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!

Two Smartphones Converged in a Wood
“There is one subtle psychological lever that seems to hasten habit formation: the language you use to describe your behavior.”
— Adam Alter, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked

It's midnight January 6th, and I've finally started writing this blog post about the spur of the moment last minute trip I took through 15 counties in one day. OH HOW I'VE MISSED DOING THIS. I'm not gonna lie, the trip started off at 6:30am Saturday morning pretty uncomfortable and bitchy on account of some bowel issues. Since those are details better left unsaid, although it is essential to note sitting was very uncomfortable. The frustration mounted as I drove through Burleson county heading East. I was getting more pissed by the mile and as my hands pounded on the steering wheel and I screamed in the contained silence of my truck cab, I am reminded once again that I still have quite a bit of residual anger left over from my abusive childhood that I have yet to fully release. In moments like that one, it decides to come out. I've become better at keeping myself from breaking anything when this creeps up on me. I need to find a designated time and activity to do this until the anger fully subsides because I don't want to keep carrying this stultifying sense of simmering rage unexpressed. I've heard breaking bottles is good, however I no longer drink and therefore don't frequent bottle-rich environments. If I'm going to do this red neck meets hippy style, I will buy a shotgun and find me some skeet to shoot (not killing living things. nope. not gonna do it unless survival depends upon me doing it, which it doesn't and likely never will and if it does, I'm confident I can scavenge, although I am not above killing the animals I eat). So, shotgun shooting clay pigeons as a form of therapeutic anger release is on the horizon. Must first acquire a shotgun. When I do, you'll be the first to hear about it, I assure you. And, in case you're wondering, yes, I do know how to use a shotgun and, no, there is no legal requirement whatsoever of knowing how to use a shotgun in order to obtain one. I earned my Shotgun Shooting merit badge when I was 12 in Boy Scouts, so it's all good.

 I don't have my sash with my badges anymore :( But this is what it looked like.

I don't have my sash with my badges anymore :( But this is what it looked like.

GRIMES COUNTY

The turning point from pissy, rage-filled bummed out demeanor occured when I reached Grimes county and stumbled across their courthouse. Just a little, ornate courthouse at the center of a quaint town square encircled by a roundabout connected to small two lane roads. The morning was still, no other people or traffic. The fog along with a gentle mist whimsically hung in the air, and I took some photographs. I forgot about the pain, and it lessened significantly while standing. I busted out my new, dedicated camera--my trusty old Samsung Galaxy Edge s6 with its Beastgrip camera rig that I've used on every trip I've taken so far.

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The Grimes county seat of Anderson opened up to me and it didn't take much walking to get a good sense of the small town. 

The moment in which I was truly present with the place passed as I remembered my ambitious objective for the day: cover 15 counties in East Texas making it back to Sam Houston National Forest before sundown to camp. And, by camp, I mean pass out in the back of my truck after eating some beef jerkey and nuts and dried berries trail mix.

 That's just the first half to 3/4ths of the trip. The Blue counties are those I've already covered--the yellow are still unexplored.

That's just the first half to 3/4ths of the trip. The Blue counties are those I've already covered--the yellow are still unexplored.

Many miles and many stops to go--I hopped back into the truck and kept on truckin'.

 The lights look nifty in the fog.

The lights look nifty in the fog.

I didn't realize it until toward the end of the trip, but part of what feels so good about stepping out of the truck and looking around is the removal of constraints that entails: no more looking through the glass of the truck or the glass of the smartphone screen pointing me in the right direction. And even though I take a smartphone with me when I step out of the truck, the unmediated moments precede the moments in front of the smartphone display while shooting photos. Photos shot, moments had, the truck door slams and I'm back inside my pleasently warm green glowing truck interior. Leaving Grimes county felt as abrupt as the change in color and texture of the pavement leading into Montgomery County.

 Road construction workers are very precise. Damn it, Barney! Quit photo bombing the county line photos! ;) 

Road construction workers are very precise. Damn it, Barney! Quit photo bombing the county line photos! ;) 

MONTGOMERY COUNTY

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Yes, I am slightly obsessed with the contrasting color of the pavement. So jarring and distinct, yet so complementary and orderly and particular and precise. Whether the precision is an extreme showing of respect for bounderies or staunch refusal to give even an inch of extra pavement to the neighboring county--we'll never know. Note: ask construction workers about paveing roads next to county lines.

 

WALKER COUNTY

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This was my favorite shot from the entire trip. The tempting mystery of the mist-laden road ahead. I just imagined a cartoon deer walking through the landscape of the photo above and taking a dump, wagging it's tail, looking straight at me, and then bolting off. And the deer was the same color as the stripes on the pavement:  school bus yellow. Sorry if I ruined the moment, there.

 

TRINITY COUNTY

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Ran into a State Police officer during this stop. This is the 3rd time I've run into law enforcement. First it was an Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) lawman who told me I couldn't visit the dam in Llano County. Then, a Highway Patrolman asked me if I needed help because I had the hazards on at the Robertson County line. And then this fella was just sittin' down by the bank of the Trinity River doing, whatever the hell he was doin'. He asked me about my camera rig and where I was from, more out of personal curiosity than professional inquiry. Don't know if I've mentioned this or not, but I have been conditioned to not like cops by previous shitty interactions with them when I was in my teens and 20s. Sure, I get that they are people, I know that they're not all bad. At the same token, in the back of my mind, the longer an interaction with one of them takes, the higher the liklihood that I'm gonna end up fucked over by one of 'em, even though I "have nothing to hide."  My registration is current, all the headlights and taillights and even those tiny lights next to the rear license plate work, both plates are displayed, registration is current. Hell, even the address on my freakin' drivers license is correct. Is this evidence of some sort of sick, dudley-do-right penchant for compliance? No. I simply don't want to be fucked with by people who are able and willing to kill or harm me at the slightest provocation and full compliance means any conversations I end up having with them is gonna be REAL short. :)

 If you zoom in (ENHANCE...ENHANCE), you can see the State Police sticker on the back of his truck.

If you zoom in (ENHANCE...ENHANCE), you can see the State Police sticker on the back of his truck.

Guess you want some more details. I really don't like publicly rehashing this shit, but I suppose it's necessary now what with all the paranoid compliance admissions earlier. Welp, I'll offer ya this. On 2 different occasions in 2 different city/county jurisdictions in Texas (Austin in Travis county and Georgetown in Williamson county) I have ended up not only arrested, but had my nose busted open bleeding and eyes blackened during arrest for petty misdemeanors. Never been convicted of Resisting Arrest or Assaulting an Officer or anyone else. The hippy and redneck parts of me don't fight with law dogs out of a messy combination of principle, disdain, respect, and for most of my life, I've weighed 130 lbs soaking wet. I am no match for a badge wearin', linebacker sized, crew cut cornfed sonuvabitch on a power trip equipped with tazers, pepperspray, pistols, handcuffs, batons, and back up that could arrive in the form of K-9s, squad cars, helicopters, or even a god damned U.S. military hand me down MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) armoured vehicle. Seriously, that's not hyberbole--even the smaller jurisdictions like Live Oak, TX, Population 13000+ have some military hand me down toys to play with in case of, ya know, a marauding army of people doing 35 in a 30 come barreling through the town square. Yeah-yeah-yeah, they're not all bad, not all jurisdictions have little mini-tanks, but I'll tell ya from personal experience--there is a very real reason groups like Black Lives Matters exist. In my heart-of-hearts, based on some of the interactions I've had with some Texas cops, I know that if I wasn't white and scrawny and overly-compliant once I'm arrested, I would probably be dead. That may sound a little overboard. Okay, back to this State Police officer.

 There is something hilarious about the two ballpoint pens in his left front pocket. Imagine getting pulled over by this guy with those pens driving that thing to write you a traffic citation. Bwahaha!!! Woooo, it ain't funny.

There is something hilarious about the two ballpoint pens in his left front pocket. Imagine getting pulled over by this guy with those pens driving that thing to write you a traffic citation. Bwahaha!!! Woooo, it ain't funny.

Nothing weird happened, he was friendly and curious and just wanted to know what I was doing and where I was from. He didn't ask for my license. The interaction lasted about 87 seconds (not that I was counting). He was still below the embankment below the bridge and I was leaning over the concrete guardrail.

"What kind of rig is that yur takin' pictures with?"

"It's a smarphone."

"Oh, that's neat. Takin' a picture of the bridge?"

Yeah, I was, 'till you started bothering me, mister officer sir. Times like this I wish I didn't have a beard or hipster glasses. Maybe that doesn't matter. Hopefully that doesn't matter, I really don't have time to have my vehicle searched. Maybe it does matter. I don't want to stick around longer to find out if it doesn't matter. Sure, I'm taking a picture of the bridge.

"Yup."

"Yeah, it's pretty neat to look at. I remember back when only that suspension bridge was here. Back before they built this other one. You can--"

The traffic of the cars passing by drowns him out and we both try to yell over it with limited success.

"YOU CAN STILL DRIVE ON IT."

"OH YEAH?"

"YEAH, ???? CROSS ???? ???, ???? TURN BACK ?????."

"WHAT?" 

"JUST CROSS THIS ONE, THEN TURN BACK AROUND."

The bridge traffic goes quiet and I stared down at the officer's shaded, squinting expression looking back up at me. Where the hell are his standard issue asshole aviator sunglasses to block out the sun and humane eye contact? Last time I yelled at an officer was when one of 'em dropped me face-first on a tile floor with a knee in my back while getting cuffed asking WHY?! WHY?! I was especially curious and defiant in my early twenties--higher education and alcohol abuse tends to facilitate such a disposition.

"Welp, I'm gonna go check out that bridge. Nice talkin' to ya!"

"Have a good one!"

Give him a wave, and get the hell outta here. Looking back, he was a genuinely nice guy, I think. To be honest, I would have cut any interaction with anyone at this point short--we've got 15 counties to cover today! And this is partly why I haven't done any more interviews. I got back in the truck and crossed the Trinity River. I did not turn back around. I kept going. He could've set up a speed trap at the bridge. Heh heh, nice try, copper! What? I'm not paranoid. 

What follows is a photo montage of the rest of the counties and a final written/video conclusion.

HOUSTON COUNTY

 The city of Houston is not in this county. That would make too much sense.

The city of Houston is not in this county. That would make too much sense.

ANGELINA COUNTY

 Lucky number Texas Highway 7.

Lucky number Texas Highway 7.

 The Texas flag always shows up somewhere :)

The Texas flag always shows up somewhere :)

NACOGDOCHES COUNTY

 Locals sometimes refer to it as "Nacanowhere".

Locals sometimes refer to it as "Nacanowhere".

SAN AUGUSTINE COUNTY

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SHELBEY COUNTY

 There is a nifty ranch entrance to the right of the Shelby county line.

There is a nifty ranch entrance to the right of the Shelby county line.

 I did not see any river here.

I did not see any river here.

SABINE COUNTY

 This county contains a very special Farm-to-Market road.

This county contains a very special Farm-to-Market road.

 That's right, Farm-to-Market road 1. Numero Uno. The first. Well, not exactly the first, but back in the 40s and 50s when this road was built it was then later designated as the FM 1. I stumbled across it by chance. And, over 70 years later, this road is still used for it's orginal purpose: as a logging road.

That's right, Farm-to-Market road 1. Numero Uno. The first. Well, not exactly the first, but back in the 40s and 50s when this road was built it was then later designated as the FM 1. I stumbled across it by chance. And, over 70 years later, this road is still used for it's orginal purpose: as a logging road.

JASPER COUNTY

 Had to stop off in the county seat of Jasper, which is also called Jasper, to make a quick truck repair.

Had to stop off in the county seat of Jasper, which is also called Jasper, to make a quick truck repair.

NEWTON COUNTY

 Very piney and not too far from the Louisiana border.

Very piney and not too far from the Louisiana border.

TYLER COUNTY

 B.A. Steinhager Lake is on the county line and a long stretch of Highway 190 is surrounded by water.

B.A. Steinhager Lake is on the county line and a long stretch of Highway 190 is surrounded by water.

 There's an elegant gloom to the murky, moss-ridden waters of the lake. 

There's an elegant gloom to the murky, moss-ridden waters of the lake. 

POLK COUNTY

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SAN JACINTO COUNTY

 County 15--done!

County 15--done!

I will conclude with one final, spontaneous, and slightly muddled thoughts in video form on technology I recorded once back in Walker County and Sam Houston National Forest. How would this trip be different if I didn't take pictures or video? If the experience for me is better but the content of this blog suffers, is the trade off worth it? I imagine maybe scientists have a similar quandary when it comes to unintentional human interference in objective observation. By observing, you can't help but affect the observed, however subtly. Maybe that's okay and should simply be accepted. Maybe I shouldn't fight the technology, but make sure that it doesn't completely override my agency and perspective and ability to connect with people and places. The devices are just things, with many different settings one can use to reduce distractions. I can put notifications on silent. I can put the phone on airplane mode. I can even completely disconnect cell/data service and use the smartphone only as a camera, as a silent, unimposing catcher of memorable moments. I can use one phone to guide me to the woods with GPS until there is no service. Then I can use the second phone to take pictures and video of the woods with no buzzing beeping ringtoning distractions, and then I can look up at the trees and just be, and use the pictures that technology provided to help tempt other people to go abandon said technology and just be in the woods.

The Christian Dinosaurs of Somervell County

The Christian Dinosaurs of Somervell County

This is the End--of the Year 2017

This is the End--of the Year 2017