Learning to Drive

In 1971, when I learned to drive, my dream was to drive coast to coast, radio blaring. But in our family, kids didn’t drive on dog show trips in the family station wagon loaded with people and dogs. My parents drove coast to coast, with us sweltering in the back seat with no air conditioning, while our country built the interstate highway systems we travel today. As a kid there were no McDonald’s and gas stations at every exit. The speed limit was 55 mph, and delays for construction were commonplace. I had no idea how much driving across the country I would ultimately do. Last weekend we loaded Eva and Peyton into the van, along with all our assorted dog show gear, and headed out for Ft. Worth. This year we are reduced to following our dog around the country, sitting ringside and watching him show, hoping for wins. We are also waiting for our bitch, Eva, to come into season so we can breed her and try for more puppies. Maybe there will be one for us this time. We have looked at several males for her, but so far none of them seems just right.

The drive to Texas is thirteen hours, give or take. From our house there is no direct route. It is actually only fifteen minutes further to St. Louis and the fall specialty, than it is to Ft. Worth and the spring specialty. St. Louis is 100 miles further, but the route is so much more direct. An interstate highway pointing straight east for a little over 850 miles. The road cruises along at 75 mph through green fields and small farms. Hiding in the woods, off dirt roads, are puppy mills that feed the families of failed farmers. They are out of sight from the travellers on the interstate, but countless puppies from those farms race by in cars every day. Their owners unknowing about the humble beginnings of their beloved pets. The drive to Ft. Worth is different. Especially at this time of year. We raced along the Southern interstate then branched off onto a diagonal state highway through the North Eastern corner of New Mexico. The diagonal continued into Ft. Worth. Mile after mile of sage brush and dry, dusty fields. Some of the land may be used for ranching, but there were few cattle seen. There were few rest stops and a myriad of little towns where the seventy mile per hour speed limit dropped down to sixty, then fifty and finally thirty. There was a desolation to most of these towns. More people passing through than living there. Newer red metal roofs sheltering falling down porches and failing side walls. A grain silo or two and a gas station were the most prominent businesses along the route. Certainly some towns showed signs of a thriving economy. While Alexander would spin in his grave, Dumas, pronounced Doo Mus, was larger and the homes looked livable. The downtown area had chain motels, restaurants and other businesses. People walked the streets with a purpose and some newer homes were visible as we drove out of town. The constant in these tiny burgs was the ever-present, blowing wind. Dirt swirled in the dust devils and scraped the already dried out vegetation. It would be much later in Spring that the greening of East Texas would arrive. By the time others make the trek to Houston in July, this part of the state will be much less desolate looking.

Travelling the nearly back roads of this part of Texas could be romanticized. But travelling these roads on the way to something better, there is little appreciation for the eccentricities hailing you from the sidewalks and shoulders zipping by. Necessary stops forced us into a world we wished would pass quicker. A rest stop still operating since 1934 was well cared for. Maybe because it was the only restful spot along a very long road. There was a flower bed with blooming pansies and yucca. A farm themed mural inside the toilet room built with WPA funds looked new. Inside was the oldest automatic hand dryer I had ever seen. A soap dispenser from the same era surely held the gritty,Boraxo powdered hand soap we all used to hate. We moved on chuckling to ourselves about how many long ago dog show people had used the little stop on the way to other cities down the road.

The miles wore on. A long day broken by a stop over for one night in Amarillo. The name means yellow in Spanish, and according to local lore was derived from the yellow flowers that bloom in the spring. Our motel was next to the truck scales. And all night long the sound of air brakes and engines lulled us to sleep like a rushing river. There are over 100,00 people who call this small city in the Panhandle home. It seems much smaller and its two biggest attractions are the Cadillac Ranch and the Big Texan Steak Ranch. The latter features an homage to gluttony; a 72 ounce steak dinner that if eaten, in full view of all the diners, is free. We ate chicken sandwiches at the Big Texan and never made it to the Cadillac Ranch. After five hours the next morning we arrived in Ft. Worth at the show site.

The length of the trip was forgotten as we dragged our gear into the relative comfort of the Swine Barn. A large structure with a hundred swine pens and bathing facilities in the back. Like homing pigeons, we set up in nearly the same pens as we had in 2004. Honour was with us then and we added her trophy to the ones from this same show, in this same place, from 1987. Two dogs we brought here in years past won the Specialty. A sister and a brother. This year we came to see a puppy from our lease litter and Danny. We knew our chances of winning were slim, but we were more interested in showing him to our peers. Sometimes the judges’ opinions are not the only ones, nor even the most important ones, we seek at a show. This show is like a reunion of sorts. The weather was hot and humid. Exactly as it was in 2004. I brought home the trophy for “Most Sweating Person” an honor I also received in Illinois at the Grey’s Lake Kerry Blue specialty a few years ago. The heat broke the last day of our Texas stay, and we were treated to a brief, spectacularly loud, hail storm. Peyton and Eva sleeping in their crates were oblivious to the whole thing.

The long roads of the show season will take our dog to many fairgrounds. He is learning all the time and still recognizes us when we appear. But he has already changed. No longer the insecure puppy or adolescent he used to be, he stands proudly with his handler. Sparring when asked and representing our name, and those of his breeders, well. There is over one hundred years of Kerry experience standing behind this young dog and his handler. It is a long show season in the early stages. Honest wins can still be had, but as Spring fades to Summer, achievement at the higher levels will be divided between the top ranked dogs and their handlers. Big money controls our sport. People, both in and out of the ring, seeking notoriety with little knowledge or real appreciation of the dogs shown in their names. Judges, owners and handlers in a hurry. Rushing through the dog world as fast as they travel the interstates. On this trip we enjoyed the length of the journey. Time spent talking about showing and the dogs we’d seen on the weekend. Discussions on breeding, where we’d been and where we hope to go helped us while away the hours. There is a clarity in a road trip like this. As I drove the diagonal road toward home, time to think in the silence.

One thought on “Learning to Drive

  1. I wait for each one of your postings as does a child wait for Christmas. I am so appreciative of your excellent thoughts and writing. What a gift you have. Thanks for giving it!

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