Based in Williamson County, Texas, WHY ARE Y'ALL HERE? is a travelog by Spencer Darr. His posts explore Texas counties through photos, maps, music, videos, writing, and--most importantly--interviews with local residents about why we are where we are. Y'all enjoy!

This is the End--of the Year 2017
 Me sitting on Barney, staring suspiciously at the Geographic Center of Texas marker in McCulloch wearing my Berdoll Pecan farm squirrel shirt that I picked up in Bastrop County. (Photo Credit:  Chelsey Clammer, I think she bought me the shirt, too, if I remember correctly)

Me sitting on Barney, staring suspiciously at the Geographic Center of Texas marker in McCulloch wearing my Berdoll Pecan farm squirrel shirt that I picked up in Bastrop County. (Photo Credit:  Chelsey Clammer, I think she bought me the shirt, too, if I remember correctly)

To think I thought I would visit all counties within a year--bwaha!! No way in hell, at least not in the occasional hell that became my life in 2017. This journey is still very much in progress and not even halfway through. Actually, let’s do the math:

67 Counties Visited / 254 Counties Total in State =
26 % of the way there
74 % to go

So, pretty much a ¼ of the way there, meaning at the current rate, it would take 3 more years to finish the journey. Which is all fine and dandy, except there is a strong possibility that I will leave Texas once again in 8 months. More on that in a moment, but I promise, the reason is very much related to this blog. Let’s see what the math looks like on that:

187 Unvisited Counties / 8 months =
23 Counties per month
(add 3 counties to one month since we can’t do decimals here)

That’s sort of doable--definitely doable if I could set aside the time and money to do nothing but visit counties and live out of my truck. But, before we look anymore about where we still want to go, let’s take a look at where we’ve been.

HIGHLIGHTS AND LOW POINTS OF 2017

 My secret? Outlet malls and strip malls :)

My secret? Outlet malls and strip malls :)

HIGH POINTS

  1. Starting this travel blog and keeping it going
  2. Taking some of the most fun trips I ever had with my then-wife, now ex-wife
  3. Getting my first creative nonfiction pieces published online (5 total!)
  4. Receiving over +19000 Facebook likes on a piece of writing based on a blog entry featuring the world’s largest squirrel statue, Ms. Pearl
  5. Taking and uploading 200+ photos to Google Maps which have received +1.5 million views and making +1000 contributions, all in Texas
  6. Publishing 4 pieces on Atlas Obscura, all of which were inspired by blog posts
  7. Keeping the same good job with a set schedule and pay level that allows me to travel on weekends
  8. Realizing that this--writing--is what I really enjoy and that I should attempt once again to make it the top priority in my life
  9. Getting a little press on the blog in the form of a print article in Texas Lifestyle Magazine and a couple of published photo credits
  10. Creating 17 blog posts for whyareyallhere.com
 Google should start paying me to do this, seriously

Google should start paying me to do this, seriously

LOW POINTS

  1. Puting the travel blog on hold for a few months
  2. Getting divorced from said wife
  3. Finding out my once best friend (allegedly) killed someone, is in jail and about to go to prison, which turned into one of said published writing pieces
  4. Having a job that requires editing and researching on a computer the entire work day, thereby making it challenging to spend additional time on computer working on blog after hours
  5. Ending up living in my truck and in a transitional house (by choice, honestly)

WHY ARE Y’ALL HERE BECOMES WHY AM I HERE?

When I originally set out on this journey, I thought it would be about other people, strangers, as if I was some sort of redneck anthropologist traipsing through counties collecting ethnographies and interviews like arrowheads. But it’s turned more into a blog about my family and my relationship with them, about creatures and my relationship with them, about me and my relationship with...myself. I hate to say it’s a search for myself because that alone sounds self-indulgent, solipsistic, and just plain selfish. I guess it’s really more of trying to see other people through me--because spiritually and realistically speaking, there is no other way to see--and taking a closer look at people that have been there most of my life. I can see how the gnarled, knotted up branches of my own family background relate to the 1000 year old Big Tree. I can see how the disintegration of the lost pines in Bastrop county are similar to my torched marriage. I am still unsure whether the new growth in my world will come in the form of a new relationship or a regeneration of the burned one. Or maybe the burned, charred parts will just sit there in the sun and rain for a while, then after enough time decompose, and finally fertilize something else in the distant future.

THE FORGOTTEN COUNTIES

 This is turning into a very, very slow game of snake, one square at a time

This is turning into a very, very slow game of snake, one square at a time

I can see how my failed trip and turn back around through the panhandle was a sign to turn back on reconnecting with Joshua and do a better job of fixing up my truck and my life before I try to be there for him. I guess I didn’t write about that journey, but if you wondered why on the progress map there’s a leg of blue counties in the panhandle that abruptly dead ends, that’s why. I was on my way to Denver to visit him in jail and attend some of his pretrial hearings when my truck started making a terrible sound. I pulled over on the side of I-27 in Swisher County, sat on the tailgate, and pondered whether or not to press on or turn around. If the mechanical problem was serious enough, I wouldn’t make it the rest of the way there. If it was only partially serious, I would get to Denver and possibly find out I had to make a repair I couldn’t afford and I would be stuck a few states away from my job. If I didn’t show, that would be breaking my commitment to see him. So, I know that I could further exhaust every possible way of getting there, but possibly sacrifice my one mode of transportation along with my job if I couldn’t make it back to Texas in time. I closed the tailgate. Turned the truck around headed South.

It sounded terrible and I couldn’t take it above 4th gear, but it made it back without additional issues. Turns out one of the sparkplug wires had come loose and that was all that was wrong with it. I like to think I could have figured that out, but I didn’t. And perhaps it was for the best--I had a bad feeling about the trip anyway, for some reason. I talked to him briefly on the phone, told him what happened, and he understood. The pre-trial stuff was pushed back anyway, so it was just as well. Ended up getting charged for the hotel room that I didn’t stay in. So it goes. You can’t help or take care of other people if you don’t first take care of yourself--no need to relearn that lesson.

RESOLUTIONS?

So, what should I do differently with this blog for 2018? If you have any thoughts or suggestions, let me know in the FB comments for this post. I am thinking I want to do more frequent social media posts in real time. I have 100s if not 1000s of pictures that didn’t make the cut for the blog posts that are nevertheless good photos. Should I actually use Instagram?

I am, once again, going to attempt completion of this project in the coming year. And, circling back to what I alluded to earlier at the beginning of this post, 8 months may be the time I have left this year living in Texas because I will (if accepted) be attending grad school out of state. I have applied to 5 MFA programs in Creative Writing, Creative Nonfiction specifically, at the following universities:

  1. University of Arizona (Tucson)
  2. University of Iowa (Iowa City)
  3. University of Nevada (Las Vegas)
  4. University of New Mexico (Albuquerque)
  5. University of Wyoming (Laramie)

One of the big takeaways from this past year is that I still want to write for a living and I intend on honoring that and pursuing it full time and MFA programs are the one of the next steps I want to take in pursuit of that dream. Unfortunately, there aren’t any fully-funded MFA programs in Texas that offer a creative nonfiction track, which means I will once again depart my home country to live abroad. One of the blog posts, the one with Jordan and I in Tom Green County, I tweaked and edited and rewrote for inclusion in the writing sample I sent to the schools along with a piece I did outside of the blog that was published in the online lit mag The Nervous Breakdown this year. I plan on turning the material from this blog into a book, perhaps a collection of essays or a travel memoir. Yes, a travel memoir titled 254 sounds very appealing--I have to finish the journey first, though. I really, one day, just want to leave work early at 2:54pm and take off and keep going until I finish, until I see every one of the rest of the counties. The more prudent thing to do would be to plan ahead, save money the next 3 months, complete my contract with Apple in March, and THEN take off.

Speaking of Apple, I am debating on whether or not to make a resolution to use only Apple Maps as my sole GPS app for the next leg of the journey. Hmmm...I don’t know if I’m ready to make that kind of commitment to Apple. Ya know, since I’ve technically already committed what will be 18 months of my working life to them. But, I am also a customer--not sure if I will remain a customer. I miss my Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. I’m not knocking the Apple iPhone SE I purchased, it is nice, tough (I’ve dropped it numerous times with no case, and it has survived uncracked), but the camera has a few less megapixels and the size of the frame is more like a box than the Samsung phone. I still have the Samsung phone and, if I can find the courage to dig through what’s left of my boxed belongings in the storage unit, I will still use it as a camera for the rest of the trips. 

THANK YOU

I want to end 2017 on a note of gratitude:

  • TSHA for publishing the 2016-2017 Texas Almanac which I used extensively whenever cell phone reception went to shit out in the rural counties;
  • Ford for making what is my favorite pickup of all time, the Ranger, please bring them back soon because while I have sworn to never buy a vehicle new that required financing, for a new Ranger, I would make an exception;
  • On a more personal note, I need to specifically thank Barney, my trusty rusty stick-shift 97 Ranger purple pickup truck, for keeping me safe (if you could quit spinning out at the slightest turn taken too quickly during the rain, I would much appreciate that, ya fuckin' scared me to death too many times), and for photo bombing damn near every photo I took of the 67 county signs I've travelled through thus far;
  • Hell, I'm even gonna thank the Texas DMV for the YRU-HERE custom plates, although it costs a pretty penny to not only get them, but to keep 'em;
  • Cherisse (Mom) for encouraging me not to abandon doing this blog entirely, for contributing to the Gun Show blog post, and commenting on posts;
  • Jordan (brother) for agreeing to go on our first camping trip together and contributing to the Tom Green County blog post;
  • Jason, Adam, Casey, Sally and anyone else I might have missed for reading along and offering your encouragement, readership, and feedback;
  • Chelsey (wife/ex-wife) for unintentionally showing me how sitting on the sidelines and watching someone else live their life while failing to fully live one's own isn't good for anyone involved. Also, thank you for writing the article about this blog, for initially encouraging me to do this project, and for coming with me on the early trips. Looking back now, those 3 trips were some of the most fun we ever had together and I will forever treasure those memories and do my best to focus more on the best of our time together than the worst.

HAPPY 2017 Y'ALL!!!
 

Two Smartphones Converged in a Wood

Two Smartphones Converged in a Wood

Two Tickets to the Gun Show in Burleson County

Two Tickets to the Gun Show in Burleson County