Dirty Back Road – The Sequel


Interstate 10 crossing the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge

So it’s still 1986, and I’ve just finished taking my slimy shower in Port Allen, just across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge, and I’m on the road again headed west. For the first time…but as it would turn out later, nowhere near the last…I crossed the Atchafalaya Swamp, on the not-so-surprisingly-named Atchafalaya Swamp Freeway. It’s around 40 miles of elevated I-10 freeway in between Baton Rouge and Lafayette. For most of the drive on I-10, you don’t get a view like that picture there, you just see miles and miles of trees, plus the occasional break in the trees where you get a quick glimpse of the swamp. I thought it was beautiful, in an eerie desolate sort of way. Interestingly, more water from the Mississippi River empties into the Atchafalaya Swamp now than actually flows through the Mississippi Delta…the course of all that water has shifted back and forth over the millennia, and the building of levees up and down the river has only sped up the process. (Once again, pictures are from the internet, I did not take them myself).

The Atchafalaya Swamp

I continued west with little of interest happening. With all of this driving, I was getting plenty of time to dwell on everything that had happened recently, the whole gay thing, the nature of sexual identity, how I was going to deal with being in the military, how was I going to date (indeed if I could date at all), the meaning of life, etc. Each question led me onto 10 more questions, and everything remained muddy and complicated in my mind. I was playing over events from years back, and seeing all kinds of hints that I had been gay all along, but had just not seen the signs before. Like I said earlier, it didn’t bother me…I wasn’t some angst-ridden gay person, unhappy with his sexuality…it was just such an unexpected surprise. Maybe I was even bisexual, who knew? At any rate, the closer I got to Fort Hood, the more dread I felt generally, and the more resigned I was to being miserable. But it was a nice drive all the same. Crossing state lines had been exciting, signposts of my journey so to speak. Until crossing back into Texas that is. The Sabine River is the border down there, and it was pretty, but then I was back in Texas. Everything changed instantly…my mood, the scenery, even the way the off-ramps on the interstate worked. Texas always has to be different.

Sabine River, Louisiana-Texas border

The road area was much wider, and since the trees were further apart, there was a lot more light. Orange …the town on the Texas side…was all right, but nothing spectacular. What I really noticed though was how flat and green everything was. I had been in San Antonio as a child, which was brown and filled with fire ants. And I had been in San Angelo, which was brown, desolate, rocky and filled with cactus. This was actually pretty cool. I had just assumed that Fort Hood was going to be like San Angelo…but maybe it might be green after all, we’d see. I kept going west, and ended up driving straight through Beaumont. I had planned on stopping and looking around, but the place stank to high heaven of petroleum pollution smell and gave me a headache…the area is filled with petrochemical plants, and it smelled like it. So I drove on to Houston. But somewhere just east of it, there was a sudden thunderstorm, and it was a doozy…the visibility went down to zero, and my car started swerving all over the place. I ended up sliding right off the interstate, and onto the median! Which is probably a good thing, as the cars in front of me were all stopped, and there was no way I would have stopped my car in time to avoid crashing into them. I sat there on the median until the rain calmed down, which was only a few minutes, and it had totally stopped already. And I saw all the other cars sprawled all over the highway too, many of them on the median, miraculously none of which had crashed. That’s how it rains on the Gulf Coast, fast and furious like that.


Beaumont refinery

Houston skyline
Anyway in Houston, I navigated the highways with their crazy drivers, and ended up in the Galleria, where I had intended to stop and do some shopping. At the time, it was the largest shopping center in Texas, and one of the largest in the US. Today it is still the largest one in Texas, and the fifth largest in the US. It was an amazing mall, with multiple levels of fancy shops, 2 hotels, and even an ice-skating rink in the middle of it. I had a blast just walking around and looking at everything, and eventually walked the length of the whole thing, and bought a few things. And then I couldn’t find my car in the parking structure. The place is HUGE, and the various parking garages are quite complicated if you aren’t prepared for it. So I ended up wandering around for another 3 freaking hours looking for my stupid car! hehe. I was already tired from all of the shopping, and let me tell you my ass was dragging when I finally stumbled into the correct parking structure and saw my car. It was nice though after being cooped up in that car all day for several days, to get out and stretch the legs. At any rate I was exhausted, and it was late in the day, and I ended up spending the night in Houston, after driving around the Loop for a while.


Houston Galleria icerink

In the morning I got back onto Houston’s freeways, and found the state highway which was my new road…I was done with driving west on I-10. It started out as wide and crowded as the rest of Houston’s many highways, but quickly got smaller as I got away from Houston. Houston is an immensely huge city, which unlike most American cities, keeps growing bigger in population AND in land area…it just gobbles up its suburbs and incorporates them. The highway I was on eventually ended up in Austin, 2 and a half hours later, after winding through many small Texas towns. The highway would just stop being a highway, and would be the Main Street of whatever town it was going through, complete with red lights, stop signs, corner drug stores, and the ubiquitous Dairy Queen…those things are freaking everywhere in Texas. As I got closer to Austin, I noticed the landscape changing. It was still lush and green, but it started getting a little hilly, but with fewer trees. It was pretty. And Austin, what a city! Houston was sprawling and vibrant, but Austin had funky character. It had a weird double-decker freeway system which was surely meant to ease the traffic, but that was scary as hell to drive on. I stopped in Austin to look around the University of Texas campus, but I really couldn’t enjoy it on this trip. I knew I was only about 90 minutes away from Fort Hood and the rest of my army career, and all of that drama kept coming back to me. So I drove up I-35 to Temple, and took the State Highway over to the base. But more on that in the next post.

Austin, Texas

~ by dagoril on November 7, 2006.

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