I have to admit that the sudden rush of air from our brand new, rented, Goodyear Interceptors could have been construed, in a way, as being my fault. I was the one, after all, who had removed the inch long thorns from the sidewall and tread of the front right wheel. We had managed to cover about a thousand miles without any mishaps and I suppose fate had the right to deliver at least one such catastrophe. It could have conspired to immobilise us in the middle of a crowded city with three garages in plain view but instead we were 50 miles from the nearest ‘town’ which had 250 inhabitants housed in an assortment of crude tin shacks and tents, and 130 miles from a town that had a prayer of having a brand new Goodyear Interceptor in stock.
We made our way to Terlingua, with the onboard computer informing us of a flat tyre on our front right side and an unpleasant listing caused by the fact that the donut was a good 8 inches smaller than the other three, unpunctured tyres. We arrived at the tiny garage in the tiny town in the arse end of Texas with big dreams of a successful patch up job on the expensive, expensive tyre. The guys in the garage were real Texan men, with a robust dislike of the rest of the states and a strange kind of fascination with Pat, who as the self proclaimed least masculine man in the world, sent a confusing message to the mechanics. They looked at him, the smooth faced, bespectacled englishman who had so unselfconsciously asked to watch them fix the tyre, with a mixture of horror and confusion, but none the less gruffly nodded him into the workshop. By the time they had finished their unsuccessful attempt at fixing the tyre I’m sure they viewed Pat as a sort of daughter figure.
Unfortunately the tyre was a write off and we would have to negotiate the 80 or so miles to Fort Stockton in order to find a replacement, but the Texan kindness knows no bounds and the mechanics offered to put a spare onto our moribund rim free of charge in order to avoid having to crawl at 25 mph all the way to Fort Stockton on a donut. ‘We just want y’all have a good impression of Texas’ they said as they helped us fit the slightly balding interim tyre back onto the Chevy. The Mechanic in Fort Stockton wouldn’t be open until Monday we found out and so the weekend was set, we would be spending it in Terlingua, population 250, made up it seemed of Border patrolmen, Hippies and gun toting, 10 gallon hat wearing cowboys.
As we settled into our hotel, holding our complimentary Lone Star beers and overlooking the desertscape from the balcony of the El Dorado hotel, things started looking up. This might not be the wasted weekend we were all expecting we silently agreed as the sun went down, casting long shadows behind the cacti and taking the edge off the 95°F heat. A few beers later and we were ready for bed. We didn’t go to bed however, we took a stroll down to the local bar, along unlit roads periodically jumping out of the way of the ecologically irresponsible 4x4’s that ploughed past us.
The Starlight bar was as much of a pleasant surprise as the rest of Terlingua, we met all manner of colourful characters there, an English guy who was in this part of Texas doing a documentary on a local woman who had emigrated from China 50 years ago and was a champion ping-pong player in her youth. He was in tow with an American called Cliff an Arizonian who, by his own admission had ‘a pretty extensive rap sheet’ and a somewhat sexually aggressive demeanour who made almost every woman he spoke to, feel visibly uncomfortable as well as an affable West Virginian with a flowing hobo’s beard who was in the process of hitch hiking all the way to Alaska to live out his favourite book ‘Into the Wild’. Many beers and Margheritas later we all collapsed into bed lightly toasted and pleased to have ended up here in Terlingua albeit by a cruel twist of fate.
The next morning we awoke with a need for a hearty American breakfast, this we found in the heart of the ‘town’ at an establishment called India’s Cafe. The place was little more than a tin shack with a stove in it and was run by a smiling yet formidable woman called India. And her husband, who it turned out was a Londoner. I think the fact she had the same name as the cafe was a coincidence. We spent the morning eating greasy yet satisfying Hash Browns and Eggs whilst listening to the stories that made up the daily lives of the locals in this sleepy back water. None of whom could have been more charismatic than Big Mac, a local man who came to India’s so regularly that he had a breakfast on the menu named after him. It consisted of 3 pork chops, 3 eggs, 2 Hash Browns, each the size of a dinner plate, French Toast and a Flaggon of Iced Tea. This guy was enormous. His round head grew directly out of his shoulders and the only suggestion of a neck was the 5 or 6 ample folds of fat that padded the back of his skull. At a guess I would say he must have weighed about 40 stone. It came as a surprise when I saw him get up and walk, unassisted, back to his pick up and struggle back into it before driving off.
Another night of beer and chat with the odd assortment of misfits at the starlight bar followed that evening and, slightly groggy we set out for India’s for our final Terlingua breakfast. Judge took the wheel and we set off from the El Dorado hotel at a brisk pace. So brisk in fact that as we neared the crest of the hill near the hotel Judge remarked that the 70mph he was doing was ‘so unnecessary’. Unnecessary indeed, so unnecessary in fact that the local sheriff, coming over the brow of the hill in the opposite direction felt moved to hit the lights and pull us over to impart some wisdom to Judge, himself on the front line in the war on terror back there in good old blighty in his role as PC Alex Judge, mover onner of drunkards in West Yorkshires market towns.
Judge got his driving license out of his wallet and got out of the car only to be gruffly ordered to ‘Please step back into the vehicle sir’ by the sheriff whose hand rested lightly on his service weapon and who sported a khaki shirt and a pair of blue jeans as though we may, at any point, forget that we were in Texas. When he was ready, Judge was ordered out of the car and received a stern reprimand. A reprimand, that despite rolling down all the windows and straining our ears, we could not hear over our own laughter.
We arrived at India’s for breakfast well within the speed limit and sat down for another hearty breakfast and amiable chat with India and her husband. Emma and I got around to explaining the full extent of our trip to India, who, like most Americans, was both confused as to our motivation as well as mightily impressed that we had chosen to venture outwith the borders of our birth country to see the world. ‘......and then after South America we’ll be heading to South Africa’ we were cut short by Big Mac who despite his enormous bulk we had failed to notice hoovering down the last Pork Chop on his three plate breakfast at the back of the cafe ‘Watch out for them blacks!’ he offered, before sucking the last of the meat off the bone in his hand and starting the laborious process of manoeuvring himself back into his truck.
And with Big Mac’s advice still ringing in our ears we left Terlingua and headed to Fort Stockton on the penultimate leg of our journey before Vegas. The Grand Canyon. Texas, you’re amazing, but not always in a good way.