September 19, 2018
We left Fort Stockton before dawn. We had become efficient at breaking down the tent, heating up water for coffee, gulping our oatmeal, and packing up. We said goodbye to the RV Campground, appreciating the “God Bless You” sign at the gate. The first mileage sign reported Ozuma at 100 miles. We roared over the empty countryside, passed by and occasionally passing big rigs and long pickups. We felt confident staying at 80 with so little traffic, actually no traffic, as the green hills and prairie flashed by. Still, the road atlas map of Texas showed us at just couple of inches of progress from El Paso.
We were able to gas up at Ozuma, after a tense half-hour after I noticed the gas gauge needle hovering at a quarter-tank with 20 miles to go. We drove through the town. A few stores, gas stations, small homes. We didn’t stay long.
Our target for the day was Austin. We got off I-10 where it intersects with U.S. 290, a local road as fast as the interstate. We cruised through pastures, relieved, somehow, to feel we finally were making headway against the huge remoteness of West Texas. We broke free of the prairie and gradually moved into the famous Texas Hill Country, the pretty rolling center of the state accented by Austin, San Antonio, and dozens of smaller towns, many, like Gruene and New Braunfels, named for German immigrants who settled the region. Then I saw the sign: Harper, Texas.
Harper is Sandy’s maiden name. With all the tiny-print towns on the Texas map, how did we find ourselves in her namesake? She loved it. It was about lunchtime. I couldn’t help myself—I parked next to the Longhorn Café, your classic small-town Southern diner, old folks and young construction workers keeping their caps on indoors. Me too—until Sandy frowned at me.
We passed on the chicken-fried steak and all-you-can-eat buffet. She had the chicken sandwich, I asked for the four-vegetable platter. The waitress smiled but gave me a puzzled look. The food seemed to take a while. It’s on the menu, but they probably don’t often get an order for the veggie plate. Just a guess.
Afterward, per the waitress’s directions, we drove out of town a way to get a photo of the “Harper” sign at the edge of town. That was it for Harper, and we got back on 290. The next stop was Fredericksburg, a well-known outpost of the Hill Country. We drove slowly past the art galleries, chic boutiques, wine-tasting parlors, cute restaurants, and souvenir shops heavy on U-Texas and Texas A&M gear, which every younger guy seemed to be wearing. Apart from that I felt I was back in Old Town Alexandria. We got back on the road for a long winding drive past endless wineries with faux English and German names, towards Austin, the high-tech, high-prosperity, high-traffic volume state capital.