MY FIRST ROAD TRIP AS A BOY was driving up from Houston to see my grandfather in East Texas. We’d stay at his house, and we’d take trips to places like Elk for dances at people’s farms or to swim in the tanks. Later, my grandfather and I would drive around Jacksonville, Frankston, and up toward Tyler in his 1961 Ford. He had been a guard at an insane asylum, but he inherited some land where they discovered oil, and he went from rags to riches. We’d drive around on his leases.
As I got older, one of my favorite trips was Houston to Austin on Texas Highway 71—back then it was a pretty drive, just two lanes. I had friends who were going to college in Austin, and I loved it. I had the feeling of freedom, of really busting out. My first car was a ‘64 Ford Fairlane, and then I had a 1967 green Duster—it was always breaking down somewhere. I remember cruising down the road listening to Jerry Jeff Walker, Joe Ely, Michael Murphey, Waylon Jennings. Once a year my high school buddies and I would drive to Big Bend and camp out there for four or five days. Of course, when I left home at 21, I made that drive from Houston to L.A. You get to El Paso and you think, “I’m only halfway there.”
Even today I like to get off the interstate and drive the blue highways. One day when I was shooting The Rookie in Texas last year, I had to go from Austin to Dallas. I got off I-35 in Waco and took a back road to Hubbard, where my mom’s from. I went to see my grandfather’s grave—he’s buried there. And I went to the Dairy Queen. Did you know that I’m the quality-control guy for Dairy Queen?
Houston native Dennis Quaid has appeared in more than fifty films, including Traffic and The Big Easy . His latest, The Rookie , arrived in theaters in late March.
NAOMI SHIHAB NYE
MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE ROAD TRIP is on U.S. 90 from San Antonio to Big Bend. We find that July is the best time to go. We usually leave late in the afternoon so we arrive in Del Rio around dusk. We have a wonderful Mexican meal, then spend the next day driving to Big Bend, getting there in time to set up our tent at the campsite before dark. The campsite is usually empty—if anyone is there, it is groups of Germans and Canadians, because most Texans think that it’s way too hot in Big Bend at that time of the year, but the nights are quite cool. Usually you need a jean jacket to stay warm. Along the way, we always stop at Haby’s Alsatian Bakery, in Castroville, for cheese pockets. We sometimes stop in Langtry to check out the ruins. And we like to stop in Marathon to have a late-afternoon lunch. It is just the most phenomenal road trip in the world.
Poet Naomi Shihab Nye’s latest book, 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East , was published in April by HarperCollins. She lives in San Antonio.
ABOUT ONE AND A HALF YEARS AGO, I decided to move back to San Antonio from Los Angeles. I did the drive by myself, since my son, John Paul, was already back in school in San Antonio. I stopped the first night in Las Cruces, New Mexico, about forty miles from the border, so I would cross back into Texas first thing in the morning, all fresh. I got up early the next day and stopped at the border, where there is a big concrete marker, and I got out and said a little prayer, thanking the Lord for letting us come back to Texas. Not five minutes later, I got pulled over on Interstate 10. The officer was intent on not cutting me any slack, so I got my ticket and drove on. I stopped in Junction for a midday hamburger. I talked to the proprietor about A&M legends and Bear Bryant and when they used to practice in Junction. Then I drove into San Antonio during a thunderstorm. It was a full day and a rite of passage from one life to the next. Really, a proper welcome back to Texas.
Henry Cisneros is the CEO of San Antonio-based American CityVista, which builds low- to middle-income housing in major metropolitan areas. He was the mayor of San Antonio from 1981 to 1989 and the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1993 to 1997.
IT MUST HAVE BEEN 1960, right when I was old enough to drive. My dad and I headed south on U.S. 90 from San Antonio to Uvalde, and we stopped for lunch at this little place on the south side of 90 called the Honey Hut. It isn’t there anymore, but they had the best hamburgers and french fries. My dad’s old Buick had a dial on the speedometer that you could set to buzz when you went over a certain speed. Well, my dad fell asleep pretty soon after we left Uvalde, and I reset that dial to let’s just say it was very fast. When my dad woke up, we were in Dryden, and he said that we got there so fast that he was glad he had slept so he didn’t have to see his life pass before his eyes.
Before she was elected agriculture commissioner in 1998, Susan Combs served two terms as a state representative from western Travis County.
MARY WILLIS WALKER
MY FAVORITE TRIP WAS IN MAY 1999. It took my sweetie and me three days to go 250 miles. We departed Austin and headed to Castroville to stay at the Landmark Inn. Then we drove through Utopia, Lost Maples, and ended up in Luckenbach before starting back for Austin. It was a really slow circuit. The most memorable moment was definitely staying in room 8