I was trying on cowboy boots in Allen’s Boots in Austin when I said to Dan, “It seems like it would be easy to fall in love with Texas.”
He was a nice and generous man, with a whitening beard, and a smile not unlike Hemingway’s (when Hemingway smiled). He had three motorcycles in his garage: a BMW, a Harley Road King, and his favorite, a Triumph Bonneville. On the walls were memorabilia from movies and places, some Americana, some kitchy travel mementos. Near the doorway was a black and white picture of Steve McQueen. He and his wife, Julie, were friends of my girlfriend’s family who were putting us up for the night. At that point in the day they had treated us to a few sights, lunch and drinks.
Dan reached out and put a black Stetson cowboy hat on my head. “That’s the one,” he said, because the prior hat was too big, “take a look.” I turned to my girlfriend and did my best Buck Swope (Don Cheadle’s character in Boogie Nights). “Cowboy,” I said with my hands out at my sides as if presenting my new look, and turned slightly to my right, “Cowboy.” My girlfriend laughed, as did the girl who was helping us (though I think my reference was missed). I checked myself out in the mirror. It wasn’t a look I was accustomed to seeing myself in, but it did look really cool. Something about the “cowboy” look is very alluring. I bought the boots, but couldn’t commit to the Stetson – I couldn’t go full-cowboy – and we left the store before the girls started going crazy around all those boots.
“This is Dan getting back at me for Julie’s hat,” I said smiling. “He knew I was gonna end up with boots.” Everyone laughed. It was only twenty minutes prior I asked to stop in a Goorin Bros. hat store, and bought nothing, while Julie ended up with a new hat on a whim.
“Thanks, Jeff!” Dan had said, feigning frustration, but Julie looked great in that red fedora.
Throughout the rest of the afternoon we saw a few places, had a few more drinks, and made it back to their house. During that time there wasn’t a single moment of friction between Dan and Julie. There was never a moment of impatience. Everything was easy. Everything was genuine and light. Dan and Julie met when they were 15 and 16, respectively, and had been married for 40 years.
They took us to a honky-tonk bar called The Broken Spoke. Sawdust lined the unfinished wood floors. A small museum had a collection of pictures taken with the owner – Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino, Dolly Parton, Peter Billingsley, Willie Nelson – along with some other memorabilia of people who had passed through. In another room a live band performed while the crowd learned to country line dance. The owner worked the door in a yellow silk shirt and a white kerchief tied at the side. He was a heavier man, with the fierce and sullen look of a man who doesn’t take any shit, but his eyes and smile were bright enough to make anyone know that he was a nice fella. We all had a beer and moved on.
By the end of the night I was at the end of Dan and Julie’s driveway, sipping wine with Dan while he smoked a cigar. I don’t remember our conversation because we were pretty lit at that point, but I remember laughing a lot, and the smell of the cigar, and the lights glinting off all the chrome in the garage behind me.
So, why would it be easy to fall in love with Texas? For the same reason it would be to fall in love with any place, I suppose, when you’re with the right people at the right time. Austin marked the first leg of the trip back to Denver for my girlfriend after being away for four months. I had flown down to Houston to drive back with her. Dan and Julie were incredibly nice people, who clearly care for my girlfriend, and were more than willing to show us a good time. Also, Austin has a charm not unlike Denver, but with a different vibe. I can’t describe it, but the boots are a good start. My girlfriend, Dan and Julie, are – like a few other people I know – very good company. We talked about fishing, and cigars, where we all were from, and we were would like to go. But, we mostly joked around, had some drinks and good food, and there wasn’t a worry on the wind. It’s further proof that a lot of happiness comes from filling our lives with the right people. It helps us understand how our actions define us, and turns us into better people. I have been lucky in knowing the people I know, and even luckier in being loved by them.
For the rest of the trip back to Denver my girlfriend and I read to each other, listened to some music, and enjoyed the serenity of the wide open Texas landscape. It was a long and peaceful drive made nicer by good company. I have left out the details, of course – the glancing touches, the inside jokes. I have included a picture at the bottom. The rest I’m keeping to myself, save for this:
Our last stop was a little place in Colorado City (which is far from a “city” in the traditional sense, and where it seemed everyone smoked two packs of cigarettes a day), and left with about three hours of driving ahead of us. My girlfriend resumed reading aloud. Her voice was getting slightly hoarse, and at times she had to speak up over the sound of the road. Eventually, with the Denver skyline in view, she read the last line of our book:
“’Okay, baby, hold tight,’ said Zaphod. ‘We’ll take in a quick bite at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.’”
She closed the book and smiled. We were home.