Saturday night in Dripping Springs, Texas.
It’s not, as you might think, named after the effect of high-summer heat and humidity on the human body.
No. It’s Dripping Springs because of the fresh water that attracted the first settlers. Well, first after the Native Americans they displaced, that is.
But back to tonight.
There’s no let-up as dusk shimmies into evening. It’s probably not 100˚F any more, but idling around the 97 mark, even though the sun’s gone down. I still feel as if I’m walking through curtains of hot, damp, translucent suede.
Burnt orange. The University of Texas American football team colour. About the only resemblance imaginable between the dainty winged ones and those incredible hulks.
We’re heading for a plain, rural-industrial looking building, set back off the street. Seven of us. Four siblings, the rest in-laws.
For $8 each we get a blue wristband and entry to the Mercer Street Dance Hall.
Outside, a large van’s disgorging men and their musical instruments. The Cornell Hurd Band arriving. Unlikely to start by 8.30 …
It’s cavernous inside. Dark but strung with bright lights. A party in the making, awaiting the spark of the live band to set the spirit alight.
On the square dance-floor that fronts the stage several couples are taking advantage of a group dancing lesson. We, meanwhile, head for a corner table that’s big enough to fit us all and afford a mighty fine view of the action.
Shiner Bock. Hot weather beer.
We’re served the last two bottles – nothing but cans left now. And no-one wants cans. But tough. It’s still beer.
Dancing lesson over, much twirling accomplished, our band takes to the stage in a storm-cloud of black. There’s a crowd of them.
Seven gui-tars (one slide), a saxophone and drums.
Men topped country style by hats. Black hats. White hats.
A swagger of Stetsons.
I suspect there isn’t an official collective noun for them – but ‘swagger’ feels kinda right.
Chords of country and western instantly perk up the vibe – but the empty square makes me feel uncomfortable.
Where’s the audience?
Is the band going to bomb?
Doh. My slow-witted (jet-lag no excuse by now) mind joins the dots.
It’s a dance-hall. There will be dancing.
Around the edges people of all ages – except local teens, who’d have to pay more to enter because they can’t buy beer till they’re twenty one – sit waiting.
Patient and eager. Primed for the Texas Two Step.
The band’s well-known in these circles. It’s been around the block more than a few times.
‘People come from Japan to hear this stuff,’ growls the lead singer, ‘we don’t go to Japan to hear their stuff.’
By the time he’s said it three times we’ve got the joke – so old he’s losing his marbles. Making the most of his longstanding career and getting a good laugh each time for his growing-old pains.
The dance-floor’s sparsely strewn with couples for the first number. But as the main man reminds the crowd, this is ‘Texas, where we never quit dancing with our women’.
And they dance.
Bobbing heads under gleaming white Stetsons spin like tops, a respectful country distance from their women folk.
Some of the younger females wear dainty little cowboy boots on short-skirted legs.
Not me. Sloppy sandals unfit for dancing. But I manage a waltz. Sort of.
There’s a fine cast of characters for the people watcher (me).
See over there? That man’s the spit of the guy at the bowling-alley bar in The Big Lebowksi.
The one who says ‘Sometimes you eat the bar, sometimes the bar eats you.’ But it sounds like bear not bar. That confused me for ages. Until I watched it about the fiftieth time 😉
A long white moustache droops down his face under the camouflage of the obligatory white Stetson. His partner snuggles up most un-country close. So close, with her own large Stetson blending into his chest, her body draped in a voluminous sequinned top, that no face is visible.
Is he dancing with a teddy bear, I ask?
‘Does she have leprosy?’ responds a relative – who shall remain nameless.
When the band takes a short break I notice the window behind me is just wire mesh, like mosquito mesh in Zambia. Peering through it, into the greyness that at last signifies night falling, I can see dark lumps lying here and there on the ground.
Yes, sheep. Lying there, motionless, log-like.
As the crowd grows bigger and part of our table’s purloined – politely – by a big group in party mood, we move, reluctant but still jet-lag tired, towards the door.
Outside a big white pick-up truck bears a sticker that says a lot about this part of the world – well, some of its denizens.
‘Death before Prius.’
And I can see why, if I’m honest. They’re fun. I’d be tempted too*
Guns are a different matter.
Today, shopping in ‘Cowgirls and Lace’ (just research, of course) my sister-in-law pointed out a beautiful, smooth leather case. Embroidered and closed with a zip. Turquoise – my favourite colour.
It wasn’t a handbag – or purse. It wasn’t for make-up, or manicure implements, or any such frivolity. This was a girlie case for your feminine pistol.
Gotta love lots of things about Texas. And the USA. But guns ain’t one of them.
Music, however, is.
I mean, how romantic. To ‘Waltz Across Texas’, for ‘a story book ending with you in my arms.’
*But I wouldn’t give in. I care for the environment, honest.