The Road Goes Ever On and On


So it does in Texas, under a sky that also seems to go on ever and ever, infinitely blue, with clouds floating in it like puffs of cotton. The horizon is not masked by atmospheric pollution, or haze, or dust - it's as clear and as sharp as if there were a line drawn by a compass, or a pencil on the end of a string.

One of my characters in the Adelsverein Trilogy described this part of Texas: "...They call it the Llano Estacada. In Spanish it means ‘the Staked Plain' . . . an empty plain covered with short grass, mostly. It is not quite flat, but it looks as if it would go on to the ends of the world. There is also a sort of bush growing there, with leaves like the points of a spear. It sends up a single flower stem, taller than a man; that is what looks like stakes, for miles and miles.."

We did not see many yucca plants growing, as we followed the more or less straight arrow of roadway, to Menard, and Paint Rock, Ballinger and Winters, all those little towns set out about every thirty or forty miles, towns where the oldest buildings are from the late 19th century, and huddle close around Route 83, which becomes Main Street for a couple of blocks. Then the last sheds and signposts fly by and we were out in the country again, with now and again a cultivated field, or a handful of black, or red, or fawn-colored cattle drifting lazily in a fenced pasture, among the scrub-mesquite and patches of cactus.


At Menard we stopped at a little place called the Country Store, which advertised baked goods, jam and handicrafts of all sorts - inside, it smelled wonderfully of baking. The proprietors sell cookies, pies both sweet and savory, and home-made frozen casseroles. We bought a bag of so-called "cowboy cookies" - stuffed with oatmeal and coconut flakes, and raisins. In Paint Rock, we took some pictures of the Concho County courthouse, and a downtown that seemed to be completely deserted on a weekend. The town square, such as it was, looked like an abandoned Western movie set.

In Ballinger, we spied an antique store in an old hotel building, and thought - well, why not? The shop had an interesting miscellany piled up out front, and seemed to be just two rooms at the front of an old storefront - but the proprietor directed us to go down a long, dim corridor lined with more shelves and bits of furniture - and rooms on either side of it were filled, filled to the brim with tables and cabinets and chairs, with vintage clothing and china and glass - beautifully jewel-colored Depression-era pressed-glass. Next door to the old hotel and antique shop was Alejandro's - obviously and to judge by the number of cars parked out in front, and the delicious smells of food wafting out, every time the door opened - the most popular restaurant in town, especially on a Sunday morning. We didn't stop in - but we will next time. It's on 6th Street, on the corner next to the old Park Hotel.