Friday, July 2, 1999
Fredericksburg is also where Admiral Nimitz, the World War II Pacific Fleet commander, was born and raised, and there are two museums in his honor. One’s indoors, but we had the dog so couldn’t easily go. It was hot and sticky anyway, and even during breakfast when we tied the dog outside our restaurant window, she yelped, and yanked, and generally embarrassed us in front of every other tourist. The second museum, a few blocks from downtown, is The Walk of History, and I kept expecting Edward R. Murrow to appear as our guide.
It’s on a couple of fortified acres: Tanks. Planes. A full-scale mock up of The Fat Boy. And if you don’t know what that is, you don’t wanna ask. We were the only people there. The dog didn’t have to be on leash, but was, as I wasn’t planning to chase her through a stash of absolutely-disarmed munitions, only to discover otherwise. Now in my drooly Liberal way, I’m against any kinds of weapons, but if there hadn’t been a Second and, for that matter, a First World War, I never could have been raised a drooly Liberal. So I made my peace with the artillery in respect for the people who’d died.
The whole place was scarier for there being no one else around, like the end of On The Beach. Just a little breeze, and Tom, me, the dog, and this arsenal. I felt the same awkwardness I always do in military cemeteries: So much pain, if so necessary. And everything seemed so out-of-date, clearly part of a distant, not-very-bright civilization. Their slickest technology, painted faded drab, would simply fail next to our stupidest computer.
I’d never understood the War in the Pacific anyway. It was something we never got to in high school—actually, we barely reached World War One. And I knew more about that from Yankee Doodle Dandy: the Lusitania sinks and Cagney writes “Over There!” I did know about Pearl Harbor. That was mentioned. But the actual importance of the islands where Nellie Forbush washed a French miscegenist out of her hair was never made clear. It wasn’t till some years after history classes ended, when I sat down with an atlas and puzzled out the geography myself, that I figured out what might have been going on. And why all the men who’d used this almost-extinct equipment had died.
Almost without talking, we explored for a good part of the morning. Finally, other voices interfered, chattering, and dragging us into the present. And I was glad we’d walked to the museum, because it gave us the chance, slowly, to walk back out.
More happily, Fredericksburg is also home to the Texas wine industry, something of a national secret. That’s because the booze can’t be exported from the state—not that Rangers confiscate it at the border. So Tom loaded up.
“They’ll ship it to you if you order,” he said. “They just can’t sell it in stores.”
“Why?” I asked.
He hadn’t inquired. But it’s probably the California lobby.
The wine was neatly packed in cardboard sleeves so the bottles wouldn’t break. Though I wasn’t sure what would happened if the contents boiled.
“It’ll be okay,” Tom assured me.
He’d found that out.
And we could have used a little beaujolais on our next ride. Green hills quickly turned to plains—and they don’t call ’em plains for nothing. Junction bills itself as The Front Porch to the West, but they don’t tell you the house has long burned. Davy Crockett, in granite, stands as the center of Crockett County, and also names a town somewhat east. The man died to become real estate. But maybe that fits, since Fess Parker, probably our best known coonskin capper, finally made a living selling tract homes.
Fort Stockton was our easy destination, four hours away, doin’ seventy, with nothing to stop us but heat. There’s a big roadrunner in the center of town. I could stand under its tail and not even ruffle its fiberglass feathers. Of course, the dog marked the occasion in her own way.
While we were taking tourist pictures, a guy drove up in a battered car and shouted, “I saw your California plates. I just moved from San Jose. Wanna have dinner?”
I doubt he had friends there, either.
We ducked the recent alien and found our motel, which was painted like a Swiss whorehouse: brown and white, with a big fake clock tower. By that time, the wind was blowing like it was trying to raze Gomorrah, and we had to hang on to railings while fighting the way to our room. There was a Baptist convention in the pool, which seemed somewhat grottoish and was flocked by crows. What’s the difference between a crow and a blackbird anyway? And a raven?
Dinner was terrible. “Smoking or non-smoking,” our friendly waitress asked, though it didn’t really matter—tobacco permeated the barely-divided room, giving what little flavor there was to the meat. Tom had something to drink, but it probably wasn’t strong enough.
Between courses, the waitress told us the story of her life. She was funny, and it was sad, and since it was Tom’s turn to pay—we loosely alternated—he overtipped as much as I would have. Maybe that’s how she made her living.
“I never said West Texas was pretty,” I yelled to Tom as we battled the after dinner wind. While we’d eaten, it had only gotten stronger. But there was no rain.
“It’s okay,” he hollered between gusts. “It’s what I expected.”
How sad, when no expectations are met.