My Favorite Road Trip
Two traffic tickets, one lime-green VW Bug, Alsatian cheese pockets, and the wind-borne contents of a baby potty: Texas celebrities remember their most memorable drives.
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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 at the Landmark Inn, the “most popular room for romantic occasions.” It’s an enchanted place. Inside the room there is an ongoing journal where guests have contributed ghost stories about things they experienced in the room. It is really a fun thing to do.
Mary Willis Walker’s latest mystery novel, All the Dead Lie Down, was released in paperback in February by Bantam Books. She lives in Austin.
I WOULD HAVE TO SAY THAT MY MOST memorable road trip occurred at Christmastime in 1976. I drove from Austin to Los Angeles to spend the holidays with my girlfriend’s family. I had a lime-green Volkswagen bug, and I found a guy to ride along with me so we could share expenses. We argued just about every thirty miles. It was either too hot or too cold, and I was driving across Texas with this guy I didn’t know and didn’t like. I don’t remember much about the drive to El Paso except that it was miserable, but I know that once we reached Las Cruces, I threw him out of the car.
A twelve-year veteran of the state Senate from Houston, Rodney Ellis chaired the Senate Finance Committee during the 2001 legislative session.
KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON
MY FAVORITE ROAD TRIP IS THE DRIVE we would make throughout my childhood from La Marque to visit my grandmother in Beaumont. My parents would load up the car, and we would go from La Marque to Galveston and then on the ferry to Bolivar. After we’d drive onto the ferry, we’d climb up to the top and let the wind and water blow in our faces; then we’d scramble down to the car in time to drive off. We’d listen to great radio shows like Our Gal Sunday and sing songs—off-key—for hours on the road.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is serving her second term as a United States senator from Texas.
THE HAMSTER, FOR SOME NOW UNKNOWABLE reason, was named Boombernickles. There was also a French poodle named Charles de Gaulle and an earsplitting canary called Bird. The rest of us included my mother and my aunt in the front seat and four children squeezed into the back of the station wagon. We had been living for two years in Washington, D.C., and were going home to Texas. I was eight years old. I remember a fight in the back over a can of shoestring potatoes and a general riot that broke out when my aunt Eileen emptied a baby potty out of the front window without closing the window behind her. I remember my mother stopping the car by the side of the road—long before “journaling” was therapy—to write peacefully in her diary until we finally settled down and there was no noise but the screech of the hamster’s wheel. I possess the powerful homing instincts of a runty pig and recall the feeling that came over me when the landscape began to grow familiar and the flatlands gave way to a few hills. It was close to reverence. Evening was spreading over the ground. I remember riding in silence. We were not on foreign soil anymore. We were in Texas. We were home.
Elizabeth Crook is the author of The Raven’s Bride and Promised Lands. She lives in Austin.
MY FAVORITE ROAD TRIP IS BETWEEN Austin and Tyler: up I-35 to Dallas and then east on I-20. Last April I took out my 1958 Chevy hot-rod truck with dual carbs and a 350 engine, which I hadn’t driven in a while. I needed to blow it out—we had to get some fresh Earl Campbell’s sausage to a party in Kilgore—so I was going about 80 miles per hour. I got pulled over. I won’t say if I got a ticket, but my friends were driving behind me, and they pulled over a few hundred yards ahead of where I was and just started laughing.
Football legend Earl Campbell won the Heisman Trophy at the University of Texas and the Rookie of the Year and two Most Valuable Player awards in eight years with the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints. He lives in Austin, where he is the president of Earl Campbell Meat Products.
I FREQUENTLY DRIVE FROM THE Midland Airport to Marfa and back along Interstate 20 and Texas Highway 17. The leg between Midland and Pecos bisects the Permian Basin and is interesting only for its endless pump jacks. From Pecos to Balmorhea, through Wild Rose Pass to Fort Davis and on to Marfa, the road approximates the old Comanche Trail. The scenery changes hourly with the sun and is different every time I’ve been through it. I can almost see the Comanche war parties headed south from the Palo Duro to raid in Mexico, returning with their bloody loot and slaves as they did for hundreds of years before we dispossessed them.
Attorney Dick DeGuerin has represented a long list of celebrated clients, including Ramsey Muniz, David Koresh, and most recently, Robert Durst. He lives in Houston.