6/12/2008

Walk A Mile in Another (Wo)Man's Moccosins

Welcome to the Friendly Frontier ! Welcome to Abilene, Texas !


I went on a road trip last Sunday with a man not my husband - it was interesting to live a day in another woman's shoes , tolerating her husband , trying him on for size and all - in a safe and non-sexual way, of course. KC and I took our 2 sons to an orchestra camp for kids in Abilene, Tx (his kid plays cello, mine , violin) and with all the instruments, luggage, grocery bags of snacks and a cooler, kids and us, my giant purse, there just wasn't room for spouses on this trip. We loaded up KC's monster SUV early in the morning and headed off down the highway, lookin' for adventure. Whatever comes our way......

*

The trip from Denton to Abilene is about 3 hours each way, give or take. KC had one of them fancy-pants GPS little computer doo-hickeys, which he kept fiddlin' with, talking to, punching things into it, coordinates and all. Most of the time, it kept talking to us in a robotic woman's voice, telling us useful things like, "make a legal U-turn, as soon as possible, and proceed in the opposite direction". That's because there was a point of disagreement, it seems, between the GPS device and ourselves, as to which was the best way to get anywhere. I had an atlas on my lap, a paper book of maps ( for those of you who don't know about old-fangled things, like atlases). Normally, we would not even have needed such a thing, being true Texans and all, mostly because we just point our behemoths towards the interstate, put the pedal to the floor, and go ! (Energy crisis ? bah humbug ! Who cares if it costs $120 or more to fill up our vehicles ? As long as we can glide along the road, our bottoms ensconced in rich Corinthian leather, enjoying the arctic air-conditioned splendor high above the teeming masses scrambling behind our exhaust wake as we blow by them at 90 or 100 mph. Because on the interstate in Texas, even the grannies in their Cadillacs go 80 mph...)

*

On this particular day, however, there was an event at the nearby local race track, (Evil Kneivel's son or somesuch, jumping his motorcycle over a mess o' Hummers - now that they have no other functional use, it seems) and we wished to avoid the 10,000,000 rednecks and their pickup trucks who would be clogging I-35 west in their fervour to see this truly "fantastic" event. So we chose a path that took us around said "entertainment ", avoiding the interstate and the easy route, (which the GPS kept trying to get us to return to) and instead, we picked a route which formed the hypotenuse on a very large triangle, that , via a series of smallish towns waiting patiently in the dusty air of West Texas, would put us at our destination and allow us to avoid all the highway traffic vying to see Evil Kneivel.

*

Orchestra camp, you say ? I must confess, that in spite of having put both kids through years of piano lessons, then later, first-born son through years of percussion lessons, band practices, driving a van full of hungry kids home from games, tournaments, and other "fun" activities late at night (mostly, avoiding the other way-too-gung-ho band parents, who, if they catch you in a moment of weakness, will twist your arm till you scream " mother! " and agree to sign up for a shift at the band boosters booth - try saying that 5 times fast - where snacks, like those atomic yellow melted rubber cheese nachos, are sold.) , I had absolutely no idea what the world of being an orchestra parent entailed. With the band shtick, it was : drive your kid to practice, give him some lessons, and that was it. For band, percussion esp, since the instruments are so large and communal, the school rented you the instruments, and both instrument rental and private lessons were cheap (With a highly regarded school of music here in town, music students willing to earn a quick buck teaching your kid are a dime a dozen.)

*

This is not enough for the parent of the orchestra child. You have now entered a world of intense and subtle competition, and I am not even on the topic yet of how well, or not , your child plays his instrument. There are demarcations to be felt based on what kind of instrument your child is playing, where you bought it, or where you rent it, what country it came from, it's quality, etc. (And this extends on down to components of said instrument, the quality of the bow, the maker of the stings, etc. Upon trying to purchase a set of strings the other day, the very helpful man behind the counter was trying to guide me towards picking the right ones. "Does your child vibratto ? " he asked, matter of factly. "Um, I don't know", I replied. "He's only in 6th grade, what do you think ? Probably not.") Who your child's teacher is of high importance , and of course, how many hours a day your little genius rehearses. There are orchestra perfectionist subgroups, such as the PAKS ( Perfect Asian Kids ) , whose moms won't even talk to you, but will gabble to each other in Chinese or Korean and giggle at lord knows what - it's just like getting your nails done at the salon at the mall - if you try to engage them in a conversation about "what kind of strings do I need ?" or some such. Being a working mom, I am perennially out of the loop and clueless on important matters, like the absolute necessity of sending one's kid to a summer orchestra camp. Which one is the VERY BEST ONE IN ALL OF TEXAS, etc . Here I had lived all these years, blissfully unaware there was this whole other world out there , orchestra camps. Had no idea they were apparently, a necessity, much less which ones were de rigour, and which ones, for slackers. So I have relied on my one mommy connection in the whole neighborhood, KC (her husband is also named KC) , to tell me where I am supposed to take or send my kid, and what I am supposed to do, when. I just write the checks and show up when and where she tells me. As her husband and I agreed on this little road trip, " it's easier that way."

*

This was my first real foray into west Texas, having grown up primarily an east Texas child. As one ignorant Yankee once said to me, at a cocktail party in New York City (upon having heard I had just moved there, from Houston) " How can Houston be, as you say, like a rain forest, if Arizona is a desert ? " And that, my friends , just about sums up why this country is in a crisis over (the lack of) teaching of basic geography, as a subject. (To all the uninformed out there, the answer is , " Because Arizona is 1700 miles away ! ") And what lies between San Antonio and Arizona, little children ? It's all......west Texas ! Hubby dear, who loves almanacs , just looked this fact up : you can put all of New England, incl New York state, into West Texas, and still have plenty left over !

*

Heading west, you leave the DFW area, driving through some rolling hills with creeks, trees, cows and whatnot, and think, well, this isn't so bad. Then gradually, the trees get smaller and smaller, and soon without realizing it, they are gone. Just miles and miles of flat earth all around you, it's like being on the moon - and we aren't even talking about FAR west Texas. You glance at your watch and realize, you still have hours to go. The kids , of course, get to watch the fold-down tv screen with movies in the dvd player, the whole time. KC the dad and I passed the hours talking , some - neither KC nor I are real big talkers. He's a coach at a rival high school to mine, so we talked about the differences in our football programs , what it's like teaching different things for different schools in the same district, some gossip about folks we knew in common. Then we ran out of stuff to talk about. Then KC mentioned that , if possible, he wanted to eat some BBQ at this great place he had heard of , Joe Allen's in Abilene, if he could find it, and that was why he had brought the GPS. We got to talking about road food, and esp, Texas eateries, and that carried us all the way there. We let ourselves get a little bit excited, at the prospect of a really great meal, after all the drudgery of this drive, checking our kids into this camp.

*

We checked the kids in to the camp, held at a local college now empty for the summer -which involved first an audition, so the kids could be placed in their appropriate ability groups. Lots of standing around in crowded hallways for hours, waiting for one's kid's turn to play in a lonely room with stern faced judges asking him to sight-read increasingly difficult passages, till he failed at something - then the next kid is brought in, and you are free to go to the paperwork check-in line, then the dorm check -in. This being my first attempt at this high stakes world of orchestra camp, I did not know to bring a book to read. What do I know ? The previous summer camps my kids have attended, more traditional Christian VBS type camps, held in the piney woods of east Texas, have gotten so fancy and slick in recent years - with trains of golf carts to greet the flotillas of Mercedes' and Lexuses that drive the kids out from the big city , carry folks and their luggage around the vast acres , past the pool, the lake, the tennis courts , the dining hall to the air conditioned cabins, ( remember folks, this is Texas, after all. It's HOT here in the summer.) where eager young fresh-faced earnest counselors carefully peel kids away from tearful parents with a well-placed ,"Hi, I'm, Josh. What's your name ? " They then send parents, still on the golf cart trains, to an auditorium where they watch a feel-good video, with upbeat music, then start asking for donations ( in addition to the hefty fee ) , so you will be eager to finally leave . No down time, to read a book, or stand around, waiting.

*

We finally got finished with the auditions, and now I could hear the rumbling stomachs of the men in my group. Someone passed a little gas, nerves probably, and I thought to myself, " this is not my husband's odor." (Hubby dear is a maestro of gasseous emissions. He could provide enough material to create an atmosphere for the moon, if such an act of service was needed for all mankind, and turn it into a hostile posionous environment, comparable to Mercury.) We decided to feed the kids junk food, immediately, and save the search for the elusive BBQ joint, as a special treat for ourselves, later. There aren't a lot of options in this town, or the part of town we are in - a Taco Bell and a Subway. (Of course, my own husband can drive across America and happily survive , eating at ONLY at these two chains, and that's what makes a day spent with another man's husband so interesting. You mean people eat foods other than hubby dear's famed ketchup-tuna-hot sauce-rice concoctions ?) We notice as we are driving around that this town, with roughly the same population as our own, seems to have no cars on the streets and no one walking around. Just dust a blowin' in the hot wind, coating the trees and bushes - it's like a scene from " The Last Picture Show" . Sure, its a Sunday afternoon, it's hot, but our own hometown has people mobbing the parking lot of the 24 hour Kroger to get the best spot and get in without a fender bender, at all hours of the day or night. What's up with Abilene ? Don't people have the desire to get up and go somewhere ? Or did they all , already, get up and leave ? It remains a mystery.

*

I couldn't help but notice, as I was standing in this line or that line, as we checked our two sons in to the dorm, where they were to be roommates , that people were looking at us oddly. Surrepticiously, out of the corner of their eyes, then stop whenever I looked up. "I guess they think we're married or something, " I thought to myself. "Or maybe they wonder why we are taking ourselves on this road trip , a man and a woman, without our spouses. Why it's not the two moms, or the two dads, doing this". (The answer is, my hubby had to work, and KC's wife had to work. Very simple.) Our kids don't particularly look alike, it's obvious they are not brothers. I kept looking at our clothes, my purse , my makeup, my shoes, typical woman things - trying to figure out what was drawing the attention. We had a little incident - when our kids checked into their dorm room, their room had no window coverings at all. All the other rooms had blinds - the one in our kids' room was gone completely. KC went out and asked the RA's what they were going to do to remedy the situation, and got a lackadaisical response as the barely-post-teenagers in charge of our children lounged around, mouthing inane replies while watching a sports event on a big screen tv. KC came back to the room, where I was unpacking and setting up stuff ( these kids are 12 years old ; if I leave their toothpaste in their suitcases, it will not occur to them to brush their teeth the entire week ! I know this from past experience.). We talked it over, decided that the RA's were, in fact , not going to do anything about the lack of window coverings. So I went out to the lobby, and in my best outraged mother voice, planted my feet wide, crossed my arms, and started hollering at them : " We are way past saying it's going to be fixed when you call the campus facilities department tomorrow ! You must do something to repair this situation by 6 pm dinnertime ! You cannot expect two little boys, in a ground floor room next to the walkway that everyone walks by, to get undressed and dressed in front of a wide window with no window coverings at all ! It is immodest ! It is unreasonable ! So come up with a plan RIGHT NOW - I don't care if your plan is go to the local Wal-Mart and buy a bed sheet and a roll of duct tape - I WANT THAT WINDOW COVERED NOW !!! " This scared them enough to at least get off their keisters and move around some ( and when I called my son later that night, he said, that was exactly what they did.) Now why had they not done anything when KC asked them to - was it because he was too polite ?

*

After getting our kids settled in the dorm, ( sure, we felt a little sad at leaving them. "My son has never been away from home before," KC said, softly, as we turned and walked off. We stopped a minute, to look into their non-covered window, worrying we'd see the two little rascals sitting forlornly on their beds, scuffing a toe in the floor.......Naw. They were happily punching each other - never even noticed we were gone. ) , and so, off we went in search of the world's best BBQ joint in Abilene, Tx, a place called Joe Allens, which KC also claims, has the world's best chicken fried steak. I was dubious. ( Most Texas food aficionados will tell you , the trifecta of BBQ, chicken fried steak, and Tex-Mex, are rarely met in one location ) ....

*

KC kept typing in addresses to his GPS machine doo-hickey, driving and searching for this elusive hole in the wall that was supposed to be really great. It proved to be a challenge to find. At first, this restaurant had moved from the original location, with only a street address scrawled in faded red shoe polish on a dusty fly-specked window of the original shack. Not very confidence inspiring. Once we found the second , newer location, it was inexplicably closed - this quest was like searching for Brigadoon, through the mists.... with the goal, a sliced brisket plate with two sides , constantly just out of range . You could almost smell the meat cooking on the wind, but never find the source . But it was definitely closed - no cars in the lot , no lights on in the building. On a Sunday afternoon ? There was no sign posted, saying " on vacation" or " closed due to repairs." Just locked doors and emptiness. The building looked fresh and new, in good shape, like it was a going concern, as my mother would say. KC could not believe it was , after all this, actually closed, and had to try jiggling the door handles, for himself."Is it some kind of holiday ? " he muttered under his breath. I've never seen a man more crushed , when we got the final verdict that it was , in fact , actually closed. The sad sight of him slumping of his shoulders as he turned from checking the doors ( why do we always, as humans, have to check the door handles for ourselves? Even though the lights are out and there's not a car in the lot....we just refuse to give up hope, till that one last tug of the door handles confirms what we knew, all along) , to walk back to the car in the parking lot. It's just heart-breaking, to see a man so defeated that way.

*

With heavy sigh, we got into the car and headed home. It was now getting to be rather late. KC called his wife KC, to tell her he would not be able to bring home a bag of delicious take-out BBQ goodness. We were silent for a long time. Hours ticked by. Stopping at one point to get gas, we saw a chain BBQ restaurant, and decided to eat there, knowing it wouldn't be any good, but hungry nevertheless. It was dry, the sauce tasted like it came out of a bottle. We ate it in tired silence, got back in the car , and headed home.

*

I feel , somehow, like this experience bonded KC and me in a special way. You never really know a person till you've spent 15 hour day driving around a foreign small town with him, searching for BBQ hole in the wall restaurant that turns out to be closed. KC turned out to be remarkably sweet - tempered and patient .....lord knows, my husband would never have searched all over any town for a restaurant at all, he is always way too impatient to be on his way to his destination. KC was friendly and polite to me in the car, offering up drinks and snacks he had packed himself for the trip. His eyes glazed over at some of my vocabulary choices, but after all, he's a coach, I'm an English teacher - it's normal. I never did figure out why folks kept staring at us, as we registered our kids and took them around to various places at this camp. You don't think it's because KC is African American, do you ? I sure hope not. He's a really nice guy. Living in Denton, one gets so used to mingling with folks of all colors, shapes, religions, ethnicities, one starts to forget to "see" these differences.
* * * * * *
Story update :
The very next week, we all got to return to the fabulous Abilene, to pick our kids up from orchestra camp. This time, all the spouses, grandparents and siblings went, ( because the camp concluded with a concert, that all family members needed to hear), so we took individual cars, by family. It was in marked contrast that hubby dear and I set off : a classic , and oft repeated moment, which just sums up our relationship in so many ways, occurred as we were departing at 6:45 am . Hubby was running frantically around the house, naked, putting in his contacts, looking for his cell phone, all the while screaming , "Hurry up ! We're going to be late ! ". Which was a moot point, because I was at that moment, dressed, packed, sitting in the car with the engine and a/c on listening to the radio, and had already stocked up on a cooler full of drinks, several books and newspapers to read, etc. Hubby's hollarings fell on deaf ears.
*
Because hubby was late to getting off, we barely made it in time to pick our son up. Even though I had made this trip only 7 days prior, hubby found it difficult to believe that I might actually know how to get here or there, and kept arguing vociferously with me, where to go - even though he had no map, no GPS, had never set foot in this town before, and kept getting his left and right, and his north and south , all mixed up. We had to race across town to a rehearsal for our son's final concert , which wasn't to be held for another 5 hours, making several U-turns , back and forth along a main street, b/c hubby couldn't just let me tell him where to go. Curious decision, on the part of the music camp, to force kids to check out of the dorm at 10 am, then hang around town for a concert that begins at 3 pm. I think they planned this whole thing so we'd be trapped in this god-forsaken place, and forced to visit the frontier museum, (as many of their camp handouts exhorted us to do - that or the zoo, which was "right out", as it was easily 100 degrees by 9 am this day ) . We had no choice but to eat lunch in a local restaurant, as well, all contributing to the economy. And it worked - while killing the 5 hours between the mandatory dorm check-out and the final concert, I managed to : find a great little to a local bakery and stocked up on home-made pies, rolls, biscuits, etc. Shopped a "friends of the Abilene library sale " and puchased over $800 recent hardback fiction novels, from my various reading lists , for only $50 - a total of 42 books in all. And of course the greatest pleasure was finally hitting the famed Joe Allens, and it was open this time. I did sample both the BBQ and the chicken fried steak , and must say, it's a toss up which one is better. They were both done just right, with melt in your mouth goodness. Mmm, mmm, mmmm.

No comments:

Post a Comment