Monday, July 18, 2011

Bury My Heart on Nameless Road

It was curiosity that led me to Nameless. I kept wondering: what lies beyond my local HEB, that vast supercenter of consumerism where I buy my groceries? The road seemed to lead nowhere, disappearing abruptly after a gas station and a chemist’s, devoured by the sky. But there had to be something else out there. So one day I resolved to follow the road to the end.

The bland, lunar housing developments dwindled to dirt and scrub and then, through some trees, I spotted a Buddhist Temple. A promising start to my voyage: a Buddhist Temple is not something you expect to see in rural Texas - even if the pursuit of oblivion makes a lot of sense out here.

Beyond the Buddha lay a valley of rolling hills and dense forest. A mere five miles from a major highway, and only twenty minutes from Austin, it was as if I had discovered a secret world. There were large houses set back from the road, hunting vehicles parked by the entrances to gates. These houses were spaced so far apart, you need never see your neighbor if you didn’t want to.
A little further down and thick walls of tall trees began to overshadow the road. Behind these natural barriers lay large ranches. One of them was for sale: 71 acres of land. If I had the cash I’d buy it, I thought. So close to the city, and yet so remote. I could keep goats and peacocks… shoot guns, maybe start my own cult…
Alas, I don’t have the cash so I kept moving, driving past more ranches, including one where the ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ rattlesnake flag of those who hate taxes and love guns flapped over the gate. I thought about dropping in for tea, but I was afraid he might shoot. And besides, I was already moving on, heading downhill until I saw the sign for CALKIN’S COUNTRY STORE.
I parked in front of the ancient gas pumps and got out. The country store occupied half of a long concrete shed; the other half was vacant. I imagined hiring the vacant half myself, so I could write a book, tapping away at my computer behind the dirty window, looking out at the rattlesnake flags and hunting vehicles. That was when I spotted the biker chicks.
The leader was on the wrong side of forty, and was wearing a cut off Motley Crue T shirt that revealed a belly that had incubated at least five children.  She and her two friends were drinking in front of my future office. I imagined her lobbing beer bottles at me as I sat behind the glass working on my hypothetical masterpiece.
I shelved my plan and stepped inside the country store, entering what looked like a set for a 1970s movie about college kids who had come out to the country to par-tay, only to find themselves being chased by a maniac with a chainsaw. There were strange sodas I had never seen before. Men in cowboy hats. Women with no teeth. The shop assistants were smoking. A faded Grateful Dead jigsaw was hung up next to the gents’ toilet. A large fish with a long nose had been killed and stuffed and hung behind the counter. I felt awkward just wandering around so I decided to buy something. I settled on a can of mysterious blue soda and some insect poison.
Where am I? I asked myself, as I climbed back in my car. And it was then, as I passed a mountain of ancient car tires that I spotted a sign: Nameless Storage.
Suddenly everything was clear. A year earlier, while obsessed with Texas ghost towns, I had read about this place. In the 1860s a community living here had applied for a post office, but to have a post office you needed a name. Six suggestions were rejected by the postal authorities, until the locals replied:  ‘Let the place be nameless and be damned!’
And so the town became, quite literally, Nameless.
Nameless ceased to exist around 1945. And yet as I drove on I found more habitations- ranches, homes, and possibly the worst condos I have ever seen, little warrens for meth-heads in the hills. At the foot of the valley was the old town graveyard, the abandoned school and beyond that a House of Prayer of Our Lady of the Hills. Having begun with the Buddha, the valley terminated with the Virgin, two forms of the sacred, skulking in the trees.
It has to be said, for a town which died about fifty years ago, Nameless is enjoying a pretty good afterlife. And having discovered it, a ghost town of my very own, I return often: a phantom among phantoms, driving and drifting through this little Texas mystery, or myth, or miracle.