since Charlie left for Austin. Three buzzards sit on top of a billboard advertising social services for pregnant teens. Tires skid on the gravel of a highway crossover as a snowbird jacknifes his recreational rig. A state trooper pings his radar off the hood of my car, but nothing moves quickly in Agua Dulce. Sarita and Ricardo and Alice huddle around Agua Dulce, each comfort as small as the towns themselves. Mesquite and prickly pear abuse geometry from the ground up then spread maddeningly in every direction. A concrete cistern breaks the coastal plain. A green sign makes the salty grass look more brown. Next rest stop 60 miles. Away, Charlie doesn't bother telling people where he's from. He doesn't say Agua Dulce or even Alice or "the shallow valley called Rio Grande." He just says "down South."