You couldn’t see what you didn’t know

It says “A Touch of Texas.” But in reality, as much as we love Texas, this land is enchanting all on its own.

The saleslady at World Car Hyundai in San Antonio gave herself the nickname of a fairly famous female chef.

She said it was to distinguish herself from another saleslady with the same first name.

Narrative faithfulness would prompt me to quote her telling you her own story. Except that I’m about to criticize her, and I’ve already identified her too much.

There was a nail in the 2019 Santa Fe that we bought on Friday that was causing the passenger rear tire to appear low on the dash alerts — 25 PSI instead of the 37-40 these tires should be.

“Naw,” she started, her head tilted to the side while she looked back at the tire from the front passenger window, my wife seated there, “Looks good to me.”

Three hundred fifty miles later, in Plains, Texas, en route to Ruidoso, our tire said differently.

This tire said, “I have a nail in me, and I’ve been trying to tell you since we left the Alamo City. You appear to be deaf, so let me whisper sweet somethings in your ear.”

And whisper it did, as I leaned in close with my left ear practically touching the rubber, still hot from miles of US-87 and US-380 West. It was saying, “Psssssss(t).” Though it didn’t whisper a “T” at the end to indicate it was stopping anytime soon. It continued. “Pssssss.”

A little more than twenty dollars and twenty minutes later — a small sacrifice of money and time — and the tire was patched. I stood in a trapezoid of shade just inside one of the two garage bays, looking like I could have fixed the patch myself had I the proper tools and were I not wearing my best jeans and new-ish Adidas sneakers.

The drive from Kerrville to Ruidoso is long but not not grueling. “On paper,” as we used to say, it’s 8 hours and 20 minutes and 544 miles, though that’s using “modern technology.” With an old road map there was no way to determine a long trip with that kind of specificity, especially one that hadn’t made before. Traffic? Construction? Who knew…

“Well,” we might say to our host before leaving, stretching to its full length the cord from the wall as we looked out onto the backyard through the kitchen window, “we’ll be there by dinner.” And we’d do our best to make good time, stopping at Rest Areas and re-checking our map against the one behind the plastic frame in between the men’s and women’s bathrooms, proverbially wetting our forefinger and sticking it up in the air along the way. Google Maps makes trips more predictable — segments and turns and traffic and (+) Comment functionality along the way (“Speed trap” “Slow down”) — but it also makes driving expedient when what we want is adventure. And surprise. Even a slow leak on a tire. Google can’t predict that.

From Plains, it’s 13 miles west on US-380 until you leave the Lone Star State and enter the Land of Enchantment.

True “enchantment” for us, though, was scheduled to begin 162 miles and 2 hours 42 minute later in Ruidoso. (See how Google Maps can rob the trip of poetry?)

Between the Texas border and Enchantment, one passes through a mercifully brief roadside parade of little green men. With COVID shutting down Roswell’s Museum and leaving open only the gift shop, what remains is a hat for $25 with that ubiquitous green face — like an upside-down raindrop — two black eyes staring back. As if we’ve decided that any other alien face just won’t do. Selling anything remotely frightening, certainly nothing with teeth, is unmarketable on a bikini bottom or onesie. After all, our placement of the alien motif on anything we sell, in Roswell or elsewhere, means we’ve conquered it. Like a mountain peak on a Patagonia pullover.

The Atlas Missile Silo, east of Picacho, NM. Decommissioned in 1965.

A few miles past Atlas Missile Silo 579-10, beginning in earnest in Picacho, you start to feel the enchantment.

The Sierra Blanca mountain range appears, with its 12,000-foot queen.

It’s not long before you are nestled beneath her wings. Pine trees looming over you like nursemaids.

At night the Milky Way, spanning your view of above, and which until now you didn’t realize you couldn’t see in Texas.

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