Week 3 begins. 31,650 miles on the odometer. We started at 28,036, so, 3,614 miles are in the rearview mirror. I bought a map produced by Texas A&M that shows ALL the state and county roads in Texas. While I must admit some concern about using anything produced by Aggies, it’s bigger than a Rand McNally Road Atlas and very detailed. It also includes some interesting statistics. Texas is massive. There is one ranch in Texas that is bigger than the state of Rhode Island. The distance from Houston to El Paso is greater than the distance from El Paso to Cheyenne, Wyoming. There are at least 294,833 miles of roads in Texas! A little quick math indicates at my current pace, one could drive all 294,833 miles in 1,140 days. But we’ve learned that there has to be some back tracking to get to the next road or town, so figure four years — 1,460 days. You’d have to budget about $219,000 for gas (18,000 gallons), food, and motels…plus the cost of a couple of cars. After seeing houses turned into shrines to the orange and to beer, you have to wonder if someone isn’t out there on the roads with this A&M map and a yellow highlighter… coloring in each segment as he or she drives on. Now that I have hit the least populated areas of the state, I will see more road and fewer sights.
I’ve taken 1,195 photos so far. Digital cameras are great, as all I have to do each night is dump the photos from the camera into my PC, and then I’m ready to go for another batch the next day.
Corpus Christi is a lot bigger than I thought it would be. I’ve been to virtually all of the bigger cities in Texas, but never to Corpus until now. The day began very overcast with strong winds, so I passed on a trip down to the Corpus beach. Much of the skyline of Corpus is filled with oil refineries. Downtown has a lot of big buildings.
In Driscoll (population 648), a “Fine Furniture” store caught my eye. “Fine Furniture” was painted on the side of a small covered wagon suspended high above the building. You’ve just gotta love the differences in perception from small towns to big cities. I love the way folks in small towns advertise and do their signs. Most just grab a paintbrush and do it themselves. No pretenses. Nothing fancy. Just the basics.
A sign caught my eye a little further down the road – Pop’s Beef Jerky Store. They advertise the best beef jerky in Texas. Sorry, but dried meat just doesn’t have any appeal to me.
Bishop is a sad town. The city limits sign says 3,305 people live here, but main street is a complete ghost town – maybe 20 buildings, and not a sign of life or business in any of them. One or two had their roofs and walls caving in. Just outside of Bishop is a huge refinery that is bigger than most of the towns I have driven through. I guess all the people who work there do their shopping and business in Kingsville rather than Bishop.
Kingsville is the home of the King Ranch, the recognized birthplace of the American ranching industry. I drove all around the town and visited the ranch, museum, and saddle shop. I saw a very informative video at the visitor’s center at the ranch. Captain Richard King founded King Ranch in 1853. Today, King Ranch covers over one million acres! The Texas ranch property is bigger than Rhode Island. They have 60,000 cattle and a lot of horses, but King Ranch has significant citrus and sugar holdings in Florida as well. It is a HUGE business. Deanna was very nice and helpful at the ranch, and then I met Sybil as I bought two books about interesting places to go in Texas. I’ll do more research tonight so I can avoid missing any worthwhile sights when I get to the really wide open spaces in South Texas.
When folks learn about the trip, they usually ask questions. We’ve gotten a lot of questions, but one of the most common is “How far along are you?” Both Boz and I have noted that the people who ask this question have unanimously responded the same way – “Oh, well, you haven’t made it very far.” It’s like they immediately discount what you are doing. It seems to be a question asked only by pessimists. Sybil was a pessimist.
My mind was set on eating barbeque in Kingsville. I figured that beef had to be the specialty in a town that grew up around the largest ranch in the USA. I saw a fancy western theme restaurant in downtown Kingsville, but I was concerned as there are places that have a particular look naturally and then there are themed places made to look a certain way. This was the latter. I opened the door to the Wild Horse Desert Cafe to see a huge place with music playing and themed décor everywhere, but not a person to be found. Just down the street, I found where the locals eat – Linda’s Main Street cafe — a little storefront with folks standing in line. The specialty wasn’t barbeque, so I moved on. I stopped four times to ask folks where the best barbeque restaurant in town was, and no one could come up with one, so I left town.
A little further down the road, I spotted a restaurant with a bunch of cars, and when I saw bar-b-que written on the side of the building, I decided to stop. It certainly wasn’t a tourist-oriented place; this was a real, honest-to-goodness small town restaurant — The Barn Door. Nothing fancy about it; it’s just real. The barbeque was fantastic! They mesquite smoke it, and the ribs and beef brisket had a wonderful flavor and were as tender as could be. Two nice ladies served me, and I’m sorry to say that I was so excited to record how good the food was that I forgot to get their names on my tape before my short-term memory lapsed. I believe Janie was one of them; my apologies ladies.
The Barn Door is in Riviera. The founder of the town named it Riviera because it reminded him of the Riviera in Europe. I guess I missed whatever he saw, because it looked like every other small South Texas town to me. But if it seems like the Riviera to them, that’s great, because we should all make the best of what we have and love where we live.
There is a looong stretch of road from Riviera to Raymondville with essentially nothing but dirt and trees and sky in between. I did see some Border Patrol SUV’s and flowering cactus (cacti?). It reached 85 degrees today — the warmest on the trip so far.
Raymondville has a nice smiley-face water tower. I saw several trains today. Bozzie Jane could have had a lot of ice cream cones.
Cruising through Lyford, I spotted a cowboy on horseback, so I pulled over to take a photo. As I got closer, I saw that the horse was wearing an American flag “costume,” and the rider was holding a sign promoting his favorite candidate in the town’s election. I met Ernesto Gonzales, “full-time attorney, part-time cowboy, part-time campaigner for his cousin.” I also met his horse, Junior. Ernesto was great. I took his picture; he took my picture; we both took Junior’s picture. I’ll follow up with Ernesto to see if Mr. Valdez wins. I should have looked more closely at his attorney business card before I drove on; it has a bird on it wearing sunglasses.
There must be a story behind that.
Now the search began for the Shrine to the Virgin Mary on a Camaro. I read about this in the book I bought at King Ranch, and it appeared to be only a few miles off my planned route in the town of Elsa, so off I went. True to form, it was a little farther and took a little longer than I planned, but I was excited when I got there. After all, how often does one get the opportunity to see the Virgin Mary on a panel behind the left rear tire of a Camaro! With $3,000 in donations, Dario Mendoza and Santiago Quintero built a shrine around the car in their cinder block garage – red carpet, a ceiling fan, fifty or so folding chairs, and a little altar covered with flowers. I figured this had to be a big deal in such a small town, but I drove from one end of the town to the other and I saw neither a sign nor a crowd. I stopped where most men are unwilling to stop to ask for directions – a gas station. The man there looked at me like I was a serial killer or something; he’d lived in Elsa his entire life and had never heard of any Shrine to the Virgin Mary, much less one on a Camaro. As I drove back through town, I scanned the horizon for any clue. The only crowds were at the Post Office. So, like any good reporter, I stopped at the Post Office to find out what was going on and to get directions to the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro. Once inside, I realized the crowd was due to the income tax filing deadline, not the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro. I asked several people for directions to the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro, and they gave me that “this guy is nuttier than a fruitcake” look. I noticed a sign for the Justice of the Peace next door, so I drove there, and I asked two people for directions to the Shrine of the Virgin Mary (left out the “on a Camaro” part in hopes the “you’re crazy” stares would stop). I was delighted when one of them gave me the directions. I drove a few blocks, but I knew she was wrong when I pulled up in front of the local Catholic church. My next stop was City Hall where I asked five different people how to get to the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro. Nada. Nothing. Zip. At this point, I figured I had spoken with at least 1% of the population of Elsa. I guess I’ll never see the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro. At least I have a picture of it in the book. None of the folks in Elsa were nice; no one even laughed. Maybe they will laugh with their friends when they tell the story about the crazy guy going all over town looking for the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro.
As I drove out of town, I remembered our Rules of the Road. One of them is when you get disappointed or things get boring, look again. I saw flashing red lights ahead, so I drove SLOWLY out of town past the policemen working a speed trap. Looked to be one of the biggest businesses in town.
I was disappointed that I didn’t see many flags today, but then I reached Santa Rosa. Flags and yellow ribbons everywhere. Then I saw a group of people holding signs and waving and cars were honking. I pulled over to meet a nice group of folks with a big sign with the photographs of all the young people from the town who are currently on active duty in the military. 1,800 people in the town, and 40 are in the armed forces! I met the father of one young Marine, and a number of others proudly showed me which of the pictured folks were their relatives. It was very uplifting to be around these proud, patriotic Americans! And I would have never seen it or met them if I hadn’t gone in search of the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro!
Next stop: Graceland! Well, “Little Graceland,” to be precise. Simon Vega loves Elvis, and he has turned his home in Los Fresnos on Highway 100 between Harlingen and South Padre Island into a shrine to Elvis. (I guess I should have asked Mr. Vega how to get to the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro, because I suspect he would have the address.) Mr. Vega’s house has signs all over his house and in his yard. He has a doghouse-sized replica of the Tupelo, Mississippi home Elvis was born in. He is especially proud of the gates to his driveway. He has lighted display cases in the room above his garage with decorative Elvis plates, an Elvis doll in an Army uniform, Elvis sunglasses, and his Army good conduct medal. My favorite was a sign next to the garage that indicates Simon Vega’s home is the sixth most-visited famous person’s home in America – just behind Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin.
South Padre Island was next – the best beach in Texas. I was surprised to see how much the area has developed since we were last there with our children maybe 20 years ago. It’s a big tourist attraction. I took a picture of the Causeway Bridge, the longest bridge in Texas, and I got a nice photo of the Port Isabel Lighthouse.
Down to Brownsville where I took a picture of the border crossing station at Matamoros, Mexico. From there, I drove 60 miles or so to McAllen to rest for the night. I pulled out my list of hotel reservations. One problem. It seems my reservation was in Brownsville. Ooops. I would have driven back, but our first road detour of any consequence was midway in Donna, Texas, and I didn’t want to endure that twice again, so I was pleased when Lizbett gave me the last room (even though a yucky smoking room) at the Residence Inn in McAllen.
I guess I learned a few lessons today. I’m not sure which one is most important, though always making sure you know where you are going should be high on the list. I was also reminded today to follow my instincts and always ask a lot of questions. Most important, however, is to always try to find the best from each experience. When possible, try to turn lemons into lemonade. My trip to Elsa was a bust, though I suspect my search for the Shrine of the Virgin Mary on a Camaro could be one of the stories most told after the trip is over. But that detour to Elsa took me to Santa Rosa, and it was really uplifting to see those nice folks celebrating in support of our troops and the 40 brave young men and women from their little town who are being brave so we can all be free. It gave me that great feeling that we get inside when we our hearts are warmed by something that’s important to us.