Chapter 9, The Coast of Texas
Big Man, Big Mosquitoes, Wetbacks and My Perfect Lady
Met a couple of shrimp fishermen over breakfast in Cameron, Louisiana. They’d been out dragging yesterday and had found the shrimp were not in local waters yet.
One of them lost most of his fingers on one hand in a winch a few months back and was still learning to use what was left. He described learning to button his shirt with one hand the first time he tried. He laughed about it.
Took a ferry across a cut used to move the big offshore oil rigs in for repair and refitting. They are huge floating skyscrapers. The road was quiet on the other side, and with a side wind we made good time all the way to Texas. Along the way, alligators and bright pink spoonbills working the bayou mud. The land begins to get higher and there are more cattle grazing in open range. We are told there are Cajun cowboys, but we haven’t seen any.
The cactus and palms get more numerous and we feel the West again. We have enjoyed many things and people in the East and South, but we have both missed the West. The Texas Gulf Coast should provide a transition. When we turn up the Rio Grande we will be truly headed West.
At the Texas border, we stopped to talk to two women fishing for red drum and catching mostly eels. They used shrimp for bait and old spark plugs for sinkers.
“Y’all git’yersef sum feshin’ line and sum hooks lak ‘is here,” she held up a good sized hook. “En ya stop off at a gassoleen station and they give ya sum spark plugs fur sinkers.”
We told her that we didn’t carry a stove or frying pan to fry fish. “Y’all don’ need no fry pan. Jus build yersef a fire, get’yerself sum luminum foil, wrap em up and throw em in the coals.” Big smile. “Ain’ nothin better’n at.”
Sounded good to me.
At Port Arthur we rode for miles amid chemical plants and oil refineries. It’s too big for our taste; spread out all over the delta and we couldn’t discern a downtown anywhere.
It looked like severe weather was headed our way, and with no campgrounds to be found, we got a motel.
The nearest grocery was miles away, so we went across the street to eat. Homey’s is a Southern, home cooking place, run by Big Man and his “Woman.” Supper was: catfish, scallop and catfish Creole, blackeye peas, turnip greens, candied yams, cornbread and chocolate cake for dessert. Oh my. Oh my. Our first Texas food was Louisiana influenced and good as.
Big Man is big and full of it. He sits down with each table as people start to eat and regales them with nonsense. He’s funny and particularly enjoys making light of race relations. Most of the people there were white, something we have not seen for awhile. Most restaurants/cafes, have been strictly segregated by race, though it is not obvious to strangers like us which color the establishment is until we are inside. We just play dumb, like we belong there. We do.
Big Man blends just the right amount of outrageousness and warmth that keeps white people coming back; several obvious regulars came in while we were there. His wife is a much younger, very lovely black woman who cooks and serves, and is just as sunny, though not so full of it as Big Man. Wish there were many more like them.
This is the first time either of us have ever been in Texas. I can’t wait to have my preconceptions trashed.
Next morning the bad thunderstorms had passed on and left us with a cool clear day, with a side wind. Can’t have everything.
The route took us west for awhile before returning to the beach; wide open country, conducive to wandering thoughts, living in the moment.
Sometimes I think I am coming to live too much in the moment on this trip. That night at our Crystal beach campground, I had to ask Claire what happened that day. Could not for the life of me remember what happened an hour before.
I just pedal and steer and embrace what comes through my senses, and hopefully store somewhere back there when I want to retrieve it.
With Claire’s help I remembered that we rode almost 70 miles again, and didn’t stop much. It is so hard to find camping that we just have to go hard until we find a place, and often it is just before sunset. What I miss is taking more time to talk to people. I knew the long nights and short days would be a challenge.
Today we did talk to a neat old man riding a very new three wheel bike. Says he rides it everywhere. Long gray beard, brown spittle beads catch the sun: ridin and spittin, spittin and ridin, don’t git no better’n at.
The land is less swampy here, with wide expanses of range land and larger herds of cattle. The sky does seem bigger already.
The strong cold-front that moved through in the morning, brought clearing, and the sun felt so good to us. There has been a lot of rain recently and we craved sun. We must be getting some though, the locals notice how brown we still are. We spend five or six hours riding every day; if there’s sun out here we get it.
There are lots of interesting birds to see here, but I am not too impressed with the Gulf itself. The water is muddy and even with strong winds, the waves are unimpressive. One of the shrimpers we had breakfast with said four foot waves were big for them. Maybe there will be aquamarine tropical seas further south.
It was cold during the night, high 30’s, unusual for here. Snuggle weather. We like snuggle weather, bundled in our happy little tent.
Imagine: your 35 square foot house is built for the night next to a palm tree and no Texas size mosquitoes got in, you’ve had a hot shower, washed your clothes for tomorrow at the same time, and they are drying on the picnic table, the sunset over the bay was beautiful and there is a cool but comfortable breeze, you’ve shared a dinner of pork-and-beans, sardines in hot chilies, corn chips and two tangerines across a garbage-bag tablecloth from your sweetheart. Now it is time for a Tootsie-Roll for dessert before your sweetie reads you to sleep; oh how good life can be.
It is a long winter’s night that must be filled in such a small space, and we are learning to make it fun. Throw a blanket over your dining room table some evening, crawl under it with someone special, and spend 12 hours there together. You’ll see what I mean.
The next morning dawned cold, but warmed up nicely as soon as the sun rose in the clear sky. We had quite an audience of the permanent residents of the trailer park where we camped. It seems the further we go, the more amazed people are at what we are doing, how many miles we’ve ridden, and the more usual and normal it seems to us. I guess that’s the way it is with weirdness, it just sneaks up on you.
We took a ferry into Galveston across the Houston Ship Canal. It reminded us of the Washington State ferries, much smaller, but big compared to all the others we have taken across rivers in the East.
Kind of liked Galveston, but I suspect I would hate it in busy high season. There are lots of palm trees and the beach is wide and white with a small fore-dune. It reminds me a little of the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington. The water has taken on a nice green hue just past the small breakers; there are oil-drilling-platforms on the horizon and shrimp boats drag just past the breakers. The wind turned around and we had our familiar headwind today. We had a few days of more tailwind than headwind and we got spoiled.
We camped at a beautiful county park at San Luis Pass. People were catching lots of flounder and everyone was excited. Some of them even fished through the Houston Oilers game! That is amazing in Texas where television stations devote a special hour each Friday night to the results of high school football. We noticed a very large drop-off in traffic on the road during the game.
We are seeing many birds we don’t recognize. Sure miss our bird books. I saw some swan or crane like (big and white) birds far out on the bay, glowing in the sunrise.
The morning was warm. Finally what we have hoped for, a week of sunny skies in the 70’s is forecast. This is more like it.
When we turned away from the beach we came to a high bridge over the Inter coastal waterway and noticed a sign prohibiting pedestrians and bicycles on the bridge. Obeying that sign would have meant backtracking 48 miles. It is amazing how inconsiderate state highway departments can be. We ignored the sign and crossed the bridge anyway.
We turned away from the coast for awhile, and the traffic got heavy. Drivers here seem nice still, but when the traffic gets heavy people cut it closer than I’d like. Both of us were constantly checking our mirrors and I was battling with the edge of the road, a side-wind and blasts of air from big trucks. We only did 46 miles and it felt more like 70. There is no camping inland, and we got a motel.
The next morning dawned clear and 53 degrees, destined for the high 70’s again. We had a tail-wind for the first part of the day. Averaged 18.4 mph for the first 42 miles. Now that is fun. We slowed by the end of 79 miles after we hit some headwind, but it was a memorable day. We had a big breakfast after about 20 miles and talked to a bunch of people there. Texans are as friendly as Louisianans I believe.
This is really a beautiful area. The beaches are broad and white and inland is savanna-like with unusual plants and cows. And that big beautiful sky.