The trip started as most travels out of the Rio Grande Valley do, with a stop at Valero for gas and coffee and breakfast tacos. We folded down the foil, made sure the salsa wasn't dripping, and pointed north. We watched the graywhite haze burn off as the sun rose higher in the sky. Winter takes a toll on the landscape even this far south, as the grass lays dry and even the evergreen live oak leaves hang dark and wizened before the renewal of spring growth.
Semi trucks and pickups and Norteño band buses share the road. Roadside fruit stands, with the oranges of citrus and bright pottery, flash on the right. Slow for the ICE checkpoint,
"Yes, only 2 people. Yes, US citizens. Thank you, have a good day."
Watch for decreasing speed zones, for local police setting a lair. Train passes us on the right.
We arrive just when expected and share hugs with my brown-eyed kids. It takes about, oh, one second to notice the new dent in the car. Which young adult has ever skipped the opportunity to share inopportune news on neutral territory? The trade ensues nonetheless. Which young adult has ever skipped the opportunity to swap the mini-van back for the mini-SUV? Crazy cute dog runs circles around us, wades in the little pond, chases the remains of a tennis ball. We peek in the winery, full of tasters, no hurries on a bright Saturday midday.
But the car is making noises, grinding and squealing. The oil shows the milky film of other liquid. Anxiety proves difficult to squelch. Isn't it a distraction when kill-joy What If shows up on the road trip? We detour north for a bite of lunch and take a lap around Market Days at the Courthouse Square. No crafty or antique wares today. I take the wheel for the return trip home.
I scan the radio dial and tune in the sure-to-sing-a-long station, volume kept low to prevent distraction for my reading shot-gun rider. One eagerly awaited stop for gas- and disappointment.
"I'll have a junior Jamocha shake."
"Sorry, the shake machine is broken."
Frequent checks along the way, and sure enough, both vehicles make it home safely. I already begin to plot a do-over for the season ahead.