July 8, 2014
The first part of this trip is a mad dash north then a week of family stuff before striking off on my own, so I didn't think there would be much of anything blog-worthy until later, but I guess I was wrong.
The mad dash part is because a family reunion camp-out is scheduled for the
weekend following the 4th of July holiday. In one form or another this is
something us cousins and our parents have been doing for well over half a
century now, but not being too keen on traveling during holiday weekends I held
off leaving until after the holiday rush had settled, which left me with just
enough time to make the 1300 mile run to the latest family gathering, a run that seems to get longer every
time I do it lately. The rest of the trip will
start after a weekend of visiting and campfires and stories and bragging and
genuine smiles and fake smiles and - well, all the other stuff you do during
infrequent get-together's with people with whom you have history.
I've lived in Texas for 33 years now, and the rest of the family doesn't, so
the 'quick' route in between is a familiar one, which is why, between that and
the forced march drive-by nature of the first few days, I didn't expect there
to be any blog material. I was wrong! At least in my own mind; you may feel I
was right in the first place and shouldn't have bothered but - well hell! It's
Back in 1981, by the time I'd been in Houston at my new job for a mere two
months, I had made the trip between Michigan and Texas or Texas and Michigan 7
times. Down and back by plane for the interview, down by truck to start my new
job, up and back by plane to just barely make it in time to attend my
daughter's birth then turn right around and get back to work, and finally up by
plane and right back down in my wife's car. (She and our one month old daughter
made the trip two days later by plane.)
Back then much of the 300 miles of US59 down through Texas was two lanes and
there were no bypass loops around the towns of Cleveland, Livingston, Lufkin,
or Texarkana, you just drove straight through town hitting every traffic light.
The first two times I drove it I didn't really pay much attention, I suppose
I had other things, like a brand new job and equally new child on my mind, (Oh
crap! I'm a dad!!) but I had plenty of opportunity to drive that route in the
years that followed and in those years, before I grew tired of the same road
over and over again, I developed a real connection with the places along the
way. Even after they started building bypasses around some of the towns, I
would forgo them and take the time to drive 30 miles per hour right down
through the middle of town. It was like a 10 minute windshield visit with an
And there were plenty of other familiar and strangely comforting places
along the way. The grandiose stone and mortar entryway to the Kingwood
development sitting there beside the
tracks just north of the San Jacinto river, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, guarding a little two-lane that meandered off onto the woods. The dipping S curve just south of
Shepard where the highway ducks, just barely, under the railroad tracks and the
county sheriff likes to hide just down and around the corner in the emergency
pull-out for over-height trucks. The old mobile home, tucked deep into the woods
there near Moscow that surely had some interesting stories to tell, if only I
could hear them more clearly. The ramshackle collection of old wood buildings,
more shacks than buildings really, strung out there along the east side of the
highway between Lufkin and Nacogdoches that billed itself as a flea-market but
looked more like an abandoned junk yard. Speaking of abandoned, there was the
old drive-in theater along that same stretch of road, The towering screen,
backside facing the highway so free-loaders couldn't park and sneak a peek,
sinking into the weeds but still struggling to stand tall. The narrowing of the
road into two lanes and a couple ditches as it twisted and snaked through the
swampy lands on either side of the Sulfur river.
But, familiarity breeds and all that, so after a while I tired of it and
explored other routes to get from here to there, lots of other routes, some of
which I've taken enough times since that I'd rather avoid them as well. But
I've given US59 a rest for quite a while and it's was time for a serious revisit.
Besides, it's the quickest way from here to there, even now that I live hours
west of Houston.
A lot has changed over the years, years that in some ways are strung out way
back there into the dim fog of the past yet in other ways seem to have gone by
in a flash and are so close on my heels I can reach back and touch them.
The wheels under my butt have ranged from Toyota pickup with homemade
tonneau cover and recently installed aftermarket air-conditioning (Something
you didn't normally get in a Michigan bought vehicle at the time), Carola
hatchback, 4 wheel drive Jimmy beast of a pickup with an Alaskan camper in the bed, Ford Ranger with
homemade hardtop, Ford F150 with homemade camper, homemade motorhome on an
Isuzu NPR chassis, Sportsmobile class B on a Ford E350 and now Sportsmobile
class B on a Mercedes Sprinter.
wrote about it here so won't bother revisiting that traumatic incident.
My daughter morphed from the preschool toddler who, despite the tears, on both their parts, so bravely pushed free of her mother's arms early one morning to spend her very first two week court mandated visitation taking a road trip with her dad, (And right about the time we were somewhere just north of Nacogdoches shocked the hell out of herself by accidentally swallowing a bead from the car-game she was playing with.) to a highly degreed professional woman living and working in Japan.
And then there's the road itself. The stretch just north of Houston going
from 4 lanes snaking through woods and a few dusty towns to 8 lanes of freeway
and 4 lanes of feeder-road lined with housing developments, big box stores, car
dealerships and shopping malls. The number of traffic lights and 4-way stops
along the 300 miles of East Texas woods drastically reduced by numerous
bypasses and fly-overs. Miles and miles of 2, 3, and sometimes even 4 lane
highway now buried under thick, clean ribbons of high speed concrete, feeder
roads and on-off ramps in anticipation of being turned into the NAFTA inspired
Kingwood, which used to be so far out I couldn't figure out who would
possibly want to live there, is now fully developed and has been annexed by the
city of Houston, but eventually the feeder roads are left behind, the lane
count drops and ramps are replaced with crossovers as the freeway
peters out. The woods close back in and houses and mobile homes still nestle back in
there showing the wear of character and the promise of stories to tell. The speed
limit goes from 75 down to 35 as the highway still narrows and snakes through
downtown Corigan with its single traffic light. The Foretravel Motorcoach plant
is still sitting there beside the loop around Nacogdoches, and the highway
still passes by the two-sided town square of Harrison. The ratty little no-name
campground somewhere between Linden and Atlanta where I once shocked the crap
out of myself trying to hook up to a faulty power post in the dark is still
there. It even looks like it might have been spruced up a little! And finally, the KOA where my daughter and I
once spent the night in the back of a pickup truck is still thriving at the end
of the road where US59 and I35 meet at the Texas/Arkansas border.
It's been 20 years since my kid brother acknowledged my 40th birthday by
blurting out 'Oh man, you're halfway to dead!' and I guess reflection comes with those
passing years. Right now, a little worn out and dopy after 15 hours of driving,
it's kind of nice to have these little milestones, these personalized
signposts, to anchor those years to.