Old Friends – Day 17

Day 17 — April 17, 2003 — Thursday

Round America

It was a dusty day.  I don’t know if it’s always like this, but it was and still is ugly.  The sun never cut through the dust.


I asked the two Fernandos at my hotel what was unique about Laredo, and they both felt it was the significant number of vendors of Mexican products.  We also spoke about the huge flag that Laredo has – so tall that it has an airplane warning light on top.  According to the Fernandos, the folks just across the border in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico put up a huge flag, so Laredo had to follow suit.


I hit the road at 8:00 am as I try to get up and out earlier each day.  I drove to the border to get a photo of the Mexican flag, but it appeared that the flaghangers had not shown up for work yet.

All traffic was stopped at a Border Patrol Station a few miles outside of town.  The Border Patrol has a high profile along the border, but according to the officers I spoke with in Roma yesterday, there are a lot of places where it is easy for people to cross illegally.  Our borders with Mexico and Canada are immense, but I’d sure like to see the government increase the size of the Border Patrol staff so we will be more secure.  The real key, though, is to make it much, much harder for foreigners to travel to the US — as a protection against terrorism.


Once I made it through the line of cars at the Border Patrol Station, I saw a building on the horizon that looked like a Sadamn Hussein palace.  When I got closer, I realized it was a Texas Travel Center operated by the Texas Department of Highways.  Incredible place – fabulous building, fountains, park – really something.  Inside, Naomi and Ophelia were great fun, and they had brochures for anything and everything all across the state.  I loaded up about a 10 pound bag.  These travel centers and welcome stations are a great resource for roadtrippers.


I commented yesterday that the area between Roma and Laredo was really the wide open spaces.  Well, today I saw wider and opener.  There was very little to see other than flat ranchland for most of the day on the road.  Even little towns are rare in this part of the state.  Pull out your Rand McNally, and you’ll see.


I did pass twice today – same truck.  I passed because the truck was spewing gravel all over me.  Then the truck passed me on a photo stop, so I had to pass it again.  That’s six passes in 17 days.  It’s so nice to be out of the mode where I’ve always tried to get somewhere as fast as possible.

When I reached the tiny town of Catarina (population 45), I saw a Shrine to the Virgin Mary at St. Henry’s Catholic Church, so I stopped to take a photo.  It wasn’t on a Camaro, but it was nice.


I did another doubletake in Carrizo Springs.  I spotted a car wash, but it was closed.  On the side of the building was a hand-painted American flag.  I only counted 34 stars.  I guess it must be a really old car wash.


It took me a little less than two hours to get to Crystal City, the spinach capital of the world.  I drove up and down several streets looking for the world’s largest Popeye statue, but I couldn’t find it.  I saw two nice ladies in a doorway of a law office, and I stopped to meet Carol and Leticia.  They showed me right where to go.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that the annual Spinach Festival is such a big deal in the town that it has a big storefront office right on the main street.  I drove to the City Hall, and there was Popeye – a gift to the city in 1937, so they’ve been doing spinach for a long time in Crystal City.


As I drove from Crystal City to Eagle Pass, there wasn’t anything to see, so it was a big attraction whenever I saw the entrance gates to a ranch.  There are some palatial ranches in Texas, but I didn’t see any palatial gates in this part of the state.  What I did see, however, was a great variety.  The theory I developed as I drove along with nothing else to do is that most folks consciously or subconsciously reflect their personalities in their gates.  Some have names; others have artwork of animals; and some have nothing but the gate.  I wonder if any sociologists have studied this.  I haven’t seen any funky mailboxes since leaving Florida.


My day changed when I reached Eagle Pass just before noon.  I’m sure my thoughts were affected by the dust cloud that was masquerading as the sky.  I drove right to the border (as the border is always the best-signed area in any border town).  It was a humbling experience.  I was embarrassed to have my car there as it felt showy.  I saw people digging through 8-foot high piles of old clothes.  I saw an open-air “shop” where shoes were being sold for 10 cents a pair.  It was very, very sad to see so many poor people.


I couldn’t have felt lower, but I really wanted to see the only casino in Texas – on the Kickapoo Indian Reservation.  There were a few billboards around town, but none of them showed an address.  I stopped at three gas stations for directions and never found the place.  I finally flagged down a UPS driver, and I finally felt like I was headed in the right direction.  I guess I should have realized that if the casino was on an Indian reservation, it wouldn’t be in the heart of the city.  I finally found a little sign with an arrow pointing to the right, so I turned off.  It was way, way, way outside town.  The dust was much thicker there as most of the roads were dirt or stones.  I drove for several more miles through the Indian reservation, and I finally pulled into the parking lot.  I had been expecting some glamour and glitter, but I didn’t find it.  There were very few cars in the lot.  The building didn’t look like a casino at all.  There was a big sign showing plans for several phases of construction, but I heard later that they ran out of money.   I also heard the Kickapoos had lost control of the casino to Mexicans…not sure what that’s all about.  I couldn’t imagine many people driving through those dirt and rock roads to get to the Lucky Eagle Casino, and it seems like they don’t.  Inside, there were several rows of slots, one operating blackjack table, an area that was apparently used for bingo, and a small bowling alley-like snack bar in one corner.  Gaspar and the others I spoke with were very nice, but I was just sorry for the Kickapoos.  I had planned to go in and plunk down my $100 bill on red, but there was no roulette wheel.  I gave about two seconds thought to putting it on one hand of blackjack, but t wasn’t the right place or time; I’d have been sick if I had won.  I felt like just giving them all the money I had in my pocket.  I pumped $10 into a slot machine, and I was relieved when I lost the money, as I wanted to leave so I could be sad in private.


My next stop would be Alamo Village north of Brackettville.  Population 2.  More wider and opener.  At 2:46 pm with 32,439 miles on the odometer, I spotted a big hill or a tiny mountain – first real rise in the landscape that I’ve seen since we left Atlanta – 4,403 miles ago.  I stopped and took a picture.  Alamo Village and the Shahan Ranch are what you would call remote – 7 miles north of the little town of Brackettville and then several miles down a dirt and/or rocky road to the movie location town.  It was built in 1951, and the first movie filmed there was “Arrowhead” starring Charlton Heston.  Over 100 movies have filmed there since.  It is best known as the site for “The Alamo” starring John Wayne.  I took a few photos at the Alamo area and then worked my way over to the western and Mexican town areas.  I would have normally taken a lot of photos at a great location such as this, but my attitude was in the dumper after Eagle Pass and the Kickapoos, and the air was so thick with dust that photos wouldn’t be very good.


As I walked down the main street looking at the simple (but very appealing to me) old western and Mexican architecture, I saw the town Marshal heading in my direction.  He was 50 yards away, but he looked familiar.  As he came closer, I thought for sure I knew him.  As my greeting, I blurted out: “What’s your name?”  He replied: “Rich Curilla…and your hair is a different color and you aren’t as thin as you were 20 years ago, but I thought I recognized those eyes.”  Boz and I had speculated about whether we would run into anyone we knew unexpectedly on the trip.  Well, here I was in the middle of a western town movie set shaking hands with a man who worked for me 20 years ago who I haven’t seen since.  What a treat!  Rich is a very talented actor and one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.  When he left our employ, he moved to the Brackettville area, and he’s been working at Alamo Village “forever.”


We traded a few war stories, and then he took me to meet Mrs. Virginia Shahan, the boss lady at Alamo Village and the Shahan Ranch.  She has the place for sale.  $6.5 million, and it can be yours.  I told her I wasn’t in the market.  We owned a ranch and western town 20 years ago when Rich worked for us.  I think one western town should be the quota for everyone.  It was really nice to meet her.  Then Rich told me that Ron Howard is doing a new version of “The Alamo.”  I was sorry to hear Opie chose a location near Austin rather than “Alamo Village.”  I’m sure I’m not nearly as sorry as Virginia.  I traded email addresses with Rich, and I hit the dirt and headed for Del Rio.


I drove straight to the border so I could add to my collection of border crossing photos.  Del Rio connects to Ciudad Acuna.  I also visited the Whitehead Museum, a small frontier village – 20 exhibits.


Alpine was scheduled to be my stop for the night, but I just wasn’t up for the drive, so I landed at the Del Rio Ramada Inn.  There are very few towns in this part of the state with a motel, and the pickings are slim even in a good-sized town like Del Rio.  Tommy Zapata was very nice at the front desk, and he recommended the best Mexican restaurant in town.  I also met Maricela at the front desk – beautiful name that I had never heard before.


I skipped lunch today — lost my appetite.  Dinner at Don Marcelinos was excellent.  Rosita’s on Day 16 is still the best Mexican food on the trip, but this was mighty good.  After dinner, I dropped quarters in the slot at a hand spray car wash and did my best to blast away the massive amount of dust and dirt that had built up since the last car wash just a few days ago.  After the gigantic boulder cobblestone street in Savannah on Day 1, the trip to the river with Fast Freddy on Day 16, and then the Indian reservation and Alamo Village today, I am seeing a front end alignment in the not too distant future.  I’ll have the car checked when I get to a city that’s big enough to have a dealership for our flavor of car.  On the way back to the motel, I visited a Hawaiian Shaved Ice (aka snow cone) stand.  I tried another mango snow cone.  I wanted to see how it compared to the one I had yesterday at Freddy’s Fast Lube and Snow Cone Stand.  Not even in the same league!  Freddy has something really special.


I didn’t have to give much thought to what I would comment about as the lesson for the day.  Humility.  It humbles me to see those significantly less fortunate.  I want the poor and the Indians to have a better life!  As sad as it was, I believe seeing what I saw today would be humbling and beneficial to others.  I’d love to see the President and his Cabinet go to Eagle Pass and the Kickapoo Indian Reservation for a meeting.  Then Congress could come down and do the same.  They should “look at the world in a different way” after seeing what I’ve seen today.




It’s been two days with no pie.  I’m going to be sure to eat some pie tomorrow…I wonder what the specialty is in the Big Bend area!


I don’t have a motel reservation, and I will be way out in the B-O-O-N-D-O-C-K-S, so tomorrow night should be interesting.  Could be the first night sleeping in a little white motel (the car).