Baby Goats and Baby Cults - Two Texas Roadtrips
I watched PARIS, TEXAS for the first time yesterday and, as expected, I absolutely loved it. Wim Wenders' 1984 film is a wonderfully touching movie about an emotionally damaged man (Harry Dean Stanton) trying to reconnect with his son and estranged wife. In addition to a spectacular score by Ry Cooder, I particularly loved the way that Wenders, a German filmmaker, captured the landscape of Texas.
PARIS, TEXAS is not a film that’s particularly concerned with geographical accuracy and audiences are shown large swaths of the state - from El Paso to Galveston to Houston to Port Arthur - despite the movie not being set anywhere near these areas. As a result, Wenders helps mythologize Texas’ vastness.
I’m a sucker for a good road trip movie but I’m also a sucker for a good road trip. For a few years, due to work, I was driving to Lubbock, Texas at least ten times a year. I got to know the backroads and Dairy Queens of I-20 like the back of my hand - to the point where I rarely needed to use a map to transverse the state.
I loved driving to Lubbock because it gave me eight uninterrupted hours in which I could listen to music and meditate on my thoughts. It was a great stretch of Texas, boring to look at but all that boringness allowed me to focus inward. I got a lot of good thinking done driving to Lubbock.
That said, two extremely weird things happened to me on two separate trips to Lubbock. What follows are two brief, but completely true, occurrences set on the road to Lubbock, Texas:
BABY GOAT BLUES
There is a small stretch of the drive to Lubbock in which I would routinely lose cell phone service completely. No calls, no texts, no data service, nothing. This is part of the reason why I got so good at navigating the drive without the help of Google Maps. It was the middle of the afternoon and I was driving along this stretch of nowhere when I spotted a baby goat sitting in the middle of the road.
It was a narrow two-lane road and the goat, black as coal with a pair of wicked little horns, was chilling right in the middle of the road. I contemplated, briefly, putting the goat into my car and keeping it as a pet. Instead, I honked my horn several times to try and get the goat to move. It didn’t budge. I could have driven around it, sure, but I was worried that this stupid little goat was going to get itself run over by somebody not paying as much attention as I was. I pulled to the side of the road, walked over to the goat, and tried to coax it to follow me. I clucked, I baby talked, I dangled small pieces of grass plucked from the side of the road as a lure - nothing. The goat just stared at me and “baaed.”
Not knowing what more to do, I bent over, picked up the goat, and carried it to the drainage ditch on the side of the road, setting it down gently where it could not be hit by a car. I felt good - I had done my part. If the goat wanted to get back up and walk into the middle of the road again, that would be its own problem. You can only help a goat so much.
I got back into my car and kept on my journey. About thirty minutes later, shortly after my cell phone reception returned, I saw a small SUV flipped over on the side of the road. The driver and a passenger were standing by their car, dazed. Smoke curled up from the underside of the SUV. Judging from the skid marks on the road, it looked like they had swerved to miss something.
I planned to pull over and see if they needed help when I saw it - a black baby goat sitting about ten feet away from the flipped car. It looked exactly like the goat I had just helped out. For a brief moment, I swear the goat and I made eye contact. It baaed.
Nope, no way. I kept driving.
I used to do a lot of my driving to West Texas in the middle of the night. It’s a long drive - eight to ten hours depending on the final destination - and I hated wasting a complete day on the journey.
Instead, I would take a power nap around 3 PM on a Sunday, wake up at 7 PM and then start the drive - getting into Lubbock around 2 or 3 AM. These trips necessitated frequent stops at convenience stores - for caffeine and for potty breaks from all the caffeine I was chugging. I got to know which convenience stores were open in the middle of the night, which were clean and which had the best selection of beef jerky.
On a slight tangent, one time I misjudged how far it was between all-night convenience stores and I had to relieve myself on my car's tire while pumping my gas because the nearest store and its restroom had closed for the night.
On another night, as I was driving to Lubbock, I pulled into a newish convenience store I had never stopped at before. I’m not sure, exactly, where it was located - about 40 minutes outside of Dublin, Texas if my memory is right. It was just about midnight, though, and the place was packed.
There were folks sitting at a table playing cards and drinking coffee. A row of slot machines were all occupied by various chainsmoking, overall-wearing insomniacs. A few folks idly hung out by the cash register, chitchatting with the teenage boy who was behind the counter. There were more patrons in this tiny little gas station per square foot than a Buc-ee's during the noon rush.
As I browsed the candy aisle, looking for the orange slices I loved to munch on during long road trips, I heard a bell chime as the front door opened. In walked a man in his twenties, holding a young girl who looked about four. The man was covered with tattoos and piercings. His bleached blonde hair and tank top made him look like he should be fronting a nu-metal band from the early '00s. The child was dressed in a blue polka dot dress, a bow in her curly blonde hair. She was smiling ear-to-ear.
As they walked into the store, every single head turned to them and, in unison, a sea of voices called out “Hello, Maxine.”
That was weird.
The feeling like I had stepped into the TWILIGHT ZONE episode “It’s a Good Life" only grew as I watched Maxine and her dad walk around the store, picking out snacks and talking softly to each other. As I watched, I realized I wasn’t alone. Every single person in the store was also following Maxine and her dad with their eyes, their gaze affixed on the young girl. I scanned the store's other patrons and saw a uniform look of blank devotion on their faces.
I stood there in the candy aisle, wondering what the hell was going on, when Maxine and her dad approached me from behind. I could feel their presence behind me and turned, slowly. As I made eye contact with the girl, she gave me a big smile, her teeth pearly white.
"Hello," she said. "What's your name?"
Nope. No way. I decided I didn’t really need the orange slices that much. Without saying anything to Maxine or her creepy worshipers, I put the bag down, quickly left the store, and resumed my journey to Lubbock.
The moral of these stories? I'm way too much of a coward to ever let myself wind up in the plot of a horror movie. Besides, I'd much rather find myself in the plot of a Wim Wenders film.