texasmonthly.com: When did you decide to put together this compilation?
Bryan Woolley: My job at the Dallas Morning News is to cover the parts of Texas that aren’t on the major interstates, pretty much the parts of Texas that people have forgotten about or they don’t know about. Most of them are small towns, rural areas. I have been around just about the entire state during the past four or five years. All these stories have appeared in the Morning News.
texasmonthly.com: What is your process for writing one of these essays?
BW: Well, most of the ideas for the story are mine; they are usually based on a person or group of people I want to write about. I normally start with the people and go from there, describing the town and the countryside.
texasmonthly.com: Which small towns do you have a particular attachment to?
BW: Since I am a far West Texan who grew up in Fort Davis, my favorite parts of the state include the Trans-Pecos, Big Bend, and Davis Mountains area, El Paso, and the Guadalupe Mountains area, but I also like South Texas quite a bit. I guess that is from growing up near the border. I love the border—it is long and fascinating.
texasmonthly.com: What are your driving activities like?
BW: A lot of times the car is just silent, and I am thinking and driving. Every now and then I will play some music. I particularly like jazz—Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington.
texasmonthly.com: What do you love about driving?
BW: I think it is part of the American character that we like to be in motion, and whether it is true or not, when I am behind of the wheel of a car, I feel like I am sort of in control of my life and destiny, especially on a wide-open highway. So I get exhilaration out of it.
texasmonthly.com: There are so many Texans who never leave. Why?
BW: Well, really there isn’t any need to leave. We have just about everything here. Texas is as big as France, or even a little bigger. It has a great variety of countryside, cities, ethnic groups, food, and music. I think those people should get out and see other places. If you have to stay in one spot, though, Texas is a good place.
texasmonthly.com: Is it becoming more and more difficult for small towns to survive?
BW: It is very difficult for them to survive. I would say most of them aren’t surviving very well because in many cases the reason the town was built in the first place has disappeared. A lot of them were little railroad towns where the trains stopped twice a day. Now trains roll through without stopping, so the railroad becomes more of a nuisance than anything else. A lot of them were farming communities in parts of Texas where farming is no longer happening. A lot of them depended on the traffic on the old highways, like U.S. 90, which usually went straight through all the towns. When those towns were bypassed by the interstates, the traffic stopped, so a lot of businesses went under. Another thing that has killed a lot of small-town businesses is Wal-Mart. When Wal-Mart shows up, many of the downtown businesses dry up.
texasmonthly.com: What is the key to telling these small-town Texas stories?
BW: Most of the people I write about have never had the chance to tell their story to anybody. So I think it is very important to give them the opportunity to do that and to tell it in their own language. And nearly all the people who I have met—in the countryside, around the state, in the small towns—are extremely eloquent people in their own way. They have a beautiful language, which is disappearing because of television, popular culture, and other influences that are taking away the regional uniqueness of the way people talk.
texasmonthly.com: What do you hope to accomplish with these stories?
BW: I think that what I am doing in a lot of these pieces and other pieces I have done is trying to preserve a little bit of the old Texas that is disappearing and in another generation or two, will not exist at all.
texasmonthly.com: What do you love about Texas?
BW: I would say it is the sense of space. I have lived in a lot of different states over the years—Kentucky, Missouri, Massachusetts, Alabama—and no other place that I have been gives me the sense of space and freedom that Texas does.
Bryan Woolley’s Texas Road Trip (TCU Press) hits bookstores in September, and he has another book coming out in October for cat lovers called Home Is Where the Cat Is. His first novel, Some Sweet Day, was published in 1974 and edited by Toni Morrison.