Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Cold El Paso Morning

Being in El Paso on a cold crisp morning always makes me feel nostalgic. Sometimes I wonder why or how. My visits to El Paso have been few, and my extended visits occurred mostly before I was five years old. Still there is an undeniable emotional tie to the place.

Here is 4915 Love Rd. as of 2-27-2008. I remember staying in the house long ago. It may have been the occasion of Mama Taylor's funeral. I remember going out early one morning and, as many had done before me, I walked over to the ditch and began to explore along it.

It wasn't long, though, until my Dad came out and scolded me. To my three year old eyes it was a definite overreaction. I have memories of certain rooms of the house, such as the round room with all the pictures, or the breakfast room with the glass-topped table. I remember the grounds, and the interesting layout of the place.

So, as I stood in front of the house on the morning of February 27, a Wednesday, I felt once again the little tug in my heart as I looked at it.

Mom had been talking for several months prior about wanting to make the drive to Texas. I asked her if as part of the trip if we could take time to visit some parts of the state which I had not yet seen. So, we planned and mapped out a daily itinerary.

We set out as soon as I got home from work on February 26th. Our goal was to reach El Paso that night. I had prepared much in the way of cd's and even dvd's (to which we would've had to be content to merely listen). But they proved unnecessary. We just talked to pass the miles. One subject I've asked Mom about often is her first impressions of El Paso. I've always been curious about how El Paso and Mama & Daddy T. must've seemed to a young lady from Salt Lake.

The next morning was Feb 27th and we set out on our next leg after visiting Love Rd. Our plan was to make it to San Angelo by the afternoon. We watched the desolate stretch of West Texas passing by. Eventually the terrain became dotted with the ever-toiling pumpjacks, signaling our entry into the Permian Basin region. We stopped at the old Town & Country at the Garden City/San Angelo exit. I got what I usually get at the T&C: a chimi and a Mrs Baird's cherry fruit pie.

We arrived at San Angelo around 4pm. To me it felt strange. I've never hid from Mom my feelings about visiting San Angelo now that I have no family there, and no friends to speak of. It was an emotional experience packing Mom up back in the spring of '03. We emptied that house at 2713 Tanglewood and the ties were severed. No home in San Angelo. We spent that night in a motel out on South Bryant. The following morning Stanley and I pulled away in a Ryder truck loaded to the gills and headed back to AZ.

So, I have no roots left there and just a tiny bit of nostalgia for the place. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to what we had planned for that night: The San Angelo Championship Rodeo.

I have some fun memories of the fair and rodeo. Top among them has to be when Tom T. Hall was the musical act at intermission and got Dad. He just wanted the rodeo to start up again. Then on the ride home that night he kept making up sarcastic versions of TTH's "I Love..etc." song.

Our seats were on the second row, so we had a pretty good view. We were close enough to the action to have one of the barrel racers kick up a few dirt clods into my lap. The rodeo has become quite commercial. Everything is sponsored. The scoreboard has a sponsor. Each chute had an ad posted. There were a couple of drunk fellows behind us trading witticisms as only San Angelo country-types can do. The one behind me had quite the obnoxious hyena laugh. Anyway, it was fun despite it all.

Next morning before getting out on the highway we stopped to take just a couple of pictures. The first is of the main building at John Glenn Jr High, where I attended grades 7-9. The second is of the LDS Chapel out on Old Christoval Rd.

Our plan was to meander southeast from San Angelo, eventually ending up somewhere between Brenham and Galveston. We stopped briefly in Eden, TX, mainly so that I could get a pic or two of an establishment called "Venison World."

They're on the web at I bought some venison jerky. Spicy. Our route took us through San Saba, where we stopped again so I could get a shot of the courthouse. For some reason these West Texas courthouses interest me. Sometimes I wonder if they represent a surviving cultural/spritual remnant of the city planning of the ancients (and not so ancient) where the Temple is at the center of the community. I wonder what Hugh Nibley would've had to say on the subject.

So, I snapped a picture of the San Saba courthouse and a voice said "Oh, you takin' a picture of our courthouse?"

My questioner was a smiling fellow in a baseball cap who apparently worked at the furniture store in front of which I was standing. I answered that yes, I was from the area and have always found them interesting. He seemed pleased, then he asked me where I was from. When I answered "San Angelo" he asked, "What high school, what year?" I quickly said, "Central High, class of '87."

Then he got excited.

"Wow, that's when Shea Morenz was the quarterback!"

It was my unfortunate duty to disappoint.

"No, no Shea Morenz was after my time."

"Yeah, Shea Morenz was the quarterback that year."

"No, actually Doug Bonds was the name of our QB. We beat Permian and made the playoffs that year." (It would've actually been the '86 football season)

"Well, maybe it was the year before I was thinking of."

I could've argued, but then I thought "OK, fine."

"Yeah, that could be it," I answered.

Somehow the ignorant yet utterly certain demeanor of the fellow succeeded in irking me the rest of the day.

Mom pointed out the G&R grocery store in San Saba and mentioned that it was where the family used to go if supplies ran low while at Gorman Falls. I have no memory of it myself, but for those who do, here is a picture.

We took a detour outside of San Saba to drive through Bend, the nearest "town" to Gorman Falls, where we spent many, many idyllic vacations ages ago. Look at the picture below. Congratulations, you've now seen about 75 percent of the town.

Back in the day this was where Mom & Dad would stock up on bubble-gum to pass out to their kids and whatever other nieces and nephews there were. So, to commemorate this, Mom entered the store and bought 25 pieces of bubble-gum, five for each of her kids.

We pressed on through Lampasas. Storm's, a popular drive in burger place, is still there and going strong.

We then continued on to Austin, where we stopped and took a nice while to revisit and explore the Texas State Capitol building. I'd forgotten what an impressive structure it is. One can't help but reconnect with one's inner Texan when seeing the large paintings of David Crockett and also of the surrender of Santa Ana to Sam Houston following the Battle of San Jacinto. Or when gazing up at the rotunda ceiling from the inside. The grounds are very nice and well kept. And quite expansive.

As I said before, our goal was to make it to somewhere beyond Brenham. That afternoon, however, I started to feel a little queasy, and so I asked Mom how she felt about stopping in Brenham itself. Brenham was one of our sightseeing goals, because it is the birthplace of Bluebell Ice Cream. We decided to visit the Bluebell Creamery next morning on the way out of town. We stopped at a nearby HEB grocery store for a few supplies and then found a motel. We even made it in time to see that week's American Idol results show.

Next morning (friday Feb 29th) we found our way to the Bluebell Creamery. We didn't have time to take the tour, so we instead browsed the giftshop and bought some souvenirs.

Then it was on to Galveston. I'd been there before, but have virtually no memory of the experience. When we got onto the island and turned onto Seawall Blvd I could not help but compare it with driving along the Kamehameha highway on Oahu. There the water was blue and the sand was light. In Galveston the water was greyish brown and the sand was greyish brown.

Still, it was impressive. The constancy of the waves crashing on the beach never fails to mesmerize, wherever it is. We ate dinner at a place called Gaido's.

It's a really nice place. A tall, distinguished black man greeted us in a deep voice. He was dressed in a white dress shirt with black slacks and vest, and a black bowtie. All the waiters were similarly dressed. Their attire, combined with the sight of the stemmed glasses and fine silverware on the tables almost made me suggest to Mom that we go change into our Sunday wear. But then I saw that other tables were filled with casually dressed patrons, which put me more at ease. The food was delicious. If you're ever in Galveston, I recommend it.

The next morning (saturday, March 1st) we dressed in our Sunday attire because the plan was to make our way through Houston, stopping there to attend a session at the Houston Temple. It is actually a ways out of town to the northwest. It, like the Dallas Temple, is located in a residential area and is not visible until you are almost upon it. It's a beautiful building. The session was very peaceful and uplifting as most sessions are, wherever the temple. Ask Mom to tell you about her impressions of the Celestial Room sometime. She was quite overwhelmed by it.

Our ultimate goal for the day was to make it to Dallas, where we'd be staying at Ed & Julie's. There were a few things we wanted to see along the way, however. First we stopped in the Bryan/College station area. We found and looked at the outside of the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library.

We drove around a bit of the Texas A&M campus. Mom took me by the apts where she and Dad lived while he was working at the A&M clinic,

and even pointed out the location of the big bonfire disaster from a few years back. From there we proceeded up to Waco, where we took the cutoff down to Crawford, the site of the "Western White House," otherwise known as "Dubya's" ranch. The town is literally one stoplight.

There is a restaurant, a small convenience store, and an antique shop. Driving there Mom and I began to appreciate how it must infuriate members of the press to have to drag themselves to such a remote location. We at first thought we'd try to find the ranch itself, possibly by trying to spot Cindy Sheehan and her rabble, but we were pressed for time and we had no idea which cardinal direction to take from the center of town.

Dusk had arrived as we left Crawford to make our way up to Dallas.

Sunday, March 2nd we attended Sacrament meeting with Ed & Julie at the Meandering Way Chapel, then we drove to Jesse & Mary's place out in McKinney.

We did do a few things during our time in Dallas, but in large part it served as a few days' rest from our sightseeing and in preparation for the journey home. Monday morning (March 3rd) we drove around some places in Dallas to take pictures. We stopped at Lakehill Prep first of all. This was where I attended grades 1-6, and where Mom taught kindergarten for a few years.

We then went to Kuby's and stayed just long enough to buy some polish and wurst salad. Here is how Kuby's currently appears:

And here's what it used to look like:
I believe we were in and out in under 10 minutes. Then, on the way back out to McKinney, we stopped at Elke's Market Cafe. Elke is a Kuby daughter and has begun her own very successful eatery in Allen, TX. We ordered some deli sandwiches and salads to take out to Mary & Jesse's. Sloan's little blond boy was there, and Sloan himelf showed up later with his older boys. I took a ride into downtown McKinney with him to stock up on the various feeds one needs when one has a menagerie of horses, cows, goats, and chickens. Oh, and a donkey. Sloan's billy goat makes the funniest noises. First I kept hearing it making a sound like laughing. "Wah-hah-hah-hah." Then later, when one of the cows was crowding him, he made a noise sounding like "Whoa-whoa. Whoa-whoa-whoa!" See it for yourself in the video clip below.

3-3-2008 Sloan's billy goat from Zachary Taylor on Vimeo.

Monday during the night it snowed, which is pretty rare for Dallas in March. We actually had to scrape snow and ice off the car before we could set out.

The last shot I took before hitting the interstate west was this one of Texas Stadium while I was doing about 70mph on the 183.

Pretty well focused and centered, I think.

The goal for the day (March 4th) was to make it all the way to Marfa, home of the mysterious "Marfa Lights." Look on YouTube. Mom & Dad have seen them, so we put Marfa on our places to go list. We set out from Dallas, taking a brief detour through Abilene. It had been fifteen years since I'd been in that town, and absence had not made my heart grow fonder. We stopped in Big Spring so I could get one final chimi-burro at Town & Country,

then pressed on to Pecos, where we took the road south to Marfa.

Marfa is a little town. The films "No Country For Old Men," and "There Will Be Blood" had reportedly both done some filming in the area, and of course the movie "Giant" was filmed there decades ago. We ate dinner at the Adobe Moon, a great little place opened fairly recently by a family from Austin. The brisket sandwich was awesome. Smoky and spicy. We checked into our motel and passed the time till dark by watching that week's performance episode of American Idol. Once dark, we got in the car and drove a few miles out of town to the viewing area. No lights that night. While waiting I asked Mom, "What if it's just a couple of guys with those chinese lanterns on poles, walking back and forth and waving them around?" We gave it a good try though, staying nearly 2 hours. We've vowed to go back.

The final day (March 5th) we drove back up and caught the interstate at Van Horn. Mom took the wheel for a few hours, then I took it on into Chandler. I believe we pulled in at around 4-5pm. It was a memorable journey. Mom and I found it amusing to recall in order where we ended up each night: El Paso, San Angelo, Brenham, Galveston, Dallas, Dallas, Dallas, Marfa, home.

I'm glad I got to take the trip and spend the time with Mom.