Summer Odyssey – 2002 I

It was about time to get out of Dodge, a.k.a. Sweat City. Actually, I think Dallas might have set a record for the coolest summer on record with the thermometer never reaching the century mark. However, the high humidity compensated by turning the air into a sauna bath every day. Also, I was tired of waiting for Charlie Lambert to summon me to be his Manuel Laborer and help him drive some nails and saw some lumber for his new deck. God bless him, he just had too many irons in the fire and bigger fish to fry at the moment. The deck would have to wait until I got back, or whenever. I do believe I was blessed with the patience of Job.

So, on the morning of August 20th (the latest departure of any summer trip) I was off and running on TX Hwy 183 through the metromess of Irving, Arlington, Hurst, Euless, Bedford, Haltom City – an amalgam of auto dealerships and franchise food outlets – America the Ugly. There was actually a reprieve from all the commercial congestion on Loop 820 through north Ft. Worth where there were miles of undeveloped real estate and hardly any traffic – just swards of open fields and live oaks – amazing! I thought: “What a flip-flop from the North Dallas Forty and the smog-choked LBJ 635!” These long-time rival cities had completely opposite directions of growth, due mainly to the path of the not-so affable Trinity River. I was reminded of the old joke: “Ft. Worth flushed its toilets so Dallas could have drinking water.”

I exited 820 onto TX 199, the old Jacksboro Highway, which was once the irrefutable “Highway of Sin” back in the bawdy days of the 1930s through the 1960s with its bars, brothels, and a bunch of gambling. All that remained now were the ubiquitous Quick Stop & Gas Up Marts. Another stretch of colorful Americana had been obliterated and sanitized for the hypocritical sake of “morality.” What a sham(e).

It was like a trip down Memory Lane, recalling all the thousands of miles I had driven on the same road back and forth from Dallas to Lubbock when I was attending Texas Tech. I was getting cosmic, contemplating about mass, space, and time, and that I had actually been at this same spot on this same road 45 years ago in a 1954 Oldsmobile. Had I been transported from a past time and space? Ah, the beauty of wonderment when the boredom of driving ensues. My mind ranneth amok, again.

It was a pleasant change of scenery from the usual route on Hwy 287 to Amarillo. I had to make one sacrifice, that is, not seeing the Burlington Northern coal trains plying their mother lode from Wyoming to Houston. Instead, there were the faint remnants of the old Santa Fe railroad bed which ran parallel to the roadway, now almost completely obscured by mesquite trees. Wow, did they grow fast! Talk about Memory Lane – forty-six years ago we took a charted train to Dallas for a Tech – SMU football game on that same roadbed! Now, it was almost incomprehensible that a passenger train had actually chugged along on some rails there. I wept for the present and the future, especially for those unfortunates who would never hear the wail of a train whistle.

Then it was through Seymour where the Rock In Cafe was still flourishing with a lunchtime crowd (our favorite midway stop for a greasy burger). U.S. 82 took me across the pancake flatness of West Texas interrupted only by the geological phenomena known as The Caprock where a severe canyon severs the plains and one another thousand feet. Oh, yes, lest I forget the little towns I passed through with their “romantic” names such as Olney, Guthrie, Benjamin, Rawls, Idalou, and Crosbyton – only in West Texas.

As I approached the “Hub of the South Plains” and saw the grain elevators and a lone “skyscraper” (about twenty-five stories), I thought: “Hark! Could it be the Seven Cities of Gold? No. Alas and alack, it’s only Lubbock.” I skirted north on Loop 289 where I was able to get an unexpected panorama of the sprawling Texas Tech campus. I dropped in on the Thompsons. No, I don’t call on friends unexpectedly anymore. With email now, I was able to notify them in advance so as to give them a chance to get out of town. It was mid-afternoon when Dudley greeted me at the door. I was remembering that he was the only one who had ever noticed I had a calloused hand when we shook hands. So I had to take the opportunity to confront him as we shook hands with: “Hey, don’t you feel those calluses?” He had a good laugh about that. He took the opportunity to give me a tour of the Tech campus. The highlight of the excursion was the new basketball arena which I dubbed “The House of Bobby Knight”. It was a busy-looking structure with all sorts of forms jutting out. I said to Dudley, “It looks like a hilltop Spanish villa.” Coming in a close second was the four-storey parking garage replete with the campus-atoned Spanish Renaissance flourishing. The one disturbing feature was the “unfinished” appearance about the structure with vertical mullions at four-foot intervals in between the horizontal floor bands – no glazing – like they had run out of money to put in the windows! It was very distracting. Dudley had no explanation for the inconsistencies. Architects can be weird sometimes, no doubt.

Our tour continued through the city just east of the campus where there was a mass demolition of the old neighborhoods to make way for upscale apartments and condos. I commented, “The future of Lubbock seems to lie within Texas Tech.” Dudley agreed. To further solidify the point, he added, “They (the Lubbock Transit Authority) even run free bus service to and from the campus for students living out in town.” I said, “Now that’s a city bending over backwards to help its school.” We trundled up Broadway (the axis avenue to Tech) over its antiquated brick pavers. I had to say, “I’m so glad to see a vestige of the past still remains with this old street.” Dudley replied, “Yeah, but people still want to asphalt it. Let them bumpity-bump. Not that many drive on Broadway anymore anyway. Everyone is crazy with freeway driving.” Then I remembered seeing the railroad tracks being ripped up along the old Brownfield Highway, the main southwest artery into The Hub. I cringed at the thought of what was in store. Sure enough, Dudley confirmed my anxieties with: “Yep, we have really succumbed to the automobile. They’re planning an elevated six-lane expressway from Broomfield to I-29 all along 4th Street to downtown. We fought it, but lost.” I thought about the Country Inn Motel on the old highway where I had once stayed in November of 1978 (on my departure from Dallas to Denver) and its ultimate demise once the freeway is completed. Another part of scenic America was gone forever. This is what we call “progress”?

I was pretty well emotionally drained when we got back to the house. I needed a break. I drove over a few blocks to see my old friend from Denver, Mickie McGee. She was a testimony to American ingenuity. I just had to see her. What fortuitous timing – she was home, but packing for a flight to Virginia the next morning. I was most interested in her ingenious invention that she had been working on since the mid-1980s in Denver. Lo and behold, she had a full-scale model of it sitting there in her living room with a honest-to-gosh registered patent! Her “baby”, so to speak, was an “Infant Continent Crib”, a sort of “rocking cradle” that could be put in perpetual motion with a push of a finger. For the sake of privacy for her patent, I shall not reveal the details of the construction. All I can say that it was so simple, yet so innovative. I was so proud and happy for her. Her next hurdle was to get it mass produced and marketed. I took some brochures to circulate for her and gave her my blessings.