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18# Hardship builds gratitude

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

Hardship builds gratitude

Not all car drives are created equal. Some weave through beautiful landscapes, others are challenging and filled with adrenaline. Then there is the worst type of all, the boring drive. Boring drives distort time like the hyperbolic space chamber in Dragon Ball Z. On boring drives, you could drive for hours while feeling still. Everything around you looks the same, and nothing happens.

We left Moe in Dallas and headed to the West Coast. Crossing Texas during winter was by far, the most boring drive I’ve ever experienced. The road was a straight line through immense flat cotton fields. The land was deserted by men and animals alike. Patches of yellow grass struggled to survive above the brown frozen ground. The road was long, dreadful, and ugly.

We stopped at a T-mobile on the way. I had calls scheduled with Shitty Sugar and needed to check the network coverage before crossing the desert. Coming out of T-mobile store, I saw a shiny object on the parking floor. Curious, I came closer and knelt to pick it up. It was an empty bullet shell. Someone shot that bullet right there on the parking lot… Only in Texas.

We had been driving on flat ugly roads since dawn. As sunset approached, the search for parking started. The iOverlander app showed free parking by a lake in the little town of Hereford. Hereford claimed to be the ‘beef capital of the world’. I was eager to try their steaks.

The highway to Hereford was bordered by two lines of massive industrial towers, like a modern entrance of the ancient Persepolis. The towers spat out a dense white smoke in the blue sky. As we approached, a harsh smell of burning plastic invaded the air. Grossed out, we closed the window and pushed on the gas, hoping to escape the stinking zone. The stink persisted… for 40 fucking Km!

Every breath made our faces itch. We turned on the fan, then the AC… useless. The smell was oppressive, disgusting, and constant. There was no escape. Thirty minutes later, we arrived to the lake, finally!

Inhaling the wastes of Hereford made us dizzy. The toxic smell was still in the air. Every intersection had high speed bumps, making la Chichona swing back and forth like a rising camel. I felt bad for her, suspensions were not her forte. We parked by the lake, I hopped on the bed for a nap while Kamilia went to check the area. Sleep didn’t come. There was something off. I went outside to have a look.

The lake smelled like shit! Literally, duck shit. Hundreds of ducks were compressed against each other in a space too small for them. There were some geese too, squeezed amongst the ducks. I breathed from the mouth to avoid the smell and yet, it lingered on the back of my throat.

There were two rows of ducks in an odd position. I got closer, turned the light on my phone on and froze. The birds were dead. Hundreds of them. All dead. We need to get the fuck out of here! We drove off and found comfort later on a Walmart parking lot. Walmart was our default destination. Getting there felt like coming home after an exhausting trip. The air smelled normal. There were no corpses. Life was good.

The worst part was that people lived there. They breathed that toxic air all the time. I wish the people of Hereford did something about it. But this was Texas and it Texas, corporations rule.

Leaving Texas the next morning was satisfying! Guns, desolated landscapes, toxic air, dead birds…it was too much for one day. Funnily enough, all the people we met in Texas were kind, generous, and friendly. Perhaps that’s why they could endure so much shit from the corporate world. “Trop bon, trop con” say the Frenchies.

Ralph in Texas

Joy is relative to what comes before it. Hardship gives a new perspective to things, and builds gratitude. We only truly appreciate a hot shower after weeks of cold ones, or a full night of sleep after many restless ones.

The van life brought these neglected details into light. We took nothing for granted anymore. And little things such as breathing clean air became enjoyable, even on boring drives.


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