For The Love of Austin
Traveling with a one-year-old is hard. And beautiful.
Zach Bowman has sold everything he owns, slapped a camper to his high-mileage 2003 Dodge Ram and has taken his family on the road. His clan numbers three, counting wife, Beth, and their infant daughter. They are touring America, working and discovering, and are sending The Drive periodic dispatches from the road.
We took a walk this morning. Threw kiddo in her pack and hiked a few blocks for breakfast. Skipped the brick-and-mortar shop for a little trailer outside a dive bar and ordered up an Austin favorite: breakfast tacos. Egg and cheese and chorizo, avocado, bacon, and beans. We ate with the construction workers there, fed the girl handfuls of warm tortilla and cheese while she waved and played shy with her friends in hard hats and safety vests. The lot of them smiling at the goofy little girl in red socks.
She’s a wonder. A perfect ambassador. I’ve spoken with more strangers in the past two weeks than I had in the past year. The gorgeous girls with dark eyes at the table next to us at dinner. The gent in the cowboy hat and a cut-off shirt, the bare, sunburned skin of his arms inked in a tapestry of tattoos. If I am anxious or fearful, she's fearless, driven by a deep and uncontainable curiosity. She takes nothing for granted.
It makes her powerful. Watching her pull smiles and grins out of everyone around us gives me hope. Faith in our commonality—the heart of us all. Knowledge that the differences we’re supposed to have are thinner than cotton, and that more likely than not we manufacture the loneliness that hounds us. The gift of a child, I guess.
Our days are a field of extremes. Brilliant or baleful, with little middle ground. She’s teething hard, and the cutting pain of four molars will twist her happy face in a heartbeat, cheeks flushing and eyes welling with the hurt of it. There’s nothing we can do but offer up some Tylenol and try to distract her. None of us are sleeping worth a damn.
It makes everything harder. Finding a place to sleep. Cooking dinner. Keeping the girl entertained and safe. Contending with mosquitos and sunburn and blisters on our toes. Traffic. Finding half a minute to put some fucking words down. I find myself living an hour ahead of where we are, trying to navigate around whatever perceived calamity is coming. Trying to outrun the clock of naps and feedings and diaper changes. Ignoring the beauty of the moment at my feet.
And it is beautiful. Hiking in hill country. Seeing the rippling green depth of Hamilton Pool. The crescent arch of the ceiling. Watching the quiet fight between patient water and stubborn stone, continuing to unfold as we stand there. Surrendering to the awe of a deep, clear creek hidden in the arid Texas hills. Watching a single steelhead trout glide from one shadowed bank to the next, the three of us held in one wary eye.
Walking through Austin, too, the Colorado River slow and bright beside us. Standing on a floating dock with the expectant locals, all church-quiet waiting for the city’s bats explode from their homes under the Congress bridge. Listening to the Grackles mock our silence from the treetops, black feathers quivering as they crow in the cool dusk.
Hard, yes—and beautiful, too. The way life is, when you’re lucky enough to live it.