Arts : Home on the Range – A former New Yorker’s guide to the texas adjustment

To austin in only 2.75 hours

Last week, I had to go to Austin. By myself. Close readers of this column will know that I haven’t been licensed for very long, so asking me to drive all the way to Austin — solo — is akin to asking me to drive a mule train to Cabo. So naturally, the first thing I did was look into flights. And who would have thought that Southwest doesn’t have a San Antonio-to-Austin route?

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. People here like to drive, and they don’t seem to mind driving a long way. Four hours to Houston? No problem — because you’ve done it in three, right? Five to Dallas? Totally manageable. Leave early enough and you can shave an hour off that time. San Antonio to Austin? Hell, that trip is so short, people actually go there for lunch. The mind reels. For me, there are road trips — vacations unto themselves and I’m not doing the driving — and then there are trips to the grocery store. I don’t have much tolerance for what lies in between.

So the pressing issue for everyone in my life became how exactly was the queen of the access roads going to get to Austin? My father-in-law recommended that I take 281 to 290, a.k.a. “the scenic route.” I could get to 281 via 1604 (on the access road, of course). But then why not avoid the 1604/281 interchange altogether and just take Stone Oak Parkway, past that nifty Mormon temple, to 281 and make a hard left at that new subdivision — the one that looks like it’s been hit by an asteroid. When I eventually reached Austin, the plan was to take Mopac to downtown, but then it seemed to make more sense to take Lamar all the way, because that’s just like taking San Pedro instead of 281. Upon further reflection, a cab was suggested — I mean, hey, only $150 one way! But since I was planning to return, I couldn’t stomach shelling out $300 on a drive I could theoretically do myself for the price of a tank of gas (not quite $300, yet).

Life is too short, so I decided not to shorten it further by taking the freeway that these same folks blithely refer to as the “wild, wild west.”

A noisy contingent did urge me to take 35. Life is too short to be idling at the stoplights of 281, and what if I got stuck behind one of those meandering Sunday drivers on 290? Indeed, life is too short, so I decided not to shorten it further by taking the freeway that these same folks blithely refer to as the “wild, wild west.” Everything I need to know about 35 I’ve learned from the local TV news: like the fact that enterprising gentlemen with tow trucks leave large objects in the middle of the road so cars will wreck and handily provide them with customers. True or not, that’s the kind of sick shit that keeps me far from the freeway (and the local news, usually).

Texans don’t care to admit that they’re afraid of a li’l ole thing like a freeway. That would be like admitting you’d never actually killed a snake or castrated a goat. But this (ex) New Yorker has always worn her anxieties like a comfortable old stole (the kind with lots of alarmed-looking mink faces poking out of the folds of fur). So here’s another issue that weighed heavily on my mind: getting lost. I’m not as uptight as I used to be. A year ago, I was Mapquesting my way to the H-E-B. I’m better now, but my rationale remains this: When you’re on foot — say, in NYC — you can get lost, but you can’t get that lost, because you’re traveling at what — 2 mph? In a car, you can get much more lost. If you’re doing 45, my preferred speed, in one hour you can end up 45 miles out of your way. So imagine if you’re lost on the freeway, doing the requisite slow-lane speed of 85? In no time at all you could find yourself in Oklahoma or Arizona or whatever godforsaken states border Texas.

Thanks be to Mapquest for its overly precise “slight lefts” and “slight rights” and for the option of clicking the “avoid highways” box, which suggests there’s a demand for long, inefficient directions and I’m not the only super-cautious driver who can’t read maps or signs. In the end, Mapquest got me to Austin in about two hours and 45 minutes and I didn’t get lost, though I did briefly, accidentally drive on some freeway. Next time, I’m sure I can make it there quicker if I resist dawdling at the DQ in Blanco or gawking at the miniature horse farms on 281. But I’ll also be dreaming of a glorious day when a commuter train takes me there instead. You know, when hell freezes over or the temperature dips below 90 in August, whichever comes first.

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