Dispatch 14 (road trip, Saturday Oct. 17, part one of two)
Gina is leaning forward, her eyes intent, both
hands gripping the wheel. For a few moments, she looks like an automaton until the chorus
comes back and shes singing a song that dropped off from radio station playlists
"Dont go chasing waterfalls," she half
sings/half whispers. If the wipers had a little more rhythm, theyd be metronomes,
swinging back and forth in groove with the ladies from TLC and Gina herself.
Her voice, though melodic in speaking, doesnt seem
to be able to carry a song. Her singing is husky and tuneless, but her
more-than-a-whisper, less-than-an-utterance is soothing in the gray cloudiness of a
Saturday morning when the clouds have devoured the horizon and their water is supplied
No flooding yet on I-35, but theres plenty of it
behind us. We left early, despite Gina arriving half an hour late. Now, a little after 10
a.m., with a spiral pad in my lap and the rain a heavy sheet against the windshield, I
wonder the wisdom of our trip.
We were listening to a salsa CD Gina brought with her and
after the short disc ended, we were still able to catch a few radio stations from Austin.
One of them went on and on about flooding. They warned that no one should travel,
especially south toward San Marcos and San Antonio.
We were heading north, but a storm is a storm and if it
was going to catch us, it might catch us bad. And Ginas car, the little sporty red
vehicle hovering about three inches from the ground, couldnt make it past a puddle,
much less a flooded road without stalling. Were on a major highway and I keep
thinking if we just keep on it, we wont have any trouble. High ground, high ground.
We started picking up another station an hour out, maybe
Waco, and Gina got her Top 40 fix. I havent said much to her. Her concentration is
on the road and the visibility keeps getting good, bad, worse, good, bad.
High ground, high ground, Gina. Dont lose the road.
* * *
Gina lost the road.
Or at least the lines in the road. The rain was heavy and
I was half paying attention, wondering if there was anything to note in the pad, then
deciding aw, screw the pad. Its too early and Ive still got sleep haze in my
I was looking out the passenger side window and could
barely see mile markers and grass as we soldiered on. I glanced out one moment, noticing
that the mile marker we were passing (229? 29? Still cant see them) was farther away
than the others.
I turned Ginas way and saw two headlights from up on
high catty-corner to us. Gina saw it too and she jumped. We heard the sonorous horn of an
18-wheeler as its lights and the bulk of its metal beast body passed us. We both screamed
as the force of wind from the rig whooshed by. A huge wave of rain cascaded against the
cars front and Ginas side.
Gina was slowing down quickly and I thought the car would
skid. I turned to look behind us. No headlights there.
Her hands, still death-gripped on the black steering
wheel, were trembling.
* * *
Were at a gas station just south of Dallas.
The rain isnt as bad as it was leaving Austin, but the day is still dark and around
us; the fall of skinny droplets is making the world look like a snowy TV.
Gina insists on pumping and paying herself. I wait.
The rest of the way here, Gina began talking, I think
maybe to relieve her own boredom, avoid sleep, maybe avoid a collision with another rig
bound for some beer delivery depot in waterlogged Austin.
She asked if there was anywhere in Dallas I wanted to go.
"This may sound weird, but my dad was really into the
Dallas Cowboys. Can we go to Texas
Gina looked at me, smiling, as if expecting a punchline to
some joke Id made up.
"Im serious. Can we go?"
She laughed. "Sure. If theres not a game going
on or something."
Gina said she wanted to shop at the Galleria,
unfortunately on the other side of Dallas. Then, she said, she wanted to go to West End
and get some fudge at a shop inside the mini-mall that connects to Planet Hollywood.
"Its the worst mall in the world. They
dont even have real stores. Its just a bunch of trendy junk shops.
Theres a magic shop and a hologram store, but other than that, its just
t-shirts and souveniers. And dont even get me started about Planet Hollywood,"
* * *
We arrived at the Galleria at about one, with traffic
pretty bad the further north within Dallas we got. I havent been here often, but
when I have, Ive come away with incredibly bad vibes. Dallas is a city where Austin,
San Antonio and to a lesser extent, Houston, are towns that got really big. Dallas feels
like its always been too big, that its always had a personality deficiency,
that its always been full of assholes who can pretend that theyre not assholes
because they have enough money to convince themselves and the people around them
The Galleria is enormous even by mall standards and has
several different parking lots, some of them underground. We parked in one of those and
entered through a mens clothing store with suits and vests and more ties in nice oak
display cases than Ive ever seen.
We wandered to the main area and before us were four
floors of spending possibilities. I took a deep breath, mentally calculating how much
money Id need for the next two weeks. Can I live off sandwiches for a while? Do I
qualify for the Ramen Noodles
Before shopping, we hunted for food. We found an exquisite
Italian restaurant on the fourth floor. Gina ordered pasta with mushrooms and chicken and
made moaning sounds through the entire meal. I might have been embarrassed if I
wasnt attracting more attention to us myself: every time she got into one of her
moaning fits (punctuated with "oh yeah," and "oh god"), Id start
laughing, coughing up some bit of my lasagna.
We drank wine with our meal and the combination of the
laughter and the alcohol made me lightheaded. By the time we got up to leave, I nearly
stumbled out of my chair.
Gina grabbed my arm and leaned over, whispering as we
left. "I feel so good right now," she said, conspiratorially. "I gotta
Fast forward an hour and a half, and my feet were already
hurting. Gina, though, was indefatigable. She bought two skirts, a dress, some underthings
at Fredericks (black lace bra, black
garter, slip sorry, Gina, gotta be thorough in my account) and birthday cards for
her niece and her dad at Hallmarks. Gina breezed from store to store like a salmon
swimming upstream all instinct and grace and effortless distinction. She manages to
walk into any store blindly and find something that is perfect and exact. Maybe she has a
good eye. Or maybe she just falls in love easily with the things she sees.
In any case, watching Gina shop is a little like watching
a really good professor break apart a novel youve read a dozen times but never
really got you keep wondering why you couldnt piece it together when it was
all right in front of you.
After shed done most of her own shopping, Gina
helped me put together an outfit at Lerners and we found some half-priced shoes at
The Wild Pair. The outfit from Lerners was a slit-cut knee-length black skirt
("The slits in," Gina said, "and its perfect for
dancing.") and a silver top. It was a little more daring than what Im used to
wearing, but it wont be out of place clubbing in Austin.
We left the mall with our bags, Gina swinging hers around.
I realized I was having a really good time. I was going to ask for directions to Texas
Stadium, but instead decided to leave it for tomorrow if we had time.
I wanted to see where Gina would take me next.