell Station, perhaps an outlet mall, and stabilize their local economy. They could knock down all the windowless old buildings and become another echo of suburbia that every business traveler or tourist family could feel comfortable and confident stopping in for a meal, a fill-up and a coffee. There’s something beautiful and real about these broken old towns, and I understand that this leftover beauty may be the flipside of the poverty coin. These towns are vacant. The streets are wide and sparsely populated with bodies. In the case of Anson, TX, cut through by US Highway 287, the “town square” is ghost of more prosperous times. You can feel what it might have been like, walking past the line outside the Palace Theatre or running an errand to city hall. I felt a little strange running around like a crazed tourist, a foreigner photographing the ruins of these places as the locals looked on.
Are the residents of tourist traps and truckstop towns “better off” than those of the towns a little off the map? Maybe so financially, but in general, I tend to think not. Something is lost by superimposing the hard capitalist idealism of American culture onto a unique place. Along the Interstate, you are led into the fantasy that there is one culture that represents America. You might get Dunkin Donuts in the east and Waffle Houses in the west, but generally you can expect a hegemonic experience, without surprises or randomness. One of my favorite experiences of being on the road so far was stopping in Claude, TX to stretch my legs and walk around. On my way to the car, I stopped inside Mighty’s for a fresh-squeezed lemonade (their specialty.) There was nothing scary or weird about it. There were no billboards telling me what to expect in Claude. But it was really good lemonade served to me by a friendly local. It’s the kind of thing that 7-11 doesn’t want you to believe in, and it’s a double-edged sword that 7-11 doesn’t necessarily need to set up business across the street from Mighty’s. (There’s a really cool broken-down service station right across the street that looks like it hasn’t been touched since the 70s.)
I’m in Austin now, wandering around the University of Texas area in the rain. I played a show in Houston at Notsuoh (read that a few times to get the cleverness of the venue’s name) last night with Hotel Hotel. It was good to get on a stage. I’ve been getting into work mode again, trying to set up some dates in cities on the way home. Maybe something will pull through. I have plenty of time until Milwaukee.
The guys from Hotel Hotel have been really cool. Pablo is excellent at vegan baking so I’ve had good food to snack on hanging out at their house, especially with my recent experimentation with vegetarianism. We’re going to see Salesman tonight, then I gotta figure out what the hell I’m doing with the rest of my trip. I just crunched my numbers and I’m a little over-budget, not because I’m overspending, but because I think I started out with less money than I planned on.