Monday, September 14, 2009

Texas Trip-Ups: Iowa City 1981

Somewhere, I'd read about the coastline of Texas. About San Padre Island and Port Aransas. So, while living in Iowa City, I decided that we should go there. And we turned out to be Matt, Greg, Mike (Chicago/L.A. Mike) and me. I think we took Matt's car. And I think we drove down for the weekend.
We did our usual short-notice road trip: got a couple of small tents, sleeping bags, a cooler, threw in some ice, beer, sodas, hot dogs and bologna. Snacks. Cash for gas. Cassette tapes for our musical pleasure. Then we hit the road. Drove all night, taking turns at the wheel, hit Oklahoma in the middle of the night, southeast Texas by dawn, popped through Corpus Christie where the natural gas burned bright, then headed into the flats of the coast and Aransas Pass, then over a bridge into Port Aransas and the island.
We went to the campground, which was semi-primitive, and the ranger told us we could camp anywhere in the dunes for two dollars. $2! Okay, so we drove into the camp and onto the beach (like Daytona, the sand was packed enough to handle cars) and set up our tents in a bowl of sandy land nestled in between dunes. Nice. It was sunny, hot, sandy. Sand got in our drinks, in our chips, in our hot dogs. Eating was crunchy. The water was brown and warm and tar balls washed ashore. Our feet were messy. I jumped down from a dune and landed and felt a stab in my heel--someone had left a glass bottle buried in the sand. Ouch. The rangers said they couldn't touch my wound, but gave me the stuff to fix it myself. And I did. It was okay. We went into town, bought cheap t-shirts, drank beer, goofed about. Someone had caught a shark on the pier. It was a small shark and didn't deserve to die. That night we had a fire. Laughed, joked, drank beer, then went to bed in our two tents. I think I shared a tent with Matt.
Then, in the middle of the night, we heard this huge roaring. RHRRR-RHRRR-RHRHRHRRRR. It was mechanical and it sounded like it was right on top of us. Then there were voices, one clearly saying: "It sure looks pretty up there."
Matt and I scrambled out of the tent. There, stuck on a dune, was a full-sized truck with giant wheels. That truck had come up the dune, reached the top, but had gotten stuck by the apex of the dune--it's front wheels couldn't touch the ground, maybe the rear ones as well. And that truck--how many tons?--was stuck directly above our tent.
Mike and Greg came out, too. We sat, dumbfounded, looking on as the two rednecks talked about the truck while the rangers came with flashing lights and a tow. No one said a word to us, like, "Lucky you didn't die tonight." We didn't take it all that serious until later, the next day, as we thought about the implications of the dangling truck and how we could have been very well smashed.
But, after two days, we went home, back to out chores in Iowa City.

It was maybe a year later, on a night when we had all been drinking, that Matt and Brock decided they'd drive to San Padre Island in Texas. Like I said, we'd been drinking and this was late at night, after the bars had closed. We always had some bugaboo up us, were always ready to take off on some road trip. I was not alarmed by their decision, but when they asked if I wanted to go, I said no thanks. I had other things planned, but did not worry that they were going to go. Usually such drunken late-night plans are never taken seriously, are never really put into action. But they said they were serious and again I said no, and, lo and behold, off they went, just the two of them.
What was it? One, two days later, I found out they hadn't even got to Des Moines before Matt fell asleep at the wheel, drifted into the median and crashed his car. There was some glass, some blood, some bruises--but they were okay. Still, I'm glad I didn't go and that was a wake-up call to some of our foolishness.
Texas was a wake-up call to foolishness. For us, the state had the smell of death about it.

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