Let’s Get Away From It All

Posted: June 23, 2013 in The Roper Files
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Your nails are filthy; don’t you know most women find that a turn-off?”

But I’ve tried everything; washing with Lava, soaking them in alcohol, even that anti-bacterial stuff doesn’t help.”

Like I really need my Mom to point out my fingernails look like the ones on the Frankenstein Monster. I know they’re blackened; I have to look at them at some point each day. But it’s just the residue from that filthy nasty machine shop I work at. The dirt, the grease, the oil, the grime; it just builds up under my nails and won’t go away. I’ve tried scraping them with an assortment of pocket knives and that gets some of it out. The fingernail brush I have in my bathroom at home will remove a certain percentage of it. But no amount of soaking, scraping and brushing seems to really affect it in the long run. My fingernails always seem to look as if I just got through changing the oil in my car.

Its just the nature of my job I suppose, and just another reason I hate getting up and going to work.

I hate the stench of that place; it’s an olfactory mugging that assails me the second I walk into the place.

I hate the dirt that not only permeates the undersides of my fingernails but every other orifice of my body.

I hate the filthy washrooms that reek with the permanent odor of urine.

I hate having to get up pre-dawn. Hopping around my apartment with one leg jammed into a pair of jeans and balancing a bowl of cereal in one hand (“Where the hell are my keys?”) while the newscasters on TV recite the daily litany of road-rage incidents, rapes, home invasions and many other things that make me long to stay in the safety and comfort of my home.

I hate the Road Warrior-like  commute; sharing the interstate with the same bunch of slack-jawed, slope-browed Troglodytes each and every day. All of us trying to out-run each other like some sub-moronic NASCAR just to get to jobs we all hate.

I hate working six days a week for a company that makes a million dollars a month and then once a year gives me a two-bit raise and a Christmas “bonus” that isn’t enough to replace my worn-out work shoes, my cracked bifocals or the threadbare tires on my car because “they didn’t make their sales goals” as I struggle to pay the bills and engage in luxuries like … oh I don’t know … eating three square meals a day.

Something’s got to give. A man can only take so much of this insulting and degrading existence. Stress is a terrible thing; it erodes the soul.

Can’t bend, can’t bow; can’t break.

Chin up; chest out.

Walk tall and ….augh who am I kidding? This is bullshit.

I need a few days off plain and simple.

A few easy steps ( as well as a few hundred dollars) makes it all fall into place. Fill out the vacation request slip at work and hand it to my supervisor. Drop a couple of hundred dollars on car maintenance: oil change, transmission flush, get the fuel injection system cleaned out, change the cabin air filter. Reserve a room at a bed and breakfast. Get a haircut and shave before I leave town; look sharp, feel sharp and all that. Set the alarm and lock the door behind me. We’re outta here!


There is an uneasy and yet simultaneously relieving feeling about cruising down the same stretch of interstate I drive down each and every day and driving past the exit ramp that leads to where I work.

My inner GPS goes into full panic mode; I’m supposed to be exiting and going to work, not driving to south Texas.

As I watch downtown Fort Worth shrink in my rear-view mirror the inner city transforms into a Hanna-Barbara-like background of strip malls, restaurants, truck stops for a while, then slowly turns into fields of corn and sunflowers. An early morning sunrise showers my car in blinding yellow light; I put on my sunglasses and like what I see in the mirror. Looking sharp with my recently trimmed hair and oddly relaxed in full contrast to the daily “oh-shit-I’m late” fueled panic I work myself up to. No, we Get There When We Get There today and that’s the way I like it.


The first exit ramp we hit leads to the little town of West, Texas which as you probably saw on the news had a fertilizer plant Blow Up Real Good recently. A month or so later several roads were still closed off to keep out looters and lookey-loos like ourselves but we drove past a few homes with plywood still nailed up over the windows and ominous spray-painted X’s and “OK”s on them.

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Some homes had what appeared to be very recently installed new windows with the factory stickers still on the glass. These brought back memories I had of Fort Worth after the 2000 tornado; the block-after-block damage had eerie similarities.

Czech Stop West Texas April 19 2012

Having satisfied that curiosity we pulled into the parking lot of the Czech Stop which is the main reason to pull into West, Texas when driving down I35. The Czech Stop is famous for their home-made sausages and the kolaches that line the shelves of their bakery; of course we didn’t leave without taking a couple of boxes with us to snack on.

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We got back on I35 and headed south. The next exit we hit was in Round Rock Texas, where we made a second stop at Round Rock Donuts which has been featured on ManVsFood because they make a 12-inch-across chocolate glazed donut. As tempting as a donut the size of a vinyl LP was, we settled on a baker’s dozen assortment of cake and chocolate glazed donuts to take with us and then detoured by Rudys Barbecue for a Texas sized slab of brisket and a big link of sausage. Rudys is about as Texas as it gets with a haze of wood-fueled smoke hanging in the air from their smoking pits, wooden picnic tables to sit at and the food doled out on wax paper-covered trays. Bottled soft drinks are fished out of big metal tubs full of crushed ice to complete the effect of a Sunday-after-church lunch. What they don’t provide is the crowbar I always need to pry my ass off the bench after a meal there so I can get back on the road.

Austin is only a few minutes south of Round Rock but much like LA it seems to take forever to drive through it. The traffic always without fail comes to a slow crawl and we moved past downtown Austin, the capital building and the iconic UT tower inch-by-slow-motion-inch. They have a popular bumper sticker in Austin: “Keep Austin Weird”; how about “Keep Austin Moving” instead? The big travel mug I had filled with Tim Hortons coffee before I left home was now empty and I was having a hard time staying awake behind the wheel. Fortunately our destination was just a few miles south of Austin.


We finally rolled into Wimberley, Texas; a small town that the word “quaint” somehow feels inadequate in describing. It’s about one third redneck farmers and ranchers and two-thirds artists, craftsmen, musicians and writers who got tired of living in Austin. There are no roads or highways wider than two lanes, no skyscrapers, no condos, no sushi bars or Starbucks. In fact the only chain restaurants I did see was a single lone Subway sandwich shop and a Dairy Queen. A single two-lane road rolls past a river, a park and past a couple of antique stores and then empties into a for-real Town Square which is ringed with cafes and small shops. We rounded a curve, hit a small stretch of road just past the town center and took a left turn and found our main destination; the bed and breakfast Inn I had made a reservation at earlier. It felt good to finally get out of the car and stretch my legs after driving all day, but after driving all day I felt somewhat bow-legged and wobbly as I walked from the car to the Inn’s office. The guy in the office was a friendly affable sort; turns out he used to live not only in my town but just up the street from my current address. Didn’t think I was going to get to leave the office as he talked my ear off while my girlfriend is sizzling away in the hot car out in the parking lot. Finally we opened the door to our room and discovered much to our dismay that the wi-fi didn’t work inside the room; we had to take the laptops and Iphones outside to a hot and ant-infested smoking area. There was a wooded area behind the Inn where we could see white-tailed deer scurrying around in the brush.


We drove to a nearby Mexican restaurant for dinner and then called it a night early; I was exhausted from driving all day and it felt good to turn out the lights and fall asleep to the gentle hum of the air-conditioner.

Woke early the next day and drove back to the same Mexican restaurant we had dinner at the night before and bought a hand-full of breakfast tacos. We drove around and explored the area and saw several more deer who apparently had lost their fear of humans. There is a river in Wimberley with a road that runs alongside of it. We drove past Cypress trees with rope swings hanging from their lower branches; several locals were swimming in the river to beat the early summer heat. Lunch was had at a noisy busy Cafe in the town square and more time was spent exploring in nearby New Braunfels  (home of  Gruene Hall, Texas oldest live music venue) and the local shops. After dinner at another cafe we went to a movie at the Corral Theater which was a slight variation of the old-fashioned drive-in.

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A large screen was set up and had Carvin PA speakers on both sides of it for sound. Instead of driving in the patrons parked in a lot outside the theater and rows of chairs were in front of the screen. Bringing your own folding chairs and ice chests was allowed. Admission was only $5 and everything at the snack bar was only a dollar. We sat under a starry summer sky and watched FAST AND FURIOUS 6 not my first choice for a movie but that’s what they were showing that night. The Corral has been there for fifty or sixty years showing first run movies on its weather-beaten screen and if it ever closes there will be a lot of furious and disappointed locals.

All good things must come to an end and so did the two quick nights in Wimberley. Monday morning had us back on the road heading north to Fort Worth once again but we had a few detours to make first.

Once again we stopped in Round Rock and bought donuts, then we detoured by the home of Mack White  (www.mackwhite.com) or the Radio Ranch as he calls it for a few cups of HEB Columbian coffee. Then we said Goodbye to Mack and his wife Diane and stopped at a buffet for lunch.


Then we took a really long convoluted detour through a series of winding roads through the back boroughs of the Hill Country, stopping only for pie and coffee at the Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls and a panoramic far-as-the-eye-could-see traffic jam in Killeen Texas I’m surprised we ever got out of. When we finally wound up back on I35 after a long four hour detour we drove north and made one last stop in West where we stocked up on more kolaches and a couple of links of sausage, then it was back to Fort Worth.

It had been a long day by this point; I was so tired and sleepy. All I wanted by this point was to stop driving, get out of the car and get some sleep; this vacation had stopped seeming like a vacation somewhere about the point of the traffic jam in Killeen. But as I was driving I looked at my hands on the steering wheel and noticed something.

After four days of not working my fingernails were clean for the first time in months.


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