This Must be the Place – A Texas Roadside Rest Stop Arrow
When I woke up in Clayton, New Mexico, my plan for the day was to head southeast to pick up Route 66 along the Oklahoma and Texas border. From there, I’d get to pass through places like Shamrock, where I’d visit the beautiful Conoco station and Welcome to Shamrock large letter mural. Then motoring west, head on towards Amarillo and back across New Mexico.
As a New Yorker and moreover a Long Islander, I dwell in the far east of the country. Day after day floating in the Atlantic, I live in a place where I rarely head into the sunset in my daily life. What that means for me is that most of the country is “west.” Granted, Long Island isn’t the easternmost point in the US, but you get the picture.
Being out here on Long Island for over 20 years now has helped to shape my romanticism about the rest of the country. I know there must be times when someone out there is scratching their head when I share pictures or talk about other places that seem completely normal or at least familiar to them. But this place in which I live is so unlike large swaths of the states. Packed densely with people, cars, and buildings, our small towns are nothing like a single or no stoplight town west of Manhattan. Living here makes me fall in love with everywhere else.
And so, being on an emotional and literal island also tends to influence my feelings of things being far away. The beautiful landscapes that I want to experience out west are thousands of miles away. The little town in Pennsylvania with the great ghost sign? Hundreds of miles away. Everything I want to see and do is far away.
It is hard to say why but the idea of crossing state borders within your own country also tends give a little jolt of excitement and adds to the feeling of going “somewhere else,” but it does. Thems the rules. I don’t make ’em, I just follow ’em.
And so when I left Clayton, New Mexico on that cool and sunny morning and met the Texas border sign, boy, did it feel like I was far away from home. Texas. Texas! I’d been there before for work but never on a motorcycle. In that moment that little factoid somehow made a difference.
My knowledge of Texas is shaped almost entirely by media of some sort – tv, movies, news. As I snapped my photo of the welcome sign, I got an excited tickle inside my metaphysical being. Can you believe I’m here? I was far away from home. Though… closer to home than when I started this trip. (Don’t try to apply logic here.)
For the next couple hours as I rode along through Texas (Texas!) it’s hard to say why but I felt a sense of wonderment in general. It simply could have been my mood for the day, but I do feel like it was influenced by this hyper-excited sense of being in a foreign land. The wide open spaces, the sun bleached plains, the occasional smell of oil hanging on the air when passing through a town that seemed to materialize out of nowhere.
As a kid, I would look through my parents’ photo album. Early in their relationship, they’d spent time bumming around the states in my mom’s ’68 Firebird. An image from that photo album of my dad shaving in a roadside rest stop was transferred from those pages into my permanent memory bank. It is impossible to say why but here I am turning 50 and I can still “see” it – a covered roadside rest stop, my dad with a face full of shaving creme.
Here on the east coast, this style of covered rest stop isn’t common. This could contribute in part to why the image stayed with me – because it was so unfamiliar in every way. While I was out west riding around I saw many of these along roadsides: covered structures with tables or benches for people to pull off and enjoy. We seem to use the land differently out here on the east coast.
With the swirling cocktail of the feelings of being far from home, the general excitement of traveling, the touchstone memory of my parents, when I saw the random approaching rest stop near Mobeetie, Texas I just had to stop.
It seems impossible now but I didn’t even notice the arrow at first. When it came into focus, related to absolutely nothing in my life beyond maybe this magical moment in time, I couldn’t help but think this must be the place.