Wednesday, February 1, 2012

New Sensations

As you get older it’s easy to fall into a rut, to repeat yourself and to lose the child’s sense of wonder at the world. Fortunately new sensations can be found in unexpected corners of everyday life - you just have to keep your eyes open. Recently I’ve had three such experiences that came out of nowhere and added a little magic to my day. I’m glad each one happened.

#1- Generator of roadkill

One of the signature sights of Texas is the sheer quantity of mangled animal carcasses you can see by the side, or in the middle, of the road. Armadillos, skunks, possums, raccoons, squirrels, deer…. It’s rare that a day goes by that I don’t see one of God’s creatures exposing its entrails to the sun as a cluster of grizzled black turkey vultures tuck in. I’ve heard tell that armadillos will not even attempt to flee but rather jump straight up in the air if they see a car coming, which no doubt explains why I have seen so many dead ones in my time here but only one living specimen.

Recently I decided to go for a night drive. I had spent the entire day indoors working at the computer and my head was exploding. I needed to hurtle down the freeway in darkness for a while.

I kept thinking I should turn back, but the road was calling me ever onward, headlamps picking out the broken white line ahead. I wound up in Lampasas, a small town that looks a lot better in the night time, I can tell you. For a few seconds I thought about renting a motel room and staying a couple of days, but I didn’t want to spend the cash. So I filled up the tank, turned the car around, and about twenty minutes later ran my front right wheel directly over a fellow mammal.

There was a bump, followed by a crunchy-popping sound. It was over so quickly, and yet I can still hear it ringing in my ears. I didn’t see the beast but I think it was either a squirrel or a raccoon. It was the first time I’d killed an animal larger than a fly since I went fishing in Kazakhstan twelve years ago (other than snakes, I suppose, but killing snakes is God’s work). At first I felt mildly sad since the creature’s death was so utterly pointless, but by the time I got home I had even forgotten to look under the car to make sure no damage had been done.

From this I draw the conclusion that there is nothing very hypocritical in my eating meat as I am obviously not that troubled by animal deaths I have caused. At the same time, I don’t intend to kill any more furry creatures with my car.

#2- Cops on bicycles

In Texas, and the U.S. in general, cops are conscious of their power, and like to show off their authority. It’s not like the UK where the boys in blue are a bit of a joke, or Russia, where I always expected to be robbed by the slovenly slobs in uniform who hung around metro stations alongside the career alcoholics. American cops are always tall - taller than me anyway- and walk with a swagger. They have guns, which they wear in holsters on their hips. Down here, some of them wear cowboy hats.

A few weeks back however I was in downtown Austin when I spotted two policemen in shorts riding bicycles around the capitol building.

“What’s this?” I thought. “That’s not intimidating at all. It’s like they’re Dutch hippie cops, riding around with spare Rizlas in their pockets in case the stoners in Amsterdam run out of papers and need a little help rolling their joints.”

Twenty minutes later I saw them again: they had cuffed a suspect and were giving him some rough treatment. Perhaps he had been mocking their safety helmets. I made a mental note never to openly sneer at a cop on a bike. 

#3- Small kids dancing in the freeway, advertising catfish

There’s an old school country kitchen type restaurant close to my house that sells burgers and chicken fried steak. Even though there aren’t many places to eat around here, it’s perpetually abandoned. Every now and then I think about going in; then I order a cheeseburger from McDonald’s instead.

I am fascinated by their efforts to keep afloat. They don’t have much money so they can’t pay for a big sign. Instead they send people to dance on the edge of the road holding up bits of cardboard that read WE ARE OPEN.  The same day I saw the cyclist-cops I saw two ten year old girls jumping up and down on a four lane freeway holding up hand-daubed signs that read:


For a brief moment I was tempted to stop. But I had already eaten. I haven’t seen the kids since. I hope they haven’t gone the way of whatever it was that fell under my wheels.