If your town is anything like mine, there’s a main corridor connecting a handful of important places, and it’s almost always a highway. This stretch of road is a concrete spine, teeming with drivers that dart back and forth like signals in a nervous system. It’s very rushed and usually efficient but not very fun. That’s why I’m reminding you to drive on back roads when you can. Or more to the point, while you can, because back roads are constantly in danger of discovery.
I learned this after going for a ride on a beloved route recently, which runs parallel to the highway in my town. The main corridor where I live is Business U.S. Highway-83, which feeds into Interstate-2. It runs east to west, connecting a handful of cities in the Rio Grande Valley and the Gulf of Mexico. Just a few miles south of US-83 is an eastbound section of US Highway-281 that locals know as Military Highway.
This is is the modern expressway’s predecessor. It used to be overlooked by commuters even though it’s the original passage on the border. It even dates back to the Mexican-American War, as Laura Lincoln explains in Donna, Texas:
Fine, so Military is not exactly a back road, but it’s mainly used by truckers to deliver goods from Mexico to the Port of Brownsville. Because of this, the road is empty on weekends. It’s easy to cruise or pull over and look at the many historical markers along the pass. It makes for a wonderful Sunday ride, one hand on the tank and the other steady on the throttle.
Of course, now that the RGV is growing and we’ve reluctantly let Elon Musk into our midst, Military is traveled more often by more motorists. This isn’t bad, per se, but the trucks and the higher rate of use have ripped up the road.
Construction workers plug away on repairs. As you’d imagine, the ride has changed. Trucks and other traffic is up while crews with hi-viz vests are common. And a border wall looms where there was none before — a testament to what Wendy Brown called waning sovereignty.
Don’t get me wrong I still love Military! It’s one of my favorite routes at home. The others are FM roads scattered around Hargill — which maybe you’ll know as the birthplace of the poet Gloria Anzaldúa. That’s what I love most about the Lone Star State. It’s big and flat. Like, stupid big. Somewhere in this familiar space, there are enough back roads to make it feel new.
I’m sure that’s true of every hometown. So, drive your back roads and discover these while you can. It’s just a matter of time before traffic rediscovers them.