Every summer I watch the temps dance around the 100F degrees mark in Texas, and I do not miss it AT ALL. But if I’m being sentimental, I can always relive this day in my memory…
Just as we crossed the border from Louisiana into Texas, the air vent in my car released a small puff of fog. A dying breath. Two-thirds into this 900-mile trip, with 300 miles of sun-baked highway to go, temps tipping 100F, and nary a cloud in the sky, the car carrying me, my mom, and a beagle named Toblerone lost air conditioning.
I contacted my husband in the U-haul van in front of me. The first vehicle in our convoy, he was driving with our friend Kyle riding shotgun, hauling all our possessions and towing our second car. Interstate travel in 1998 took you through fiefdoms of roaming charges with many signal-barren patches in between. We had bought walkie talkies and tall vehicle-top antennas for this move from Alabama to Texas, so we could coordinate pit stops, and also in case of emergencies.
“Emergency!” I shouted into my handset. “Breaker, Breaker, Emergency”. We pulled over to discuss our predicament. We were on our second exhausting day of moving house, five hours from our destination in Austin. We were laden with earthly belongings and careful plans. The obvious truth fizzled on the asphalt as we considered options. Stop, switch, repair? No, continue. Drive on with Bill and Kyle traveling in cool van comfort as we followed behind in an 1992 easy bake oven. (For the record I did not want to drive the van towing a car, so switching was not an option. Even though I’m sure Bill offered.)
We bought a bag of ice and found some hand towels in the trunk of my car, randomly tucked next to a silverware chest. We wrapped ice in towels and held them on top of our heads and laid one aside Toblerone in the back seat. She was panting so fast I get dizzy trying to imitate her. When we stopped to eat, she flipped on her back as soon as her paws hit the pavement, so I carried her to the grass.
Now, August in Alabama is not exactly sweater weather, but Texas is hotter. I’d spent 19 of my 29.9 years in Texas, so I knew the three-skewers of Texas heat–the sun melt-glaring down, the burnt wind on your face or back, and the baking pavement radiating fresh heat with every step. Those who know that heat, avoid it. But that day we drove straight into it. The wide Texas sky was painfully blue and I prayed for clouds. We drove and dripped and panted and accepted our insignificance on this barren place called Earth. Finally, depleted, we pulled into the La Quinta Inn parking lot. “Inauspicious beginning,’ I pronounced, with a wet towel draped over my face. Our house plants were crisped, and I’m sure Tob’s doggie diaphragm was sore for days, but we had arrived and the inn welcomed us with conditioned air and showers.
Months later I would notice that transplants from the North East in my writing workshops loved to employ the limitless Texas sky as a symbol of fresh starts, full of giant possibility. City dwellers taking to the open highway with abandon and a new license to drive. I wondered, Where does a Texan raised on wide open spaces go in search of new horizons. Years later I would learn the destination–Ireland.