I just got back from driving across half the country — and by half the country, I mostly mean Texas.
My daughter Mary joined me in Las Cruces, New Mexico, last week, where we visited my mother and my brother Chris for a few days. It's a nice town, set between the Rio Grande River on the west side and the Organ Mountains on the east. The mountains are a jagged, towering, ever-present backdrop, framing the rising sun, catching low clouds, and turning a luminous pink when the evening sun falls.
I don't know if the locals get used to the mountains and take them for granted, but I was constantly surprised and delighted when I'd turn a corner to the east and see them looming there. Memphis' iconic natural wonder, the Mississippi River, is not so easy to see. If it were, I think we'd appreciate it more.
At mid-week, Mary and I headed to Austin, Texas, where she lives. As Bob Wills sang, "I saw miles and miles of Texas," most of it dry and scrubby, punctuated by buttes, mesas, and distant mountains. It reminded me of every cowboy movie I've ever seen. I kept expecting to spot Apaches watching us from a rise, but they've been replaced by wind turbines.
The speed limit is 80, so we had that going for us. Still, we almost ran out of songs on my daughter's iPod — a real first-world travel issue.
Austin was a revelation. Mary lives near Barton Springs, a gin-clear natural waterway bordered by miles of tree-shaded trails and crossed by pedestrian bridges. It flows into Town Lake, also surrounded by trails. People were swimming, biking, jogging, kayaking, walking, bird-watching, fishing. It was the Greenline times 10. It was Portland without the rain, San Francisco without the traffic. Austin is so hip I suspect the zoo has bipolar bears — and therapists for them. It's a great town, though — friendly, young, and full of vigor.
And Austin has figured out a better bike-lane system: On narrower streets, there's a single bike lane for both directions, leaving one side of the street for parking. It would make a lot of sense in Memphis on streets where lack of parking is an issue.
On Saturday, we drove 10 hours to Memphis — north across the anonymous Texas landscape, east into the green tunnel of western Arkansas, then onto the familiar Delta flatlands and across the Mississippi River to home.
It was a long drive but a great week, a nice father-daughter bonding trip. Only problem is I keep looking for the cruise-control knob on my laptop.
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."