A throwback to when journalism mattered, 60 Minutes began on CBS, this day, 1968. Here is a salute featuring the best episode we know, a piece by CBS News Anchorman Scott Pelley, a Texas Tech graduate.
Know what I sayin?
A throwback to when journalism mattered, 60 Minutes began on CBS, this day, 1968. Here is a salute featuring the best episode we know, a piece by CBS News Anchorman Scott Pelley, a Texas Tech graduate.
Know what I sayin?
We were in New Orleans for the last half of our honeymoon, walking through the French Quarter from our hotel. We had picked an old, picturesque, legendary New Orleans hotel, with a swimming pool on the roof.
The area was full of coffee shops and near all of those weird voodoo/tourist shops in that funky city. As we walked along, we started to see large black electrical cables running along the sidewalks. Soon, we approached an area with police barricades blocking the path. We could see a few movie cameras behind the barricades, and realized someone was shooting a movie on location. There was no choice but to turn around and go the other way to avoid the throng of people.
Later in the day, as we continued to tour the Quarter, this guy was walking toward us on the sidewalk. Immediately we could tell he had “an air about him.” (I mean that in a good way.) He was obviously “somebody.” But we weren’t sure who. It was the era of Miami Vice … and open collars … and pastel jackets … and five-clock shadow beards … and this guy was all about that. He was almost handsome enough to be Don Johnson. But he wasn’t. We were baffled. He knew we were trying to figure it out, and he just smiled as he passed us on the sidewalk.
When we returned to our hotel, we asked around and someone told us the area was a location for a film with Robert DeNiro, (the very hot at that time) Lisa Bonet … and a guy I had really liked in Rumble Fish. They were shooting the very dark Angel Heart that day. Anywho … Happy Birthday today — Mickey Rourke.
Ha … ever in search of something binge-watch worthy, I finally took on “Friday Night Lights,” after hearing it’s praises forever. Pleasantly surprised. Just started Season 4 … (spoiler) … it’s like a Tale of Two Cities … just when I was growing accustomed to the “Haves,” now we’re focusing on the “Have Nots” — much more interesting.
Worthy to note all of the (paid, I am sure) placements in the script by my beloved Texas Tech. Ha … I had forgotten that the genius Mike Leach had a cameo in the series. As much as I love Coach and his “inner pirate,” it was a pretty awkward placement, so I am assuming the school paid for that one too. Anyway … Guns Up East Dillon:)
Wish I had visited with this guy (Jesse Plemons) more when I met him at Dallas International Film Festival … only knew him from Breaking Bad at that time. Surprisingly, a much more multi-faceted role in the football epic.
Above all, surprising that the football scenes/scenarios are believable. Typically … sports films look so bogus. Ha … we coined a term back in the day — #BBS — for Bogus Basketball Scene for all the roundball misfires we have seen over the years. The coming-of-age scenes are pretty believable … and of course the series — like all others — pushes a liberal social agenda down our throats, point-by-point … But the sports fan finds themselves craving more of the gridiron action. Well played.
Lastly … very happy to report that someone calling themselves #SmashWilliams is now following us — @pingwifi — on Twitter. Does it get any better than that?
Know what I sayin?
One of the most alarming statistics of this society is the lack of two-parent homes. I won’t get into the demographics of who’s who, race, gender, etc. … suffice to say, someone in the home is not teaching people how to drive. Being outspoken most of the time and on the road all the time, I often offer free, unsolicited advice to these mobile misfits. … Always willing to generously pass on some knowledge … one-on-one in traffic, complete with hand gestures, if that’s what it takes.
But until I open a technical school for simultaneous driving, texting, selfies and blogging … I guess I will have to just post my thoughts on the Web to really reach the masses. If that driving school does materialize, we already have our first fundraiser planned to raise money for the end of school trip. We will sell bumperstickers that say, “IF God intended for liberals to vote, he would have given them the ability to drive to the polls.” Ha … put that on your Prius (if it’ll fit). I digress …
One of the reasons I hope I can enlighten drivers is road rage. We hear about it every day — that some pickup truck followed a mini-van and did something inappropriate and mean. Funny that the mini-van always has time to get out the camera phone. Kind of makes you wonder who started it all. But … by all means, we are rational here at The Ping … and we emphatically believe there is NEVER an excuse for violent retaliation … but … how many of you out there — like me — scratch your head every time you hear about one of these instances and say, “I bet that minivan did something really stupid, dangerous and rude for the second driver to react like that”?
I have to wonder … I digress … Back to driving school.
My longest bit of road research yet, is an 18,000-mile, 43-city whirlwind tour of the contiguous United States. And I took notes. And just let me say this … it is probably a good thing Colorado has weed now to chill the (French word) out … Because, to my surprise, I have never met more angry/aggressive drivers than Denver … and yes, I have driven for several weeks at a time in Manhattan, no problems. Driven on the opposite side of the road in New Zealand (almost successfully) … and seen the craziest traffic in the world in Bangkok. Everyone always asks me “Where are the worst/angriest drivers?”.
Here is more of what I have learned and some things I wish every driver would think about:
Even in a Prius … you are driving a 3,000-lb bullet. And bullets don’t kill people … people do. Think before you change lanes, stop for a puppy, pull a U-turn, try to race a muscle car, text, lipsync in the rear view mirror, or whatever.
This takes the cake for stupidity, because “their hearts are in the right place.” Have you seen someone — typically in a tree-hugging smart car — who stops in the middle of an intersection, to let someone else enter … stopping traffic, nearly causing a 30-car pileup, all in the name of trying to be nice? They wave and smile and are oblivious to all of the screeching brakes and swerving cars behind them. In their minds, they have just made the planet a better place. When you forget traffic lights … forget traffic laws … forget protocol … forget what all other drivers on the road expect you to do – you become the problem. Your plan to prove to the world that you care about the person who could have waited … backfires … almost every time.
For someone who has the ability to look ahead of a car and gauge traffic patterns, it can be an absolute curse. Because as soon as you slow down, approaching a red light directly in front of you … or same thing, if you are behind 20 cars packed into three lanes, bumper to bumper at 70 m.p.h. … there is always someone who thinks they are so much smarter or driving enlightened that their car will magically go where no other car can. So they try to squeeze in, causing wrecks … everyone has to adjust … packing in even tighter … and the magical driver goes on, never knowing or caring about the carnage in their wake. (By the way … typically, you pass this driver about a mile up the road … and then they repeat all their missteps.)
Ninety-nine percent of the time, if you zoom to the right on a multi-lane freeway, you are entering the zone where additional cars ramp up onto the freeway. It is what is known as “a bottle neck” or a “log jam.” You may have a moment of false accomplishment and get ahead of one car … just before another one slows down or merges in front of you. Then you have to make your second unsafe move … to jump lanes back to where you started. Stay left and you will get there first, the majority of the time. And after all, isn’t it about getting there first. (But don’t you dare be that slow driver in the left lane.)
This is the ultimate in dumb driving. Don’t tell me you haven’t seen this. In a busy. busy metropolitan area, there are HOV lanes for high-occupancy vehicles. It is a great concept … people who carpool are rewarded and allowed to drive in a lane with less traffic. So smart … except they let people into the mix. I kid you not … some drivers will drive like maniacs in the traffic jam, jump in the HOV lane where there is no traffic, and then they slow down. Who cares if there is a line of traffic behind them. They have control — probably for the first time in their lives — so they dictate the speed or lack of speed for everyone in the HOV lane. And yes, although there is no one in front of them, they drive slower, all of the sudden. Yes, the people they were racing in the heavy traffic, begin to pass them, as the protected lane and the unprotected lane travel side-by-side. (This is the only situation where I have actually tried lane splitting, on a motorcycle … passing the single car, driving 60 in the wide open HOV lane …
Maybe the slow drivers are just scared??? But look at the sign. It clearly says, “HOV Lane” … not “Scared Little Rabbit Lane”
Most of us can’t. Why try? Chances are, if you have finally caught up with that motorcycle, the rider has spotted some reason to slow down. Bikes don’t go fast to rub it in that you can’t … The riders enjoy it. Let it go. No reason to swerve in front of them going 65. Common sense would dictate to use more caution around a driver on two wheels. Why do people use less? You would be shocked at how many drivers do the opposite. Where is this unwritten law that says cars must pass motorcycles to feel validated?
In your road trips, or commute, have you ever gained on a car steadily, watching them follow another car closely, for miles (following so closely they resembled livestock considering a cross-breeding maneuver) … but as you catch them and prepare to pass, the-little-car-that-could decides that no matter how long they have tailed the car in front of them … as you approach moving faster than either of them — that is the perfect time for the little car to whip out in front of you to pass. There is no question — some people are just oblivious that there are other people on the freeway … or in the grocery store … or anywhere else on the planet. So then why in heaven’s name are they behind a wheel or even trying to operate a shopping cart for that matter?
How many times have you been tailgated by a person in a neighborhood or on a city street, then they get around you as the road opens up for traffic … and they of course slow down? A variation of this, is the cross-state road trip. There is always one little car that cannot keep up with the other drivers … but when the speed limit goes down to 45 in some little farm town (you know to keep from killing Old Man Floyd who pulls out of the cafe …), the slow car will come roaring by you doing 60 … only to clog the road up ahead, when the speed limit goes back up to 75 … and of course the “new leader of the pack” thinks 65 is sufficient. Next town … repeat.
Okay … multiple choice time. IF you were in a war, in a platoon, on the move in enemy territory, and your outfit needed to cross a bridge. Does your commanding officer yell for you to:
My goodness … When a remote highway is wide open except for six cars, for miles and miles, why in the world would those six cars travel in a tight-knit group at 80 mph? I see it every time I get on the road. If it will help you … on your next road trip, tell yourself that you are a soldier … the pavement is just a bridge … and that you want to live, make it back home and some day go to college on the G.I. Bill.
Which is it? If I see brake lights on every car, in every lane, in front of me … do I accelerator or slow down? (Sounds silly doesn’t it? Just you watch.)
If you are careless enough and insecure enough to smoke in this day and time — with all that we know about the deadly poison in cigarettes, not to mention the billions of dollars of increased medical insurance costs for all other consumers and you … I doubt that you care about the other people on the rode either. But, just in case, be advised, we can smell the cigarette stink several cars behind you. Hell … on a motorcycle, you can even “enjoy” the cancer-causing agents wafting from traffic going the other direction. Nice huh? Who doesn’t want to be offensive from several hundred feet?
We all know life is too short to miss the green/yellow light by one car length. NO … I am not saying just run it, if it is a “little red.” But I do point out that if everyone will pay attention, and get on their way when the light turns green, more people will make the light easily and the system will work a little better. Also … If you place your car directly behind the car in front of you at a light … without leaving an empty space for a couple more, then more people will make the light. (This is the opposite of the bridge theory above …) And yes, if you ignore either one of these suggestions, that guy behind you may be me — honking … Because yes … I have been rear-ended at three red lights in my life so far. I am trying to avoid the fourth. When the light turns green … I play for keeps. Let’s get a move on!
Every time there is a wreck on the freeway, the media repeat what they have heard other media say (monkey see-monkey do) and they report that on-lookers or “rubber neckers” are slowing down or contributing to the problem. Oh contrare! One of the first things taught in driving classes is that you should slow down when you pass an accident … to avoid hitting someone walking away, crawling away, slithering away … or whatever. Yes … that extra caution slows the traffic, slightly, but if you don’t “rubber neck” and slow down, you might rear-end … and stop traffic all together. See the second or third car who also get in the wreck? They were NOT rubbernecking and slowing down.
The same drivers who drive fast in residential areas but then slow down on the highway are at their best in parking lots. I think they detour through five or six lots a day, just to hone their skills and tally points. What is wrong with a person who cuts through a lot, kicking their car up to 45 miles per hour, for the first time ever? Oh … and they slalom through the other parked cars for more stealth. Who knows, on a good day, they can probably dent a car, knock over a motorcycle and cripple two or three pedestrians. It’s what they do.
Last point. Have you notice bikers and/or motorcycle enthusiasts have a special wave, and they pass it on cordially to other riders? How about automobiles try being nice. Are you crazy enough to try it? Give a friendly wave, with your entire hand to another driver. Ha … just imagine the puzzled looks. Mouth a “Thank You” instead of the “Other You” one normally reads on another driver’s lips. Nah … It would never work. Well … except in a farm town. But then again, farm kids have mastered and respect autos and guns by the age of eight.
Know what I sayin?
If the 2015 Perseid meteor shower could only be viewed around 3 a.m. Texas time, there was a good chance that I would never see it — unless I replayed the video from the security cameras to catch it. Too late for my blood on “a school night.” But … forever the optimist, the other night I decided to take a night ride on the Triumph, out west of Fort Worth … away from the city lights to see.
You never know, there could be a few premature shooting stars.
The plan was setting up nicely. The surface of the lake was pink and purple glass, reflecting only a few house lights across the way. The sky was almost black, sprinkled with billions of faint stars — like so many theater lights turned down, waiting for the show. Waterbirds were calling each other across the water. There was only a faint hum of traffic a few miles away. There was barely enough breeze to shake the leaves on the oaks lining the lake. It seemed as if I had the lake to myself.
So picturesque. I just knew my star party was going to be … well … stellar.
No sooner than I parked at an isolated picnic table, I heard an engine start up and headlights cross the path ahead of me. From the far end of the picnic area a white pickup started my way, on the side road that borders the shoreline. Slowly. Was it a park ranger or game warden?
The truck slowed and turned toward my little picnic, moved closer within about 15 feet. It parked. No clues. No insignia on the vehicle. No verbal hints, even though someone had started to roll down the driver’s window. No nothing. I still couldn’t make out the driver.
“State your business,” I greeted aggressively, probably because I have binge watched too many crime dramas or maybe one too many westerns on HBO lately. Still nothing.
I was thinking, “You know (whoever you are) you’re really asking for someone to shoot you,” when I heard what sounded like a very small dog bark and an elderly voice say “Come on now Teddy, sing …” Ha … that’s not really what he said. (That man/dog line is from “Mr. Bojangles.”) I digress … But I did hear the unseen senior citizen hush his pet.
Again, I hailed the vehicle, “Hel-looo-oo!” Finally, the guy said, “Nice bike!” (This guy was really doing and saying all the right things to make me think he was up to no good.) I took note of his parking job — either really sloppy or perhaps brilliant in its attempt at blocking my exit route.
But when I realized he was with Chihuahua, my fear factor dialed down a couple of notches. I kept one hand behind my back near my concealed personal safety device, all the same, as he centered a tiny dog in his lap, allowing it to sniff my way, out the open window.
When the gentleman cracked his door to light up the cab of his truck. There were two Chihuahuas, making him doubly harmless … probably.
“Let me look at that bike!,” he said as if I had any say-so in the matter. He turned on his headlights again, and he was out of the truck and kind of limped over to my ride. He circled it, bending over, stooping to put his head down near the ground … raising up … and back down … much like an old farmer sizing up a steer that he wants to buy and possibly turn into prime rib.
After he concluded he liked the bike, he offered his hand to me. I shook it. He hand a firm grip for an old guy and he held on just a little too long. … “I’m Sasquatch.” (Of course you are, I thought.) The gentleman was probably in his early 70s, had long gray hair leaking out from under an ancient gimmee hat. I was close enough to determine he was wearing a smoke-filled flannel shirt partially hidden behind a bushy white beard that hung down — way down — resembling a Red Lobster bib in the dim light, away from the truck.
Ha … when he moved toward the light, his appearance was something between a ZZ Top-look and Denver Pyle on “The Waltons” or “Andy Griffith” or “Grizzly Adams” … some old show like that.
After giving the bike two thumbs up, Sasquatch hopped back in the truck full of Chihuahuas. He asked me if I had a smoke. I said, “I don’t smoke.” And he said, “Well, then I guess I don’t either.”
I was reeling at this random act of the universe … on a night when I was expecting the more predictable meteorites … This stuff always happens to me. Then he blinded me with science … or rather surprised me with technology. He whipped out a fairly new laptop and fired it up. Touch screen … impressive. (There was no Wi-Fi network available, for the record.)
Under the stars, the screen shone like landing lights on a helicopter. He introduced his presentation like this. “Hey. Look at this.”
For the next 30 minutes I didn’t see any shooting stars, but I learned more than anyone would think possible about some biker bar in Temple, Texas. I also learned about Sasquatch and the women who love Sasquatch. His ex-wife. His ex-girlfriend. His fiancee. More info. followed: his ex-wife’s ex-motorcycle. His ex-girlfriend’s ex-motorcycle and even a scale model — with a certificate of authenticity — of his ex-wife’s ex-motorcycle … and perhaps a few too many photos of his fiancee’s sister
He had several photos of and stories about a guy he doesn’t like at all. Pretty unusual. Anywho … I now feel like I know all of these people and bikes through the magic of a a slide show on the laptop. But the presentation was all leading up to Sasquatch’s pride and joy, a Harley Davidson trike. After such a build up, it did not disappoint.
Again … how do I get in these predicaments? It seems like these celestial events tend to bring out the characters. (Anyone read this one from the Blood Moon? – Blood Moon Crazy )
At some point during the BAVP — the biker audio visual presentation — Sasquatch took a call on his cell. “Yes. Yes. No. Now.” He hangs up and a car motor starts up at the opposite end of the park. “Oh crud,” methinks. I pretended to be scratching my lower back again … just in case. But no worries. Must have been another random thing. The car turned the opposite way, and drove toward Weatherford.
Just a random night under the stars. I live to blog another day.
Know what I sayin?
Before there was Wi-Fi — long before — there was The Oldham Country Round Up in Vega, Texas on Old Route 66. “Vegaville” — a place where authentic cowboys, hard-working farmers and resolute merchants and their families take a day off once a year to get together and celebrate community … planning the future, enjoying the present and talking about the good times passed.
Each year the parade — heading north on U.S. 385 — is led in by two horses, one manned and one with an empty saddle in remembrance of the cowboys and loved ones who no longer ride among us. Old 66 and 385, two border-to-border highways back in the day, intersected in Vega. I don’t know if Vega still hails as “Crossroads of the Nation” as it did when I was young.
As highway traffic is stopped for the parade, a tiny marching band belts out a few sports classics for the crowd. Kids dodge horses and their leavings to grab the candy on the street thrown from old cars, horsemen, firetrucks and antique tractors in the parade. The Texas and American flags are prevalent.
The high school shows off it’s football team on a flatbed truck. The small-school football team still plays 11-man, in the smallest classification, and the cheerleaders love them all the same. The locals flash two fingers to the sky to signal “Hook ‘Em Horns” … not for the university, but for The Mighty Vega Longhorns … a school steeped in tradition.
Other towns are represented from this huge acreage of a country — 1,500 square miles, 2,000 people, created in 1876. Billy The Kid hid out north of Vega, among the cottonwoods near the Canadian River. The city of Adrian sends fire trucks for the parade … one labeled “El Padron” — a veteran of many a grassfire on the plains, no doubt. Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch is always represented with a riding team … one that now features young women as well. Wildorado — for now — mixes in with Vega at the high school level and is represented among the football, band and cheerleading squads.
Year in, year out, a favorite float in the parade is the Leavitt/Waters family paying tribute to their matriarch Dot Leavitt, who among other things started a Route 66 mini-museum. The tribute — “Rockin Dot.” (Wonder if they have a rockindotcom on the Web … I digress …) Their float usually has a mini-windmill, bales of hay, Route 66 memorabilia … and lots and lots of Dot’s family … stuff like that.
The parade always starts at 11 a.m. sharp and when the last horse passes the old courthouse on the square, the visitors make a beeline for the serving lines … Most of the locals work hard — in 100-degree heat — to prepare for and serve the old timers and tourists and Vega’s expatriates. Townspeople work all week to make ready for the event … setting up booths … cooking beans all night from a top-secret recipe … cooking several whole beeves all night over a blistering bed of coals … the meat roasting just a hundred feet from the Friday night street dance. If there were an award for the visitor who traveled the most distance to attend the meat cooking this year, it would have to be Nancy who flew in from Hawaii. Aloha!
The PingWi-Fi motorcycle was not in the parade, not officially … ha … again this year, although there were bikes. (It is from a previous year, but I will insert a photo to illustrate … ) Hmmm … I could toss PingWi-Fi t-shirts from the bike and hopefully avoid the horse apples, if my arm holds out. By the way, no PingWi-Fi shirts were spotted around town, although several have shipped to that zip code. Oh well … Maybe one day I can suit up a softball team in the shirts … like Nike or Under Armor or something — LOL. I secretly was hoping my friend from Muleshoe, Texas might break out his Ping shirt, so that I could blog about having a friend from Muleshoe. I did visit with Danny briefly, along with his sis, my classmate Becky … and of course we talked motorcycles. Ha … saw Butch and Rat too!
As I was saying, on Saturday, after the parade, it is hot and the lines for barbecue are long, but as one resident of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex said, “The lines are not nearly as long as those at Franklin’s barbecue in Austin. So. it’s not so bad.”
Many of us prefer the BBQ in Vega. One local told me it is “meat with catsup” on the side … Because this is barbecue the old fashion way, cooked the same way old-timers served it up a hundred years ago in these parts. The sauce is not fancy. The beef flavor holds its own naturally.
On the square by where the serving lines form, there’s now a very cool little coffee shop with high-powered caffeine and frozen blended drinks as well … rivaling the java at any coffee shop anywhere. It’s called The Lazy J Coffee House, in the branding fashion of the Old West. (And yes, it has a great Wi-Fi network … So, there … my original premise for this blog — Wi-Fi exploration — has been satisfied. Mission accomplished. “It’s a free concert from now on …” Know what that’s from? I digress …)
Further south on the highway is a Dairy Queen, just as with most Texas towns, or so people joke. However, my buddies and I remember many a year before Vega had a DQ. (This blogger found the Wi-Fi network at DQ lacking … no big Dilly Bar, so to speak …) “When I was a kid …” we just had the good old Roadrunner Drive Inn, where we downed many a cherry Dr. Pepper to wash back a smoke burger … I think there may have been a Dairy Mart of something like that, years before in the same building as The RR. Last trip, I checked out a new local favorite — The Windy Cow in neighboring Wildorado, Texas. Yes, Windy Cow in Wildorado has Wi-Fi … although I was so busy with a chicken fried steak that I never logged on. Therefore … Did not check in on Facebook. Did not get a free desert. Did not pass Go! And did not see a murder suspect get nabbed there after a nation-wide manhunt. Ha … well not a laughing matter — a true story. The owner of the cafe — also just off Route 66 — teamed up with good old Oldham County Sheriff Medlin and other authorities to apprehend a fugitive … for real … a few weeks before Round Up.
Biggest change? Despite the party atmosphere of this place — forever — the town only recently voted to allow its first liquor store. Yes … when Vega went “wet,” I bet there was a noticeable hit to the revenues in every town 30 miles in all directions … Yes, there was a time when adult refreshment was the best excuse for a road trip. (Politically incorrect, as charged …)
There are several great murals around town … new additions on the side of the museum, the funeral home, the football fieldhouse and the building that houses the justice of the peace (I believe). Well, hell. The museum is new too — housed in an old lumberyard, once featured in a full-length film.
The “western” band playing on a flat bed trailer/stage, on the lawn at noon, this year was not the Texas Swing of the past, nor a George Strait-cover band or anything near it. … More like guys with ear gauge ear piercing things and a country-ish bass beat … But the old timers chatted and tapped their feet and ate extra portions of the stewed apricot side dish all the same.
There were no cloggers on stage this year … perhaps that is no longer a pastime anywhere … with the advent of line dancing. (In my simple mind there’s little difference, but admittedly, I am ignorant on both accounts. Regardless, I offered to clog for my niece, if that would make her Round Up experience complete. I digress …) Several nieces, great nieces and a nephew also braved the heat, making my family time very enjoyable … almost as endearing as my friend’s daughter who has taken to calling me “Uncle Kent” as of late.
I can vouch that 50 years ago there was no better event in the lives of the farm kids and town kids who ran freely all over the courthouse lawn, than this one day of the year — if for no other reason. Snowcones! In the past, we rated the Round Up on a scale based on whether or not the local Kiwanis were serving “rainbow” snowcones that year (mixing all flavors). These days, snowcones are about 95 cents more in price, but still popular. You meet the happiest kids with red and purple and green lips. Local youth organizations have added homemade ice cream, ice tea, cold bottled water to the fundraisers in recent years.
This year … NO BINGO!?! But the raffle giveaways kept everyone’s eyes glued to the four or five digits on the tickets in their hands.
Seemingly ancient trees around the courthouse lawn prove the value of shade on The High Plains. Several trees this year shaded a ring of chairs set aside for attendees of a class reunion featuring classes from the tiny town’s ’60s and ’70s. After a night of dining and re-acquainting with old friends from decades before, the Vega grads just hung out, visiting … Everyone knows everyone … pretty much … or at least recognizes certain family traits in faces, enough to guess who anyone might be.
Typically rainclouds threaten in the distance for the Round Up, but usually the light show stays off in the distance and lets the celebration continue.
There is something for everyone … a favorite — the Toad Belly Classic softball tournament with its signature kiddie pool smack dab in centerfield. No doubt the outfielders pray for a ball hit that way and a diving catch, during dusty games in the hottest part of the day. Just across the way from the softball fields is the roping arena. All afternoon Saturday team ropers and ranch rodeo participants show off some of the best skills in Texas. Friday night, the women’s ranch rodeo teams go at it … darned impressive!
As everyone looks for old friends at Round Up … or those they once knew … It is natural to reflect on high school parties — no matter how long ago … One might think of silly rivalries or old hurt feelings … misdeeds … shenanigans … You might see someone and you hug them after so many years and are also compelled to offer condolences for their lost loved ones, those departed since the previous Round Up … It’s a bitter sweet moment mixed with joy for this meeting and reverence for those gone. Despite never having entered a 12-step program … I was glad that an old friend accepted my apology for a thoughtless act so long ago, overdue for about 40 years.
While some healed old scars, others were making new memories … Ha … Caught a high school cowboy and “his date” “parking” on a country road near my brother’s farm … in broad daylight … right there in plain view of God and everyone … LOL. Two heads poked up from the pickup seat, and they smiled and drove away, anonymously, expeditiously. I totally agree with them, for some endeavors, “Daylight Savings Time rocks.”
Speaking of the farm, as strange as it seems to me and as much as I love everything fun about Round Up, this year I enjoyed some hard work more than anything. Sadly, as a kid, I was totally disinterested in anything to do with farming, much to my dad’s dismay. Oh … if I had that part of my life to do over. Ah heck … I would probably rebel again … anywho … It was very satisfying to get dirty loading and transporting some farm equipment from one farm to another. Yes, this city slicker even drove a farm tractor a few miles (an all day-long, everyday-of-the-summer job I hated for years back in the day) … The tractor trek included an overpass route over old Route 66. Does it get any more nostalgic? I also used the tractor to drive through some of the weeds on the farm, scouting for and avoiding rattle snakes. Lots of rain in the region created an excellent habitat of prairie grass and such … for all kinds of scaly things … Even spotted a horny toad in the weeds — coincidentally on the same day that Sports Illustrated featured (hometown) Fort Worth/TCU’s Trevone Boykin on the cover. That must mean something! Good luck for or an omen of impending Heisman? … Still haven’t figured out how TCU came up with Horned Frogs when everyone in Texas knows the correct term is horny toads … I digress …
*EDITOR’S Note: After this blog posted, we got a look at that issue of SI … Not only is the aforementioned Frog on the cover, there is also a nice piece on Baylor’s 6′ 7″, 392-pound tight end LaQuan McGowan – a product of Oldham County by way of the Boys Ranch Roughriders. Wonder if he ever attended Round Up …
No snakes this time. Lots of owls, huge spiders, grasshoppers the size of a U-Haul trailer (ouch), rabbits, etc.
Saturday night the adults scoot boots to country music, while the teens pair up to the latest music at a local church. Young and old ride around the town, just like forever, enjoying a cold one — whether it be a DQ Blizzard, a “Colorado Koolaid” or even a somewhat pretentious craft beer … j/k … No matter what you’re drinking, its all about visiting with friends … inspecting the town for change. It’s there. But some things are just the same.
And then there was the ride home. “On a steel horse I ride.” As much as I love to travel on the Triumph Thunderbird, it was pretty grueling. I think the official high temperature in the area was 108, but I passed a bank thermometer somewhere south of Wichita Falls that claimed, “114.” I think they embellished. Regardless, it was hotter than a spider on an oven on pancake day. Quite proud of my contingency plan — swim trunks in the saddle bag — I pulled over in Windthorst, Texas — on the backroad to Fort Worth (281) and Googled swimming pools. The nearest I found was 12 miles out of my way in Archer City, Texas. No worries. I veered west and was in the pool area in no time. But not IN the pool. As luck would have it, I caught the pool “on break” (as if that is really going to keep 10-year-old boys from peeing in the pool …) And after riding in the heat for hours, had to wait another 15 minutes. I guess it made the dip in the pool that much more refreshing. By the way, you do know that Archer City is the home of author Larry McMurtry (previously featured in this blog — McMurtry, Archer City )? By the way … This was not “THE pool” — the famous swimming pool/diving board in the scene that introduced a skinny-dipping Cybil Shepherd to moviegoers in McMurtry’s “Last Picture Show.” Cybil’s big splash was filmed in nearby Wichita Falls at the country club. No one re-enacted the scene, I might add, while I was in Archer City. Pretty sure I was at least the second most famous writer in the pool that day. I digress …
On the journey to The Panhandle, earlier in the week, the trip was about as scenic as ever I recall. Much rain had made the native vegetation so green … in stark contrast with the red rock formations on my south-to-north backroad. On the way to Round Up, I turned off of 287 at Estelline, Texas and headed west toward Turkey, Texas. Love that. But rather than continuing west, I turned the bike north on 70 a few miles, then looped back toward Silverton on 256 … There are many miles of canyon lands back there … YOU MUST make the drive some time. You’ll thank me. Near Claude, Texas you get to see the back side of Palo Duro Canyon from the road, and the Estelline-to-Silverton loop features a lot of Caprock Canyons. Beauty.
Know what I sayin?
It’s not “the best of times and the worst of times” like the author penned … but it may be the time when farmers work the hardest with the chance for greatest reward. Harvest. With the first combine that hits the fields, you can smell it. The combination of dust, wheat beards, a few green weeds in the mix. Even with all of the rain, when the time is right, the sun turns the land golden, outlined by the green of other plants outside the wheat field rows. You can hear it. The wind whips through and a million tiny wheat beards brush up against each other. You can also hear another sound, this time of year. The patriotic ritual … the popping of firecrackers in the distance. Farm boys know better, with the chance of wildfire. The wheat straw is eager to burn. There are the memories … greasing the dozens of pulleys and gears on the machinery … climbing inside the belly of the huge green beast to dig out the beards that clog around the edges of the sieves. The cloud of dust that surrounds the combine. The way a grain truck drives when it is fully loaded … sticking your hand into a truckload of grain to judge the moisture content … taking a handful of fresh wheat grains and chewing them into gum … An army of little black beetles are on the prowl, everywhere. Lizards dart in and out of the field, their color changing with the environment. Outsiders come to town — “wheaties” they’re called — to help capture the grain. Farmers spend their last waking moments checking the market price of the valuable gold in their field. The beautiful rains that nurtured the fields could end it all in the blink of an eye, if too much comes too late … too fast … or if there is hail. So many factors come into play for success. Harvest.
What did people “not hang” their clothes on in hotels, before the invention of the fire sprinkler in rooms?
Ponder that while I give the 3Q report … my findings from three La Quinta hotels in rapid succession. As you may have read, first the Dirty Gig took me to some coastal flooding hotspots near NASA, up Houston/Clear Lake way. Ha … we were already working in flood stricken areas before the Great Texas Memorial Day Flood of ’15.
As disaster relief tends to be, it was seven days a week, and long days for the first three weeks. Ironically, our first half-day off was Memorial Day. It flooded that morning, and a tornado hit the other side of Houston and then after a few hours of flooding, the sky simmered down and with a few hours off, PingWi-Fi headed for Kemah — The Texas Gulf Coast’s answer to Coney Island albeit much smaller … still fun.
So about the 3Qs … The first La Quinta in in Seabrook, Texas was nice enough … Nothing fancy, but close to NASA and near the flooded apartment complex where we were working. The Wi-Fi was more than adequate, allowing me to stream Game Of Thrones with my brand new HBONow set up. BTW, that is the greatest service from HBO since Musical Jukebox, the precursor of MTV.
But what really, really stood out at the LQ in Seabrook was a new friend — a young woman from Lithuania with a degree in hotel management. La Quinta, take note, you are wasting talent with the lady working the night shift. Don’t tell anyone, but one evening when I was tired after a 13-hour shift, and about to wash my laundry … she did the wash for me in the hotel laundry that is typically reserved for those paper-thin white bath towels. Yep … She said it would help her to pass the time … and she didn’t ruin any of my shirts. The downside … Ha … perhaps I become too familiar. A few nights later when my employer had more people on location than there were vacancies at the hotel, my Lithuanian friend asked if I would mind if some stranger with the same logo on their t-shirt slept in the extra bed in my double Q-size room. She was so nice … I considered it for a second. But, nyet. There were other hotels. Plus why would I knowingly expose anyone to the buzzsaw snoring phenomena that is me?
Just as I had started to bond and feel comfortable at Q1, it was off to Q2, a considerably older La Quinta northwest of Houston’s Uptown Area. The Dirty Gig took me out of the flooded apartment dwellings to the basement of a nice highrise business complex off Post Oak Lane. Nice real estate, and yes, I snatched up some free Wi-Fi from the building management group, though there was little time to chat, text, post or selfie. This time the Dirty Gig had me rescuing soggy document files from the flooded basement. Note to businesses … don’t store important records in basements.
Q2 had Wi-Fi, but the signal was weak in my room … as was the housekeeping. I get so tired of playing the “card game” with housekeeping. You know … that green card printed with a load of PR crap about saving the planet one dirty sheet at a time if you forego getting clean linens. Well until the melted ice caps are up around my neck, I will always exercise my right to clean sheets in a strange hotel. But regardless, I have to find the green card and leave it on my pillow — every night — or the maid ignores the room, smokes an extra cigarette with the spare time and helps save the planet in one swift motion. So they would have you believe. Ha … pretty sure the maid hides the card purposefully to avoid any extra effort and resulting cleanliness in my crib. What a fun little game of hide and seek.
But then why should the housekeeper care about cleanliness and my wellbeing? This LQ was nas-Tay. If you were wondering, yes, there are still smoking hotels left in this otherwise forward-thinking society, and me — the guy allergic to cancer-causing tobacco — was smack dab in the middle of one. Man the place reeked! I tried it for a few days, then finally called foul and requested a move for my health. The company moved me to another hotel. After a couple of days, I could breathe again.
This time, my Wi-Fi and sometimes clean sheets were provided by Courtyard Houston, in the Westchase section, on Westheimer. Much, much nicer … although it is only the Wi-Fi that matters to me. I streamed several episodes of Mad Men at Courtyard, and the Wi-Fi network never let me down. And … yet another encounter with a front desk professional who went above and beyond the call of duty — upgrading me to a bigger nicer room … ha … I forgot why. I am sure I had some good reason.
OH … the rudest thing happened at Courtyard. There is a security gate in the parking lot, one that requires incoming guests to swipe their hotel keycard to activate. No problem, but as I did that, I noticed some little red, rental-car-looking vehicle sneak in behind me. I didn’t think much of it, as I approached an empty parking spot and prepared to back in. Guess where the impatient little S%*t in the red car parked. Yes … he whipped into the spot I was backing into, even though there were several open ones nearby. Have I mentioned I was really tired after some four weeks of 7-day work and long hours? I backed up to his bumper, honked, hopped out and went and banged on the window. There is no reason to treat other people so discourteously … and I pointed that out to him in less poetic terms.
He jumped out, and I supposed realized I was serious, and he muttered a few things as he walked to the safety of the hotel. The gist of his not-so-well-thought-out defense — how could he know that I wanted the parking spot into which I was backing? I think the nicest thing I said, was that “If you slowed your dumb ass down, it would have been pretty obvious.” He huffed and fled. Oh well … some stressed out salesman, still on the road after 30-years of mediocre performance. I tip my cap to him, and I forgive. He was gone the next day. Off to spread more joy and goodwill, I am sure.
The stay at Courtyard was a nice visit, but short-lived. After a few days of packing soggy-docs into boxes and shipping them back to Fort Worth for restoration, I got a call on my way to work one morning. “Go back to the hotel, and check out. You’re going to Austin today.” Ha … I felt so honored to be given enough notice to avoid getting charged for the room. I loaded my rental car, hid the green card from the housekeeper and headed to The ATX … for more Texas Flood (thank you very much Stevie Ray).
In Austin, the team was taking on more water damage in yet another apartment complex. Nothing I hadn’t seen before. But get this. The Austin Dirty Gig was one mile from my favorite place in Austin, the North Lamar SquareRüt location. But actually, when I got my first relaxed evening, I headed to SquareRüt 1.0, the first kava bar in Texas on South Congress. And yes, the Wi-Fi at SRüt is impeccable and there is usually an open seat.
That reminds me … what is up with Starbucks and their war on people who like to hang out at their coffee shops? Remember all the grand PR messages and resulting articles about Starbucks being your “office away from the office?” More and more I am seeing Starbucks evolve into a drive through window business, with a few token chairs so they can still call themselves a shop.
In Austin, I toured one of the best retail areas I have seen in the 48 contiguous states — The Domain off Mopac and Burnett — and the wonderfully placed, convenient Starbucks there has about 10 lame and impressively uncomfortable seats. What a colossal fail! On twitter, I posed the rhetorical topic, to boycott or not to boycott. But wouldn’t staying out of the coffee shop to protest the lack of good seating give Starbucks exactly what they want. Nope … I will continue to take up space, and blog away from whatever crappy chairs they provide. I digress … In addition to excellent Wi-fi, the bux had the second fastest barista in the country, based on some Starbucks internal completion. You should see this guy sling some caffeine!
So … on to the third and final Q of this story — La Quinta on North Mopac in Austin, near the afore mentioned Starbucks and next door to Whole Foods Market — a place teeming with rainbow chard, fluoride-free toothpaste, a craft beer happy hour and yes, Wi-Fi. It is a toss up. Which attracts the more enthusiastic foodies, Whole Foods or Central Market? Ha … I like to time how long said foodies will park their basket, blocking the entire aisle to read ingredients on every container within their reach. But, I do enjoy the prepared meals. Don’t tell Austin legend Franklin’s BBQ that I bet the average person, blindfolded couldn’t distinguish Franklins’ from Whole Foods brisket, if heated to the same temperature … But … this is Austin, and like it or not, this has become the world headquarters of trend-followers hipsters … and you must do what you are told and like what is en vogue …. LOL. I digress …
So, this Q3 … La Quinta … what’s the old joke? You know La Quinta is español for “nextdoor to Denny’s right?” I think it is time to tweet about this and get the attention of corporate. The latest LQ is doing little to impress me in the bed linens category and today, they neglected to empty my trash … oh but they did leave a wet, dirty cloth on the counter where I eat … after it had cleaned who knows what? Lastly the Mopac La Quinta has a great example of a good idea being really outdated and therefore stupid. Some La Quinta decision maker restricted the volume on all of the televisions sets. Ha … It is kind of like driving a truck that has a governor on the accelerator allowing the driver to go 50 miles per hour in 70 m.p.h. zones. But I get it. It is an attempt to keep people like me from disturbing the empty room next to me. Sounds like a decent idea … except … The volume bar is set too low if you plug in a device to watch HBONow, for example. So, when I plugged my laptop into the TV to watch Game Of Thrones, I had to sit with my nose to the screen to hear the dragon roar. Someone didn’t think this through.
Oh … and back to kava. I took some new friends to SquareRüt … the outing made for great conversation because one of the friends has the most controversial job in America these days. Ha! He is the ballboy for a football team. He has the conference championship ring to show for his efforts … and I wager he probably knows as much about ball inflation as any college student you will ever meet. Imagine the thought provoking conversation of football inflation as we sipped our kava and our little group became increasingly conversational.
Know what I sayin?
A weekend trip to Austin took the PingWi-Fi guy off the grid and back to nature … at times. Perhaps the highlight — witnessing a pretty acrobatic birds-n-bees thing at Zilker Park. No. Not hippies nor hipsters. Not what you think. I was cruising through the park on the Triumph Thunderbird when I spied something naughty in the air in front of me. Two birds, checking each other out, mid air, right in front of me.
Ha … I let out a country boy “HHHyawwhhh,” (translation – “get a room”) to voice my disapproval with their lack of discretion. That must have startled them because they de-copulated so to speak. One bird flew off on its merry way, a gleam in its beady little eye. The other … perhaps the more satisfied of the two … came crashing down toward earth … and me. I had to reach out with a gloved hand (thank goodness … ewwww) to bat away the jilted lover … so that it didn’t hit me in the face. What a sad sound it made when it bounced off my windshield. I wasn’t going very fast, but I have to guess that was one rude awakening. Not the ending that had been imagined. I assume the bird lived to tweet another day … I can imagine Austin “smart cars” running over each other and other humans to rescue and adopt the feathery friend.
Seems things were falling from the skies all around me, this trip.
At the climax of one night ride, I was headed west on 290 toward Dripping Springs when I sighted a fiery white light just to my right, kind of over my shoulder, north of the highway. It was a “shooting star” or meteorite … or some extraterrestrial arriving to keep Austin Weird. I have seen quite a few shooting stars in my travels … but not like this one. It was more like a riding companion flanking me out to the side. I swear it must have been visible for a couple of seconds before it burned up in our atmosphere. It looked very close and very low … Anyone in Dripping Springs take a direct hit the other night? Whoever’s responsible for the light show — Thank You! It was very exciting.
Part of my traveling off the grid was the failure of the batteries in both of iPhones. They seemed to burn out faster than the various objects falling from the sky. Perhaps all the roaming, as I crisscrossed and doubled back on the Texas roads between Austin, Blanco, Spring Branch, San Antonio, Fredericksburg, Llano, Stonewall, Goldwaite, Hamilton, Comanche, etc., … and the huge monolithic Enchanted Rock. (I think the ride between Blanco and Stonewall on 1623 was the highlight, as the twisty road, teeming with wild flowers, followed closely along the winding Blanco River, Cottonwood Creek and Blasingame Creek. On a Monday morning, I pretty much had the road to myself … Don’t let the secret out …)
Note to self: If I had taken the backroad from Goldwaite to Hamilton, rather than going to Evant, I would have missed a horrible road construction delay … But, I must admit, I LOVE the old flagstone gymnasium on the side of the road in Evant and always look for it.
But the biggest attraction … Finally! I have heard so much about Enchanted Rock and have passed it by so many times. It is pretty fantastic although no match for my climbing skills … LOL. Enchanted Rock … so cool … an excellent diversion to complement all the Indian paintbrushes and other wild flowers that must have been at their peak this week in Texas.
Alas, no Wi-Fi on the big rock. I didn’t even check, because the rangers said “Hotspots? There are NO spots.” They also told me not to worry about a little rain, “It never rains here.” Well … something is feeding all those wildflowers. I have no doubt what the wildflowers feed … Hundreds of bright yellow splotches on my windshield as I zoomed around the curves and up and down the hills … Juicy! Ha … I felt a sting as one bug hit my shin … and the explosion splashed all the way up to my face. Nice mental picture, right? And you wonder why we love to ride … I digress.
In a slightly related note … I had a conversation with a gentleman farmer elsewhere in The Hill Country, and he told me that if his chickens eat the bugs that eat the yellow flowers … that the yokes will be incredibly much more yellow. So that is the story of the “Little Yellow Pigment Who Could.”
Anywho, the park rangers were right, at least during my time up and down – no precip. (Only got rained on a little as I first pulled into Fredericksburg, before the rock.)
High atop the rock, I might have felt a bit enchanted … or certainly conversational and despite my shy nature … actually engaged strangers. I met a nice couple from Lubbock. Enchanted Rock — yet one more place I have met Texas Tech fans who still talk about the insane decision to fire football coach Mike Leach … although the three of us agreed on our support for Coach Kliff Kingsbury … a Hill Country native, btw.
In Fredericksburg, I had a nice strudel and a cup of joe … and Wi-Fi at Java Cowboy. Quaint.
There was no Blue Bell ice cream to be found. Sadness. And I swear to you that I stopped at several backroads cafes … including the Exxon/pizza place where I enjoyed an old corndog in Goldwaite … and heard the locals all discussing the no-Blue Bell dilemma.
But the thing that first caught my eye among all the touristy places and vineyards and wineries around F-Burg was a bright red flag flying over one new, impressive Austin stone structure – The Texas Tech University at Fredericksburg. I had no idea Tech was so entrenched in The Hill Country, but it makes sense since Lubbock was early on the scene for Texas wines. I sampled the Wi-Fi, but not the vintage … and had a great visit with an instructor of enology (the study of winemaking and all things wine).
How cool is that?
Around Austin … I hung out several times at the newest SquareRüt Kava Bar … shunned guys in capes leaving the comic book festival … had late night fried ice cream at El Mercado on Lavaca across from my hotel … a nice, but slightly older, Hampton Inn … breezed through the Pecan Street Festival … left Austin on MLK and returned to town on Cesar Chavez avoiding several near misses as drivers seemed to take turns trying to collide with my bike … heard a guitar recital from musicians of varying skill sets at Strange Brew (under the tutelage of Austin treasure Van Wilks) and sampled the pies at Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza, off Fitzhugh out near Dripping Springs. The pies were built to please. The restaurant? Kind of reminded me of Salt Lick (best name ever), with pasta. Cool, cool outdoor bench seating under an open “haybarn-like” shelter. Nice use of technology at Farmhouse Pizza, despite the rustic setting. Rather than requiring me to carry a restaurant pager around, the staff simply texted me when my pie was ready. I am sure other restaurants do this. But, so why are some making me carry around a pager? … You know, the pager that makes me jump out of this skin when it goes off? I would think more restaurants would also do this for the “dark side” potential — Stanley can now text market to me 24/7 on my phone. Hope they exercise discretion there.
Friendly people at Farmhouse Pizza … but they fell just short of perfection. I instructed them to pull some strings and get me some Blue Bell for dessert when I finished my pie. I thought they had connections …
For the brief period the battery had juice, and my iPhone served as GPS … I couldn’t believe it. The voice on the GPS pronounced Manchaca (Austin street) “man-chak” the same way Austinites say it … which is totally whack as the rules of Latin-rooted pronunciations go. I mean … out of the hundreds of “Jones Streets” and roundabouts and all the other things my GPS cannot pronounce around the country … It gets the Manchaca local pronunciation correct. That is weird, Austin.
Know what I sayin?
Confession. I never got over the disappointment of the Dallas Mavericks allowing Steve Nash to slip through their fingers to free agency, reminiscent of how the mop-headed point guard eluded so many star-studded defenses during his all-star career. Arguably the best soccer player to ever quarterback an NBA team … Nash revolutionized the point guard position. And then he was gone.
But, before he left, he also helped to introduce a young European to America. When Nash came to Dallas, the Mavs had one legitimate star in Michael Finley. As Finley peaked, he and Nash helped to groom a future superstar — teaching him American culture, the language, the game and the positive side of the NFL lifestyle. The Mavs had discovered and signed a tall, skinny, foreigner with a big smile, a “Scooby Doo Shaggy” look with a German accent and the work ethic to match.
Together, those three came so close to basketball history for Dallas, but it was not to be.