An Introspective Odyssey.

I’m reading Kerouac as the plane accelerates to liftoff velocity. And I can’t help but think that the wild pace of the book will have some kind of effect on the plane and it’ll come crashing back down into the runway.

I get all kinds of paranoid when we fly. I have to recite little mantras to myself when the turbulence buffets the fuselage about how, as long as the engines are on and the power is going, the pilots still have control and that we’ll be fine. But 30,000 feet up in the air, even with mantras, the absurdity of the act of flying makes itself fully known to me. There is just space and nothingness beneath us all the way until death, far below.

Flying is an agonizing existential crisis for me for the entire duration of every journey, but I weather it with almost no outward suggestion of panic except for gripping the seat handles harder and looking side-to-side, out the window, more often. My mom and sister can tell that I’m stressed, but only see the tiniest portion of what’s really at play.

But we arrive into Vegas without incident of course and enjoy mimosas in this place called the Jose Cuervo Tequileria, where we’ve historically gone to imbibe and tear into big quesadillas. The McCarran airport is always packed to the gills. A mix of the busy people making connections, the smug winners, and the dejected losers. The people trying to make at least a little of it back at the slot machines parked in the middle of the hall. The oxygen bars. The people carrying alcoholic drinks around the gates, luxuriating in the sinful freedom. The little evil things they can’t do back home.

As we fly out of Vegas again I stare down at the strip, which grins lasciviously back at me. What a ridiculous place, I think, as we jet off over Lake Mead. What a stupid place to build a city, out here in the middle of the desert, sucking up what little water there is, blasting energy from a billion lightbulbs into the ether. It’s the energy from a billion dejected losers squeezing what little money they have into machines designed to defeat them. It reminds me of how the sun destroys itself constantly to produce its own brilliance.

I go through the same set of anxieties about flying as we continue to Lubbock, but of course we land just fine and make our way out to baggage claim. Normally, we are greeted here by a family member, who flings their arms around each of us in turn after we clear the security checkpoint. Normally, they ask us how the flight was, and how we’ve been and all that. Instead, this year, we’re greeted by no one and we collect our baggage and make our way out to the curb, where a man from Royal Coach in Lubbock awaits us in something that looks like a Cadillac. I forget. But it’s nice and has one of those analog wrist-watch looking clocks in the center of the console. It looks fancy.

It’s odd to me to go from the airport back home to Grandma and Grandpa’s in such an impersonal, businesslike manner. At this point, normally, we would be talking about life, and how Grandma and Grandpa are doing with the family member designated to pick us up. Instead, we talk about the snow back in Utah and exchange pleasantries which serve to make the ride less awkward and silent.

This year, the different units of our family decided to stagger their visits to G & G, in a non-overlapping fashion, so that G&G would constantly have family members around for nearly a month. But this immediately begins to suck for all of us, because the house feels so empty when we get back — no cousins or aunts or uncles. The place is usually so crowded that I’m used to sleeping on a makeshift bed made from couch cushions in the living room downstairs, while the eerie ‘Elf on a Shelf’ watches me snooze. Now, I actually have a bed to sleep in. It’s very disconcerting to have this luxury. It’s one of those undeserved pleasures that actually makes you feel guilty.

Grandma and Grandpa are in good shape when we see them. Joyous and giddy. We all talk and drink wine and eat copiously, then go to sleep.

The next couple of days go by very smoothly. We celebrate my Grandma’s birthday and I make the number “22” in her cake with candles to be ironic and funny, because she just turned 86.

I like the way the light falls on the Texas panhandle. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have any mountains to obstruct the more extreme angles. It goes in this bright and beautiful sideways manner in the mornings and evenings.

Each morning I wake up at around 7:00am and steal a view across the golf course that runs behind the house, drinking in the picture greedily, filing it away for documentation purposes such as this. But neither words nor pictures can quite get at the scene. There’s a brightness in those sunrises that just doesn’t come through here. After a few moments admiring the light, I go back to bed and doze for a while longer and play with shit on my phone.

My uncle has this friend named Kevin that he met while messing around with electronic billboards back in the early, early days of the internet, when everything was still black and green. Kevin ran a billboard and there were a handful of kids across Lubbock who would call in and write messages to the others. My uncle was among them and, one day, rode his bike over to meet up with Kevin on the other side of the Lakeridge neighborhood, skidding and crashing on the street while Kevin and another kid looked on. And thus began a long friendship.

I met Kevin a few years ago after being introduced by my uncle and so we started hanging out when I’d fly into town. Kev lives out of town as well, but always seems to be in Lubbock around the same time as us, visiting his folks.

The Saturday of our stay, my sister, mom, Kevin, and I all go see Star Wars. It was good.

The next day, Kevin and I go for a walk around the downtown of Lubbock and across the Texas Tech campus, where Kev went to school. This is one of my favorite things in the world to do: Walk and talk. And that we do. We muse about everything from video games, to virtual reality, to drugs, to art and creativity, and to nostalgia.

Kev mentions how he doesn’t really get a lot out of being creative and making things these days. He says how he used to put hundreds of hours into making songs and music, but he can’t really remember why. I suggest that maybe it’s because he had a good time during the act of creation. But he says that, most of the time, music was just a huge pain in the ass and a time sink and he doesn’t remember necessarily liking the process.

He says that, these days, it’s easier than ever to entertain yourself with video games and books and shit other people create, so why would you go about trying to make your own art when you don’t even enjoy it?

This gets me questioning whether I actually enjoy, truly, the act of creation. And I figure that sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. I think that the thing I enjoy about creativity is what I’ve heard referred to as ‘flow state’, where you get into a rhythm when you’re creating something and you just lose yourself in it for hours. Like what’s happening here as I write these very words. I’m lost in the slow pace of thinking and typing. It’s methodical and pleasurably mechanical, like the addiction to having an object in your mouth even after your quit smoking.

Kev really gets me thinking and I’ll talk about it more in a second.

I wanted to mention that what’s weird about this particular Walk & Talk is that there’s this whole depressing subtext to it. We’re walking through the old downtown of Lubbock where the buildings are tall and there looks like there should be some hustle and bustle. But it’s depressing precisely because there is none of that. There are no people out, except for a few homeless men, and the shops are all abandoned and their windows broken. It looks like some post-apocalyptic scene.

Kev explains that the downtown hit its heyday in fifties. Real estate developers came in and suburbanized the city and the whole population moved southwest, out of main city area. I heard my uncle once describe Lubbock as a sand dune that slowly moves toward Mexico. People are just forgetting about the old main drag.

Sometime in the ’70s, I think, a massive tornado tore through the downtown of Lubbock. It wrecked nearly everything and then it smacked into the NTS Communications building, which is probably thirty stories tall. The building didn’t fall over, but I guess the force of the wind was enough to make the whole building shift on its foundations. If you walk right up to it and stare directly up at the corner of the building, you can see the twisting as it rises upward.

Anyway, Kevin and I are right at the corner of the NTS, looking up at the twist, when a Chevy Suburban pulls up next to us on the street. It’s a concerned-looking latino family. They yell out that they’re out serving cookies ‘to the community’ in the spirit of the holidays. They clearly think we’re homeless. I guess it’s because only homeless people hang out downtown these days.

We say no thanks and continue on down the street, arcing past the jail and bail bond district, past the art revival area of Lubbock, past the Post Office and full circle back to our car and head home. We’re out for three hours.

The next day, my family visits Llano Estacado Winery, in which they have a stake. My great uncle Arthur was a successful entrepreneur in Lubbock and, with my grandparents, brought the McDonald’s franchise there in the mid ’70s. He also helped found the winery and our family inherited his share when he died in 2004.

We tour around the place, which was remodeled in the last year. It’s totally different than I remember, and I was there last year for my uncle’s wedding ceremony. I’m not entirely sure if I like the new linoleum floors as we walk around the place. It seems a little too cutesy, like it’s right out of a Martha Stewart catalog. The back offices are adorned with lots of those mass-produced wood panels with painted cliché phrases on them like ‘Home is where the Heart is’, or ‘Where’s the Wine?’. There are framed photos that have the same cheesy phrases on the sides like ‘Friends Forever’.

We buy some wine and head out on the road, driving through immense cotton fields all the way back. The sky is huge.

In the evening, Kevin and I meet up again and walk from Lakeridge over to this frozen custard stand that we like close by. It’s the middle of winter and pretty chilly in Lubbock, but we don’t care. We check out a rundown house on the edge of the neighborhood, which used to be inhabited by another friend of my uncle’s. It’s a massive, deserted structure and the wildlife is taking it over again.

On the way back we talk about nostalgia some more. Kevin says that romanticizing the past and lamenting change is what makes you really sad. He also says that everything we own is actually a rental if you think about it. We’re only ever the temporary possessors of our property. In the end, after we die, it all just moves on to other people or just breaks and becomes trash.

We talk about Taoism, which is something I found recently to be very useful for alleviating some of that cosmic stress about the nature of time and the constant of change. Kev talks about how, if your goal is to be happy in life, you have to, at some level, accept that nothing stays the same and just go with the flow. All we can do is the best we can for ourselves until we die. But living your life trying to avoid, ignore, or prevent change is a good way to get depressed.

I bid farewell to Kev in front of my grandparents house and we part ways in the dark.

The next day, my family says goodbye to the grandparents and we head out in another Royal Coach car with an analog wrist-watch clock in the center of the console. We enter the airport and pass through the security checkpoint that never used to be there in my childhood.