Sunday, October 14, 2012

Texas Road Trip, Day 0: Flying to Austin

I'm in Texas on vacation, and to research something for the novel I'm working on. When I tell people I've come to Texas to research fracking, they can't believe it. I overheard Cris saying to a friend, "First he went to Minnesota to see what it was like in a blizzard, and then he went to the desert to find survivalists, and now he's going to Texas to get himself in trouble with oil roughnecks."

It's true that all those trips were research for this book. But I took out the part about the survivalists. And the fracking stuff is really for a story-within-a-story. However, I'm also thinking of setting my next book in this milieu, so this is both research for my current project and for the possible next one.

I'm in a hotel near the Austin airport. I went to university in Austin, many years ago, and at the time I had a frantic love for the city. Then I graduated and got a little sick of it, and moved to San Francisco. I've only been back twice before this. Once, in 1981, was only two years after I'd left, and it was still very much the same place. The next time was in 2001, and it was very much not the same place. In the intervening 20 years, the tech industry had come to town, and Republicans were in the ascendancy. There were huge new developments all over, and a freeway had replaced the sweet two-lane state highway I used to take from Houston to Austin, a road that meant so much to me I wrote a song about it. In 2001 I actually drove 100 miles to the town of Columbus and attempted to drive the fondly-remembered highway, but the freeway had erased it almost entirely. Now -- that is, in 2001 -- it was just another drive through countryside.

Now it's almost 12 years after that. I have no hopes of a nostalgic reunion with any of my favorite places, going on 37 years since I left town 9 months after graduating. So much money and development has come to town that it would be like going to Las Vegas and attempting to find old Rat Pack hangouts. Of course, the university itself is still there, and many of its buildings are even the same. (Of course, when I attended in the mid-70s, it was already full of newer buildings which probably shocked anyone who had attended even 10 years earlier.) But even in 2001 almost none of the funky houses and buildings I'd lived in still existed; they'd been torn down and replaced with condos and large apartment buildings. So I'm not going to spend much time trying to connect with my youth.

Instead, I'm going to drive south, toward the Eagle Ford Shale zone, and try to find some fracking. The illustration below shows the zone, marked by red pins, spreading across south Texas.

The image shows red pin markings across south Texas, extending east to West from a point near Victoria to the Rio Grande.

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