What an enjoyable day! I met some great people. I visited Havana, Rome, and Mexico. I almost rode on a ferry. I ate Mexican food only, and I ate at places where they only spoke Spanish. I visited the birthplace of the greatest pro football coach ever. I had my first snow cone as an adult. I enjoyed a lovely war memorial and several patriotic displays. I saw the world’s largest killer bee, a baboon, an orange car on a statue in the middle of a field, and the world’s only drive-thru store built as a giant six pack of Pepsi Cola. I saw the Rio Grande River from several vantage points. I saw great, old architecture and spent much of the day on a movie set – part of the time literally and part of the time figuratively. I enjoyed a number of beautiful sunsets as I raced West (at the speed limit).
I set a record for the most photos in a day – 154! I have never been in this area, so everything seemed to catch my eye.
I’ve already commented previously about what an incredible number of occupations and types of businesses there are in this country. As I checked out of the hotel, I met the Gideon Bible Delivery Man. Just about every hotel has a Gideon Bible in every room. I never stopped to think how they get there, but in McAllen, Texas, it’s in a maroon and silver van.
Boz and I founded a donut franchise two years ago. We sold our interest in the business, and the transaction closed yesterday. To celebrate, I drove from McAllen, Texas to Pharr and spotted “The Great Donut” and dropped in for breakfast. It was a Mexican donut shop and bakery, and the young woman who helped me did not speak any English. I didn’t recognize most of the pastries, but true to one of the Rules of the Road, I tried something new. 3 donuts for 80 cents was quite a bargain, and they were GREAT! Best donuts so far without question.
Smitty’s Jukebox Museum in Pharr was my first stop. After getting lost a few times, I found it, and Smitty, Jr. welcomed me and gave me a tour. Smitty’s features a really impressive assortment of antique jukeboxes, and Smitty could not have been nicer. Since I have a huge collection of 45 rpm records (see my web site at www.45s.com), I am into old jukeboxes. I have never seen anything like several that I saw there. Smitty seemed pleased that I took his picture, and his sidekick wanted to be sure I knew how to spell his name for the book – “D-O-U-G.” He was wearing a ball cap with the name “Doug” on the front of it. They gave me directions to Hidalgo, and D-O-U-G told me to be sure to see the new ice hockey rink being built there. Nice, nice guys – a great way to start the day. (Just kidding you, Doug!)
I drove to Hidalgo primarily to see the world’s largest killer bee. The statue was created because Hidalgo was the city where the Africanized “Killer Bees” were first discovered in the US. The statue is 10 feet high and 20 feet long, and as statues go, this is a nice one. According to D-O-U-G, The hockey team that will play in the new arena has been named the “Killer Bees.”
I also visited the Hidalgo Pump House. The pump house was built in 1909 and was fueled by mesquite wood (the same wood that is used to smoke the very best barbeque). The pumps provided all of the irrigation water used in the Rio Grande Valley for many years. It’s a big place, and it was great to see that it has been maintained and/or restored by the city. I was sorry to see that I was the only visitor. Mary sold me a ticket for $2 and offered to give me a personal tour.
I wanted to have some good Mexican food in this part of the country, so I began looking for a place. It took about two seconds. I’m not sure if there is any other kind of food down here. I spotted the name “Rosita’s Café” on the top of a building several blocks off the highway, and I went for it. The waitress did not speak English, but she understood “tacos and Coke.” I really love Mexican food, and I have high standards for my Mexican food, so this was going to be interesting. I hate to keep saying that so many things are great, but this was a real treat. The tacos were unlike anything I have ever had before, with tender cubed chunks of meat and fried onions, a pico de gallo-like mixture to add, and some hot hot sauce. The tortillas were soft and oily rather than hard and dry. While beans and rice are usually ho-hum fillers on the plate, both were fantastic. The beans were like pinto beans, and they were cooked with jalapeno peppers, onions, bacon, and some mystery stuff. They should win Best Beans!
Based upon what I have seen and heard down here, the Hispanic community is into elections big time. There are signs everywhere, people campaigning, and people talking about the local elections. At Rosita’s, the two men next to me were calling friends to get out the vote.
I have been a Dallas Cowboy fan since the early 60’s. Tom Landry is one of the finest men who ever lived, and I believe he was the greatest football coach ever. Coach Landry was born in Mission, Texas, so when I was daydreaming and missed the city (hard to do since there are several signs), I had to turn around and go back. In downtown Mission, there is an exceptionally well-done mural that depicts Coach Landry from his birth to his success as a coach over 29 years and to his admission into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The folks in Mission are apparently extremely proud of Coach Landry as car after car on a very busy street stopped to stay out of the way as I snapped photos.
When I first found Mission, I spotted some flags and pulled over to take a closer look. Mission has a big and very impressive War Memorial in a lovely park. When I got out of the car, I met Jesus Gutierrez. He showed me how to get to the Tom Landry mural. He also wanted to have his name in the book, so here’s to you Jesus. Mel, who works for the city on landscaping and park maintenance, was kind enough to open the locked gates to let me have a closer look at the various war memorials. The folks in Mission could not have been nicer!
Mission has a big citrus business! I saw big packaging operations as well as a lot of pickup trucks on the side of the road selling fruits and vegetables.
Throughout the day, I took a picture of almost all of the border crossings. Hidalgo links to Reynosa. Rio Grande City links to Camargo. Roma links to Ciudad Aleman. Los Ebanos links to something. And Laredo links to Nuevo Laredo. In Roma, I met two US Customs officers (Molina and Smith), an immigration man (Mr. Moreno), and three Border Patrol officers (one of whom was Officer Lopez). They were all great. Officers Molina and Smith told me where I was and was not allowed to take photos, and they allowed me to get up on a big tall ladder stand (like the band director uses to direct the band at a major college football game) so I could get photos of the Rio Grande River and into Mexico. They then explained how I could walk across the bridge and leave my car in the good old USA. Mr. Moreno helped with directions, and then came running over to the car after my trip to Mexico and back to make sure I knew where to go to see the best sights in Roma. Nice, nice people.
There was one disappointment today. I had my heart set on a ferry boat trip across the Rio Grande River to Mexico, but when I reached the ferry crossing station, it was locked up and no one was anywhere to be found. This was in the little town of Los Ebanos. Now this wasn’t just any ferry! The Los Ebanos Ferry is a relic of the frontier days. It is the last hand-drawn ferry left along the Rio Grande, and it is the only government-licensed ferry on any river in the US. The ferry holds up to three cars, and men pull ropes to move the ferry back and forth across the river. The spot has been used as a crossing since the Mexican War of 1845. The Texas Rangers (law enforcement…not the baseball team) had some interesting encounters with bandits involving the ferry, and it was a favorite location for liquor smugglers during prohibition. It was fun just to be there, but I sure wanted to take the ride!
The drive to Los Ebanos and the ferry crossing spot began the part of the day when I felt like I was in a movie. I headed south a little ways past the town of “Havana” to get to Los Ebanos. The drive through narrow streets with sharp turns going to the ferry crossing was filled with little houses and barns and buildings that looked like they were right out of a movie set. And all along Highway 83, I saw one interesting building or business after another. It was really like being in Mexico, but it was the US side of the Rio Grande which is the border between Texas and Mexico for the entire 801 miles from Brownsville to El Paso. When I hit Rio Grande City, I saw one picturesque old building after another. I parked and took a lot of pictures. Rio Grande City was formerly a riverboat terminal, but the riverboat business ended and a lot of the great old buildings began to decay. I saw only one that has been restored (though there may be others). The La Borde House was built in 1897 and was first a trading post where Indians and fur traders brought their goods. It was converted to a hotel in 1917, and in 1980, Larry Sheerin purchased the property and did an authentic restoration. Attaboy Larry! I saw one other restoration underway, and I stopped and met three delightful characters – “Memo,” Felipe, and Jesus. I took their photo behind some bars of a window, and they wanted to be sure I explained to everyone in the book that they are “restorers” not criminals behind bars in a jail.
I continue to see one snow cone stand after another in the small towns that I pass through. I saw an especially colorful one with an American flag straw coming out of the top, and I put the car into U-turn mode (something that usually happens 30 or 40 times a day). I pulled up to Freddy’s Fast Lube and Snow Cone Stand in the little town of Escobares for a quick photo. A man came running up to me wanting to know what I wanted. I explained that I just wanted to take a photo of his stand. He proudly announced that they had done all the work on it themselves. He also showed me his very colorful and attractive umbrellas, and explained how they were made, but I couldn’t understand his accent or the words he used. At this point, we shook hands and exchanged names; he was Freddy Escobar of Freddy’s Fast Lube and Snow Cone Stand. Freddy asked if I wanted anything, and I said I’d love a Coke. He replied: “Snow Cone?” And I said, “Sure, give me a snow cone!” He asked: “Flavor?” I replied: “Grape.” He said “Mango!” I said, “Sure, mango it is.” Freddy had to explain my order to the young girl in the dark recesses of the snow cone stand who didn’t speak a word of English, and she began preparing my drink. Her power appeared to be provided by an extension cord running from the Fast Lube shop just behind. I can’t recall having had a snow cone since I was a child. It took quite a while. The window finally slid open, and out came a big styrofoam cup filled with a mango-colored mixture with a straw and a spoon. When I tell you my “snow cone” was AMAZING, please realize that I’m not exaggerating this time. It was 94 degrees and I was thirsty, but this stuff was special. The flavor was wonderful, but the consistency was what I couldn’t believe. It was much better than smoothies we get that tend to be glorified Slushees. I don’t know what was hiding in that hut, but the end result was like an ice drink with the consistency of frozen yogurt. I think Freddy should franchise; I can see Freddy’s Fast Lube and Snow Cone Stands all across the US. Seriously, it was really, really good, and it never melted.
Freddy grabbed two of his business cards and asked me to send him a copy if the book that will have his name in it. While I was waiting for my drink, I mentioned to Freddy that I was disappointed that the Los Ebanos Ferry was closed as I had so wanted to see the Rio Grande River. (While it is the border between the US and Mexico, the road does not run along the river, so you never see the water.) Freddy said: “I have a friend with property that has a beautiful view of the river. You should go there.” I told Freddy that I really appreciated it, and asked how I would get there. He said: “Oh, you would never find it on your own. I will lead you there.” I told Freddy that I couldn’t impose on him to drop what he was doing and take me to the river, but he insisted. He hopped in his pickup truck with a man carrying a liquor bottle in a brown bag, and off we went. I was saying to myself, Bozzie Jane would not approve of me meeting someone on the side of the road and driving off to who-knows-where with them. But hey, one of the Rules of the Road is to try new things, so there my little convertible was trying to keep up with Fast Freddy in his pickup. I was feeling good, drinking my “snow cone,” until we came to a bumpy dirt road, and then I started to worry a bit – more about the car than my own safety. Then we came to a road that looked like a heavily rocked creek bed. My enthusiasm began to drain faster than the mango “snow cone.” I was hoping Freddy was the nice person that he appeared to be rather than a serial killer or car thief who fancied a white convertible. When we pulled into a nice grassy clearing with trees next to the river and I saw the view, it was a huge relief. What a great view! I took several photos, including one of Freddy next to a barbeque pit. Freddy says he wants to turn the spot into a park. It’s a great setting, though the access may be a hurdle. I thanked Freddy profusely, nodded to the older man with the bottle in the bag, and I pulled out to retrace the path and get down the road. What a nice thing for Freddy to do and what a special place to see! And to think that I even gave a few minutes thought to being the victim of a serial killer. How silly of me!
I stopped at the dirt part of the road and hopped out of the car to take a photo so I could prove that part of the experience. I didn’t hear a sound yet I sensed something was behind me. I turned around to see Freddy walking toward me with the biggest pair of hedge trimmers (cranked wide open) I have ever seen in my life. The vision of being killed with hedge trimmers in a remote area of Escobares, Texas and having my body thrown in to the Rio Grande River flashed before me. I jumped in the car and got out of there. As I looked in the rearview mirror, I saw Freddy lean over and trim a few low-hanging branches off some of the trees. Freddy was a really nice man just helping me have a special experience. As much as I loved my Freddy’s Fast Lube and Snow Cone Stand experience, it is sad that there is so much violence in our country that we have to be worried about innocent things such as this and have to wonder whether the strangers we see are good or up to no good.
Still in the movie figuratively, Roma was the next stop. I met all of the nice people mentioned above at the border crossing. I walked over to Mexico and back and got some good photos. Then Mr. Moreno showed me where to go to see the other great sight in Roma – the real, old buildings that were used as the movie set for the movie “Viva Zapata!” I parked and walked for several blocks and literally entered the movies as I took photos of one great-looking Mexican-style building after another. The buildings were marked with the names used in the movie. I had a nice chat with Officer Lopez and two other Border Patrol officers, and they told me they stay extremely busy as many Mexicans are constantly trying (and many succeeding) in getting across the over 800 miles of border. They showed me an aerial lift they have with a night scope on it so they can catch folks at night. I asked how 9-11 has affected their job, and they reported that they have gone through a lot of additional training. I thanked them for the increasingly important job they are playing in our nation’s defense.
After the trip ends, Boz and I will have to rent Viva Zapata! And the other special movies that have been made in the cities we will have visited.
I drove through Falcon, home of an International Falcon Reserve, but I saw no falcons. The sun was going down at this point. I’m really disappointed when that begins to happen as the sightseeing is so much fun, and for a few hours before sunset, the photo opportunities are reduced to the side of the road facing the sun. The stretch of highway between Roma and Laredo really is the wide open spaces. Little more than land with ranch entrances many miles apart.
I began taking sunset photos in Siesta Shores. Because this area is so flat and there aren’t many trees to obscure the horizon, it is a great area for sunsets! A car pulled over to talk, and I met Mike Reynolds. We chatted about travel, his recent trip to Monterey Mexico, his work, the trip, and the book. I asked if he ever tired of seeing these amazing sunsets. He looked west and said he had lived there his whole life, and he never really noticed.
I reached Zapata just as the sun was setting. The movie “Viva Zapata!” was not filmed in Zapata, but in Roma. Zapata does have a claim to fame, however. It is an “underwater town.” Rather it was. A number of years ago, the reservoir flooded the entire area, and the town was submerged. On the way into and out of Zapata, I got some excellent sunset photos.
When I passed through the tiny town of Chihuahua, I thought about looking for a place to get some Mexican food for dinner. But you’ve probably heard those same stories I have about the Mexican food in Mexico, and I decided not to tempt fate by eating in a town named after a breed of dogs.
Judging by the lights on the horizon, Laredo is a pretty big city. Nuevo Laredo is across the bridge. Laredo has some of the oldest ranchlands in the country, and it is the nation’s largest inland port. It also has the world’s only drive-thru beverage store housed in a building built to look like a six-pack of Pepsi Cola. I drove through and met the manager, Jerry Tovar.
I can say categorically that the folks I have met along the border have been the friendliest, most helpful, most interested people. Everyone has been interested in the trip and the book, and lots and lots of people, would honk and wave when I was just standing on corners or the sides of the roads taking photos. The folks who live in smaller towns take greater pleasure in things that us big-city-folks would never notice.
The temperature reached 94 degrees today – 10 degrees hotter than the previous high on the trip. It was 88 degrees when I pulled into Laredo at 8:30 pm.
I learned a lot today. As far as the main lesson for the day from the great highway of life, I guess my overriding thought is that every “sunset” is different, and everyone sees the same sunsets differently, and this is good. Wherever you may be, your view of the sunset is going to be slightly different from the next person’s. We’ve lived in a lot of places and we’ve traveled a lot, so we’ve seen a lot of “sunsets.” I believe the perspective provided by living in and traveling to various places is really good for people. And I believe very strongly that from time to time, we should all stop and look at the world in a different way. That was one of the main lessons that I took from one of our favorite movies, “Dead Poets’ Society.” Robin Williams plays a teacher, and to help convey this message to his young students, he gets them to come up one by one and stand on top of his desk at the front of the room. From that vantage point, they realized that they really did see things differently; this lesson was then applied to life and learning. I’ve adopted this as a personal philosophy and have taught it as part of business training that I’ve done ever since I saw that movie. I have physically had fellow workers stand on a desk when they couldn’t see the answer to a problem or when I felt they could use a new perspective. We set out on this trip for a variety of reasons, but one reason was to relax and clear our heads. This is absolutely happening. Without being conscious of it, perhaps the main reason we are taking the trip is to stop and look at the world in a different way. But like my new friend Mike, we haven’t paid any real attention to sunsets. This trip has certainly changed that, and I am confident that it will recharge our batteries in many ways.
I’ve now added two days to the trip, so until I get time to change the dates, all of the future itinerary dates are off by two days. If it says, for example, that we will be in a town on April 20, it will actually be the 22nd.
The tape recorder has become an essential tool on the trip. I dropped the recorder today, and it will no longer record, so I will buy tape recorder #3 tomorrow. We’ve lost a travel alarm clock and one camera lens cap so far. I may throw the two broken tape recorders into a box with the 100+ bottles of hotel shampoo that we will sell on ebay at the end of the trip.
We now have some nice folks from Australia following the trip each day. I appreciated their email as well as emails from a number of other folks who say they are online travelers. Once again, please email, but I’m not sure when I will get around to emailing back.
I have passed a grand total of just four cars thus far while driving on the two-lane roads.
My apologies to have posted so few photos yesterday and today. I have had so much to write (and I have written too much). Due to an extremely long day of driving tomorrow, I just don’t have time to do many photos tonight. I’ll let you online travelers know when I have added more.