Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

Travels with Roxy

Well, some of them do. Will was handsome, and he emitted a constant movie-star smile. But it quickly became apparent that the penis pressed against my thigh had been placed there on purpose to inflame my passions. A subway rubber! In Nashville! Also, he was dreadfully stupid—in a bad way. Roxy got the scoop: he was drunk because he was sad, and he was sad because the love of his life had gotten knocked-up by someone else three months ago and then aborted the baby even though Will wanted her to keep it, and then Will had accidentally knocked up a different girl, so his life was getting complicated. Obviously, the solution was to stick his dick into a brand-new girl on her way through town and see what ensued. Third time's the charm. Lock up yer women!

So we found us a group of tall, rugged pilots who blathered on about planes and flying but had the grace to stop when it became clear I was no longer listening. They escorted us to Trace's, with its white fairy lights and linens on the tables. We love Nashville, even if it did kill country.

Driving into Memphis for lunch, we tried to avoid downtown as long as possible, instead driving through the crumbling, black outskirts. The Centennial Baptist Church had been burned down. It stood, gorgeous and ghostly, its windows boarded and its doors deserted. We lunched on the gay corner of town (literally one corner); the Rainbow Club and the restaurant that served basmati rice were dead giveaways. We'd made bad time from New York to Nashville, even at a steady 90 mph, so it was two nights of trading off sleeping in the passenger seat while wrapped in my late grandmother's mink.

Mississippi is famous for its white people who hate everybody and its black people who hate everybody right back. But in Jackson, they pride themselves greatly on their cultchah, importing art and dance (Michael Flatley was a coming attraction, leaping feyly across a billboard) and generally being civil, if possible. At the Shoney's off Exit 96-B, we sat next to a woman in her late 60s with the most beautiful hair—it was gigantic, silvery blond and shellacked like a 1970s decoupage—and her husband, a mustachioed man in his 40s who mumbled. When I asked the lady for a light, she turned on some Southern honey for me. "It's just terrible having a cigarette and no lighter, isn't it?" she clucked.

"Yes, ma'am," said I, jovially. "I believe that's the Third Circle of Hell." The woman's eyes flew wide open, and Roxy gasped. One does not say "hell" to a Southern lady. I may as well have wiped my ass on her tablecloth. She didn't speak to us again.

It was at the hip-hoppenin' Texaco next door that we hit our stride; I think I had three new boyfriends before we got our change. And were they helpful? Well, honey, they drove back twice to express concern with our route. Oilmen all, they said their workers were heading into Shreveport because half the city was out of power; we would be much safer heading down to the I-10. And thus, Louisiana. The I-55 empties out in La Place, where Roxy grew up and where someone in the mid-'80s brought a black caddy to the golf tournament at the country club. The caddy was allowed to carry golf clubs, but he wasn't allowed to enter the establishment, and he had to drink his water from a plastic cup while sitting on the ground under a tree.

But Louisiana's lovely, even at night and at 90 mph, especially with Lucinda Williams in the CD changer, plaintively naming off the towns as you flash through them. And at 3 a.m., we were into Texas. I have little use for Texas. I thought it would be a thousand miles of cowboys, but I was sadly deluded. We rolled into a truck stop in San Antonio at 7 a.m. to shit, shower and shave, but we had to settle for coffee, a shower and Ex-Lax. The truckers across the counter were delighted to have two young women nattering at them, but the waitresses were surly, never even giving us menus, and the woman in charge of the showers made us beg. "They're for truckers only," she said. "Men truckers only." She eventually gave in, but we had to work for it. Each shower is its own spacious room, with a commode area and a giant shower stall. It costs $6 and is worth every penny. So is the Ex-Lax, which finally kicked in in El Paso, but that's a story for another day.

We'd made excellent time to San Antonio, so we rumbled into town, where Nebraska and Northwestern were clogging up the parking spots for the Alamo Bowl that day. (When we hit Nashville, we ran smack into the Music Bowl; at Memphis, we were just in time for the Liberty Bowl. Southerners love their football. Whoo-ey!)

We found the Princesita Beauty Salon (Hispanics make up 55 percent of San Antonio), where the ladies asked if we would mind if they finished their tamales before giving us the manicure and big-ass, Southern-lady hair we so desperately craved. (I ended up a perky frappť of Angela Davis and Little Orphan Annie.) Linda Luz Trevino, the blond and cuddly proprietress, had been a mechanical engineer at Kelley Air Force Basebefore inheriting her aunt's salon and retiring from the service on a herniated disk. Meanwhile, Santiago, who lived upstairs, came down to chat. He took me for coffee while Estella finished Roxy's nails and told me about the other big-haired girls he'd known. Most beloved was Donna from Houston; she was troubled and battered but the sweetest girl ever. He nursed her back to health with copious amounts of the Bible, but she left him for a big cowboy. "As long as she's happy," the shlumpy Santiago said, "then I am happy." He bought us two tacos for the road and waved us off before setting off in search of another distressed damsel. Vaya con Dios, Santiago.

« Previous Page
Next Page »