A Wondrous Land of Imagination
//The World’s Greatest Band Appears\\
The World’s Greatest Band wanders onto the stage. It’s merely for soundcheck, but the occasion is one of furious excitement for me. Hell, I almost shat myself earlier when I saw their mom van rolling down St. Mary’s, blue and red mountain-embossed license plates blaring like trumpets. The members of the band stiffly shuffle around in hazy disorientation like old hunting dogs circling and sniffing their favorite napping spots before taking up battle stations behind microphones, bass drums, and effects pedal arrays. The lead singer never lifts her eyes from the stage floor. Her flowing waves of bleached blonde hair and drooping white hoody exaggerate her road-worn paleness. She is ghost-like, a refugee from Hell House. The other members make only short glances upward in response to the sound man’s commands and queries.
Shoegazing is the order of the moment.
They look like they have just been shot several miles from a cannon.
In a way, they have.
El Paso - San Antonio is a deceptive sojourn not only over rugged terrain, but through the twisting caverns of the mind. Though it is a single straight shot of 550 miles down an interstate highway at legal speeds of 70 to 85 mph, the passage from Chihuahuan Desert to Edwards Plateau is no easy series of climbs and descents. Every inch of the journey is a direct challenge - physically, culturally, emotionally, psychologically, and most of all, spiritually. Time bends somewhere around Van Horn then careens 90 degrees just north of Ozona with various veerings and jogs in between. Like the landscape and sky, time expands in all directions: minutes turn to hours; hours to days; days to weeks. The mental toll turns cliffs to screaming faces, trucks to spaceships, stop signs to lollipops consumed by T-Rex trees, world’s greatest bands into extras from The Walking Dead - and that’s just during the day.
At night, the milky way lies within arm’s reach. You don’t drive on the highway as much as float through space. Little green men are not feared aliens but welcomed friends leading you through the darkness. Shooting stars are as pronounced as lightning strikes. Their bottle rocket streaks flash and burn across the sky right at the moment you settle in for the long haul.
You never settle in.
The sky has too much to tell you.
A star starts to move. It’s a satellite illuminated by a sun busy pouring day upon China and Siberia. You slow a bit to watch it float, reveling in the earth’s smallness, wondering what it’s for, who put it up there: friend or foe? North Korea; Russia; Japan; Elon Musk? Is it really a satellite, or something else? Are we being watched? But who the hell would want to watch us?
It disappears and you’re not sure if you saw anything at all.
You are only sure of one thing: You are the only human for miles.
When was the last time you saw the lights of another car or semi-truck? Ten minutes? An hour? You have no idea how long you’ve been driving or how you got to this place.
Time is anathema.
Time, space, and imagination are so large, you are rudely slapped by the tepid tininess of human existence. Pretenses to the status of intelligent life become all the more absurd.
Concepts like “civilization”, “progress” leave you chuckling under your breath. This is reality.
We are but a speck…. if that.
This is a space where no one can hear you scream.
It’s a void that can drive you to hallucinatory insanity or make you one with God, the universe, and infinity. It’s a psychic fork in the road with a road less traveled leading to destinations heretofore reserved for Einsteins, Jungs, Siddhartha Gautamas, and other daring souls.
This is the land that drove Cabeza de Vaca mad.
There was no gold to be found. El Dorado was only a mirage built on fables.
Why are you here my musician friends? Why do you traverse this unforgiving land? Are you looking for gold?
…..A miner for a heart of gold?
Are you following the mirage?
Do you take the fables as literal truth?
The Nazarene as son of God…??
then… back to life after three days...??
Moses parting the Red Sea…??
The commands of the burning bush….??
40 days… 40 nights… ??
Are you slouching toward lat 30 thinking the city of the Illustrious One, the town of the wandering impresario, is your El Dorado?
You think you are Buddha, but fail to realize the proportion of Cabeza de Vacas to enlightened ones is astronomical. Skill, determination, hard work, and luck are never enough. The Gods must be on your side and there are strings...
Before searching for a pot of gold, remember the golden calf.
The change of topography near Junction starts the final descent from deep space; and perhaps the bosom of God; and a return to human scale. The towns start to pass in succession: Comfort, comforting; Boerne, bueno; Kerrville, calmly courageous; Helotes..helluva place to be, but too close to metropolitan San Antonio whose gravitational force pulls you into its orbit, past its lulling green landscapes, loping hills, stucco houses, shopping centers, before transforming into Spanish Missions and a mad perpendicular sea of homes and buildings ranging from Victorian, to Gothic, to more Stucco, to Art Deco, to Craftsman, to ‘60s Brady Bunch, to ‘70s mistake.
Civilization returns as you plunge deeper into the Alamo City. You return, shaking your limbs and head like you just came out of decades of suspended animation.
El Paso to San Antonio is no ordinary journey.
It was a cloudless sky that day, the Chesire Cat El Norte sun grinning with merciless fury, following you from Mountain to Central Time Zone. What I experienced in the City of the Saint of Lost Souls was but a trifle compared to the shadeless expanses west of the 97th meridian.
The WGB have every reason to look like zombies and old bloodhounds. They’ve just survived a harsh fabled land not only of sight and sound, but of mind.
It’s a miracle they can still walk; a greater miracle they are not ensconced in some Freudian Flophaus enduring the sticks, pokes, prods, and shocks of the venal vulture of Vienna’s heirs.
Perhaps the Gods are on their side.