Some nights it’s hard to find a place to sleep in your Wagon where you’re not going to bother anyone. I knew that everyone in Texas wore big cowboy hats, grew big steaks in their big back yards, and carried big guns. I was excited about the cowboy hats and steaks, but a little concerned about the guns, especially since everything’s bigger in Texas. Mom and I had already been looking for home-sweet-dirt-patch-at-the-side-of-the-road for an hour, and Mom was reading every sign for a hint of an empty place to stop.
“Hey, Mom! What does that sign say?” I asked, looking at the biggest words you ever saw painted on a big old sheet and hung on sticks at the front of someone’s big yard.
“It says…” she paused to adjust her voice. “It says, ‘To whoever shot my dog, I will ducking torture you to death.’ Oh dear.”
“Wait! Shot the dog with what? A squirt can?! What???”
But we were passing another sign that was flashing this time, and Mom was reading instead of listening. “Oh crap!” she said. “It says that we need reservations to get into the park. We drove all the way to Texas to see this park. Now what will we do?!”
“What’s a reservation?” I asked.
“It’s when you let someone know you’re coming so that they don’t let other people take your spot.”
“Why don’t you let them know you’re coming then?” I asked.
“It’s a holiday break! The place will be packed!” Mom said. “They probably sold out weeks ago!”
“How do you know?” I asked. “Have you ever been here before?”
“Well, no but…” Just then Mom spotted a dirt road that stuck off the highway and slunk into the dark unknown. She swung The Wagon hard off the road. “Oh crap!” she said again as The Wagon lurched to a stop so suddenly that I slid into the front next to Mom. The Wagon was nose-to-nose with another fence.
“What a perfect place to call the Texas Rangers and let them know you’re coming!” I said.
“Alright, alright. But they’re going to be full. You have to plan ahead for everything these days,” Mom warned, and then gave her attention to The Witch. A few minutes later she woke The Wagon up again, “Well that was easy! It turns out that all you have to do is pay 8 bucks, and they’ll even let the likes of us in!”
We were already waiting at the gate to show off our reservation when the sun peeked over the edge of Texas to see if we were ready yet. At the guard tardis, Mom proudly explained that we were on the guest list and gave her name. The ranger must have been starstruck to meet me, because she lit up the sky like a neon sign the moment she released us into the park. I was excited to see what Texas looked like now that there was enough light to see by. The part of Texas outside the park had been filled with long, empty stretches of desert that looked like a less interesting Oklahoma, but in front of us the earth opened wide into a canyon that swallowed the road. We dropped over the rim, and then Mom yanked The Wagon suddenly to the side of the road.
“Quick! Quick! We need a picture of you with this sunrise over the canyon!” Mom said, jumping out of the driving chair and running to a lump of high ground.
“Hang on,” I said. “I just gotta pee.”
“No! We’ve got to…” Mom said, but it was too late. I’d drunk a lot of water at the side of the county road the night before, and it felt good to pee, and pee, and pee. I closed my eyes in relief as my whole body relaxed.
“Aaaah!” I said when I was done. “Okay, now where do you want me?”
“You missed it,” Mom said flatly, pointing toward the sun, which was now winking over the edge of the earth so that all the neon colors were gone and the sky was just a pale sky color. “Seconds matter, Oscar.”
Texas had never met me before, and I was excited to sniff its history of westerns and rugged individualists, but I had to keep Mom on leash on this trail to make sure she behaved. I thought we’d have plenty of time to check out every bush and rock since we were the first ones out, but Mom wasn’t interested in the history of the trail, only stomping all over it.
“Hey! Slow down!” I said when she pulled my nose out of yet another bush. “We stop for you to take pictures so you can keep the memories! How come you get to keep memories and I don’t? You’re not even looking around. You’ve got your nose to the trail just like me!”
“Seconds matter, Oscar!” Mom reminded me again.
“For what? Are we in a race?”
“Then what are we hurrying for?”
“If we spend all day on the trail then we’ll be driving till late and there will be no time to relax before bed.”
“But you get bored in The Wagon at night,” I pointed out. “Isn’t it better to relax now and enjoy the trail?”
“But the people will come!” Mom said. “So many people!”
“But all the strange and funny things that people do are what half of my stories are about,” I pointed out.
But I had lost Mom’s attention. She was staring even harder at the trail right in front of us. “Do you remember that time when I thought I was seeing our footprints everywhere?” she asked. “Well it’s happening again. Look! It’s not just the tread, you can even see the brand in this footprint. They could even be small enough to be my feet.”
“Oh look! A dog’s been here!” I said, marveling at how snugly my own paw fit into the print. I sniffed at them. “He smells very handsome.”
Then we passed a bench, and Mom stopped short to look around. She called on The Witch for guidance. “Dagnabbit!” Mom said. “We must’ve gotten turned around up there. Those were our footprints. We’ve been walking in the wrong direction for about half a mile!”
“Oh goody! Now that we’ve lost the race, we can relax!” I said.
As we explored deeper into the park, I was surprised to smell that Texas had a lot of things I had seen before, only in different combinations. There were striped canyon walls just like I’d seen in Arizona, rusty-grey rocks like in Utah, huge walls of drip sculptures like I’d explored in Nevada, dirt columns wearing wide brimmed rock hats like in New Mexico, and crowds of people like in California. It was so familiar that something was wrong.
“Are you sure we’re in Texas?” I asked.
“Because they say that everything’s bigger in Texas. But this canyon is smaller than the Grand Canyon, you can’t even climb inside the drip walls like in Nevada, the hoodoos are shorter than in New Mexico, and the crowds are bigger in California.”
Oscar the Temporary Texan