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May 25, 2022–Like the dog with its head hanging out the window of a car, we only notice other dogs.

I’ve been crisscrossing the state the past several weeks, sharing seats with riders of various bents.

What I have learned is that while many are in the same vehicle, traveling the same road, every rider makes a separate journey.

My companions on one recent ride were fascinated with heavy equipment. Between them they can repair anything with an engine. And if it doesn’t have an engine, they can put one in.

They noted every single farm tractor, gooseneck trailer, and skidsteer, even if rusted and buried at the back of a tin shed behind a privacy fence. We even stopped in one small Texas town to check out a 1981 Kenworth. I used the bathroom at DQ while they crawled into the engine bay and thumped the tires.

On another trip, another rider was looking for land to buy. Every real estate office and land sign caught his attention. Not that any of us could figure out what we would do with 10 acres in Hico. We certainly did not plan to live there.

I’ve learned to add in a couple of hours on any trip with my wife or daughter. It’s not due to bladder breaks, but as owners of a home décor store in Fredericksburg they cannot pass by any roadside collectibles or antique shops without a stop. And there are, oh, so many of them.

Me? As neither mechanic nor speculator, I find myself staring at the passing Texas landscape and imagining it peopled with Native Tribes and herds of bison. There are the grand rivers L’Amour writes of, and the endless ranges of what was once grassland. For brief flashbacks, I can understand what the Comanches loved about this land, with its ample game, flowing waters, and scattered copses for concealment and shelter. For a couple of hours I am in a buckboard and it’s 1850.

Like those dogs hanging out the window, traveling through small-town Texas also reminds me how endlessly curious we are about other members of our species. Why, I find myself thinking, would anyone live in West Tawakoni?

I’m sure travelers thought the same of the small town where I grew up. I was staying with a friend when his folks announced we would be going to town since it was Thursday evening and the shops stayed open late. I got excited about our great adventure, as going to town was a big deal for a farm kid. So how perplexed was I when we drove downtown, angle parked, and proceeded to sit in the car.

“Going to town” for many families in the 1960s meant “people watching.” They sat there for two hours and watched shoppers walk up and down the one-block-long Main Street. For what purpose? Looking back, it’s facile to mock the behavior. But is it any different than our current fascination with TikTok?

I’m just as guilty. When I lived in town, I often walked of an evening. I found myself cutting through alleys to steal peeks at people’s gardens. I would get ideas and compare their plant progress to mine. At home, I noticed other gardeners detouring to study my bush beans.

Back in my buckboard rumbling across the Llano Estacado, I can’t maintain the illusion of the Old West further than a few miles. Soon power poles intrude. Followed by yet another store promising goods for a dollar, Land For Sale, a vintage lamp, and a used Kenworth.