Where does the good go



In my senior year of college, one of my Professors showed the movie ‘The Thin Blue Line,’ during class. I don’t remember all the details of the film, but the upshot was a black man, driving cross country, ends up on death row in Texas. That, combined with Bob Herbert’s Tulia series, cemented by resolve never to step foot in Texas. No death row for me.
So, given that I am safely free and clear back in New York, Texas was definitely better than I expected – but beyond that, it actually rocked. Although, I can’t imagine that God would really choose, as his “country” a place where seltzer water cannot be found no matter how high and far you look.
I meant to write about my trip days ago, but was sidetracked by delivery hell (happy to report that 47 calls to international UPS later, I finally have received all the packages from them, I have canceled the stupid coffee table from Levitz, so they too will no longer be hearing from me, so that just leaves Time Warner and my expensive cable box which is supposedly coming on Wednesday.).

Upshot is, I am no longer exactly sure of the chronological order of things, so here are my random recollections in no particular order. “Dallas” as used in the rest of this post may refer to what in actuality may be the Park Cities, Fort Worth, Mesquite or Oklahoma, bear with me, I’m a New Yorker, we don’t know any better.

After going to the Book Depository museum, Norah and I decided to keep up our Presidential theme and hit the Dwight D. Eisenhower Birthplace museum.
I had written out directions from the Book Depository, but started to doubt myself as each turn took us to a block more run-down and desolate than the block before it.
“Who knew Dwight came from such humble beginnings.”
“Yeah…impressive rise to the presidency from here,” I said staring at the burnt out shell of a Ford.
“There it is.”
The unassuming house, sat on a half acre plot, the white paint, peeling away from the frame. We locked the doors, hid my ipod in the glove compartment and packed both our Treos safely in our pockets.
“You know, we could make this one of those ‘drive-by’ sight seeing experiences,” I offered.
No takers.
We walked inside and the woman at the counter advised us that if we ‘hurried’ we could catch the tour that just left.
Ohhh, okay. Dilapidated house is not the birthplace, it’s just the ticket counter.
In fact, as we chased after the surprisingly spry group of elderly people making their way up the walk to the real birthplace, we were no longer so impressed with Ike ‘bootstrappism.”
“Huh, this place is actually pretty nice.”
“Yeah, spoiled rich kids always get to be President.”
Stupid rich white guys.
A woman in a decidedly olive green ranger suit opened the door to the house to greet us, Norah and I were a few paces behind, and so were the last to answer her welcome questionnaire.
“Where are y’all from?”
The two couples gave the names of a couple of cities in Texas.
“New York City.”
“Well, yes, we get people from all over coming to see Ike’s birthplace.
Damn. Why is there no polite way to mention that we’re only visiting ironically?
We all crammed into the roped off two cubic square area that served as the “lobby” of the museum.
After the walk-run up from the ticket counter in the hot Dallas sun, the air conditioned lobby was refreshingly cool.
“Man, the Eisenhower’s had great AC,” I whispered.
After explaining to us that Ike’s dad had lost all the family’s money in a failed venture deal and was forced to take a job in Texas working on the railroad to support his pregnant wife and two sons, the ranger lady escorted us to a large, by New York standards, bedroom to the right of the doorway.
“This is where the 34th President of the United States was born!” She said proudly sweeping her arms around toward the queen-sized bed at the far end of the room.
The bedroom was fairly bare, a few pairs of shoes, an outfit or two hanging from a makeshift closet – nighttable, chest, one window and a wooden baby crib.
Camera flashbulbs popped with excitement, or they would have, had anyone brought a camera or been excited, then the ranger dropped the bombshell; Texas’ dirty little secret.
“These are not the actual furnishings of the Eisenhowers. The family took those with them when they moved back to Abilene, Kansas when Ike was a baby.”
Lady, I traveled over two thousand miles from New York City to see Eisenhower’s pram and dagnabit, you will show me his pram, not some cheap facsimile of his pram.
She went on to explain that Eisenhower was the only one of the family’s eight boys to be born in Texas. He left as a fifteen-month-old infant and the family, finally out from the disgrace of the dad losing all their money and forcing then to move to that Texas, albeit briefly, closed the Texas chapter of their lives, put it in a lockbox and shoved it way the hell under the bed, vowing never to speak of it again.
But when Ike’s face was splashed all over the papers during WWII, an old retired librarian remembered that an ‘Eisenhower’ family once lived on the block. She wondered if it was the same family and —EUREKA!
A craptacular reason to visit Denison, Texas was born.
The rest of the tour followed in a similar fashion as we went from room to room taking the “toys Ike might have played with, if these were his toys or if he was of the toy playing age,” “the kind of bread box, Ike’s mother might have stored their bread in,” “the sort of iron used in the time.” The tour of the “type of kitchen the Eisenhowers probably had,” yielded a funny back and forth between the couples with us.
“My mama had a washingboard like that.”
“Yeah, me and my brother used to sell the ice blocks to put in those ice boxes.”
“Wow, you don’t look that old,” the ranger offers.
“No ma’am. I ain’t old, we were just poor.”
At the end of the tour, we were instructed to head out back to the life-size bronze statue of Ike in the backyard (no doubt just like the one that would have been there when the Eisenhowers lived there). Inscribed on the side was an admonition to all young people, that Eisenhower set us an example to greatness.
“Oh, and please stop by our gift shop on the way out.”
Oh, Ike, you scoundrel you!
Norah and I decided to skip the introductory film on the President’s life, figuring that since the real one was probably in Kansas, we didn’t want to ruin our future trip over to Abilene by getting the preview in Texas.
We got back in the car and headed North…welcome to Oklahoma!
The Native American state?
Oklahoma was a lot like Texas, highways, gas stations, even fast food joints.
However, when we stopped off a Sonic for lunch, the differences became glaringly apparent.
We parked the car and headed to the window to order. A sign told us a staff meeting was going on.
We went around to the glass door and a young lady in a Sonic hat said that we had to order from the electronic kiosk in the center of the dining area.
Ok, so she might have just pointed a finger at the electronic kiosk in the center of the dining area, while firmly blocking our way past the glass doors and into the store.
Between us, Norah and I have degrees from six of the finest educational centers in the world, so know that when I tell you we circled that kiosk a few times before taking a stab at ordering, that Oklahoma might as well have been Japan.
Finally, Norah pressed a bright red button. It triggered a response manned by Charlie Brown’s home room teacher.
Waaaa waaaa waaaa shhhhhhh waaaaa.
“Um…do we order here?”
We come in peace.
“waaa waaaa skkkkkkkk shhhhh waaaaaa”
“Uhm….one Sonic special, diet coke…Dawn what do you want?”
To get back in the car and find a McDonald’s? Teenaged eyes were peering at us through the staff meeting behind the glass doors.
“Uhmm…same thing…with ketchup and no pickles, with a Dr. Pepper?”
“Ok, make that two Sonic specials, diet coke and a Dr. Pepper.”
The gigantic box “repeated” our order in a quick series of morse code static blips: long, short, long, long, short question mark inflection.
We looked at each other.
“Yes, that’s right.”
We sat down around a giant, bright red, round metal table and waited.
I wonder what shape Oklahoman burgers are?
Do their beverages come in cups?
Burning with anticipation, or from sitting on metal benches under the hot sun, we passed the time with idle chit chat.
Finally, a girl came out carrying a tray of paper cups and foodstuffs wrapped in paper.
She set it down and headed inside.
“Wait! How do we know which is the diet coke…or the ketchup burger?”
No! Norah, don’t anger the food God of the talking alien machine…this may be one of those situation where they turn the people who get out of there cars, into speaker boxes to take garbled orders for all of eternity.
The girl came back and squinted at the tray.
“Um…well…like I just started working here. I haven’t worked in the kitchen yet, so I like don’t know how they umm…like mark them? I could go ask?”
Suddenly, Oklahoma was feeling very Southern California.
“That’s okay. We’ll figure it out.”
I bit into my burger and happily, ketchup oozed out the sides.
Norah watched jealously.
“I wanted a ketchup burger too.”
“But the machine scared you, didn’t it?”
She bit into her own burger glumly.
“Next time, we shouldn’t get out the car.”
After lunch, we headed to the Choctaw Casino.
The outside of the place reminded me of “L.A.’s” Commerce Casino, with rows of parked cars and nondescript glass doors, but any comparison between this place and a real Casino ends there.
Imagine your local community rec center. Now shove in as many slots machines as it’ll hold. Ok, now put a big TV and a room full of phones in the back. Get some betting slips and turn on OTB. We’re almost there. Now squeeze the slot machines together, making some room for about five or six blackjack tables, put the unhappiest people you ever saw behind the tables; fill the place with stale cigarette smoke and lonely desperate people.
All done.
We took a lap around the joint, I tried to play a slot machine, but it wouldn’t take my quarter.
Thus, endeth the visit to the Choctaw Nation.
Man Oklahoma, for the Native American state, you guys sure stick your Indians in the rattiest places.
We got back to Dallas in time to have dinner with Nora’s Husband, his dad, grandma and sister.
In keeping with our historical day, we had dinner at The Egyptian, where Ruby dined the night before killing Oswald.

The next morning I woke up and asked the question I always inevitably ask whenever I leave the Tri-State area?

“Is Texas considered the South?”

Insert answer.

“What I meant was: do you guys have the Waffle House here?”
After twenty minutes spent trying pitch alternative breakfast options, I got my hosts to drive me to the nearest WH.

I’ll admit it wasn’t the waffle-cious goodness I had remembered. The waffles were thinner and harder than I remembered. Of course, that didn’t really matter because with a guy chain smoking right next to our table, I held my breath through most of the meal and couldn’t taste a whole heck of a lot.
By the time we hit our next stop “Zest Fest 2005,” my sense of taste had completely returned — unfortunately.
Before plunking down the thirty dollars for three adult tickets, we made some inquiries.
“Hi…is this thing worth ten dollars?”
“Oh…yeah. I wish I didn’t have to work so ah could go een mahself,” said the shiny happy young woman behind the plexiglass.
I did see many families leaving the arena with smiles on their faces and full plastic bags in each hand…ok, let’s do it!
I can’t remember whose idea the Fest was, but I think the three of us knew it was a mistake right away.
The floor of the arena was packed with little vendor booth hawking everything from pineapple mushroom bar-b-cue sauce to an Indian (from India, Indian, not Oklahoman Indian) ice cream novelty bar, whose packaging derides the “airiness” or Western ice cream.
I tasted a few of the offerings, including something I thought was chicken but turned out to be coleslaw…coleslaw covered in barbecue sauce.
It barely hit my tongue before I spit it back out into the little mouthwash cup from whence it came.
“It’s got quite a byyyyte don’ it,” the sckeevy guy in the chef’s hat drawled as I searched for a trash can and mouth disinfectant.
“Bite? No…that’s not the problem.”
I moved on to the next booth and sampled some “salsa.”
After I spit that out, I vowed no more experimenting.
I headed straight for the Strawberry Daquiri stand, ordered up a pitcher and waited for the Norah and her husband to find me.
On our way out, Nora’s husband spotted “Miss Texas” sitting at the door.
“Hey! We should get her autograph!”
What does he mean ‘we?’
“Uh…you ask her.”
As we approached the table, her handler stood up to greet us. She flashed us that pageant winning smile.
“Ok, wait…but have her make it out to Dawn!”
Sometimes having an alias comes in handy out in the real world too!
He smiled and said.
“Hi, can you sign a picture for my friend?”
“Sure,” Miss Texas said shifting her weighty crown to a more comfortable position and getting her writing hand all ready.
“Make it out to ‘Dawn’,” he said pointing at me as I grinned as ironically as possible.
“No problem. How do you spell that?”
That’s why they’re called beauty queens and not brain queens.

8 Responses to “DON’T MESS”

  1. Norah Says:

    We miss you, and all the folks at the Resistol in Mesquite do too.


    hahhaha…Resistol’s the next installment!

  3. Shawn Says:

    Did you get to try some calf fries?

  4. Michael Bates Says:

    If you were where I think you were in Oklahoma (Durant?), you missed seeing the world’s largest peanut (or so it is claimed).

  5. Jessica Says:

    it’s not a true waffle house experience unless there’s chain smoking truck driver sitting next to you eating maple syrup with some waffle.

  6. pearatty Says:

    Very laugh out loud funny. I love ironic vacations.

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