Abilene, Texas is “the big city” in this region of West Texas and StoryCorps Mobilebooth West was told by many that we hadn’t really come to Texas till we came to Abilene. After spending more than a month in San Antonio, StoryCorps came to park outside the First Financial Bank on Pine Street in Abilene, a community whose economy flourished in the latter half of the twentieth century on oil, agriculture and the military. In recent years Abilene’s population has grown to more than 100,000 people. No longer merely a “cattle-shipping prairie town” Abilene can be characterized as a “metropolis on the plains.” Nevertheless, Abilene still maintains a deep sense of quiet and history in its wide-avenue streets and industrial-style buildings.
Here are some photos of this West Central Texas community.
With the help of our tremendous radio partner, KACU, our Mobilebooth saw many of the folks who have helped develop Abilene and many who simply call it home. Tom Perini of Perini Ranch Steakhouse, Sharon Riley of Lytle Land & Cattle Company, and Joseph Spano Sr. and Jr. of Spano’s Italian Restaurant came to talk about what it is like to work and try to succeed in the restaurant business as mom-and-pop operations. As agriculture was a pillar of the economy in Abilene and the surrounding towns, the context for many people’s lives in the region is their memories of growing up on peanut farms, dairy farms and ranches as children, working in fields with their siblings and traveling long distances to get to school and work, and the neighborhood store. They talked about the toughest times of the Depression and Segregation, but also the humor and wildness of the West, where sometimes shooting rattlesnakes off your front porch with a shotgun is almost a daily practice. Some families owned one piece of land for years while others traveled all over West Texas. The latter were often the families of preachers, preachers like 105-year-old Vernon Henderson, who visited StoryCorps with his son Gene to talk about being a Methodist preacher for more than 53 years.
Here are just some of the people who shared their stories with us in Abilene.
When it came time to pull out of Abilene and make our way across West Texas to Northern California, we saw some tremendous American landscape along the way. We turned the corner in Orla, Texas and stopped in Joshua Tree National Park to examine some of the flowers of the desert on our way up the coast.
Once we hit the wind farms atop the golden hills of California we knew we were close to our destination.
Next stop: Sacramento.