I’m speaking from experience here because, in the early years of my American life, I was seen by more than one of my new countrymen and women as a Texan.
That’s because I drove a car with a plate from the Lone Star State. What’s more the car, a Nissan with a habit of leaking transmission fluid up, down and across the lower 48 states, was a bright yellow.
My wife and I dubbed it the Yellow Rose, after the song, “The Yellow rose of Texas.”
It was a faithful chariot until the day that some idiot in Brooklyn forgot that you are not supposed to mess with Texas, or even de facto Texans with a Dublin accent, or in my wife’s case, mid-state Illinois.
How we managed to lay hands on the Yellow Rose was simple enough. It was bequeathed to us by the in-laws who, at the time, were living in Arlington, Texas, the middle part of the “Metroplex” that comprises Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers, along with Dallas and Forth Worth.
Having arrived in America within reasonably recent memory of that never to be forgotten summer of “who shot JR,” it was a treat indeed to visit Dallas, the westernmost city of the South, and Fort Worth, the easternmost city of the West, and slumber in between the two in relatively bucolic Arlington.
But visits always followed flights into Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and never as a result of a drive south in the Yellow Rose.
That said, the Rose and its de facto Texas drivers did cover a lot of American asphalt, from Maine to Colorado and many parts in between.
I can’t quite recall if driving a car with a Texas plate gave me a kind of swagger. After all, I was new in this country and learning to drive on the “wrong” side of the road, so any boost to the confidence and ego was welcome.
I believe I did like to believe that the Texas insignia was a kind of shield, and all those honking bullies from New York, my real adopted home, might afford me the kind of respect due a gunslinger just arrived in from El Paso or Abilene.
Not a chance of course.
And I realized this the day we encountered the angry Maine pedestrian. Really, you don’t want to mix it with Mainers when they believe themselves to be in the right.
We were crawling through traffic in Freeport, home of L.L. Bean, when I failed to stop quickly enough at a crosswalk. It was no more than a couple of inches too far across the white line and the guy crossing seemed intent on giving me the benefit of the doubt when he looked down.
He saw the plate.
With that he raised his eyes, glared at us and shaking his fist let out a roar: “you, you out of staters.”
I was gob-smacked, and for a couple of reasons. But of course simply calling me an a..hole would have been to no real effect. No, he had unleashed his worst possible put down. And my response? “Don’t mess with Texas buddy,” though by now he had stalked off in high dudgeon.
Wars have started for less you know.
The showdown in Freeport, as it happened, was just a warmer-upper for the chase in Colorado. Remember, these were early days in America, and while the car was from Texas the license, in my case at any rate, was decidedly not.
I drove the Rose with an Irish license backed up by one of those international ones.
The Colorado incident never went down in western lore for the simple reason that, technically, the days of the Wild West were over and done with on the day when I was powering across the eastern Colorado plains in the Rose, the wife slumbering in the passenger seat.
It was my first big cross-country drive and I was beginning to understand how vast this country is. I was also thinking that sticking to the speed limit was a sure fire way of arriving at our destination more than merely late.
Still, I was only doing a lousy 73.
But what I wasn’t aware of was the significance of the Texas plate in these parts. What happened was, quite literally, like a scene out of the Dukes of Hazzard only I was in the Yellow rose as opposed to the General Lee.
Thus far, the road had been flat, straight, and infinite. But up ahead, lo and behold was a hill, perhaps the one that Larry McMurtry so eloquently wrote about in that novel of his, “The Wandering Hill.”
Well, up the hill went the Rose and over the hill from the other side came the cop.
Now before we go any further it’s important to mention that we had not seen another car for many miles. And here at the apex of this lone hill was a cop, not waiting, but actually driving the other way.
I kept going, looking in the rear view mirror and mentally urging the cop to keep going on his way. But, of course he did not.
Over the hill he came in hot pursuit and the rate he was moving you would swear I was John Dillinger.
Being law abiding and all, I nudged my wife awake and pulled into the side of the trail, eh road. Up came the cop and out he stepped.
He looked straight out of central casting, right down the aviator sunglasses.
I was in the movies now. As the officer advanced towards the Rose, I fumbled for my licenses all the while thinking that this would be one hell of a tale for the lads back in the pub next time we visited the old sod.
“Bet you haven’t seen one of these before,” I said holding out the Irish license and its international companion. My wife gave be a dig.
Anyway, I was informed that I had been doing 73. Lord knows what the speed limit was because the last sign, best I could recall, was about a hundred miles to the rear.
For the next few seconds I walked that line between honest amazement and the fake variety and indeed it looked like I was going to get away with a warning, like the gardai would give you in the old days.
But then the cop took a few steps back to take note of the rear plate. Little did I know it then, but was told by others later, that a Texas plate in Colorado was far more a problem than even a Jersey one in New York City.
Out came the ticket: $34, which, in those days, was enough to fill a tank with west Texas crude several times over.
Anyway, to cut a long drive short, the Yellow Rose got us to our destination and got us back.
Then she got it.
I well remember the moment doing a double take on our Brooklyn street that morning. The Rose was not where I had parked her the night before.
She was gone. Gone to some chop shop where stories of long miles on endless roads counted for nothing.
I was furious on several counts. One of them was to do with the fact that the bozo who had stolen the Rose had not the manners to leave behind what I had cherished most about that car. That dog-on Texas plate.