November 15-20, 2012: If I were to characterize in a general and respectable fashion the good people of the state of Texas, I might call them rowdy white-trash meets dude’ed-up faux-sophistication with some of the liveliest regional music this side of the universe. And here, gringos are made welcome [see my previous post A gringo like me].
I was schooled in Texas many years ago, as far north as counties go, in what is called The Panhandle. I lived there for seventeen years. My parents, paternal grandparents and great-grandparents are buried just tens of miles north of the Battle of Adobe Walls. Now, on this 2640-mile roundtrip roadtrip from Colorado, just shy of driving the entire north-to-south spread of the state from Dallam County to Corpus Christi in Nueces County, I didn’t wear my Texas-stitched boots, not even once. I had them with me though. It somehow didn’t feel right to put them on this time. Too many inner changes in recent years, I guess. Not so sure anymore where I am or where I’m from.
Arriving at the edge of the Gulf, not too far from the border of the currently drug lord-ruled Mexico that snakes along the Rio Grande river, and after seeing along the way some of the many yard signs declaring, “SECEDE!” in lieu of the recent U.S. presidential election, I took pictures of funny-looking coastal creatures, like pelicans hanging around small, docked fishing boats and fighting for scraps from the fishermen aboard,
tall herons standing stoically on rocks out a ways in the water thinking seriously about whatever herons think about
and fragile, though designed to run fast, sandpipers that sprinted along the shoreline, occasionally creeping into the wet sand to dig for who knows what, then racing back before the next wave came in.
There were also the Hitchcockian swarms of gulls. For those who never viewed Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” nature, in the form of coastal birds, suddenly and seemingly without reason turned against man, woman and child in a most vicious manner.
I bathed my tired feet in the cool Gulf water. My brain welcomed the plentiful and rich oxygen at sea level, a sweet and spellbinding breeze surrounding me.
I was as low as one could go in elevation without sinking underwater, yet so light, serene. Back on the wet shore, I pressed my bare feet hard down into the sand, leaving footprints, as if to declare, “I was here, damn it!” Too soon, the waves erased them both away like some invisible teacher after a chalkboard lecture, reminding thoughtful students: “maybe for a while, but not for long.”
Corpus Christi translates to “Body of Christ.” It’s located below the stellar Texas constellation of San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Houston. If you could see far enough out into the eastern horizon, over the cool Gulf water that kisses faithfully this shoreline, you would see hundreds, maybe thousands, of offshore oil rigs that pin-prick the surface of the deep water, a mile deep in some spots.
Sacramental, in a sense, this region’s water, oil and “blood”-like energy from the penetrating rigs, yet not all that different from most other places, or times.
The USS Lexington is permanently docked here, a reminder of a time long past and, I believe sadly, nothing more than an antiquity to many of our youth today whose sense of history spans from the newest iPhone back to its previous version, although the ship personnel now offer, sensibly, a very cool science “campout” aboard the ship to detail experientially its historical and technological significance [see: http://usslexington.com/ ].
The ship was built in 1942 and decommissioned in 1991, having been hit twice in WWII, nicknamed “The Blue Ghost” by the infamous Japanese radio propagandist, Tokyo Rose, and serving in every major naval battle from Tarawa to Tokyo. The “Lady Lex” was both “the first US Navy ship to embark female crewmembers” and pure sophisitication of technology for its time [see: http://www.hnsa.org/ships/lexington.htm].
At night, there’s almost a carnival atmosphere to the city with a bridge that spans the Corpus Christi Bay. Columns of LED lights change colors as drivers pass under, sort of like walkers along Fremont Street in the ever-changing Las Vegas, Nevada, with its famous, state-of-the-art overhead light show.
Numerous oil refineries, at night, tower up into the sky like odd-shaped Christmas trees or high rises, covered top-to-bottom with bright glowing white bulbs. Tens, maybe hundreds, of modern windmills, propellered generators, the huge, all-white ones you now see rising up throughout the windy states, spin like steel and colorless pinwheels off in the northwest.
It’s still Texas, but with Hindu motel owners, Mexican waiters, Asian tourists, college students from two nearby universities, homeless in rumpled clothing who sleep either at the Metro Ministries/Rustic House, the Good Samaritan Shelter that includes meals or wherever they can find a relatively warm and hidden spot. Meals are also available at a local food bank, not to be confused with any of the high-rise banks. Reminds me of what the late comedian George Carlin is credited with saying, comicly and profoundly: the way the world works is that there’s a club at the top–and you’re not in it. I say, If it ain’t the truth, it sure feels like it.
There is a rundown, seemingly forgotten section of town populated largely with minorities wandering the streets and avenues, like the black man who approached me very slowly and awkwardly one morning while I was about to drive away from my cheap motel, then asked me for money. Mental counseling is available at a local clinic, and of course, there is the Salvation Army.
There are many examples of graffiti art with not-so-easy-to-understand intent.
People of all races and creeds fished for meals along the sandy but often rocky, sometimes low-walled, shoreline. A Mexican lady joyously showed me a flying fish she had caught while I was walking by. They are typically thrown back and not eaten. So strange! Fishes that can just soar right up and out of their given environments, so briefly and majestically, and then fall right back in. It had a crown of barbs that were poisonous if touched, and of course two wings. I took a photo, and then the woman threw it back to the water, where it lived.
I guess they’re fish that are just curious about the other side of the surface, and are designed for a revolving door out and then back in again. I don’t know. It’s too hard to be at ease with the “peace that passeth all understanding.” I do know that.
There are tall high-rise bank buildings, in fact, I think all of the highest-rises are named for banks, along with an “Ocean Drive” lined with mansions near ritzy beachfront hotels. There are many tall, though not as tall as the banks, old stone churches of many faiths. Of course, there are the plentiful dance halls and saloons, sometimes called “drinkeries” here.
Corpus Christi. The Body of Christ. Texas. I’m thankful this season of Thanksgiving, to be here so briefly, just passing through for a few days, breathing wholly and deeply the sea air, mindful of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings that my fellow travelers experience within each moment that we share.