Southern Oddyssey

Having the need to spend time with relatives in Florida, we decided to drive from Santa Fe to Fort Lauderdale by the southern route; a chance to broaden our knowledge of an area we had yet to travel. So, on a crisp early January morning, we left our home in the hills of Santa Fe and began the first leg of our journey, stopping in Fort Stockton, Texas.

Fort Stockton is an outpost of civilization at the junction of interstate 10 and 285. There is a bit of life around Roswell and Carlsbad, but mostly the trip revealed the similarities of Southern New Mexico and West Texas; dry and a bit desolate. Looking to either side of the road reveals miles and miles of miles and miles. A fella could go offroad, let go of the steering wheel and mostly not worry about hitting anything until he approaches the side of the next Mesa.

The next day had us descending through the gathering lushness (and rain) of the hill country to stop with relatives in Houston. There is only one word to describe Houston; BIG. It is verdant beyond measure and equally traffic laden. The refinery areas had that same stagnant feel that it shares with places like Linden NJ. But it sprawls in all directions and the traffic is the heaviest I’ve seen anywhere between New York City and Los Angeles.  it also has the odd feature of toll highways without toll takers!  If you have the misfortune of stumbling onto one of these, you can work yourself up a hefty fine if you don’t have an EZ Pass.  As we have no need for such things in New Mexico, it was a trial to avoid those toll roads.  And the road we took to the Louisiana Border the following day had a toll every few miles!  Seems one could make fewer tolls on the one and send the extra toll collectors to the other, but that’s just me.

Riding the bridge over the Achafalaya swamp is a unique experience.  It’s one thing to see some nature show pictures of cedar swamps and bulging tupelo; quite another to look in all directions and be surrounded by miles of it as far as the eye can see. Didn’t spot any gators, but I though I saw Amos Moses in a shallow boat working his way through the swamps just a bit North of Thibideaux.

With Jerry Reed ringing in my head We pushed on; over the Mississippi river, through Baton Rouge and out to the Mississippi state line in the pouring rain.  By the time we hit Mississippi, it was dark and foggy.  It stayed that way through the state, out through Alabama (lost Mobile in the fog, but the tunnel was neet) and to within a stone’s throw of Pensacola, where we spent the night.

It was still cool along the gulf as we worked our way along the white crystal sand and it stayed that way down as far as the middle of the Peninsula.  But from there all the way to Fort Lauderdale, the temperature just kept on climbing.  The natives were dressed in sweaters, but we were comfortable in short sleeves.

The Borders in Fort Lauderdale overlooks the intercoastal waterway.  It is a free-standing two story affair with lots of room to wander and a wonderfully friendly staff.  They had set up several dozen chairs just to one side of the CD section and I got to play on one of the warmer Sunday afternoons after a January cold snap.  Though the number of folks that actually sat in the assigned chairs were small, the better part of the audience sat in the small niches and stood along the CD racks listening, smiling and applauding.  The staff showed themselves to be surprisingly musically knowledgeable, discussing the subtle motifs that hide in the fingerstyle open chord structures that I favor.  All in all, it was quite pleasant and I look forward to doing it again.

After spending some time with family, it was time to head back.  Our first stop was in Tallahassee where I got to reconnect with an old friend and fabulous jazz guitarist from my days with the fusion band, Satie.  Tallahassee has a markedly different feel from the palm fronded beach culture of Southern Florida; one that I find more familiar and more comfortable.  A college town, the feel is refreshingly hip.  While we couldn’t tarry this trip, I am inspired to try to find places to play there when next we pass through.

Once again, we found ourselves riding through Mississippi and Alabama in darkness.  I will say that the Mobile skyline was exceedingly pretty and one I hope to enjoy at greater length in the future.  However, other than that, we have been through these two states twice without having any idea what they actually look like.  We pulled into Baton Rouge close to midnight, ready to log some sack time.

Back riding through the Achafalaya the next day, I discovered that it is possible to O.D. on Cajun accordian.  Don’t get me wrong, I love both Cajun and Zydeco.  But, on this particular day, it seemed the local Cajun station played 127 songs not only in the same rhythm but in the same key as well.  and in each song, the accordianist seemed to play the same four couplets over and over until it felt like a four note marathon dance.  I almost lost control of the vehicle from shock when a waltz finally came on!  As we approached Houston for another stay with relatives there, it was a bit of a relief to take respite of the Gallic and Creole patois.  And a short visit to Galvaston in the rain seemed to cleanse our travel pallet.

We next stopped in Austin.  There is Texas and then there is Austin.  In some ways, it felt like a sister city to Santa Fe; the place called, “The City Different.”  In Austin, the battle cry is, “Keep Austin weird!”  The 6th Avenue music scene was somewhat remeniscent of Duvall Street in Key West, but we found some very comfy artsy communities in the West, around the colleges and along the south side of the river.  Austin is one of the few places where you’ll see a profusion of Cattleman hats side by side with Natty Dredd hats.  However, it seems as though all the young hip folks smoke, ala Rive Gouche, Paris.  My lungs found that a bit hard to take.  And one might call the service road along 35, “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” The number of panhandlers along each intersection was truly staggering.

We let San Antonio for another trip and, after an overnight in Fort Stockton, worked our way back up 285 for home.  The mountains were a welcome site after being away for three weeks.

Lessons learned:

1) it is much easier to pack when you don’t have to prepare for three different seasons in one trip.

2) The back roads of Texas are littered with Bar-BQ pits but really good Texas barbecue is as rare as hen’s teeth.

3 The road can be exciting, illuminating and sometimes exhausting, but there’s no place like home.

About Gary Paul

Having worn many hats in my life I bring a broad perspective to my writing. 2-time winner & 8-time nominee, New Mexico Music Awards. Winner, 2006 Xtreme Folk Scene's Song Contest. Degrees: B.A, Psychology; & MPA, Public Administration; MS, Computer Science. I'm a Santa Fean born poor, but surrounded by music, theater & poetry in Brownsville, Brooklyn, NY. Piano gave me a love for melody. My grandparent's farm showed me the beauty of bucolic settings & bluegrass music. But around Boy Scout council fires I grew to love storytelling; especially a good ghost story! :-).
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