As it often happens, some of the most interesting encounters happen in a bar. We were winding along a meandering stretch of the Guadalupe River on our way to Kerrville, Texas.
Late in the afternoon, tired, thirsty and a bit chilled, we stopped into Dave’s Bar and Aviary which was precariously perched high atop a quickly eroding portion of the riverbank.
It was not so much of a building but rather a loose collection of open air rooms, surrounding the aviary. Dave, dressed more for the Conch Republic than rural Texas in a floral print shirt, greeted us from behind the bar, opposite a glowing fireplace.
“I’d invite you to sit out on the back deck overlooking the river but a flock of buzzards just came through here and shit all over everything. Damn place is a mess and my power wash guy isn’t in ’til Monday. Anyway what can a get you?”
I settled on the local Amber Ale when a match flare caught the corner of my eye and I spotted an old ranch hand lighting a cigarette by the fire. Texas tall and wiry, his face and hands were creased by years of working outside in all kinds of weather. The soles of his well worn boots were propped on the corner of the stone fireplace.
“Kerrville bound?” he exhaled in a lungful of smoke.
I indicated yes and took advantage of his proximity to the fire to warm myself.
“Last holdout of the original Austin Hippies. Started tricklin’ out these ways after it started getting all techie and some say the city lost the Willie Way (after Willie Nelson). You’ll know when you’re getting close, you’ll see the boots. Bein’ Texas, no self respecting Texan would be without their boots, hippies included.”
“Boots?” I inquired.
“Hung their boots up as some damn fool protest that no one seems to remember the point of. Bein’ hippies and all that doesn’t surprise me.”
I bought the guy a long neck at this point, I wanted the story to continue.
“At first they holed up at Alice’s old place before spreading out in Kerrville, they did. Now Alice didn’t seem to mind, she’s somewhat of a free spirit herself. It’s rumored that she traveled in “support” of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and later Willie himself before the Feds got a hold of him. Damn woman’s preternatural or something. Last I heard she was serving cold Shiners and Lonestars at her own place in Houston. The Tall Texan is what folks say.”
“I’ve been to Alice’s,” I interjected. The Ranch Hand read my surprise.
“Not surprising. Everyone seems to know her. Been around a while. Like I said, preternatural or something. My cousin Arlo wrote a song about Alice. But the point is about the hippies, it’s not about Alice and not about her place.”
“Ley lines. That’s what the hippies say. Kerrville is at the convergence of ley lines. Went so far as to build one of those big stone circles on the site.”
“A henge?” I offered.
“If that’s what them Brits call them, ” he continued, “then that’s what it is I reckon. I’m surprised they got the thing up. Bein’ hippies and all, they seem to loose interest right quick.”
“Even went so far as to put up some of those Big Heads. I saw a documentary once on the color television about the Easter Island Big Heads. One of those bearded freaks told me they were from Zippy the Pinhead comics. Not sure what a Zippy Pinhead is, I just figured the guy was eatin’ one of those magic brownies and lost his Zippo lighter or somethin’. Damn hippies.”
We talked about the bicycle trip for a bit. He warned me about all the commies in California and said I should carry a gun.
I thanked him for the stories and we tapped our long necks together before draining the last beer from the bottles.
As we mounted the bikes, the Ranch Hand offered a final piece of advice.
“Son, watch out for hippies in Kerrville. They’ll annoy you but they’re not dangerous. Now, the rare, Five Legged Guadalupe Mule, they’re downright ornery. They’ve been known to go through their fences just to bite passers-by.”