One thing I learned on my first road trip west: to make a real difference, to really contribute to the community, you needed to set down some sort of roots. I couldn’t do that in my brief visits to Aspen or the Bay Area, but returning to Texas felt like coming home. Maybe that was where I needed to grow, given my own roots. So, I set out to stay in Texas.
- Doodlebugging w Dynamite
I came home broke, looking for work. In the spring, I had discovered seismic survey work, AKA doodlebugging. With “hot shot pay” for living expenses (due to rural work locations) in addition to regular wages, it was a quick way to stack up some money. I found a crew to work on along the Texas coast and got 3 friends hired as well. This looked to be a solid gig, so the 4 of us rented a single motel room to really stretch our hot shot pay. We ate on the cheap as well, dreaming and scheming of pooling our earnings to buy land in Arkansas, a feasible goal, it seemed.
Then, the crew folded. Turns out it was a bit of a trial balloon, and shortly after Thanksgiving. we were laid off.
- Winter wanders
Free to roam through the winter holidays then, I bounced back and forth between Houston and Austin, dropping in on family and friends, soaking in the festive spirit and avoiding any attempts to plan ahead.
- Back to Bolivar
Going to Bolivar that winter was intended as more than a retreat. Uncle Willie had offered to pay me & Mike Eddy to re-roof the place, while Mike helped me edit the Great American Novel I had written on the road.
Then Mike died.
I went to Bolivar anyway, despite friends and family fretting about me going there alone in the aftermath of my friend’s sudden death. I felt like I couldn’t be anywhere else. Day after day and night after night, I hunkered down into winter (beach cabins are not designed for the cold — impossible to heat) and solitude. It was a cold and harsh retreat, but I needed it. I wandered the deserted beach by day and stared into the deadly blue flame of the gas heater by night. A couple of times, friends popped in to check on me. I self-edited my manuscript — so it still sucked severely when I was done. I didn’t care.
Finally, I left to go back to the Old Home Place for a bit of breathing space.
- Hutchins Hotel (Hempstead)
I needed money so I went back to doodlebugging. This crew was based out of Brookshire and headquartered at a modern motel along I-10. Derek and Tito and I opted instead to use our hot-shot pay to rent rooms in a run-down lodging house in nearby Hempstead, the Hutchins Hotel — the oldest building in town.
As per usual, I didn’t stick to doodlebugging long before cashing it in.
- 2-story Tenement (Houston)
I moved in with my brother when he was being forced to move out of the one-bedroom apartment that his landlord wanted for his office. The landlord offered us a free month’s rent on a partially crumbling 2-story house on the edge of the 3rd ward in Houston for hauling off a small mountain of rubble and debris behind the house. We dubbed the place the 2-story tenement, what with a gaping door-sized hole in the second floor wall leading to an unsealed attempt at a roof deck that leaked into the dining room. But we needed a place to stay and Scott’s old roommate, Neil, needed a place to stay while working an emergency room rotation at Ben Taub Hospital. We paid one months’ rent for 3 months staying there — and we were overcharged at that.
- Bay Area round 2
Neil left, Scott got married, and I caught a ride with my buddy, Gordon, out to the Bay Area. This time felt even more like a visit rather than finding a place to move, despite now having friends living here. After a few weeks picking up some temporary work, I headed back to Texas, stopping off to celebrate Thanksgiving in Albuquerque with another failed crush.
- Blue Collar Christmas (Houston)
Thanks to the friend of a friend, I started working at a decent-paying blue-collar job the week before Christmas. That meant I got a turkey as a bonus, just like everyone else at the shop. Knowing Scott & Joanie were fighting with our family and not on speaking terms at the time, I gave it to them. They were less than overflowingly grateful — turns out someone had already given them a turkey. This was the year I ended up having 2 Christmas dinners because both parts of my family invited me, and I did not want to tell either of the warring parties I was also eating with the “enemy.”
Yeah, Merry over-stuffed Christmas to me.
Next: Austin again