It was pretty much a drag of a drive all way to Waco with the only sites worth seeing were the impressive Owens-Corning plant and the mammoth Wal Mart distribution center, impressive only because of its voracious land-gobbling size. The one pleasantry about the drive was that it was cloudy and relatively cool with an intermittent light rain which gave me a chance to exercise the windshield wipers (“If you don’t use ’em, you’ll lose ’em”).
On the outskirts of Waco, I passed an exit sign reading: “Old Dallas Road”, which once was a teeming strip of nightclubs, liquor stores, and diners before the death knell of the by-passing interstate. I crossed the Brazos River that was swollen to its capacity due to the inordinate amount of rainfall in North Texas in the month of June. I had only to blink once to miss the lone tall structure in downtown Waco a half-mile away – the diminutive 25 or so-story former ALICO office building erected in the mid-1920s which decades ago had been converted to a residential high-rise for the elderly. So much for corporate headquarters in downtown Waco.
I was now in the homestretch of my momentous 135-mile journey from Dallas to Temple along more miles of extended dull interstate driving through central Texas. I eventually pulled off at Motel 6’s recommended number 302 exit, and proceeded along the frontage road until turning into Tom Bodett’s motel, but not before passing by a very inviting Days Inn Motel right next door. I did a slow cruise through the parking lot of Motel 6, and all of sudden, it dawned on me that there was an aura of tackiness about the units compared to its neighbor, not that it was that unusual for the Motel 6 chain.
Somehow, I felt like I deserved a little better accommodations, so I surveyed the situation of how to get to the so close, yet so far Days Inn. I had two options: one was the circuitous route of taking the one-way service road about a mile to where I could make a U-turn on the crossover, then double back on the opposite side of the interstate, making another crossover U-turn and eventually winding up at the Days Inn front door. The other was a little risky: the respective exiting and entering driveways of the two motels were only about thirty feet apart, so I lurked in the Motel 6 entrance, waiting for the precise moment when there was no oncoming traffic. When the opportunity arose, I made a quick illegal mini-U-tum into Days Inn. Ah-ha, mission accomplished without incurring a “wrong turn” citation.
Without hesitation, I checked in at Days Inn, which fortunately had an available handicapped accessible room at a reasonable rate of $63. My room was more than I expected, replete with a king-sized bed and five fluffy pillows, small frig, microwave oven, ironing board (with iron), and hair-dryer, plus about sixty cable-TV channels. As I made a trip to the nearby ice machine, I passed by a room with the door wide open and a gentleman seated at a desk, concentrating on his laptop. On my return, I had to stop at his door, remarking, “Excuse me, sir, but you’ve gotta be one unique individual sitting there with your door wide open. Everyone else locks themselves in and turns on the TV”. He gratefully replied, “Thank you. I’m just enjoying this nice afternoon.” Well, he was my kind of guy.
It was indeed a pleasant day with the clouds and light rains holding down the temperature in the low to mid-80s, quite unusual for the first week in July when the normal high was around 94 degrees. I was recalling that when I received the July wedding invitation, I sort of cringed at the thought of insulating myself in a coat and tie in the heat of July (rhyme time). Back in my room, I tuned into my favorite newscast, “ABC World News Tonight”, which out of pure coincidence, had a segment about the apparent proclivity of future newly-weds to have their nuptial rites conducted on the supposedly “lucky” date of 7-7-07. I wondered if James and Nicole had planned their ceremony with that in mind.
Back when I was checking in, the cheerful desk clerk offered me a ten per-cent discount coupon good for either a dine-in or take-out meal at the Texas Road House, which was just a whipstitch down the frontage road. The proximity of the restaurant was academic, for even if it was right next door, I would still have to go through the falderal of making the long round-trip to get back to the motel. Besides, I had already had a couple of glasses of wine, and I didn’t want to risk being stopped for driving after drinking. So, my simple plan was to take advantage of the microwave and heat up some leftover chicken thighs. I also stashed quart-sized bottles of milk and orange juice in the frig, along with a plastic container of mixed fruit chunks. I was all set for the night and the next morning.
Upon arising around 9 A.M., I suddenly remembered seeing a sign on the lobby wall promoting a complimentary “Continental” Breakfast from 7 to 10. After getting myself together, I “strolled” over to the office and had a bowl of raisin bran cereal, which had the consistency of cardboard. The glazed cupcake wasn’t much better, even after softening it up in the microwave, it still tasted “gummy”. The ballyhooed phrase “Continental” breakfast advertised by many motels and hotels was, in fact, a misnomer when one would expect to see French toast, English muffins, Italian grapes, and German sausage on the buffet. Oh well, I couldn’t really complain since I was sated for at least a couple of hours.
As I was checking out, I commented to the desk clerk how pleased I was with my room, and then made a rash decision to reserve the same room for Sunday night on my return trip. I asked him if there was a super market nearby, so he gave me rather simple directions to a H.E.B. store on the way out of town. I easily located the market, but was taken aback by the store’s somewhat sub-standard, small-scale appearance, a stark contrast to my three-year old neighborhood H.E.B. Super Store (now called “Central Market”). I figured that the Temple market was one of the first, if not the first, outlets that Harry E. Butts christened some 30 or 40 years ago. A stock joke around Texas was: “Would you buy food from a store named “Harry Butts”? His resounding success proved it a mute question.
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