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Tuesday, August 15, 2017
La Meta; Padre Island
Here's a link for some music once popular in my day. Maybe more than a little cheeky, its a bit cynical, a style cheerfully defiant of authority. Indeed, this was the pilot for the popular "Austin City Limits" television program. It showcased both kinds of music - Country and Western - outlier stuff, at once both critical of society as well as self searching, an inventory with themes not uncommon for the times, seemingly inaccessible to the status quo.
I saw this band that same year, '74, it was, and an aura of rebellion was in the air. Vietnam was winding down just as the sound and fury of numerous protests remained fresh in our minds. My lottery number was 11, high on the list to be drafted into military service. President Nixon was under attack from the Press, most of the fuss due, however, to a marginal, Deep Throat character recorded in the paper of record, the Washington Post, dissertations long on innuendo yet lacking in substance. A precursor of things to come? Or a return to the Hey day of Yellow Journalism? Hard to say. It didn't matter. The people ate it up either way. A decade of tension had taken its toll, after the Kennedy assassination, and the FBI stirring the pot constantly with its targeted attacks on various counter-culture movements that reportedly threatened the status quo. One step further and the Status Quo were now considered effete, with outdated ideas and repressive tendencies. The country stood on the cusp of a cultural sea change, or so we believed, the antagonists stark and broadly drawn, caricatures that satisfied a desire to shake up a burgeoning elite.
Besides the Nelson Family band, Jerry Jeff Walker and Waylon Jennings were on the bill; a real Gonzo extravaganza. If Walker was the kindly eccentric brother-in-law then Waylon was the wayfaring wanderer. I remember the venue. It was, yes, ... the Dallas Armory, a holdover from the Cold War let out for a number of functions, privy to as many 3000 fans of a brief, iconoclastic movement from a place that, well, you can't get to from here no more.
The guy I was riding with had got me there in grand fashion. Being it was legal to drive in Texas with an open bottle in those days, and after a few long necks in quick succession, he had gotten himself progressively drunker. When he finally told that Dallas cop outside the entrance, "My Daddy's a rich man!" that was all she wrote. I'd just met him a few hours before. I was only passing through, you see.
I did get in eventually - for free - I don't recall much of the show itself though. A cute lil' gal from Texas Music Magazine had put me on the Guest List. She'd picked me up hitch hiking down I35 somewhere outside of Waxahatchie. She bore features like fine china, her hair, fair as golden silk. Only seventeen years old at the time, this put me at a bit of unease, but she was kind for an ex-pat Boston-ite. I was on my way to the Gulf of Mexico. It was cold up North. Besides, I'd never seen the ocean before.
I'd been to the Press Party beforehand, too, a mild affair in comparison, at a downtown hotel whose name I don't recall. Despite the charge of outlaw rebelliousness pushed by their Publicists and critics, this group consisted merely of some pickers, studio musicians, Walker himself and a reformed rounder or two, maybe - they seemed tame enough. The action came from the kitchen table where a crew sat exchanging lyrics and formulating songs. A little cuttin' went on two, a personable enough brinkmanship, restrained, like a poker game, a wry smile now and then the only tell. Mostly, just musicians talking shop and resting up. Everybody seemed to know each other anyway, like a far flung family come home again for a holiday gathering.
Nelson had a room to himself where he remained ensconced with members of his band. I don't think he ever came out. I don't remember seeing him. Everybody there wanted a piece of him, that's for sure. The rock star status was attributable, I guess, to the tons of airplay Nelson and company were receiving at the time. His story songs of Red Headed Strangers, life on the road, its phases, changes and its ironies, were a hit up North as well as from coast to coast.
I first heard his tunes on the local FM rock station, a departure even from the innovative playlists that FM radio and marketing allowed in its early popularity. Little did I know that Nelson had followed a separate genre distinct from this market to get here, one traditional, Americana in essence, and likewise, one enthusiastically regimented. He'd made the rounds and climbed the fences once already, in an era of Country Super Stars, rising through the its ranks all the way to Nashville and back again, but never achieving household name status. Nashville brokered no half-stars, nor offered any any quarter. A little too eccentric for its overseers, he was known, mostly, for selling his songs. Patsy Cline and Faron Young were clients of his, among others.
I watched a record company A&R exec in a knock off Nudie Suit with a trophy blonde on his arm sidle up to his door, lingering behind some cowhide clad character with just as leathery a gaze - without fanfare, they let that longhair in and, just as summarily, slammed the door in that dandy's face. The blonde girl reacted with surprising aplomb - perhaps she was amused? The sweet smell of Mexican commercial grade pot permeating the air came not from the hideout, but from the party suite's bathroom. Scofflaws were in abundance apparently.
I began to imagine what I'd have said if they'd opened the door and invited me in. I did appear pretty haggard for my age ... "C'mon in, kid. What happened to you? You look hungry. Want a Vegie burger, son?"
At the time I was sporting a patch over one eye, the same clothes on for however many days and I probably stank to high Heaven. I may have been mistaken for an outlaw myself. Call it life on the road.
Further North, and a day or two before, I'd been in a fight with some guy built like a Dallas Cowboy linesman. Football is popular in those parts, after all. I was cut up some but all in a piece - we'd rolled through some barbed wire - the guy, some kinda nut job, he'd gave up and drove off in his Cutlass Supreme in a hurry. I dusted myself off, checked for damage and humped it to a Stuckeys on down the highway. It was there I got cleaned up, got to a doctor, got stitches, an itty bitty town in Oklahoma where I spent my night between clean sheets. I even received a kind word or two. Not too surprising - I was always polite. Some duds from the Goodwill were like new. Well worn workingman's kit, an elbow or knee expertly patched here and there - yet I had walked out without paying. Polite, and a resourceful lad, lately from The City of Thieves and the last port North on the Mississippi.
I'd started my journey with 37 cents in my pocket. I was dressed for the outdoors. I'd been waiting for a bus one wintry day when, suddenly, I fell into some sort of repose - it might have been snow glare set it off, or the times, Seasonal Affective Disorder perhaps, restless legs, Hell, I don't know - for whatever reason, I had become acutely aware of my surroundings. I stood quiet for a moment, stock still, to carefully take it all in, the snow, the traffic, the endless gray and sub-freezing temperatures - until I finally moved, spurred on by cold air biting the insides of my nostrils. The entire incident may have lasted only seconds. I turned on my heel, 180 degrees, walked across a busy street and resolutely stuck my thumb out.
Thereafter, bad luck and the Tulsa Greyhound Station behind me, I was able to travel without further incident, through backwaters and small towns, each beckoning to tell its story and be rediscovered. I, too, had a good story to pass the time, embellishing it for each listener, over all those two-lane blacktops and county roads. It got me some mileage. People opened up a little to me, too, seemingly unafraid to bare some personality for a change. I still like to think that in that part of the country they were just friendly.
That old cowboy who owned some Standard Oil Stations in the big D set me on my course. Drunk on Four Roses before 8 in the morning, he drove his pickup truck around town, somewhat erratically, mumbling incoherently in a lingo I barely understood on his CB radio, some old Wildcat who'd put his money, but not all of his time, to good use.
The Sheriff at that truck stop on the Jacksboro Highway had not been so kind, urging me not so kindly to move on. Didn't like my Yankee ass conversing with the help. Or, I could have looked like an accident about to happen. They spoke no English anyway, or feigned not to. One fella my age kept rolling his eyes as if to say, "knock it, off, man!"
I'd returned my incarcerated driver's Vista Cruiser station wagon to his shack the night before and left the key's with a neighbor. I don't know how I found the place or the way back, either. Though ever since I began my trek I would observe my location acutely. Like somebody saying good bye instead of somebody making a good first impression.
That Dallas cop? He'd offered me to volunteer for a night in jail, too. I'd declined. I'd actually stepped back smartly, two whole paces, snapped to attention, clicked my heels and barked, "No, Sir!" I had total clarity. My destination was certain.
In Beeville, on a very warm day, in fact, I helped a Mexican Coca-Cola Deliveryman stack a hundred cases at the High School Football stadium. In exchange, he'd gave me a soda and a sandwich. He seemed bemused, yet thoughtful, careful with his language, taking advantage of a white kid like he was, as affably naive as I was, and, after a cursory glance, how little the High School Athletic Director paid me no never mind, such was his focus - it was game night, the highlight of the week.
I thought 100 cases to be a lot of soda pop. I'd been a carry out boy at a grocery store, seen my share of soda pop, and was no slouch at manual labor. Come to think of it, that driver never paid me the fifty cents he promised, neither. I wonder if he was a Teamster?
Farther along the way, I met an Austin Co-ed who offered me her place to spend the night. I was bushed, dead tired.. I hadn't slept for quite awhile, preferring to keep moving.
The two of us couldn't stop smiling, grinning like two fools without shame at one another for some reason. She lived near the campus of San Marcos, actually, in a quiet little rambler down a dusty street. She dropped me off there, and went to her classes she promised to return by afternoon. I tried to relax, lying on her bed with my dirty boots still on and all, but with very little luck,. The sunlight was shifting slowly, bright slivers entering the dark coolness through a slatted French window, dappling the room's muted plaster with daubs of warm light. I'd almost dozed off when the quiet in the house was punctuated by some raucous bird call I'd never ever heard before in my life. Again and again it came until I rose to look out between the curtains. Two peacocks strutted through the bare dirt of the lot next door, preening and posing for one another in some kind of gaudy display.
I laid down again, only to rise nervously some time later, but well before my benefactor returned. I felt uneasy, like I'd violated some rule, or sullied some propriety - I washed up quickly in the bathroom sink. After writing a hasty note of thanks on the back of a greeting card, the only paper I could find,I kept on my way, stepping into the bright sunshine and shutting the door behind me.
I can't precisely make out her face anymore. I refrain from my imagination, knowing it to be a fool's errand. I just remember we were smiling.
A day later and I had arrived, finally, in Corpus Christi, though it was well after dark. The Interstate ran down to the ocean and, once there, it just stopped. For lack of anything better to do, I was riding with some fella who had "invited" us to his brother's place to eat. This guy was a little older than me, a local with no permanent address to speak of. He moved around town sleeping on people's couches, or, sometimes on the broad back seat of his family sedan. That old Chevy ran well enough to drive himself around when he had money for gas. Aimless, drifting, job to job and place to place, he had a few hitchhiking stories of his own to tell. I pitched in 50 cents, some hard won panhandling money, in a grand gesture of good will. It seemed fitting somehow.
He'd adjusted his schedule in my honor. Maybe it was for reaching my goal. I'd traveled 1500 miles in a little over a week, through five states and six temperate zones as I recall - riding with fugitives down 169 in a stolen red Mustang, images of skulls and crossbones belying one lane bridges these desperadoes raced towards against oncoming semis to be first to cross. I'd eaten brown rice in a Kansas City commune, listening to Black Oak Arkansas' second release LP for six hours straight on a portable phonograph. It was the only record they had. ... Jim Dandy to the rescue! Go, Jim Dandy, go ...
I'd passed right through my Clay County birthplace, Jesse James' ghost a boast or a rumor within earshot of any who might take notice, and been frightened by graffiti in a Tulsa bus stop men's room. I'd felt the Hill Country beckon and met people almost as gentle.
With my journey come to its fruition, memories of a summer over a decade before, buried in my psyche, now sprang forth and overtook me; a walk down a beaten dirt path, high heat and tropical humidity permeating everything, the live oak and magnolia blossoms hanging listless in the liquid air, my stepmother's kindly, laconic drawl, the Katy-did's calling lazily through out the day and the little scorpions that only came out at night. I'd thought I'd forgotten that place. It might have been my home at one time but for a turn of chance or the hand of fate.
That evening's plans were much more simple - a free home cooked meal - and, to smoke a joke afterward - as I'd recently heard the phrase coined - by an Okie County Mountie, no less. The whole family did, in fact. Mom, Dad, 2.4 children, 13 years old on down, all smoked Marijuana together, as a family unit, just like sharing a simple dessert after Sunday's Supper. Ain't nothin' goin' on, nothin' unusual at all. Did'ja ever pass a joint to a seven year old kid that could inhale shotguns better'n Cheech Marin? Good one, Dad ... Until then, I thought my life growing up had been odd. More odd for the encounter, anyways.
The Gulf? Oh, well, the smell of that expanse of water ... the warmth of it, its salinity, the lay of the light from December skies, intense, yet waning ... it's hard to describe, the distances benign. The sight of fresh caught Shrimp on a wooden boat deck comes to mind, flopping and kicking in vain to escape the intense heat embedded there.
I fear I am of the wrong Latitude. A certain listlessness would have overtaken me if I were to linger much longer on that scene.
the Padre Island sands
laid bare by the moon's tide -
so many creatures
rise from its retreat