Feature story in The Bitter Southerner, August 2016. David Hanson reports from the road on family, distance, independence and whatever it is that ties us together despite all that.
Listen to the podcast version of the story here:
El Paso dwindles to a sporadic strip of dusty auto garages and taquerias stuck like a movie set façade against the looming brown desert. Some might say the real South dries out somewhere back in not-so-west Texas near Wink or Mentone or where the Pecos River makes its death-defying run down the Chihuahuan Desert’s eastern edge, but technically speaking the American South ends in a pinch of cactus, low brown hills, shopping centers, and alien-green golf courses where Texas, Mexico, and New Mexico collide beside the miraculous Rio Grande.
Dad leaves Ben with a $20 bill to cover our sodas, the two Grisham paperbacks he’s taking, and my nosiness. We merge back into the oil and gas parade. Here we are, in the same car, looking out the same windshield, with the same blood and hair and deep-set eye sockets. I’m agonizing over fracking’s dangerous meddling with desert aquifers and my total lack of faith in the industry’s conscience. Dad’s awed by the industrial ingenuity of man and his ability to reap life-sustaining energy and millions of dollars from such an otherwise desolate, useless land. My impulse is to incite a debate, to roll back to that old rigid tree, rattle it and maybe even pick it up and move it. I don’t like this impulse, and it never ends well, but there’s something about our fundamental disconnect that’s mystifying and frustrates me enough to keep poking at it, rousing the beast I imagine between us.
I hold my tongue and gaze into the western horizon, hazy from a fire we can’t see, deep in the Guadalupes. The radio grabs a country station long enough for one Marty Stuart song as we pass through the dust-blown town of Pecos, then it’s back to the hum of rubber on hot pavement and our own thoughts as we move out of the Permian and into Big Bend country.