This had been happening: Person At A Party Or Something: Neat, travel writing! Which country are you going to next?
Me: Texas. West Texas, actually. The Panhandle.
P.A.A.P.O.S.: . . . [painful grimace, anxious scanning for exit]
I understood. For many, Texas is a caricature. It’s coarse and uncouth. It’s faux-folksy and one-dimensional—700 miles wide, but an inch deep on the important indices. I thought of my wife’s stepdad, whose buddy sold manure bags in Texas for a living. So straight and endless were the highways that he’d prop a novel atop the steering wheel and read his way across the state. Surely it was a deeper monotony that had driven this man to letters.
Me, I grew up on the East Coast and settled on the West Coast. But the Lone Star State spat and lassoed and yes-ma’am’ed all through my DNA—particularly a tiny town called Silverton, which my ancestors helped found. As a younger person I ignored those genes. Asked about my roots, I would array the more exotic Ukrainian Jewish ones. The dusty forebears on my mother’s side were an afterthought to my adolescent mind. While the rest of the world was discovering quantum physics and erecting skyscrapers, it seemed my people had been living as savages in the dirt. As I would learn, that wasn’t the extent of it. Turns out they’d also lived in a cave.
“Playse lave uh mayuhsage,” Tom’s outgoing voice mail message had instructed me. I left some meandering sputtering instead.
“I’m your grandnephew, I think,” I said into ...