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 flying makes itself fully known to me. There is just space and nothingness beneath us.
But we arrive into Vegas without incident and sip mimosas in this place called the Jose Cuervo Tequileria, where we’ve gone during many other commutes to Lubbock to tear into big quesadillas.
The McCarran airport is always packed to the gills. A mix of the busy people making connections, the smug Vegas 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 bizarre place, I think, as we jet off over Lake Mead. It's 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 of millions of people squeezing their gambling money into machines designed to defeat them.
I go through the same set of anxieties about flying as we continue to Lubbock. 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. But this year no one awaits us, so we collect our baggage and make our way out to the curb, where we meet a driver. It's a nice car and has one of those analog wrist-watch looking clocks in the center of the console. Looks fancy.
It’s foreign 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 G&G are doing with the family member designated to pick us up. Instead, we talk about the snow back in Utah and exchange pleasantries to make the ride less awkward and silent.
This year, the different units of our family decided to stagger their visits to G&G, who are getting quite old, in a non-overlapping fashion, so that they would have family members around for nearly a month. It's a nice idea, but the house feels so empty when we get back — no cousins, 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 night, we celebrate my Grandma’s birthday and I make the number “22” in her cake with candles and we all smile 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 and savoring it. It's the same view I've seen for my whole life; for countless visits to see my grandparents. Given their age, I'm trying to slow things down and make sure I appreciate every one of these moments.
My uncle has this friend named Kevin that he met while messing around with bulletin boards back in the early, early days of the internet, when computer screens were still black and green. Kevin ran a bulletin and there were a handful of kids across Lubbock who would 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, supposedly skidding and crashing on the street while Kevin and another kid looked on. I can't tell how much of this is a friendship-founding myth.
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.
Kevin and I meet up go for a walk around the downtown of Lubbock and across the Texas Tech campus, where Kev went to school. We muse about video games, virtual reality, drugs, art and creativity, and 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. He says that, most of the time, music was just a huge pain in the ass and he doesn’t remember necessarily liking the process. It felt mostly like something he should do, like something other people wanted him to.
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 words. I’m lost in the slow pace of thinking and typing.
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 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, which I find totally fascinating.
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 family. They yell out that they’re out serving cookies ‘to the community’ in the spirit of the holidays. It take us a moment to realize that they think we’re homeless. Probably because only homeless people hang out downtown these days and we do look a bit shabby, I guess.
We politely decline and continue on down the street. We laugh about it, but I'm glad there are people like that in the world though, handing out cookies to folks with no place to go for holidays. We arc 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, which my great uncle, Art, helped found. Art was a successful entrepreneur in Lubbock and, with my grandparents, brought the McDonald’s franchise to town in the mid ’70s.
We tour around the place, which was recently remodeled. 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?'
We buy a couple of cases 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. Kevin says that romanticizing the past and lamenting change is what makes you really sad. 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. 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. 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 G&G and we head out in another car with an analog wrist-watch clock in the center of the console. We enter the tiny airport and pass through the security checkpoint that the TSA squeezed into place after September 11, 2001. I'm hit by a memory of my grandfather standing in the doorway of the gate, back when you could go that far without a boarding pass, smiling and waving goodbye as my sister and I trot after our mom.
I blink again and I'm back in the present. Our flight is boarding. I scan my ticket and follow the flow of fellow travelers down the ramp.