Hooch: Slang for moonshine or bootleg alcohol. —The Urban Dictionary
I biked out of Greenville, ever so glad to be on my way. One week of dealing with a wheel and weather was enough. A mile and a half later my back tire went flat. This wasn’t a normal flat that I could fix with my eyes closed. My strong new spokes were digging into the tube. Something really didn’t want me to leave Texas. I walked my bike back into Greenville and checked in with a small bike shop, resigned to deal with whatever fate the bike gods had in store for me. Not much, it turned out. The shop quickly fixed the problem with a thicker rim tape and I was on my way.
I hightailed it down Texas Highway 69, making up for lost time. Small towns flew by. Lone Oak, Emory, and Mineola provided sustenance to keep my legs pumping. My journal reports I stopped for coffee and pie, a hamburger and an ice cream cone.
Everything was green, an amazing contrast to the dry desert country I had been bicycling through since California. And, this is big news— there were pine trees! I hadn’t seen one since Lincoln County in New Mexico. It made me feel at home, almost.
One of the things about Mineola that caught my attention was that the Texas Governor, Jim Hogg, had lived in the town. His daughter was born there and he named her Ima, as in Ima Hogg. To the degree karma works, I’ve always imagined the Governor being reborn as a pig with a pork chop factory in his future. Ima never married (I would have done it for the name change alone), reportedly was close to her father, and went on to be an important figure in Texas Society. Maybe she was like Sue in the Johnny Cash song, A Boy Named Sue; the name made her tough.
Willie Brown, the flamboyant California politician, was born here as well. He was serving as Speaker of the California Assembly while I was cycling across the country. Brown was incredibly effective at passing and suppressing legislation. Voting Willie’s way brought substantial rewards. Voting against him brought swift punishment. Like him or not, he made government work. Washington could learn a thing or two.
I had run into Brown’s ability to kill bills a couple of years earlier when I was working with a group to increase tobacco taxes in California and devote a significant portion of the revenues to prevention programs. Almost every state in the country had increased tobacco taxes since California had last raised its tax in the 70s. The tobacco industry paid big bucks to California legislators to keep it that way. The bill was assigned to a committee guaranteed to kill it. We couldn’t even get a second. Fortunately, we had been prepared for this likelihood and had quietly planned to run an initiative campaign if the legislative effort failed. I called a press conference immediately after the vote and we announced our initiative. The committee’s no-vote gave us a great kickoff. The press conference received major media attention throughout California. Thanks Willie.
I rode another 15 miles from Mineola to Interstate 20 where darkening clouds led me to call it a day. It had been a good day of bicycling, the first since my spoke had broken outside of Decatur.
The next morning, I was up early and heading into Tyler. The road had a wide shoulder, which is always appreciated by bicyclists. I could relax a bit and not worry so much about being flattened by a car or semi. Most drivers are cautious and courteous when around bicyclists, but there are exceptions. I always rode as far to the right as was safe and kept a wary eye out for developing situations. Several times on my trip, I was forced to bail out, riding my bike off the road into the dirt and weeds, or even a ditch. Somehow, I always avoided crashing.
In Tyler, I was almost taken out, however. The city was more urban than most I traveled through on my trip and hillier than I had become used to in Texas. I was riding along, minding my own business when a woman turned right across my route, missing my front tire by inches— and then only because I had slammed on my brakes! She must have been half blind since I was wearing bright clothes. Either that or she was high on something. She didn’t seem to hear very well either. When I suggested, loudly, that she be more careful, she ignored me and drove off. I sent a bird flying after her. Bad Curt.
There was nothing to do but stop at a DQ and quiet my nerves by downing a hamburger and a milkshake. The owner came out and sat down to chat. I told him about my encounter. He was quite empathetic. His brother owned a bike shop. Afterwards I was feeling a little punky. It may have had something to do with how fast I had sucked down the milkshake. Anyway, I made it a short day, stopping in Henderson.
The area around Henderson had been part of one of the largest oil booms in Texas history. In 1930, “Dad” Joiner, a 70-year-old oilman out of Tennessee and Oklahoma, had refused to give up on his belief that there was oil in the area, almost bankrupting himself in his search. Finally, at 8:00 pm on October 3, one of the wells he had drilled on Daisy Bradford’s farm eight miles west of Henderson gushed out oil and a ‘black gold’ rush was under way. I’m pretty sure that Daisy did a dance of joy. Henderson grew from a sleepy town of 2,000 to a booming 10,000, the roads became clogged with fortune seekers, and oil derricks sprang up in the surrounding region thicker than fleas on a hound, as the good ol’ boys down South like to say. To date, over five billion barrels of oil have been taken from the East Texas Oil Field.
The next day found me traveling through piney woods that contained almost as many Baptist Churches as there were people. Or at least it seemed like it. I’d definitely made it to the Bible Belt. Following a round about way, I hit one road that was so remote it had me thinking Deliverance. Finally, I picked up Route 84, crossed the Sabine River, and entered Logansport, Louisiana. It was May 7th. I’d been in Texas for 18 days, or was that 1800?
Road construction, dust, and impatient drivers hurried me through Logansport. I stopped at a small bayou outside of town to catch my breath and spotted a water moccasin/cotton mouth slithering through the murky water. He was one big ugly dude, a pit viper with a serious attitude problem. I didn’t hang around. A few miles later, I started looking for a place to camp. It was approaching dark. I spotted an old, overgrown road that made its way into a pine forest where I could hide out. I set up my tent, climbed in, and zipped it up tight. That night I dreamed of gigantic snakes chasing me down the highway, mouths wide open, fangs dripping with poison. Two or three times I woke up to creatures stirring around in the forest outside my tent.
I was glad to be up and on my way the next morning, continuing to follow Highway 84. No monstrous serpents were hounding me but I still made good time. I stopped in Mansfield for breakfast and headed on. Large logging trucks carrying long, toothpick size logs kept me company, zipping by at speeds guaranteed to give me grey hair. Intense poverty was reflected in barely standing small houses. Dark, jungle-like growth edged the highway. I was sure it was crawling with snakes. A young man yelled at me to get off the road. His white-haired granny was too nervous to pass me on the narrow highway.
I crossed the Red River into Coushatta and worked my way south. Threatening clouds filled the sky and decided to let loose between the small towns of Campi and Clarence. And boy did they let loose. Soaked to the bone, I began thinking about a warm, dry, snake-free motel room. I found one outside of Clarence.
After unpacking and putting on a set of dry clothes, I went outside to sit under the porch overhang, read a book, and sip on a beer. A large, black woman came over and plopped down in the chair next to mine. She had watched me bicycle in.
“What you all doing, Honey?” she asked. I explained I was in the middle of a 10,000-mile bike trip. “No way! You are one crazy man!” she exclaimed. “Say,” she went on, “I have some hooch over in my room. Why don’t you come over and try some?” I’d been propositioned before, but never with hooch. “Tempting,” I’d replied laughing, but then claimed a non-existent wife who didn’t want me “drinking hooch” on the trip. Instead I offered her a beer which she readily accepted. She was a funny woman and we had a delightful conversation. As she left she told me again, “If you change your mind about the hooch, Honey, just come over and knock on my door. Anytime tonight.”
NEXT BLOG: I bike a hundred miles out of my way to find an ATM in Alexandria, Louisiana and then head on to the mighty Mississippi River.