Clip #2: Sonic with a Spoon, Plus a Composer Named Picker

My original travel plan was to head west on a northern route centered on I-80, then return east on a southern route centered on I-10. However, my two sons spend a lot of non-work time racing cars and trucks at round tracks and road tracks up and down and across the country. “Gee,” said Roger as we considered my itinerary on a Sunday afternoon in early May. “Bobby was supposed to spot for me at that truck race in Texas on May 22.”

Bobby and Roger at Barber Motorsports track in Birmingham

After Roger left, I took another look at map and calendar and decided I could be flexible. “Hey!” I texted. “If I flip the trip and head out through Texas, Bobby can be your race spotter, then he and I can head for California from there.” Of course, they both loved that idea.

Roger and Meredith flew to Austin, and Bobby and I left New Orleans for Texas not too many hours after heavy clouds dumped tons of rain on Baton Rouge and Lake Charles. The Louisiana skies stayed low and solid gray as we drove miles and miles along tree-lined Interstate without a billboard or mile-high gas station sign in sight, which was nice. Most “towns” we passed had French names, including Grosse Tete (“Big Head” according to my meager French), a teensy place and probably not the head of anything major. The Internet revealed it to be a village in Iberville Parish, founded in 1906, with a teensy population of 647 even today.

As lunchtime approached, we executed at least two “wild goose/lunch chases” when a blue interstate sign promised restaurants at an upcoming exit, only to find once we’d taken the exit ramp, that said restaurants were at least five miles this way or four miles that way. Eventually, we spotted a Sonic, normally far down on my list of favorite eateries but chosen because we could order and eat without getting out of the car—a good idea on this drenching day.

There oughta be a law that these signs indicate distance from the exit ramp.

We ordered decadent and messy chili cheese dogs, requesting knives and forks to go with, but in these somewhat post-Covid days, forks are apparently in short supply. We got knives and long-handled milkshake spoons. The all-beef dogs were pretty good, but trying to saw off bites and pick them up with those spoons was awkward. Bobby had ordered tater tots and a small cup of Ranch dressing (a condiment he believes goes well with just about anything edible). Normal fries you could pick up and dip, but tiny tots were difficult with no fork.

It rained so hard we never actually saw a “Welcome to Texas” sign. We crossed high bridges over winding bayous and passed a sign that read “Old and Lost Rivers,” referring to the convergence of two main bayous—Old River and Lost River. I wish I’d known about Tobias Picker when we passed that sign because he composed an orchestral tone poem titled Old and Lost Rivers. Picker, an American composer and the current Artistic Director of the Tulsa Opera, has explained that these bayous were left behind by the “great wanderings of the Trinity River.” When it rains (as it certainly did while we were passing through), they fill with water and flow. When it’s dry, they evaporate and turn green in the sun. Picker’s tone poem, commissioned to commemorate the Texas sesquicentennial in 1986, is described in one review as evoking “nostalgic, dreamlike echoes of the music of Aaron Copland.” After returning home, I found a wonderful performance of it on YouTube, with Christoph Eschenbach conducting the Houston Symphony. Try it. You’ll probably like it, especially if you gaze at the photo below while listening.

A Texas bayou when it’s flowing.

That afternoon, the weather channel indicated another storm system rising in the Gulf and likely to cross our westward path. Suddenly, there it was on the horizon, far ahead. Flash flood warnings began dinging on my phone, but nothing about tornados, which I referred to as “whirligigs” when I couldn’t bring to mind James Spann’s word “rotation.” We pulled into a rest area with a sign indicating “safe refuge” but no indication of safe from what. The rain came in sheets and torrents. Radar showed us sitting smack in the middle of a serious squall and likely to be moving with it the farther west we went, but we decided to move on slowly, hoping for a break, which we didn’t get until mid-afternoon.

With Bobby driving, my job was to watch Roger’s practice session at the Texas track on my iPad and see what kind of times he was turning. Unfortunately, after a couple minutes, his car showed up on the screen, disabled on the side of the track with a mechanical malfunction involving a transmission and gear shift that fell apart for reasons I’m not verbally talented enough to explain. He’d had less than one lap of practice, but fortunately, he’d driven this road track, with its 18 turns, before.

We caught up with Roger and Meredith at our hotel and set out in search of a relaxing dinner. First effort was a recommended Mexican place, but the wait was at least an hour. We finally settled for a Buffalo Wild Wings with a 20-minute wait that stretched to 30. (My second “just settling for” restaurant of the day.) BWW had plenty of tables, but like most places these days, was short-handed. The young man who waited on us was pleasant and helpful. However, his clothes were beyond grungy, and the greasy hair that flopped over both eyes was a bit disconcerting. Still, beneath all that, he was capable, informative, pleasant, and got all of our orders right. The cover didn’t do justice to this fellow’s book of life, and I do wish him well.

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