I was a broad.
No, wait. That’s not right. I was abroad. Well, technically, that’s not right either. But both seem a little right. And a little wrong. I was a broad abroad in my own country.
If you saw my last post (and hey, can I just point out I’ve done a monthly post for 3 months in a row now? I’m on a roll obv.), you know I was traveling parts of the US in October. There was northern, northern, northern California (did you know it stretches well north of San Francisco??), then Lufkin and Livingston, Texas, and finally Ames, Iowa. Fascinating to say the least. You may recall from this post or this post how I discovered just over a year ago that I was not a “world traveler”? Or at least not the kind of world traveler who can write books about her travels and expect anyone to care. Well, my October travels clarified for me that I really ought to spend more time traveling in my own country. So I could, you know, feel at home.
I’m quite familiar with Southern California, having been born and raised here, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time in San Diego and down to (and across) the Mexican border. And I know the desert well–spring breaks in high school and college, a condo there in one of my other lives (1st marriage), and my father lives there now. I went to college in both Northern California (Stockton– University of the Pacific) and Central-ish CA (UC Santa Barbara). And law school was smack in the middle of downtown Los Angeles (back when that was decidedly not a good thing; though Loyola was and remains a fine law school). Now of course, I spend lots of time traversing the terrain between Riverside and Paso Robles, which covers a lot of Central CA. Plus, I have several friends in the San Francisco bay area and well, there’s wine in them there hills of Napa and Sonoma, so you know I’ve spent time there as well. None of that is the same as Northern, northern, northern CA. Lots of people think California should be two states (north and south, naturally). But no. It should be 3 states. Northernmost CA is not like what most folks think of as northern CA (the bay area and wine country). And it’s even less like Southern CA. It’s…well, rural. Country. Mid-westy even. Small towns galore. Oh, and they have weather. Like actual seasons. Color me surprised. But at least I understood the highway system. Which brings me to eastern Texas.
WTH Texas? Who designed your highways?! Are you just trying to kill off we pesky Californians? I could not have been more confused if you told me I had to drive on the left. Admittedly, I got off to a rough start. The Texas Highway Patrol was involved (of course it was!). See, my flight arrived late, I was exhausted, and of, course was unable to eat much because “vegan” is not a thing on airplanes or in, well, Texas.
I got my rental car (a wonderful Nissan Rogue– loved it!! But for this next part). And as I was leaving Hertz I said to the woman at the check out booth “Are my lights on? They seem dim.” This was not a reference to myself but to the car. She walked around the car, nodded yes, gave me my receipt and waved me through. 15 minutes later I’m on a very dark highway, I can’t see anything on my dash (it’s not lit up), I’m cold (and can’t find the knob for heat), and an 18 wheeler starts flashing his lights at me. Then he pulls up next to me and makes some strange hand gesture that I can’t figure out. So I slow way down to get away from the weirdo. Finally he pulls off the highway, and I travel on my cold, merry way. For about 5 minutes. Then I’m less merry (and for that matter less cold) because there are very bright flashing lights behind me.
I pull over, convinced this is where I’m murdered on the side of a dark highway by a fake cop (because it’s not bad enough to just be getting a ticket). I search for my driver’s license as THP approaches my window. I note immediately that he is very short (so I’m expecting a whole lotta attitude because that’s what tall girls get from short dudes; never mind he can’t yet tell I’m tall; this is my nightmare, you stay out of it!) but does appear to have a uniform and, naturally, a gun. The gun however, is holstered. Phew!
“Hi. Here’s my license. I’m looking for the registration, but this is a rental.”
“Ah. Alright, ma’am. Well, here’s what’s going on. You have no tail lights.”
“What? But I asked her if my lights were on properly!” (He’s supposed to just know who “her” is. )
“If you don’t mind, ma’am, may I reach in and turn them on for you?”
“Um. Sure.” (I’m feeling particularly blonde but also hoping this avoids a “fix it ticket” in the middle of east Texas, so sure, reach away.). He does, and the lights go on. My dash lights up (there IS a heater in the car!!). My mood lights up. His mood lights up.
“Okay ma’am. I’m just going to run your license and as long as you’re not one of America’s Most Wanted, we’ll get you on your way.”
Do not make a joke. do not joke. not a time to joke. I am not on the wanted list, so I was allowed to continue on my now warm and merry way. For an hour on a road that seemed like part freeway and part barely paved road to Uncle Billy Bob’s pig farm. And then it got very strange. Google maps was telling me to turn right and for the life of me I couldn’t see a “road” to turn right on. So she began yelling at me that now I’d need to go left and then left again, and then I was driving down a road on the side of the freeway for what seemed like miles. Then I was to go left again and I was back on the route to Billy Bob’s. Then I was supposed to make the same mysterious right again. Only all I could see was a sort of dirt path. Surely that is not a freeway exit? But was I on the freeway? Is this weird road a freeway? Google Maps yelled at me again and I had to repeat the same very long route in a circle again. Finally I turned on the dirt path and sure enough it lead to a slightly more paved path that led to …my hotel for the night.
I spent the next 3 days trying to figure out these strange frontage roads and “loop back” streets that have you exiting a freeway, driving alongside it for miles, going left under the freeway and driving back down the frontage road on the other side for miles until you get to the place on the left you were trying to get to in the first place. It’s like they don’t believe in overpasses. Ever. Or only every 10 miles. I’m guessing there are people who live on either side of the highway and never cross to the other side because it’s just too damn far. There are probably Wal-Marts on both sides just staring at each other, because it’s too far for anyone to get to the other side of the freeway.
All that crazy driving gets a girl hungry too. You will be shocked (I know I was) that “vegan” isn’t a thing in east Texas.
I used my “Happy Cow” app only to learn the closest place with “veg-friendly” food was 30 miles away (which would actually mean 60 miles once one traversed the loop-backs and frontage roads). I went to one of my “go-to” options: Mexican food. I can usually get veggie fajitas (no cheese, no sour cream, extra guac please). But I don’t think Texas does veggies. Finally, in fine print, on the back of the menu, hidden in “sides”, and with a footnote saying “the cook will hate you if you order this” I noted they had spinach and mushroom enchiladas. I ordered that and said “No cheese.” Then I ordered iced tea–unsweetened. I may as well have stood up and shouted “I’m not from around these parts.” Or “Hi I’m everything you hate and mock about California, but damnit I’m hungry.”
My enchiladas came covered in cheese (but no cheese on the inside, as my waiter helpfully explained) and the tea was so sweet it my made my teeth curl. Waiter again helpfully explains that “Ma’am, the tea is half-sweetened, half unsweetened”–which is apparently what “unsweetened” means in east Texas (seriously, I don’t know the language). I had to pick my battles so I opted to send the tea back and scrape the cheese off the enchiladas. He brought me another tea…and a giant handful of every kind of sweetener in the world. Dude, I’m just a bitter person. Let me have my bitter tea!
The signs in east Texas were also startling to me. An awful lot of trucks had “Dirty Hookers” bumper stickers. I’m sure that’s a reference to some truck part company or trailer hitch or fishing gear or what not, but there is no way I’m Googling “Dirty Hookers” to find out. And I went in to more than one place that had a “Open Carry Not Permitted” sign, which reminded me that “open carry” is the standard and therefore the “but not here” signs were necessary. And again, being a California liberal I could only think “does that just mean ‘hide the gun before you walk in here'”? Then I got nervous. Which is to say, I think I stood out more in Texas than I did this past summer in Italy and France.
I will say though, I could get used to the manners of the Texans. They manage to say “Ma’am” in the most polite way and not at all like “look, old lady” which is how it sounds when the baggers at the grocery store say it to me in CA. As the young woman at the UPS store said, “I call my daughter ‘ma’am,’ it’s just manners.” Yes, manners! They still teach manners in Texas! This was refreshing. I’m assuming they call the dirty hookers ma’am as well.
And then there was Iowa. Vegan has not hit Iowa yet either. And I was even in a college town (Ames). But fall is a thing in Iowa and it had hit there big time.
Leaves change color! Did y’all know that? Many colors! Which made Iowa beautiful, and I could almost overlook that everything is pork there. Everything. (Pigs are a favorite animal of mine, so this was hard.) In my hotel restaurant however, my server was from California (not too far from Paso Robles, as it turned out!) and she understood me. She hooked me up with a veggie pasta that was quite delicious and also told me they did have a veggie burger it just wasn’t on the menu yet. Saved! And again, I was struck by the manners of the Iowans. Everyone is so nice and polite. No attitudes. I wonder if visitors to CA find us rude? I don’t think of Californians as rude but I also don’t think of us as particularly polite (you don’t hear us saying “no ma’am” or “yes ma’am” or “thank you ma’am”). I think we might be too stressed out for that. Wait, check that. I mean Southern California. There’s a difference, ma’am.
The weather. The food. The manners. Those highways! Perhaps I need to spend more time traveling the US. And then the dogs could come with me! I could be on to something. Hmmm…travel with dogs.
P.S. I have another blog post in mind. Mulling it over. It’s one that will need your comments/input because it’s about the next book I’m trying to write. Trying. This may mean I blog for 4 months in a row. But, December and the holidays of which we do not speak are coming up so…yeah. Who knows?