El Paso, TX
I am sad to report that this will be our last entry about Texas. Ever. Today Benjamin and I drove on for another heroic stretch of distance, getting almost all the way to the end of the state and into a city sandwiched between two mythical lands, Old Mexico and New Mexico. Tomorrow we will be venturing due north for probably the first time on this epic and thoroughly bizarre tour of the country I am just beginning to truly understand. But let’s not put the wagon before the burro, shall we?
We rose early this morning and found that our souls had not been ripped from our bodies overnight by vengeful spectres. Fort Stockton had not conquered us. Just to be on the safe side, though, we left the hotel as quickly as possible, skipping the continental breakfast if it did in fact exist. As I’d just broken three thousand miles on this trip, I got Callie’s oil changed at a gas station down the street. My father had scoffed about the 3K changing rule, believing it a profit-aimed construction by Jiffy Lube and the like, and he’s probably right, but I didn’t want to take any chances. There were and are many miles ahead through lonely places.
Then we got back on our old friend, I-10W, which we had largely followed ever since Mobile, and set off for El Paso. The hills grew into mountains as we pushed farther west, and we snapped a bunch of pictures at eighty miles an hour. It was right around Sierra Blanca that we pulled off for some gas, a piss, and a bit of lunch, courtesy of the local Love’s station. They had partnered with Subway, so we took advantage of a five-dollar footlong deal. We couldn’t take another day of peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. As we stood in line, Benjamin gestured at a guy loitering in a doorway behind the counter. “Check it out,” he murmured.
I looked over, and at first I couldn’t see anything. Then I said, “Ah! ‘Restaurant’ is spelled wrong on his name tag!”
“Oh, uh,” said Benjamin, “I was just pointing out his laziness. But yeah, you’re right. Can you get it?”
“I’ll try,” I said, and I did try. He came closer, now trying to look busy without actually doing anything. But the guy was moving too fast during his rounds of doing nothing, and so the result was far too blurry:
But it says BILLY, RESTARAUNT MANAGER. I swear.
We couldn’t figure out a good way to harass him at that moment, so we sat down at a booth to eat our sandwiches. By and by, the guy passed by us to go outside and around the building for a smoke. We considered our options.
“The problem is that this typo is on the move,” said Benjamin.
“Yes, we’ve never had a mobile typo before,” I said. Then I suggested, “We could go out back and corner him.”
During these deliberations, however, the guy returned, passing by the front windows of the place. He looked a little unnerved as we stared at him through the glass. Then he got downright anxious when he came back inside and I called out, “Billy!”
“Yes?” he said cautiously.
“I couldn’t help but notice that restaurant was spelled wrong on your name tag,” I said.
He looked down at it, uncomprehending. “…I’m the manager.”
Billy started to walk away, but I kept at it: “So do you think you could get that fixed?”
He stopped, but offered no discernible reply, so I pushed on. “See, we’re traveling around the country correcting typos. It could be a real success story if you fixed that.” I opened my wallet and gave him one of the business cards that Paula had made.
Billy looked at the logo for TEAL. Then he flipped the card over and saw the Jeff and Benjamin cartoon heads, and TEAL’s web address. He looked from the cartoon heads to our real heads. “Uh…”
“So do you think you could fix it?” I asked.
If he gave an actual reply before backing away from us, the business card clenched in one hand, I did not hear it. Benjamin and I were forced to conclude that this typo would remain untouched and unrighted, perhaps until Billy moved on to bigger things and passed the name tag to a new generation.
We passed into Mountain Time and then found ourselves rolling through the county of El Paso at the tortoise-like speed limit of 70. The highway cut through a great swath of retail, every chain store imaginable, and I realized only in retrospect how nice it had been to be free from advertising during our drive amid the desert peaks. We had given Authority the address of the city visitor center. At the last moment, I became aware that Authority was trying to send us directly into the garage of the place. “Five-dollar parking!” I exclaimed. “Screw that!” And I swerved away from the entrance.
Now we did have to figure out where we would park. We went a couple of blocks, and I had the brilliant idea that we should park in the lot charging a $3 admission fee, the notice for which was handwritten on a cardboard sign. Perfectly legitimate operation, that! We parked there and got out of the car, wondering who exactly to pay the three dollars to. Then a middle-aged man approached us. “Hello!” he said. “You come with me.” He went through a doorway, and we swallowed our hesitation and followed him down to a basement with a man behind a service window. Our guide introduced himself to Benjamin as George while I paid the clerk, and then followed us back outside.
“You want to give me a couple dollars, so I can get something to eat?” he said. “Or just a dollar even?”
I started to refuse, but then reflected on the possible subtext that he might be asking me for a dollar to not break into my car. I figured this would be a reasonable investment to prevent an assault on Callie, so I gave him a buck. Suddenly that five-dollar fee for a city-run garage sounded like a great deal.
As we walked away from the lot, Benjamin glanced back and noted that George the panhandler was still watching us. We went around the corner and disappeared from his sight, then circled back around another building for a look at the lot. George had already moved on to other people to try to shake them down for hooch money, so we figured the car would be okay.
The downtown area seemed to be a locus for El Paso’s museums, so we figured we’d check out what was going on at the science museum, maybe take in some holograms and see if they compared with the amazing specimens on display at the MIT Museum back home in New England. Nope… closed Mondays. Benjamin thought he might be able to stand a little art, so we tried the art museum. Closed Mondays too! We didn’t bother with the history museum. Apparently this was not a good day of the week for culture. Things were more lively down on El Paso Street, which was lined with bilingual souvenir shops and markets. Well, perhaps bilingual is a bit generous a term– the signs were mostly in Spanish, useless for our purposes. We left it and decided to blunder around a little more in time-honored Jeff and Benjamin fashion.
We came back to our parking lot, where we found Callie happily unmolested. Across the street from the lot, I had one more discovery that I must note here, though it was beyond our power to correct. Well, really we just wanted to go and hide in a cheap hotel, preferably several exits away.
We found an outpost of our favorite chain and a friendly old guy named Ron checked us in. Upon examining my license, he said, “Massachusetts! I used to live in Western Mass, before I came here, about twenty-eight years ago, must be. Heh, how are you enjoying that free health care they got there now?”
“You mean the free health care I’m paying two hundred and fifty bucks a month for?” I said. “It’s fantastic.”
“Ha!” said Ron. “See, it just doesn’t work. California tried the same thing a while back, and they just stopped their program a couple years back. Were losing money all over the place.”
“Yeah,” I said, “we need reform of the system at the national level.”
He snorted. “No, we just need people to realize that we can’t just hand out free health care. Taxes would go through the roof!”
This was a political argument that I was sure I did not want to pursue with this man. It’d be a shame to end up disliking him after he’d been so friendly. So I steered the subject back to safer zones, such as the weather. Ron told us that he would never go back to New England, no sir, he enjoyed the temperature here mighty fine.
“And some of the Hispanic women ain’t bad at all,” he added. “You know, when I first moved here, I wasn’t as old as you see me now. That was twenty-eight years ago…”
Benjamin and I departed before we were subjected to anecdotes that we were absolutely sure we did not want to hear. And here we huddle now in the safety of our hotel room. Perhaps this would be a good night to order in.
A couple of notes regarding the community of TEAL, and TEAL in the community, if such an astonishing concept can exist. First, the latter: I was extremely moved to hear that at least a few teachers out there have decided to incorporate excerpts from our adventures into their lesson plans as a way to get kids jazzed about the practice of better spelling and grammar. This is awesome, and I encourage anyone else interested in doing such a thing to go forward with TEAL’s happy blessing. Maybe eventually we’ll able to work up some sort of official material for educators. Or at least vend some personal Typo Correction Kits. Teachers, we hear you!
Typos Found: 77
Typos Corrected: 45