Sal lists a number of non-descript places in this passage. He glosses over New Mexico, though he most likely passed through Gallup and my current home of Albuquerque on Route 66. He then mentions Dalhart as his only place-name in Texas, followed by a bunch of nameless towns in Oklahoma and Kansas. It is 1940s America in its most mysterious, faceless immensity. Since Sal points out Dalhart, we will too. Click the map to join us there.
"In inky night we crossed New Mexico; at gray dawn it was Dalhart, Texas; in the bleak Sunday afternoon we rode through one Oklahoma flat-town after another; at nightfall it was Kansas. The bus roared on. I was going home in October. Everybody goes home in October."
On the Road, Chapter 14
From 2008-09, I lived in Lubbock, Texas. I had accepted a position as a visiting professor of political science at Texas Tech University, and I left my wife and dog in Albuquerque, New Mexico and rented a house in Lubbock. From there, I made the five hour drive back to Albuquerque every weekend except for the one weekend per month that my wife came to visit me.
Lubbock is about 3½ hours drive from Dalhart, which lies situated at the northern end of the Texas Panhandle. Both are roughly similar in elevation. Lubbock is much larger, with about 200,000 people and a very large university (about 40,000 students) compared to under 10,000 people for Dalhart, but both are very much agricultural towns.
In that part of Texas, the immensity of the state really impresses itself upon one. One may drive for hours through the Llano Estacado passing through small towns such as Shallowater, Anton, Littlefield, Sudan, Muleshoe, and Farwell that retreat indoors around their grain elevators around 7:00 p.m. Texas high school football crackles through the radio on practically every station on Friday nights, as portrayed in Friday Night Lights. I think that Texas high school football would take precedence over a nuclear attack. "Well, they got Washington, New York, L.A. and Houston, but hey, Muleshoe is up by 10 over Levelland with 6:05 to go in the 4th quarter, and since they just nuked Dallas, we can make a real run for state champs!"
Of course, part of the mystique of Texas was encapsulated in the 1980s television show, Dallas. This show was partly set on the fictional Southfork Ranch. The historic XIT Ranch in Dalhart fully connects this region with its cattle ranching past and present. At one time, the XIT was the largest ranch in the United States with nearly 3 million acres under fence - that's bigger than many U.S. states.
The amazing thing about West Texas, however, is how its music has stamped itself on the American scene. Some of the most incredible musicians have come out of West Texas and the Panhandle. Bob Wills, Joe Ely, Lloyd Maines, Butch Hancock, Terry Allen, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Waylon Jennings, Guy Clark, Mac Davis, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and Buddy Knox, among others, were raised and first formed their musical careers in under the vast open skies of West Texas. When in Lubbock, I was privileged with my wife to see Joe Ely perform with flamenco guitarist Teye. It was a fantastic show. Ely told the story of how he performed a show early in his career in a town outside of Lubbock, and the Baptist preachers the next day preached fire and brimstone against his music from the pulpit, calling it depraved and the devil's music. He figured his career was through, only to discover that people were lining up to get in to the next show!
While I am happy to be back with my wife in Albuquerque, my stint living in West Texas reinforced to me that you can't always judge a book by its cover. West Texas, at least musically, is vibrant and alive and this creativity is nourished under Texas' wide, dusty skies. Maybe as he drives through Dalhart in the "gray dawn," Sal sees Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys loading their gear into a bus in front of a honkytonk outside of town. It's too bad he missed that show. He might have found something beat in the jazz and blues influenced Western swing.
If you want to know more about Dalhart
Next up: St. Louis, Missouri