Monthly Archives: December 2013

So Big. Lost in Texas. Formerly Mexico.

Somehow, I got lost or just wasn’t paying attention, as Map Quest and Google kept telling me to turn when I shouldn’t have.  Or, maybe it was because I stopped in Buffalo, Texas, right in the middle of the place where I was distracted listening to “The Son” by Phillipp Meyer, whose character Eli McCullough was talking about the very place I was.


I kept going south and found myself in Texas A&M Aggie land when I knew I should have been further west, closer to Austin.  I was on a broad, windy plain where black Angus cattle  grazed and my car wavered in what could have been 40 mph gusts.  The highway signs pointed me to Houston.  The 75 mph speed limit was daunting. I pulled off the road and called my cousin.  Seems I was an hour south of where I should have been thanks to a good story, GPS, and my lack of attention.  I used to navigate in a single engine Piper Cherokee. I should have known better.

As I retraced my path north I thought about the settling of Texas, the loss of Native American culture, the theft of land,  Spanish land grants, the Texas that was Mexico and the movement of borders, and the homesteaders who became oil barons.  I turned west on Texas Route 21 through the towns named in the book I am listening to, crossing the very rivers where Comanches hunted and camped.  I noticed the creeks and the oil pumps.  I turned south on Texas 79, bordered by freight lines, passing through small cowboy towns with speed limits designed to trap the unsuspecting.  These days revenue is hard to come by.  Shut down store fronts everywhere tell a story, too.  Out in the flat, open spaces, the 75 mph speed limits tell me again, this state tests muscle, mettle.

By getting lost,  I lost three hours of travel time and didn’t arrive at my cousin’s home in north Austin until six thirty at night.   But what I gained was knowledge of this vast landscape and her history.  Texas became real. This was an eleven-hour travel day.  The last four hours were an endurance test.

The Texas sunsets are BIG.  The sun is a big red fire-ball hanging in the western sky.  I followed it until it sank below the edge of earth and continued on.

Today I wake up in north Austin in my cousin’s house.  I will give LaTuga to my friend Justo on Tuesday.  He will continue the journey with her to Oaxaca without me.  I’m flying the rest of the way.


Just Passing Through: Onward to Oaxaca, Day Two

photo 2

Day Two on Interstate 20 took me through the rest of Alabama, across Mississippi and midway through Louisiana.  LaTuga is running great and I’m getting to know her better.  The manual says the Honda Element is a high-profile vehicle, not to drive her fast or make sudden moves. So, I didn’t. Slow and steady wins the race, I keep telling myself.

My intention was to spend the night in Vicksburg, MS, on the Mother America Mississippi River, wide, magnificent.  Mark Twain’s river, paddle boats then steam boats.  One of the greatest and prolonged Civil War battles happened at Vicksburg. It was worth a stop.  And, when I did, the restaurants were closed and there was this dead-end, shut down, trying to make a comeback as a cute tourist chatchkah kinda’ town that didn’t quite make it.  The views were magnificent.  I honored the dead on both sides, imagined the force of battle, the strategic location on the bluff protected by still evident forts, and how the war turned against the Confederacy once it lost Vicksburg.  Controlling the mightiest river in America meant controlling food, munitions, life itself.

Once I crossed the Mississippi, I was immediately plunged into Louisiana’s flatlands and bayous.  The rain came.  It was getting dark at three-thirty in the afternoon, and by four-thirty I was ready to get off the road.  Where?  In West Monroe, LA, where the Quality Inn welcomed me.  This is not a high-end road trip, Judith Reitman!

Oh, boy, I though.  Louisiana bayou country.  Fish. Cajun. Jambalaya. Etouffee.  Dinner. I asked the woman behind the front desk, Where is a good local place to eat?  Why, jess dawn dah rode, she answered.

Repeat  from Day One:  at Willie’s Duck Diner where fatigue green and all-terrain vehicles populate the TV screen along with some scrufty looking millionaires, and diners whose bodies are testimony to overindulgence of hush puppies, corn bread, and jambalaya, there was no beer or wine.  Sorry ma’am, said the waitress, we don’t serve alcohol here, and no hot tea.  OK.  Hot water and lemon please.

Can’t wait to get to Austin.  I know from Eva Olson and Norm Chafetz that I can get a good glass of Malbec or Pinot Noir!

LaTuga Packed: To Oaxaca Day One

Yesterday LaTuga and I  covered 497 miles, from Pittsboro, NC to Pell City, AL.  It’s the first time we have been in Alabama, USA, which is covered in pine forests, rolling hills, lakes and rivers — just beautiful.  Stephen gave us a send-off by doing an iPhone video of the event.


My plan was to leave at eight in the morning and spend the night in Atlanta, six hours away.  After goodbyes, last-minute loading, gassing up and hitting the road, it was nine-fifteen. (Thanks, Stephen, for finding me enough gas to get to the gas station.) So be it.  What’s the rush? I ask myself.  This is a road trip and I can do what I want.  I’m on my own schedule.

LaTugaRoadTrip1-2 LaTugaRoadTrip1-3

Maybe I was too tired from the Monday night before with the grand finale mezcal and southern buttermilk fried chicken and apple pie with homemade ice cream goodbye dinner at The Small Cafe with dear friends.



Maybe, I was procrastinating the departure, not wanting to say goodbye to KitKat, the new addition to my NC house and life.

I think I was just a little bit scared and anxious about starting out across the country by car into territory where I had never been before.  A single woman, traveling alone. I’ve traveled far by plane, but not by myself in an automobile for any great distance.  As I drove along, I saw many women at wheel going long distances.    My only disappointment?  The book I bought to listen to along the way could not be heard above the road noise.

LaTuga is a formidable vehicle.  She is not really a car, nor is she a truck, but she sits high and proud.  I’m a little person inside her ample body and I feel secure.  Once I got onto the Interstate the rhythm of the drive was soothing.  It was only three-thirty in the afternoon by the time I got through the beginnings of Atlanta rush hour traffic.  The road signs said two hundred more miles to Birmingham along I-20.


So, I kept going until dusk  As soon as I crossed the border into Alabama, I entered Central Standard Time, and gained an hour, although the sun told me differently.  I pulled into a comfy Comfort Inn, and found a local catfish and steak joint where there were the best hush puppies I’ve ever tasted and a cornmeal coated catfish that was too good to count the calories. See more photos on my Facebook page. No beer.  No wine.  Only tea.  No hot tea, that would be ice tea, ma’am.  So I opted for hot water flavored with lemon and sugar.  Went down pretty well.

Now, I’m itchy to hit to the road.  I spent time writing this instead of getting out the door.  Next stop?  Who knows! I have all the time in the world until Wednesday when I’m on an airplane to Oaxaca from Austin, TX.

Road Trip: North Carolina to Austin, TX to Oaxaca, Mexico

Destination Austin, Texas.  I’m packing up La Tuga (short for La Tortuga or turtle in Spanish), the 2004 Honda Element EX manual transmission I just bought that will be the car I drive in Mexico.  Well, I’m not exactly packing yet. I’m thinking about it.  In three days, on December 12, 2013, I will set out to begin the 1,306 mile, almost 22-hour road trip from North Carolina’s Piedmont to south-central Texas, about half-way across the country.  Mapquest tells me I will spend a little over $700 in gasoline and at least $49 a night in lodging.  Food doesn’t calculate, I guess.

Do you have any suggestions for the route?  I’m planning I-85 South past Atlanta, then connecting to I-20 West, through Vicksburg and Shreveport, to Waco, then dropping down to north Austin, where I’ll be staying for a few nights with my cousin Norm, who left his hometown of Chicago years ago, but is loyal still to the Cubs.  Then, flying off to Oaxaca.

I’m making a list of what I need to take that I can’t fit in a suitcase.

Anyone have an older model, small bowl Cuisinart food processor in good working condition you’d like to sell and get to me be Wednesday this week?  This might come in handy in Oaxaca, I think, for making salsa and chopping lots of onions!  Or, if I decide to make a fresh fruit tart and need to whip up a crust, I have a proven Cuisinart crust recipe.

The list also includes:

  • wood chopping block
  • printer and printer cartridges
  • sheets and towels (100% cotton)
  • candied ginger
  • 6 lbs. undyed merino wool roving for felting
  • knitting supplies, especially wood needles
  • good used clothing and shoes to distribute
  • spackle to repair wall holes where I’ve drilled by mistake
  • a few more good books

I can’t think of anything else, can you?

I’m living more simply there.  No television!  No CD player!  I do have a basic kitchen with a good set of knives, blender, plates, utensils, Master Chef cookware, cloth napkins and dishtowels from Camino de los Altos, and Studio Xaquixe recycled drinking glasses!  Never mind that the kitchen sink water drains into a large paint bucket that I carry outside each time it fills up so I don’t waste water and have enough to give to thirsty trees and flowers.  Jajajajaja.

In Austin, I turn the car over to my agent, Justo, who will drive it the rest of the way to Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.  But, first, we will buy Mexican insurance in Austin, then he will legalize the car for Mexico.  In fact, that process has already begun.

Admittedly, making this road trip on my own is both exciting and somewhat daunting — a new experience for me — although I fly everywhere independently.  I’m open to sharing the driver’s seat with the right person, if anyone dares go with me.  I would need to know you or have a great recommendation.

Stay tuned for the next installment.  Of course, I won’t have commentary on the Austin to Oaxaca leg.  I’ll be at the other end waiting for delivery.