I pulled into the Thompson’s driveway and gently knocked on the door. Dudley greeted me in his robe and I handed over my gift of Buffalo Bull’s Fat Back (yeah, just like the one I had given Jim Noack). Virginia joined us in the kitchen and we had an abbreviated conversation about their trip. Before retiring, I said, “You can fill me in on the juicer parts tomorrow. I just want to thank you for a legal and level place to park. It sure beats Wal-Mart.”
I was awakened the next morning by the reveille of the all-too-familiar whirling sound of a lawnmower. Dudley was totally immersed in manicuring his beloved St. Augustine sward. I scrambled out and said, “Hey, how about letting me mow a few strips.” He scotched that idea quickly, saying, “Sorry, but I have this addiction of finishing the mow myself.” I had to respect his priorities. We had a brief interlude in the breakfast nook before taking off to meet Tom and Elizabeth Sasser at the Lubbock Inn for lunch.
The Sassers arrived dressed in their usual dapper motif with Doc, as she was so accustomed to doing, donning a colorful wide-brimmed hat. I brought with me my “gift-wrapped” present for the Sassers, a 10 X 13 framed watercolor titled Dream Lake. They were obviously overwhelmed. It gave me great joy. As we lunched, the Thompsons expounded on their South American odyssey which started on the west coast in Chile, crossing over the Andes into Patagonia and Argentina to Buenos Aires and ending up in Rio de Janeiro. Their accounts of all the natural beauty along the way was somewhat diffused by their recollections of countless homeless children roaming the streets of Rio. Dudley summed it up: “It’s a national epidemic.” Despite that depressing news, we had a joyous reunion. It could not be concluded without our hashing over the recent architectural additions to the Tech campus, with Doc saying, “They’re all absolutely atrocious. It makes me puke.” I couldn’t help but laugh at such a guttural remark coming from the Grand Dame of Lubbock. We parted with handshakes and hugs.
I headed towards the Tech campus and parked a couple of blocks away on a side street. There was a method to my madness. I biked over to the Architectural Building to look up Sharon Hart, the administrator of my endowment fund for a deserving architectural student. While touring the building, I noticed a room replete with banks of computers resembling Mission Control Center in Houston. When I mentioned this awe-inspiring sight to Sharon, she added, “Welcome to the 21st Century, and get this, sophomore students are required to have a laptop computer now.” I had to ask, “Do students sketch, watercolor, or use a T-square and triangle anymore?” She sadly replied, “Very, very little.” Wow, I was sure thankful I had attended college when I did.
We then got down to the business at hand, that is, the matter of augmenting my endowment since the all-time low interest rates had practically depleted the annual award money. She diplomatically suggested that doubling the amount ($5,000) currently in the fund would be most helpful. I said, “I just happen to have my checkbook with me. Do you have a pen?” In appreciation of my gift, she took me down to the basement level to show me a display of student presentations (90 per cent done by computer), a gesture, I guessed, indicating my funds were being put to good use. She even obligingly walked me to my bike, and as I was unlocking, I said, “You know, Sharon, this may sound off the wall, but I just wrote you a check for $5,000, yet I biked over to the campus just to save a one dollar parking fee.” Go figure.” She gave me an appreciative smile.
Actually, my “method” (to my madness) was to leisurely bike around the campus, focusing on some of the original buildings designed with a pure Spanish Renaissance style in mind. These were the buildings that Doc Sasser revered in contrast to the abominations of the so-called “New Renaissance Style” of architecture now proliferating the campus. I couldn’t agree with her more. I biked by Sneed Hall, the dormitory where I got my full-fledged indoctrination into college life, including freshman hazing. Then it was over to Drane Hall, the freshman women’s dorm where every fall we lounge lizards would scope out the new crop of Bettys. I picked out one particular ground floor window through which a one Jan Massengale would surreptitiously exit after bed check. Well, I had had about enough of the ol’ campi, so I hitched up the bike and headed towards downtown.
I was rhetorically asking myself, “Could Lubbock’s city center have the same graveyard ambience as Abilene?” Sure enough, it did, so I made a hasty retreat to the Old Clovis Highway (U.S. 84) and headed northwest to New Mexico across the utter flatness of the Panhandle. At Texico, I finally said goodbye to Texas — it had only taken me six days to get out of the Lone Star State. The highway now paralleled the main line of the Burlington Northern / Santa Fe tracks, and freights were coming and going. I would pass a train headed west, then pull off at a grade crossing to watch the behemoths roar by. It was exhilarating! At one particular crossing, I parked on the siding to get as close as I could next to the double tracks. In my euphoria of spotting the on-charging units more than a mile away, I guess I had blanked out the crossing gates because I had inadvertently parked directly under one! It was too late to back up out of the way of the descending bar, so all I could do was watch the arm bounce to a rest on top of the van. At least it didn’t slice Ol’ Blue in two. I was more embarrassed than anything else. Fortunately, there were no other people behind me to laugh at my blunder. I gave the engineer a sheepish smile and wave, thinking he was probably saying to himself, “Now, there’s one dumb train-watcher.”