Tag Archives: Texas

High Grade: The Beer That’s Liquid Food!

I have a bunch of stuff crammed into boxes. I don’t even know what’s actually IN some of the boxes. There are books and papers and documents and potentially collectible stuff that I’ve acquired over the years, most of it coming from the bowels of my father’s book store. Sometimes I see stuff I don’t remember ever having seen before. Like yesterday, when I saw a postcard lying on the floor, near a box ominously labeled “eBay.” This was the postcard (right click for a larger image):

I have to admit I’ve never heard of High Grade Beer, “The Beer That’s Liquid Food,” but, damn, that’s a cool-looking brewery. I investigated further.

According to The Handbook of Texas, “The Galveston Brewing Company (1895-1918) was one of the few regional breweries that survived Prohibition. Adolphus Busch and William J. Lemp of St. Louis were both major stockholders of the corporation that raised $400,000 to found the Galveston Brewing Company in 1895. The brewery formally began operations on February 3, 1896. The pre-Prohibition physical plant consisted of a large ice plant that could produce seventy-five tons of ice, and a modern brewery that could produce 75,000 barrels of beer a year. The plant also had cold-storage rooms and railroad tracks on two sides of the building. The company dug several wells that gave a water supply of two million gallons a day. The Galveston brewery was so well constructed that it survived the Galveston hurricane of 1900 with only minor damage. The major product of the Galveston brewery before Prohibition was a beer called High Grade.”

Sounds like a pretty amazing operation (I’m not sure about post-Ike, but I think the building still stands).

I found a couple of amusing ads for the beer that appeared in the Galveston Daily News. These two ads appeared in 1908 and 1909, and this campaign featuring the annoying “Otto” seems to have gone on for quite some time. The first one, from 1908, is my favorite:

The kids … they love the beer.

The second one, from 1909, isn’t as “enlightening” as the first, but it gives a nice nod to the hard-working (and always sober) Galveston brewery workers:

More successful, I think, (and certainly less didactic) is this typically lovely example of early-20th century advertising art, featuring beer-loving mermaids prettily washed up on the rocks below the Galveston seawall:

I am endlessly fascinated by the weirdness of advertising.

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Corsicana: Lefty, a Hoodlum Wagon, & Wolf Brand Chili

Lefty Because it was Lefty Frizzell’s birthday Monday (he would have been 80), and because I’m such a huge Lefty fan, I decided to head down to his birthplace, Corsicana, to pay my respects. The skies looked a little ominous. There were all sorts of forecasts of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes and plagues of locusts, but I set out anyway, wilting in the humidity and wishing it were at least thirty degrees cooler.

Corsicana is about an hour south of Dallas, and the drive is fairly dull. There’s that really strange “Jesus is so groovy I’ve built this bizarre white memorial city to The Guy fashioned out of white PVC pipe” right outside of Palmer. (I don’t remember seeing all those gullies filled with water before.) Then there was the billboard that read “Please Stop the Porn and Be Re-Born — John 3:3.” I made note of this because I thought this was some sort of loosey-goosey Living Bible interpretation of a Bible verse, so I wanted to check it out, and, sadly, there’s no “porn” anywhere in there (“Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” — perhaps, but at least he’s got porn).

Corsicana is a nice, small-ish town, and it’s pretty easy to find Beauford Jester Park where Lefty’s statue is. Near the statue is something called Pioneer Village, a collection of little buildings that serves as a museum village, housing artefacts dating back to the early 1800s when the area was sparsely populated with pioneer families and Indian trading posts. One of the little houses is the Lefty Frizzell Country Museum, and it’s supposed to be an example of the kind of shotgun house that oilfield workers and their families lived in at the time Lefty was born (his father worked in a nearby oilfield).

I stepped inside the office and paid the couple of dollars to wander around. The woman asked how I had happened by, and I told her I had driven down from Dallas because it was Lefty’s 80th birthday. I think she thought that was weird. She told me that they used to play Lefty’s music in the museum, but they had received cease and desist letters from, one assumes, ASCAP or BMI who ordered them to stop playing music unless they forked over big bucks. (Kind of a shakedown — they used to play a cd on a little boombox — to thronging masses that can’t be more than a tiny handful of people who visit this place over the course of a week.) As I left the office to head over to the Lefty house, the woman stared intently at the radio as it was alerting local counties of a tornado watch.

Walking up to the Lefty museum I noticed that some minor repair work needs to be attended to:

 

Lefty Frizzell Museum Corsicana

 

I walked in and a motion sensor turned the lights on. It’s a small two-room house (not, strictly speaking, a shotgun house) with Lefty stuff in the front room and various other country music stuff in the back. I’ve been there several times before so it’s all pretty familiar. I’m happy that someone has collected all this memorabilia together, but it’s definitely in need of a more professional touch — it looks like it was put together by an aging historical society member with minimal word processing skills. Still, it’s cool to see Lefty’s suits, his boots, his guitar. Before I left I signed the guestbook. I’m pretty sure I was there in 1998, but pages scanning that period were mysteriously missing. I found my sign-in from 2003 (“Happy 75th Birthday, Lefty! I love you! – Paula”). I was sad to see that the last person who had signed the guestbook had visited two days before. I was the only one who had visited all day. And it was his birthday! (Yes, I realize I’m dangerously close to becoming some sort of unstable Harry Houdini/Edgar Allan Poe Woman in Black/Red Rose anniversary stalker.)

I decided to wander around the little village — all those times I’d been there previously I’d never looked around. One of my favorite things was “Harmon’s Hoodlum Wagon” — a cage that served as a mobile jail cell during the boomtown days of the 1920s. The cage was transported around on the back of a truck — kind of like an open-air paddy wagon, roving around the oilfields, ever-vigilant, on the look-out for trouble.

 

Corsicana Harmon’s Hoodlum Wagon

 

Sad to say, most of the exhibits were kind of dull, but I really loved the General Store. It had a little post office inside and the place was crammed full of all sorts of interesting stuff. There were several Wolf Brand Chili items throughout (Wolf Brand Chili is, like Lefty Frizzell, a proud product of Corsicana). All very cool.

 

Corsicana Wolf Brand Chili cans

 

Corsicana Wolf Brand Chili model truck

 

(I actually read a history of Wolf Brand Chili — and it was very entertaining. As I recall, in order to promote the chili early on, the makers fashioned a truck to look like a can of chili and had a cage on the back for their mascot — a German Shepherd that looked kind of like a wolf.) (Also, early on they had some problems with people assuming the chili was made with wolf meat — that’s why you’ll always hear the chili referred to as “Wolf Brand” — and a fine chili it is.)

 

Corsicana face powder

 

Corsicana sundries

 

(I’m a big fan of the eerie-looking blue Bee Brand quinine bottles.)

I walked to Lefty’s statue, over in the park, and paid my respects. (Okay, I was wearing black, but I didn’t leave a mysterious rose.)

As I drove away I noticed that the skies were starting to look particularly threatening — probably a good time to head back to Dallas. But first I had to get gas (a full fifteen cents a gallon cheaper than in Dallas), and as I pumped gas I heard a train whistle and realized how long it had been since I last heard a train whistle. (When I was a child, I used to hear them every night while I was lying in bed. Where did all the trains go? I bet an unpleasant, unromantic community activist passed some sort of anti-train whistle zoning law.) I popped into the Collin Street Bakery for a treat for the road. I’m not really a fan of this famous bakery, but I took a chance on something called Cheese Crisps which looked like cookies and were sort of like unsweetened sand tarts, but less dense. I’m don’t think I’m going out on a limb to suggest that they might well be flavored with the powdered “cheese” that comes in the envelopes in boxes of macaroni and cheese. And they were FANTASTIC! Forget those damned fruitcakes, go for the cheese crisps! Seriously — those things were great!

Driving home, munching on the cheese crisps, I listened to the Frankie Miller Bear Family set I got for my birthday. A song came on called She’s An Antibiotic (In White) (“I take her morning, noon and night”). It was so stupid it made the heavy dark clouds seem less menacing and the energy-sapping humidity seem less oppressive.

A nice relaxing day to celebrate Lefty Frizzell’s birthday.


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Happy 80th Birthday, Lefty!

LeftyI celebrated what would have been Lefty Frizzell’s 80th birthday today with a trip to Coriscana, his birthplace, about an hour south of Dallas. Lefty is my favorite singer, and I’ve driven down to Corsicana several times to … I don’t know … commune with Lefty’s spirit.

There’s a statue in a park (a statue … of Lefty Frizzell!!) that I make a pilgrimage to every few years to, you know, pay my respects. The statue was made possible by the help of Merle Haggard. Here’s a picture I took of a photograph hanging in the Lefty Frizzell museum in Corsicana — Merle standing next to the statue on its unveiling about fifteen years ago:

 

Merle at Lefty statue Corsicana

 

And here’s a photo from today, under cloudy skies with threats of tornadoes in Texas and Oklahoma, of that same statue:

 

Lefty statue Corsicana head

 

And this is my favorite part of the statue, Lefty’s foot keeping time:

 

Lefty statue Corsicana boot

 

Imagine if he had lived past his 40s. He could still be performing. HE SHOULD still be performing!

Happy Birthday, Lefty!


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Destination: Gun Barrel City

texas-theater-1-20080303180725.jpg After three long weeks down deep in a hole, I had to get out of town yesterday, so I opened up the DeLorme Texas Atlas & Gazetteer (now almost completely unusable as all the pages have become detached from the ironically named “perfect” binding). Where to go? I chose Gun Barrel City, about fifty miles southeast of Dallas. How could one NOT go to a place called Gun Barrel City?

After a stop for some coffee to go, I took another look at the map to make sure it was Hwy. 175 I needed to take, and I made some notes into a small micro-cassette recorder my brother had given me for Christmas. I usually make illegible scrawls into a little notebook as I’m speeding along, but I decided to up the technological ante and chatter self-consciously into a tape recorder instead. (I have a terrible, TERRIBLE memory, and if I don’t make some sort of notation about something, I’m never going to remember it.)

I felt better right away, getting out of town and just driving. Not even really having anything to see. Just driving. Just moving.

I got off the highway when I saw a sign for Combine. I remembered I’d catalogued a book a couple of years ago by a guy from Combine — a place I’d never heard of. I figured it might be a nice little farming community, so I headed toward it.

On the road to Combine — somewhere around Seagoville — I saw a weathered gray shack with an awkwardly hand-painted sign out front that said “Catfish Corral.” The Corral was attached to another weathered gray shack, presumably the residence of the catfish corralers. It didn’t appear to be open, but it’s definitely a place I wouldn’t mind trying sometime. I’m a sucker for any business that has the word “corral” in it.

Combine (pop. 1788) has a lot of very big new houses plopped down on huge lots. In the middle of nowhere. I realized that this must be an up-and-coming haven for people who commute to Dallas. I didn’t really see any businesses, but I saw a lot of space. I pulled into a parking area of what looked like a closed-down café to look at my tattered map. As I was about to drive off I saw little signs for a “Pickin’ Porch” and for “Dominoes.” I’d like to think that old-timers who grew up in the area before the interloping commuters moved in still gather there on warm nights with their guitars and fiddles or sit in the shade on a hot afternoon and play dominoes.

Farther along the road, obviously on the other side of the tracks, everyone seemed to be out on their riding mowers. One guy in his early 20s, shirtless and covered in tattoos, seemed to be bonding with his son who was sitting with him on the seat of the riding mower, helping to steer. It was very sweet.

No other sign of life. Combine seemed kind of dead. Nothing going on down the road in Crandall, either. Nothing happening in Scurry. Just a lazy Saturday afternoon.

People were few and far between, but flowers were shaking in the breeze every acre of the way. Wildflowers were in bloom all over the place — sudden outcroppings of yellow and pink and orange and purple sprang up everywhere. I passed countless patches of bluebonnets all day long.

In the midst of this, a Wynonie Harris cd was playing in the car, and he was singing incongruously about New York City (“New York makes you do things you swore you’d never do … New York makes you do things no one would understand … New York will make a man out of a woman and make a woman out of man”).

By the time I got to Mabank (pop. 2151) I was getting thirsty and decided to stop at a Dairy Queen. Inside, there was a table of three elderly men, all of whom were in jeans and western shirts, boots and straw cowboy hats, sipping coffee and gossiping. I’ve seen these men in every Dairy Queen I’ve ever been in. It’s very comforting seeing these old guys. In this case, one of them appeared to have no neck at all but had a rather prominent hunchback (or, at the very least, an advanced case of dowager’s hump). As I walked past their table, I heard one of the men reciting the lyrics to Kaw-liga, and I wanted to stop right there and sit down at their table. I smiled to myself and saw that one of the men had seen me. He looked a little surprised, but he smiled back, probably wondering what I was thinking.

Diet Coke in hand, I stepped outside and walked to my car. It was such a beautiful spring day — sunny, warm, and windy. I wondered if I’d ever find someone who wanted to take these little drives with me.

I headed for the main street, thinking it would be picturesque. For some reason I thought Mabank was one of those quaint little communities Hollywood location scouts had discovered. I thought wrong. Nothing to see here, folks.

And, as it turned out, there was nothing to see in Gun Barrel City (pop. 5145), either. Oh dear. Let’s see, I saw a Sonic drive-in and a couple of churches (“Have the hot waters of life hard-boiled your heart?”) (YES THEY HAVE!). And then miles and miles and miles and miles and miles of strip shopping malls. The parking lot of the Wal-Mart was so packed it was positively throbbing. That made me feel a little queasy.

I discovered from the Handbook of Texas citation that the city’s slogan is “We shoot straight with you.” Cute. I kept driving around looking for the “old” part of town, but as the town wasn’t even really developed until the 1980s, there IS no “old” part of town. A place called “Gun Barrel City” should be OLD. I want to see Festus walking into a saloon, not Ashlee popping into the Verizon store for a new cell phone faceplate.

I did like the name of a local candidate for Constable: Billy Jack Valentine. Sort of a cross between a vigilante and a professional wrestler. You don’t mess with Billy Jack Valentine. Ever.

And that, rather disappointingly, was Gun Barrel City.

I bypassed Athens for Corsicana and sped through a little place called Malakoff (did that sign say “Cornbread Festival”?).

As I passed through teeny-tiny Trinidad, I was so distracted by the sudden pleasant mothball-like fragrance in the air that I scarcely noticed the town. Where was the smell coming from? From the town itself? I’ve passed through towns that have their own signature smell (like Odessa, which REEKS of oil and natural gas), but those smells are always unpleasant. This was positively refreshing. I wondered if it was the large truck ahead of me, hauling pipes and belching exhaust. Perhaps they’ve made drastic improvements in the carbon monoxide field. So, I don’t know what’s actually in Trinidad, but I have fond olfactory memories of the place.

Next was Kerens (pop. 1681). The only thing I noted was the little old lady pedaling very, very slowly on a really big tricycle, wearing a clear plastic shower cap on her head. That and a sign on the edge of town with an oddly-placed ellipsis: “Hurry back to see … us.”

Tiny Powell (pop. 105), seemed to be the epicenter of the Navarro County pecan industry. There was a sign for the Bancroft Pecan House: “Fresh Shelled Pecans * Home-Made Peanut Brittle * Rocking Chairs!” Another sign alerted pecan-loving travelers: “Pecans For Sale Ahead — Custom Cracking and Shelling!” I thought a bit about this. Custom cracking? How many ways can you crack a pecan? (Oh, how the professional pecan crackers in my reading audience must be rolling their eyes and shaking their heads in disgust.) I wondered about this enough that I wandered around the internet and came across an article about a very interesting labor dispute in San Antonio in 1938 known as The Pecan Shellers’ Strike.

And speaking of pecans, next stop was Corsicana, home of the Collin Street Bakery. I’ve mentioned this place before — the home of “the most famous fruitcake in the whole wide world, including the known universe and galaxies not yet discovered.” I guess people must like them. I read somewhere that the bakery buys more pecans than any other place in the entire known universe. I decided to stop in — even though I’ve always been disappointed by their cookies and baked goods. But I like watching the clientele (mostly elderly couples who seem to be on daytrips) oohing and ahhing over the free fruitcake samples.

It strikes me that one of the things that I find most interesting — and most calming — about these little trips I take is listening to older people talking. I like the way they talk, I like the things they talk about, and I like the weird sensation I feel when I eavesdrop on their conversations. Somehow I feel that I know these people, and it makes me nostalgic for a life I’ve never lived.

And speaking of the way people talk, while I was in the bakery I heard three words which have very specific pronunciations here:

pecan: puh-KAWN
apricot: AY-pruh-kaht
praline: PRAY-leen

 

It’s our way or the highway ’round these parts. Just so you know.

Leaving Corsicana, there are two signs I always notice. One is for a place called the Talent Ranch. It might be a quarter-horse ranch, but I always think of it as the perfect name of a kitschy-but-innocent 1950s equivalent of Star Search, hosted by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. There’s also a sign for a place called “That Church.” (I don’t recall seeing a denomination mentioned on the sign, but it appears to be an Assemblies of God church). I always expect to see Marlo Thomas popping out from behind That Sign, surprised and wide-eyed, ready to begin another adventure as a single girl in the exciting whirl of church-going life in Corsicana, Texas.

Heading north along I-45 back to Dallas, one can’t help but notice the bright yellow billboards for Bubba’s BBQ. One of the them always causes me to shake my head in awe, containing as it does the masterful line (no doubt penned by Bubba himself): “You never sausage a place.” You know, Bubba … I never did.

The closer I got to Dallas the more middle-aged bikers started clogging the highway. None of them wore helmets (tsk, tsk), but one guy had on a baseball cap. How exactly does that stay on your head when you’re speeding down a highway at 75 mph on a motorcycle? Chin strap? Bobby pins? Nah — too uncool. Maybe some sort of epoxy? I thought about this longer than was absolutely necessary.

Back in Dallas, I exited on Lamar so I could take a look at Gilley’s, the new mammoth honky-tonk, resurrected and transplanted from Pasadena, Texas to compete with Fort Worth’s Billy Bob’s. Yep. There it was. Nice sign. Yep.

And so … back home, glad I got away for the afternoon, but wishing there had been more to see. Still feeling hard-boiled by the hot waters of life and seriously craving some catfish, but relieved to have had something to distract me from myself for a few hours.

Gun Barrel City


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Dublin Dr Pepper

texas-theater-1-20080303180725.jpg Dublin, Texas is a tiny town (pop. 3800) along Hwy. 67 past Stephenville. If you’ve heard of it, there’s only one reason: they bottle Dr Pepper there — the only place that produces Dr Pepper made with real cane sugar instead of corn syrup. (And, yes, it does taste better.) I took a trip to Dublin Saturday because it was a special day — October 2, 2004 — or … 10-2-4 — three numbers that have significance probably only to Texans over the age of 35 or so.*

I was expecting Dublin to be a little like Stratford-upon-Avon — a town that exists primarily as a cringe-inducing tourist attraction (I swear I saw a Merry Wives of Windsor laundrette and a Titus Andronicus chip shop when I was in Stratford). There was large billboard and a mural, but that was about it.

 

dp brickmural

 

I was a little disappointed it wasn’t cheesier.

Because of the special 10-2-4 day, there were several tourists milling about. I walked into the Old Doc’s Soda Shop (which, like the similar tourist stop attached to Sun Records in Memphis, serves as a sort of holding pen for people waiting to take a tour). Way too many people were lined up at the counter paying large sums of money for Dr Pepper memorabilia: shirts, bottle openers, commemorative bottles, Dr Pepper-flavored Jelly Belly jelly beans, Dr Pepper Beef Jerky (?!), Dr Pepper salt & pepper shakers, Dr Pepper jewelry, Dr Pepper Cake Mix, and all sorts of reproductions of Dr Pepper signs and Dr Pepper advertising. Two of the high school girls at the cash registers even had Dr Pepper temporary tattoos on their cheeks. These people certainly drink a LOT of Dr Pepper — and they’re proud.

I looked forward to touring the bottling plant — free 8 oz. bottle of ice cold Dr Pepper in hand — but, unfortunately, tours to watch actual bottling are available only on Wednesdays. I’m fascinated by great big industrial machines with conveyor belts — and I only wish the one I stood in front of had been operating then and there. The great big machine that is the centerpiece is both a giant bottle sterilizer as well as a … um … bottle filler-up-er. Syrup and carbonated water each have their own hoses, and the liquids remain unmixed in the bottles (with the syrup at the bottom and the water at the top) until they go through a device that turns each bottle over three times to permanently mix the drink. Somewhere along the line the bottle caps are pounded on. And at the end of the line, inspectors examine the bottles in front of light boxes to make sure the drinks are the proper color, with the right amount of syrup and carbonated water. Then the bottles are packed in crates (I was amused to see so many Dr Pepper bottles lounging in arch-rival Cocal Cola crates).

 

dp bottles

 

All of this is basically in one fairly small room. Apparently it is the oldest bottling plant in the world (est. 1891). It certainly seems quaint.

We also got a little tour through a museum with all sorts of interesting Dr Pepper-iana. I thought that the “Dr” in “Dr Pepper” had always been missing the period, but I found out the period was dropped only around 1950 because they changed fonts and the period made the drink’s name look like it had a colon in it — it looked like “Di: Pepper”. I also learned that the company stopped trying to push the idea of piping hot Dr Pepper with lemon (ick) as a holiday tradition because the new corn syrup formula of the 1970s scorched when heated and, apparently, made the unpleasant beverage taste even more disgusting than the original version made with sugar.

And the inevitable question about whether DP’s secret ingredient is prune juice was firmly shot down by our bubbly teenage tour guide. (The prune-juice-in-DP rumor is as prevalent among Texas school children as the rumor that JFK is being kept alive as a vegetable and resides in a secret room somewhere in Parkland Hospital.)

After the tour we were treated to yet more free soft drinks and a surprisingly good chocolate cake made with … what a surprise … Dr Pepper.

So, not a terribly exciting day, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Dr Pepper — mainly because the DP headquarters was four blocks away from the house I grew up in — a wonderful sprawling Deco building on a huge parcel of land that always seemed so odd to see right next to residential neighborhoods.

 

dp dallas

 

It was a sad, sad day when they tore it down a few years ago to make way for a Kroger, a gas station, and “edgy” apartments for Dallas’ relentlessly hip and fabulously well-groomed under-30 set.

On the drive back I passed these signs:

“TEXAS’ BEST COMPOST!”
“SPRUILL’S SHOW LAMBS & MEAT GOATS”

And a First Assembly of God Church boasted HELL HOUSE! on their marquee (and I’m not absolutely sure it had anything to do with Halloween).

 

*10-2-4: An advertising ploy intended to get people to drink a sugary pick-me-up at the times of the day it had been determined the body begins to slump: at 10 a.m., at 2 p.m., and at 4 p.m. It’s like, you know, medicinal.

 

dp1024label

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The Sportatorium and the Longhorn Ballroom: Dallas’ Long-Suffering Cultural Landmarks

texas-theater-1-20080303180725.jpg I read an article in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News that the legendary Sportatorium is to be torn down very soon. The Sportatorium was a world-famous wrestling arena (home-turf of the Von Erich dynasty), and it was also the home of the Big D Jamboree (a venue for country and rockabilly performers in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s — sort of a rival of the Louisiana Hayride — Elvis played here several times). A landmark! None of my friends ever believed me when I told them that our parents (both Comparative Literature majors) regularly took my brother and me to wrestling matches at the Sportatorium. My father loved wrestling. He also loved country music, and although I missed the Big D Jamboree era, we went to several country music package shows in the ’70s at the Sportatorium. I wanted to go see it before they tore it down, but I didn’t actually know where it was. Ah — South Industrial and Cadiz (south of downtown and not a part of town you’d take your grandma to). I found it this afternoon (take a left at the jail!), and it’s in a pretty sorry state of disrepair, just a big hulking metal building waiting to be put out of its misery. What a shame. I loved the atmosphere in that place.

 

sportatorium_0203

 

Since I was in the area, I decided to drive a few blocks down to Corinth Street and see the OTHER famous country music venue, The Longhorn Ballroom, originally owned by Bob Wills and called The Bob Wills Ranch House, one of the largest country music venues in the country. When Bob decided to get out of the nightclub business he sold it to that nice young mobster Jack Ruby who, in turn, eventually sold it to Dewey Groom. It was the Billy Bob’s of its day. HUGE. This is where the Sex Pistols played in 1978, causing some consternation amongst the regulars.

 

longhornballroom sexpistols

 

I went there only once, I think. Sometime in the ’80s when they were trying to make it into an alternative music venue. It was the coolest place I’d been in: fiberglass cactus EVERYWHERE. Wagon wheels, bales of hay, cowboy stuff … acre after acre after acre. It hasn’t been in use for years that I know of. I think Ray Price was booked there a couple of years ago in an attempt to resuscitate it.

We’ve been hearing for YEARS that a Gilley’s is supposed to open south of downtown, but it’s yet to make an appearance. The developers are waiting for tax abatements from the city first. (The original Gilley’s is the honky tonk in Pasadena, Texas made famous by the movie Urban Cowboy.) The mayor thinks it’s ridiculous to give a tax abatement to what is essentially a BAR (and it is ridiculous), but tourist and convention traffic is disappearing, and Dallas needs SOMEthing to draw in the punters. The hapless tourists who DO come here have to go all the way to Fort Worth to see a real-life “Texas-sized” honky tonk. Whatever happens, it will NEVER be as cool as the Longhorn Ballroom. Gilley’s may have that damned mechanical bull-ride, but they won’t have the gigantic fiberglass longhorn out front.

 

Longhorn Ballroom 0203
Looks like someone’s stolen the wagon wheels that are supposed to be imbedded in the cement under the bull. And they’ve chopped off the barn on top of the marquee. Sheesh!

 

Longhorn Ballroom - Indian Teepee -Â 0203
This is back into the “complex” of the Longhorn Ballroom — the parking lot is in a horseshoe, with red and white barn-like buildings sporting several kitschy retro-cowboy murals. Then there’s this somewhat politically-incorrect little diorama.

 

Sportatorium window 0203
Back to the Sportatorium. Calling Dr. Kervorkian…. (Or maybe even Killer Kowalski….)

 

Dowtown Dallas 0203

Heading back to Dallas from the wrong side of the tracks.

 


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NORTH TO NOCONA

Texas Theater“Let me ask you something: are you a happily-married woman?”

 

I had made the mistake of nodding and smiling at the disheveled man trying to fix something under his car’s hood in front of the 7-Eleven. I was just walking by, heading in to get some cash, buy a newspaper and pay for gas, and I — generally a friendly person — nodded and smiled when he looked up at me. When I came out, he was still staring at the engine of his broken-down car (which might well have been a dark blue Chevrolet Caprice, favored vehicle of Beltway snipers…). He looked up when I came out, smiled, and stepped suggestively in my path to ask me in a “sexy” voice if I was a “happily-married woman.”

 

“Yep! I sure am!” I said enthusiastically and kept walking. I saw his eyes look down to my ringless left hand which I tried to cover quickly with the newspaper. He watched me, twenty feet away, there in the gray overcast mist, pump $15 worth of gas. He looked kind of pissed off that I hadn’t fallen for his charm and had blatantly lied about being married. Maybe I should have chatted with him — maybe he worked for those nice Gallup people and was just taking a survey. But … no. Nice to know I’m still considered a desireable female, if only amongst both the over-65 set and the on-his-way-to-the-Methodone-clinic (if-he-gets-his-sniper-car-to-run) set. Just another stupid thing in the course of a day that most people wouldn’t even think about but which depresses me and makes me realize that, like Bridget Jones, I will die alone and be found three weeks later, half-eaten by a German Shepherd.

 

That $15 of gas was to get me out of town for a while, hoping, perhaps, to at least throw the German Shepherd off the tracks.

 

I drove north up I-75 until I got to McKinney and then headed west. I didn’t feel I had escaped the suffocating clutches of the Dallas “metroplex” until I was past the winningly-named Prosper and had passed through Celina (pron. suh-LINE-uh). Celina is famous (even to ME, a person who has about as much time for high school football as I do for chatting up junkies in parking lots) for having a football team with the longest unbroken winning streak … I don’t know … EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD or something. Anyway, right outside of Celina, fields started to spread out and all traces of the noisy, crowded big-ass city I feel less enchanted with every day were well behind me. The turning point was the big rolled bale of hay painted orange and black like a big smiling jack-o-lantern. It made me laugh. I need to figure a way to incorporate more hay into my daily life.

 

It’s been raining for the past week, so everything was green and fresh-looking. So much GREEN. Even the empty black cotton fields that had recently been harvested looked alive. In some places there was water standing in furrows, and the effect of whizzing past these shimmering rows cut into the ground — at an angle, on curving roads — is sort of like drinking a triple espresso and spinning around and around with your eyes open — feeling kind of sick and kind of dizzy, wondering if this is what an epileptic seizure feels like. Except that you’re going 70 miles an hour on a tiny two-lane black-top with cows grazing serenely off in the distance. And there’s not another human being in sight. It was great.

 

I drove through the little teeny town of Tioga. It’s famous for only one thing, really: it’s the birthplace of Gene Autry. I pulled into the post office parking lot to consult a map and thought how my father would have appreciated getting a card postmarked from Tioga.

 

Just past Tioga is Lake Ray Roberts. I became more and more intrigued by the lake as I crossed each successive bridge. The water was as gray as the sky, and sticking up out of the water was an entire forest of leafless trees. It was weird. Black stubs and stumps and sticks standing lifeless in the water. Kinda spooky. I kept thinking of Carnival of Souls for some reason.

 

I was entering the Cross Timbers region — a strip of heavily-wooded land that stretches from Oklahoma through at least half of Texas. It’s a part of the state that was the site of much Indian … um … “activity” and along which the Chisholm Trail ran. I’d never seen this part of the state — in and around Montague (pron. MON-taig) County. It’s amazingly beautiful — rolling hills with trees in the foreground and lush prairie land stretching out in the distance. It was exciting nearing the top of each hill and seeing the first glimpse of what lay spread out ahead and below. We don’t have the spectacular fall colors that other places have, but, even so, the colors were pretty impressive: the greens, golds and muted reds of leaves, and the soft greens and purples of grasses. Everything looked very soft. Soft, calm and rolling. I really didn’t know there was any place in Texas that looked like this. Before this, all that “Montague County” meant to me was the name of a nearby county you see flashed on the screen during tornado warnings.

 

A startling feature of this bit of my drive was the dizzying amount of dead furry animals in and off to the side of the road. Skunks, raccoons, possums, some large thing with feathers, and something REALLY big that I tried not to look at, but which was covered with at least six buzzards. In fact, the buzzards seemed to be following me. They probably figured I’d be squishing something tasty soon that they could nibble on as an appetizer before night fell and the roadkill smorgasbord REALLY began.

 

Having passed through little towns I’d never heard of (Valley View, Era, Rosston and Forestburg), I was nearing Saint Jo when I came across an unexpected field of art. The first thing I noticed was four or five yellow VW Beetles lined up (an homage, one assumes, to those Cadillacs Stanley Marsh III planted — tail-fins out — in the Panhandle). Next to the cars were large structures made out of what looked like pipes, including some shaped like saguaro cactus. Just set out in a field, with no explanation. I’m sure it’s probably some crazy-ass local junk-collector or something — the area wacko. But it was cool. I’d love to find out who did this stuff.

 

Saint Jo was quaint but run-down. There was a saloon there boasting that it’s been around since the 1880s. I’d’ve loved to have stopped, but sashaying into a “saloon” at 2:00 in the afternoon — unaccompanied by my husband to whom I am “happily-married” — would probably be a bit unseemly.

 

Next was Nocona — my randomly-picked day’s destination. Nocona — named after the Indian chief who was married to Cynthia Ann Parker (the “white woman” who was kidnapped by Indians and who gave birth to the half-white Indian chief Quanah Parker) — is famous for its cowboy boots. It is the original location for the Justin Boot Company. I think Justin moved the company to Fort Worth, but his sister stayed in Nocona and started her own boot company. Both brands are hugely popular. (As a sidenote, I believe every man should own a pair of cowboy boots, and they should be worn often. There should be a LAW.)

 

Nocona is a small town — maybe 2,500 people. The first thing you see coming into town is the boot factory in a very cool-looking, small, almost Deco brick building with a wonderful, simple, streamlined red sign. And, well, that’s pretty much the highlight of the town. Except for the water tower that had a hole in it and was spewing, much like an oil well gusher. I watched it for the longest time, but no one else seemed to pay it much mind.

 

I thought I’d look for some out-of-the-way place to eat, but the only places I saw were a Sonic Drive-In and a Dairy Queen. I decided on the Dairy Queen, the nerve center of every small town. It was PACKED. At 2:30! Inside was wall-to-wall geezers. I love listening to old guys holding court in these small-town coffee klatches where everyone knows everyone else, and all the conversations seem to have a life of their own and hop from table to table. I heard conversations ranging from a bad knee acting up again to rain in nearby Wichita Falls to a malfunctioning thermostat to David Letterman’s nightly skewering of Dr. Phil (I found that last conversation pretty amusing). I’m sure I just missed talk of the Cowboys game and the Governor’s race. 70-year old men smoking like chimneys, drinking vats of coffee, gossiping and wearing gimme caps — this, to me, is life in a small town.

 

Having reached my destination, I began my way back home — a pleasant, but somewhat dull drive. I DID see a roadside picnic area in which four picnic tables were set under four miniature oil derricks near Muenster (these, like the bale-o-hay jack-o-lanterns made me laugh out loud). I also saw a Piggly Wiggly (!) in Gainesville, a pasture in which LLAMAS were gamboling amongst the cows, a forlorn handwritten “Jesus Saves” sign nailed to a dying tree, and a car speeding down the road with two huge American flags attached on either side. (Doesn’t this flag-thing cause considerable drag on a car? Those damn flags must play havoc with the mileage. I was thinking about this the other day when I heard some geese flying overhead. Those geese were loud — and they never stopped honking. Doesn’t that cause drag, too? Couldn’t those birds make better time and expend less effort if they kept their mouths closed?) When I got to Sherman (birthplace of Buck Owens!), I turned south and drove back toward Dallas along good ol’ I-75. As I hit the Dallas suburbs — especially around Plano — I started feeling less happy. All those people. All those stressed-out people fighting their way through rush-hour traffic. My hometown.

 

Sign me “Stressed-Out in Big D.”

 

road to Penelope



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