Maybe the Mayans and Nostradamus are right. Maybe the end of the world is drawing nigh. An ice storm followed by a snow storm in Dallas left the city covered with an inch thick sheet of ice and a foot of snow on Super Bowl weekend -or maybe even thicker. This was the weekend we chose to meet our friends in Austin.
We were hesitant to brave the inclement weather. But what the hell. We decided we would risk going out and drive as far as we could without winter tyres. As a matter of fact, we made it all the way to Austin.
Our street was a sea of white. Practically the only visible objects were the traffic lights. Sean steered the car deftly towards the Dallas Tollway, which was tolerably drivable. There were more cars than I imagined. Traffic was slow because there were a couple of snow ploughs and gritters clearing the snow.
It was a bit boring but at least was safe. What seems like a good idea at the time turned out to be a mistake: exiting the Tollway to overtake the convoy using the slip road was dicey because it was very icy (and it rhymes too.)
Sean has experience driving on snow and ice and drove very carefully, never breaking suddenly or making brusque manoeuvres. But the same could not be said about other drivers. Some were texting, taking pictures of the signs that warned about icy roads (it was kind of ironic, though,) chatting on the phone or with their companions as if it were a normal day. Oh yes, and doing the same stupid things people do on a daily basis like not signalling when changing lanes. I’m not sure some people should be allowed behind the wheel.
Chunks of ice flew from the roof of the sixteen wheelers that rumbled past us, their wheels splattering slush all over our windscreen blocking our view. That was the really scary part.
The snow and ice followed (and preceded us) as far as Waco (yes, THAT Waco,) where it began to disappear gradually. In a way, it was a pity because the snow made the countryside and even industrial areas look quite pretty, especially when the sun was out and the ice glistened in the bright light.
It took us less than six hours to reach Buda, a town south of Austin. Not bad, considering the driving conditions for the first half of the way. We checked into the hotel and drove to Lockhart for a barbeque dinner with our friends.
We woke up to a gloriously sunny morning and hit the road after breakfast. Our plan was to get to Lexington as early as possible to attend a cattle auction and eat lunch. We’d heard of this barbeque place called Snow’s and decided that life was not worth living if we didn’t try their allegedly out-of-this-world barbeque. It was all that and more.
Lexington is such a tiny town that if you so much as sneeze while driving, chances are you’ll miss it. This is the quintessential rural town: rusty silos, a livestock exchange, wide empty streets, easy chairs on the porch, haystacks, barns, and lots of peace and quiet interrupted by the odd bellow or squawk.
Unfortunately, the cattle auction was cancelled due to inclement weather. I was disappointed because I really wanted to see it, I wanted to touch and see the heart and soul of the Texan heartland.
I walked around the livestock exchange building to try to catch a glimpse of the few heads of cattle I could hear but not see. A very polite employee asked me if I needed help and gave me a strange look when I said I just wanted to have a look and could I take photos too? “Feel free to walk around.” So I did.
I climbed up a ladder to a sort of metal gangway from which one can see the cattle milling around in the pens. There were a dozen cows, calves, and a couple of goats. They all stopped doing whatever it was they were doing to stare at me in absolute silence. It was eerie. So I waved and said “¡Hola, chicas!”
The rural smells and sounds reminded me of home. Of traversing the grassy vast pampas sprinkled with brown dots that transformed into cows and horses as the car advanced. Of once thriving small towns whose fortune declined when the railway stopped running. Of abandoned barns and tiny cemeteries at the side of the road that can tell the history of the place.
Pickup trucks, tractors, seeders, cattle floats, old clunkers lumbering along. I could have been anywhere in the Argentinean pampas. But I was in the heart of Texas.
In a strange sort of way, I felt at home.