The Place Where They Have to Let You In

I am tearing down the highway with the music pumped up, singing at the top of my lungs.  With enough racket going on, with the landscape hurtling past, I am Patsy Cline, then Willie Nelson, on to the Statler Brothers, Hank Williams, and Tammy Wynette, with a few noisy detours into George Strait, Eric Clapton and Leonard Cohen.

The highway — well, let me count the ways it sucks the big one.  It’s I35 between Austin and Dallas, 200 miles of simmering asphalt, gigantic trucks hauling immense concrete pillars, speed traps, cowboy drivers heading to their last roundup.  Somehow, it manages to be boring, unsightly and dangerous all at one time.

Oh, so, big deal, I claimed I loved mass transit and being an enthusiastic, aggressive pedestrian while in New York City.  It was true, too.  But that was then and this is now, and right now I’m behind the wheel of my own car, which I haven’t driven in months.  Once in the car, back in Texas, everything else falls away.  I feel free and light, which is ridiculous on this deathtrap of a highway, but you can’t argue with emotion.

The CD continues, playing all my favorite songs, since I thoughtfully recorded it for myself.  Does Fort Worth ever cross your mind? I scream.  And, You’re just a Coca-Cola cowboy.  And I don’t want cry so early in the morning.

Who cares if I can’t carry a tune in a bucket or a barrel or any receptacle of any size?  My eardrums are shattered, even my earlobes are bleeding, I am flying along, I am bursting with emotion.  I’m going to Dallas to see friends, then back to Austin when our house is finally free on Saturday.

I loved our time in New York.  I had the time of my life.  I felt nostalgic about leaving.

But here, I feel grounded, I feel a part of everything, even this miserable highway, where I notice a big truck smoldering and smoking on the side of the road, blackened by flames.  You can’t ever relax on I35.

I’m not close to relaxation, though.  I’m screeching the songs, piloting the car, driving like I never stopped.  I can’t help it; I’m a Texan.  I speak the language here.  Something, even in the overbearing summer heat, feels good.  I’m home, dammit, and it just feels right.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read more about helpless geographic passion

16 comments… add one
  • Ruth; welcome HOME! I lived in Texas for 16 years and still call it a pseudo-home. I still feel chills whenever I touch down in the Lone Star State!

  • Faulkner, Welty and a plethora of others understand what’s at the heart of your concrete specifics.  Home is part of you, a building block of your DNA.  You can try to run from it, even feign disloyalty to it,  but it’s always there– it’s YOU!

  • Well, Texas certainly needs you to be there to keep watch on its antics.  I’m glad you are pleased to be home.

  • Welcome home! Austin missed you, but I enjoyed reading your NY state of mind blogs!
    The damned IH-35 from Austin to Dallas is the ugliest piece of highway in the U.S. I’ve had to travel it, taking my life in my hands, dozens of times. But, like you, I turn up the tunes and crackle along with my favorite songs.
    Austin awaits!

  • What a glorious post!  There’s something very American about belting out songs in cars.  I know you associate it with Texas, but I used to do it growing up in DC and more or less stopped after I moved to France. Sometimes I did it on the highway, driving into Paris to do my radio show. But, I was careful to roll up the windows. Still people would stare and point.

  • That was wonderful!  So glad you’re back. I think I need to get a copy of your CD for my road warrior trips south, I’ll be heading back this Tuesday and I’ll be thinking of you and the insanity of I35. I’ll call you if I break down in Austin.

  • Paula Link

    We’ll miss you in NY, but I’m glad you’re glad to be home.  I’m a closet car-singer too, but only when alone! And I’m a recent convert to country music, although I grew up in rural North Carolina. Back then, the only music I cared about was the latest Beatles song, and to me, country was for, well, country people, not sophisticates like  me.
    But lately I’ve begun to appreciate at least some country singers, but I’ll bet my faves are not considered “real” country by some.  I like the music in “Crazy Heart,” for instance.  Is that kosher?  What would you recommend for a transplanted southerner living in Yankeeland full-time?

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Paula — You can never go wrong with Willie Nelson.

  • flutterby Link

    Ooo, I know that stretch of road well.  Though I haven’t lived in Austin in a number of years, I remember day trips to Big D, driving up in the morning, shopping, lunch, more shopping, then home to Austin in the afternoon.

  • Sounds like you are back where you belong! I too sing embarrassingly in the car when I drive.

  • Hello, Ruth.  I love the description of you singing.  That brought a smile to my face.  I’m glad you had a great trip and are back in your home.

  • You know, this kind of, well, made me want to be from Texas, too.  Still, I know that feeling of being right where you know you’re meant to be. It’s a wonderful feeling, energized and serene at once somehow.

  • Welcome back to where you want to be, Ruth. Isn’t singing in the car one of the best things in life? I used to do it with the kids in the car, and they’d shrink down in their seats in utter embarrassment. As if there was someone we knew who would see their mother singing…how shameful!

  • Oh, but you gotta stop off in Waco to see the Dr. Pepper museum now and again. Breaks up the haul, Willie Nelson or no.

  • Welcome home, then … even with the heat and the traffic and all that.

  • I generally hate the highway. Mostly because of the trucks, but also because they are dang ugly places aren’t they? Good music on the radio is the only savior.

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