Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Letter...

Dear Texas State Highway 31,

I've been giving this a lot of thought and I've decided to go ahead and declare that, of all the roads in the entire world, you are by far my favorite.

I mean, what other stretch of pavement provides a more comprehensive narrative arc to the story of my life than you? Sure, there is U.S. 59, which connects Carthage, my mother's hometown and the place where some of my greatest childhood memories lie, to Marshall, the home of ETBU where much of my development from adolescent to adult occurred. But those are just two places and the fact that all the good that road has brought empties out (almost like a sewer) into the wasteland of one of my least favorite places, Houston, kind of invalidates much of the good that U.S. 59 brings. 59 comes in second, but a distant second at that.

My dad grew up where you begin on the eastern portion of Texas in Kilgore, State Highway 31, and most of the Nash's still reside within a stones throw of of your shoulder. In fact, one of my earliest memories, visiting with my grandfather in the nursing home in Kilgore and watching The Wizard of Oz took place near your watchful protection.

From Kilgore you took my family a little further west to the great East Texas city of Tyler, where I was born. It was in Tyler that Kyle Lake grew up. Just twelve miles down you was Chandler, the little town of 1,500 where I lived. Little did either of us know we would meet and become such great friends. He and I met where you end, here in Waco.

You run right through Chandler, State Highway 31, and I will always consider that quaint little place my home. Still standing, only a few yards from you, is the tiny little preschool my mother took me to when I was very young. I'm glad I was raised there and not in the confines of my home, about a mile away from you. I love my parents, but believe they made a good choice in deciding to work and let other qualified people help them raise me. On your other side is First Baptist Church, where I learned about God and community.

You then stretch for about eight miles to Brownsboro, population: just a few, but home to the center of life for Chandler, Brownsboro, and Murchison, which is Brownsboro High School. The structure that most defines that little town is the goalpost on the north end of the football field that deposits many a field goal and extra point into your traffic. Brownsboro exemplifies what I most love about you: You don't change very much. Sure, where the home side of the football field stands was once the old rock gym that was torn down back in '89, and there has been more than enough Dollar General stores pop up next to you, but for the most part you look just as you did thirty years ago.

I know, in general, the secrets you hold on Murchison, and then you end up in Athens. I leave you in Athens for a few miles as I take the loop around. I've often thought that the place I meet you again is probably, for all intents and purposes, the place where the great mythic region that is known as East Texas ends. The only reason for this is that the last pine tree is just a few yards from where the loop ends. If I am wrong about this, then the next best guess would be the Collin Street Bakery that is located on you. This is where I get out of the car to eat junk food. When I get back in the car I feel I have shed the East Texas Craig and am beginning to put on the Central Texas Craig.

Between Athens and Waco you hold Corsicana and around a half-dozen towns that look alike and share the distinction of being places where you must slow down if you don't want to end up paying a lot of money to Barney Fife.

Just before you and U.S. 84 merge, there is a tiny little building way out in the country that is some sort of county-line beer joint without a sign or any indicator this is what it is, other than people walking in and out of their trucks looking like they've just had beer. I've passed this a million times and have wanted to go in, but can't get the nerve up. One of these days I will. If Athens or Corsicana is where East Texas ends, this is where Central Texas, and the cultural mindset of West Texas, begins. If I drank a beer anywhere east of this little building I'd be nervous and looking over my shoulder for the piety police. Past this building I spend my days looking forward to the times I spend with friends (responsibly) drinking the hops and barley I have slowly come to love.

And just past this beer joint, over the horizon, you expose the Waco lights. The Alico shines the most visible. As you bring me to into this town I realize what you mean to me, State Highway 31. It may be too much to say "I love you." Oh, hell, who am I kidding. State Highway 31, I LOVE YOU!

Thank you for where, and from where, you've taken me, State Highway 31.

I won't take you any further, because you don't go any further.



Myles said...

are you talking about the place with the DANCING BEER sign out front? i think it's closed now, but i was always intrigued at what kind of dance a beer would do.

Valerie said...

One of my first memories of meeting you is connected to the old rock gym! Wesley begged you to tell me the old rock gym story, I think it was at a UBC Christmas party. I miss Texas.

Luke Smith said...

Dear Craig,
On the radio this morning I heard the Times reporter who lost his hand in Iraq describe his experience (and plug his new book Blood Brothers). The person conducting the interview asked him towards the close of the interview whether he got a lot of stares ( since apart from the meat packing industry...amputations of the hand are relatively rare). He said that he certainly did receive a lot of stares and people turning away to appear as if they were not staring. He said I just wish someone would say to me how did you loose your hand?
And I thought.....
Neal Jones is my name, "How dja loose your leg.