Halfway House

Del Rio, Texas.  Studio 6 Motel


So I says to Seb, I says “Seb, it’s too damn cold out. Let’s stay another night.” Seb, ever the dutiful son, replies “Yes, Father. You almost always make the right choice.”


It’s noon. It’s about 4000 degrees below zero, not counting the wind chill. The skies are as dark and unpromising as a shriveled prostate. The hotel lobby beckons like Mary to her Immaculate Lover. Jesus, the front desk clerk, holds out a calloused hand and I cross his palm with 20 pieces of silver. He smirks in an unpleasant way that makes me decide not to accept him into my life. Then…


Remember Dorothy’s first tender, delicate steps into Munchkinland, like she had no shoes and was trying to avoid stepping on glass, amazed and agog at the transition to colour and calm? Well, as soon as I committed to another night in Del Rio, our house landed in Oz: the skies cleared, the wind abated, and I walked back to the room feeling bitter and cheated, no longer able to blame our profound inactivity on external cosmic forces. So I blamed it on Seb, pretending he needed more rest. You do what you have to do.


That was two days ago. Like crash-test dummies hitting a brick wall, let’s move forward.


When we FINALLY got back on the road, the sun was shining, the thermostat was, technically, above freezing, and the headwind greeted us like a fat, bearded, Italian mother smothering us in her embrace. We were so glad to be on the road again, we hugged her right back, heads bowed, breathing hard through our mouths, embracing huge tracts of land.


60 miles later we started looking for a place to camp. Two things they’ve got a lot of in Texas: guns and fences. The little back road we were on, with a pickup passing us every 20 minutes, had miles and miles of creepily-perfect, barbwire fence on either side, about ten feet off the road. I’m not sure what they were trying to keep in or out, but it was pretty weird. I kept looking for a gap or a break to sneak through to camp, but noooo. It was beginning to look like we’d have to pitch our tent six inches from the road.


The terrain was transitioning from desert to scrubland, but it remained barren country, with 50 mile stretches between towns, and the few residences along the way all, and I mean all, had locked gates (btw, over half the homes were for sale – maybe, right before the downturn, they mortgaged their houses to buy fencing).  


In the end a little dirt road finally appeared on the right, the first in over twenty miles, and we wandered down it – impeccably fenced on both sides – until we found a spot SEVEN inches from the road and pitched our tent. Suddenly pickups every 20 minutes on the “main” road turned into pickups every 30 seconds on the little dirt road. And I’ll tell you, lying that close to the road when the Friday night boys come back from the bar and fly past you in their trucks requires a conscious act of faith, or resolution, or surrendering to a higher power – instant Christian, just add fear. It’s really loud, and really twitchy when 21” tires pass seven inches from your toes at 70 mph. I kept worrying that they’d stop and call us out - good thing I don’t have a pretty mouth.


Today has been pretty special. We rose at dawn, still intact, observed with bemusement the tire tracks running over the cords of our tent fly, and got the show on the road. When they say “hill country”, they’re not kidding. Some of the climbs were suspiciously close to “mountain country” – or maybe, since everything’s bigger in Texas, their hills are our mountains.


We were just beginning another 1000-foot “hill” climb when a bit of magic took place: it was later afternoon, with the forecast calling for the first serious all-night rain of our trip, and we were going to camp in the state park, when a lady in a pickup pulled alongside and asked us if we needed a place to stay for the night (those select few of you with your minds in the gutter, please elevate them from the muck). Five minutes later we were in a beautiful cabin, safe from the elements, awed, amazed, and a touch disconcerted at our good luck. As I write this from the kitchen table, mug of coffee at my side, Seb is cozied up on the couch watching The Lord of the Rings on DVD – not the evening we had anticipated.


Our benefactress is a true Good Samaritan, with no apparent ulterior motive. If I survive the night, I’m going to be a better person tomorrow. The rotting smell under the floorboards isn’t worrisome. I mean, you wouldn’t store bodies under the Killing Cabin itself, would you?

When you're sleeping in a cabin with the above wall hanging, and you've been lured to this cabin by a sweet lady with offers of candy and dry sheets, should you be concerned?

It’s the morning of the day after exposure to an extraordinary Act of Kindness. Seb and I were not:


-      murdered in our beds

-      tortured first, then murdered in our beds

-      joined in our beds by person or persons unknown

-      joined in our beds by animal or animals unknown

-      drugged in our sleep, then woken up, then forced, but not very hard cuz we were drugged, to take part in Heathen, Pagan, Christian, or Atheistic rituals


It’s 8 am. Seb is still sleeping, so I guess some of the above could still happen to him. For me, just substitute “kitchen table” for “bed” – I’m trying to stay open to possibilities…


If we follow the dirt road outside our cabin for a couple of miles, we arrive in Utopia. Texas. For real. A small town with, according to Rosalie L. Bomer (whoever she is – I’m getting this from a binder in the cabin) “lush rolling hills, clear sparkling springs, and deep clean refreshing rivers.” Beside my bed is a book called Golf’s Sacred Journey – Seven Days at the Links of Utopia. It’s a fictionalized account of the serendipitous meeting of a struggling PGA pro and a 60-something year old rancher at the genuine, minimalist nine-hole course in Utopia. In a week, the older man shows the younger man the true meaning of life and the younger man goes on to win his next golf tournament but, because he now knows the true meaning of life, it doesn’t matter so much anymore.


I was kinda joking about falling through the rabbit hole at the hostel in Marathon. I’m not so sure I’m joking about this place. For those of us solidly anchored in our comfort zones, there’s an uncomfortably authentic feel of differentness. Not bad. Different. Pass me the pitcher…