Are we there yet? (Texas for Writers #2)

Typical Texas Live Oak

In this blog post, we’re going to talk about distance. There’s a lot of it in Texas, but there may not be as much as some of you think. In Texas, distance is–and is not–relative.
For instance, when the fella and I lived up in the Texas Panhandle, we thought nothing whatsoever of hopping into the car and driving 60 miles–one hour–into Amarillo just to go out to dinner. No big deal. I drove into Amarillo once a week to go to art classes. We’d drive an hour and a half to Quanah to watch our son’s marching band at the football game. We didn’t drive up to Canadian, 2-1/2 hours north of Clarendon. That was a little too far. But the kids went.
However, now that we live on Galveston Island, it has to be a pretty big deal to get us to leave the island. It’s just 20 minutes to the new outlet mall in Texas City, but I have to really want to go shopping. There’ll be a live concert in Houston, or a blues music fest in League City (which is just half the distance Houston is), but–gee, we have to leave the island to go. Just not sure I want to cross the causeway. It’s too far–even though downtown Houston is no farther from Galveston than Amarillo was from Clarendon. The traffic is a lot worse…
So, it depends on what part of Texas you’re in as to how far “far” is. In West Texas, 60 miles is not nearly as far as it is in the eastern part of the state. But–it’s still 60 miles.
Which brings me to my next point. Yes, Texas is big, but it’s not that big. You cannot set a small town at four hours from Amarillo and still be in Texas. Well, unless you wind up down past Lubbock (only 2 hours’ drive south) or somewhere past Abilene. Or beyond Wichita Falls, almost to Fort Worth. You can get to Oklahoma City from Amarillo in four hours. You can get to the Red River ski basin in New Mexico from Amarillo in four hours. The friend from Ohio who consulted me about the distances in her Texas-set book did it before her book got published, so she was able to cut her distance down to 2 hours. That’s doable. Dalhart and Canadian are both about 2 to 2-1/2 hours away.
You see, while you can easily drive 10 hours in Texas and still be in Texas, you are not going to be in the big middle of nowhere for all of that time, and it depends on which direction you go. You are going to go through some good-sized cities. Maybe even some really big cities.
I recently read a published book in which the small town was six hours drive from Austin. The book made it sound like Austin was the nearest big city to this little town. Problem is, that just isn’t going to happen. Six hours north from Austin, you will have driven all the way through Dallas or Fort Worth and be on the Oklahoma border. Six hours east, and you’ll be completely through Houston, past Beaumont and well into Louisiana (probably close to Lake Charles). Six hours west will take you into Midland, which is a large city of over 100,000, especially now with the oil/shale gas boom. Six hours south, and you will be in Mexico. Laredo is just less than four hours from Austin.
If you angle off southeast and go toward Brownsville, you’ll be in Brownsville, which is a large city in itself. If you angle to the northwest from Austin, six hours will take you past Abilene almost to Childress, Texas–which is the closest town to where Texas & Oklahoma take the turn for the Texas Panhandle. Out there, the closest big city will be Abilene or Wichita Falls. (Both close to 200,000 pop.) This is one of the reasons they made Austin the state capital. Because it’s not too terribly far from anywhere in Texas. Except the El Paso/trans-Pecos area, and the Panhandle.
When I used to drive from Clarendon–which is in the southeastern part of the Panhandle, nearer the rest of the state (close to the bottom of the I-40 shield in the image)–to visit my parents in Austin, it would take me about 10 hours, whether I went through Fort Worth or bypassed the big cities. From Clarendon, we could get to Denver, Oklahoma City, Santa Fe, Little Rock and even Topeka, Kansas–the capital cities of their respective states–quicker than we could get to the capital of our own state. However, in Texas, you are never more than a couple hours’ drive from a large city (unless you’re in the Big Bend). Depends on which one.
Just–do your research. Be aware of how long it takes to travel certain distances. Even Texans can get confused. When we moved from Clarendon to Galveston, the fella’s dad got all excited, thinking we were moving closer to where they live in Arlington, Texas. (Arlington is the city where both the Texas Rangers baseball team and the Dallas Cowboys play. It’s not in Dallas County; it’s on the Fort Worth side of the line in Tarrant County–and it’s a city of over 200K itself.) We had to correct him. It took five hours to drive to the DFW metro area from Clarendon…and it takes five hours to drive from Galveston to DFW. (Or longer. Depends on the traffic in Houston. We can’t drive much of anywhere without having to drive through Houston first.) 
You can look up how far it is from one city to another–even small towns. If you don’t know how long it takes to drive 350 miles, Google Maps will tell you. You can pop up to Dallas for the day from Austin–but you won’t have a whole lot of time to do much of anything, and you’ll probably be driving back in the dark, because it’s four hours’ drive from Austin to Dallas. And four hours’ drive back. 
You can’t send somebody driving from Houston to South Padre Island, have your character take a nap while somebody else drives, and have them wake up and be there. It takes just over six hours to drive that distance–372 miles. You’re gonna have to make at least one pit stop. Probably near Corpus Christi–one of those good-sized cities. 
Distance may be relative–but it still takes the time to do the driving. Look at the map. See what else is out there. Otherwise, those of us who actually live in Texas will be rolling our eyes at your story.

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