Ralph Waldo Emerson never met the Slim Duck. He never met Gray Dude or Ginger. And he certainly never crossed the great American West in a ’67 Barracuda convertible. But had RWE experienced anything akin to making a road trip with a bewitching heartthrob like the Slim Duck, he might have tempered his opinion about traveling being a “fool’s paradise.”
If traveling is a fool’s paradise, then hand me those sunglasses and pass the beer. I’ve been a fool for traveling since the last quarter of the twentieth century began, and I made my virgin road trip to Los Angeles with the Slim Duck, her black Lab, Ginger, and her surly African gray parrot, Gray Dude. This was my first adventure born of reckless abandon. The Duck, a ravishing and fearless freedom fighter, threw her compass to the wind and put her barefoot fun locator to the accelerator. Along the way, we experienced everything from breakdowns to break-ins; from sleeping in the car to cantina bar fights to camping under the desert night sky with a zillion stars. Our L.A.-or-bust interstate expedition gave birth to a lifetime of wanderlust. Moreover, our junket gave me my first glimpse of the vast Far West Texas land known as the Trans-Pecos.
A dozen years, a bountiful marriage, and enough gigs to pay the bills later, I was perched on the staircase landing above the San Antonio River, idly watching a party boat full of tourists float the day away. It was a surprisingly cool afternoon for summer in South Texas, and the River Walk was bustling with smiling faces and laughter. I was lost in thought when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see a small man who smiled and addressed me by name. I had no idea who he was. I don’t recall the exact interaction, but we found a rhythm to our conversation. I casually told him how my wife, Kathleen, and I were headed to Chisos Mountains Lodge in Big Bend National Park. His face lit up like the neon sign on San Antonio’s legendary Mi Tierra restaurant.