Aztec Ruins or Baseball Town USA?

After extending their stay in Albuquerque by a day, Hank and Bobbie-Joe had to get goin’ on the road. The next big spot was the Grand Canyon, but before they got there, after some map searchin’ to do. Hank found an Aztec Ruins site in the northwest corner of New Mexico that deserved a visit. But before they left, Hank and Bobbie-Joe had searched for accommodation in nearby Aztec. It wasn’t a happy hunt.

The only accommodation in small town Aztec, population 6,500, was the Step Back Inn. It looked amazing with its simple Victorian charms and was about to be booked until a traveller review concerning pubic hair and bloodstains on bed sheets shattered any interest Hank and Bobbie-Joe had in staying there. In fact, it almost meant Hank and Bobbie-Joe reconsidered the need to visit the Aztec Ruins, but a bit more research and traveller referrals pointed them to nearby Farmington.

It’s a town not on many tourist maps. But with over 45,000 people and the main industry being mining, natural gas, petrol and coal, somethin’ entertainin’ must happen here, surely? Yeah, it didn’t strike Hank or Bobbie-Joe as a tourist mecca but they travelled as always with an open mind, down the main highway into town, passing all the industrial plants and refineries. Yeeahh! Livin’ the dream!

But to be fair, we were lucky to get a room. For some reason, most of the hotels in Farmington were booked out. We found a room at the Region Inn at the eastern end of town and checked in.  The young folk running the reception desk were friendly and welcoming. They showed Hank and Bobbie-Joe to their room. For some reason, the curtains were closed but Hank and Bobbie-Joe just assumed that was because it was 105F outside and the staff were trying to keep the place cool. After driving for 181 miles from Albuquerque, Hank and Bobbie-Joe were tired and dropped their bags on the floor and headed for the bathroom to freshen up, to head out for dinner.

Driving through the town, Hank and Bobbie-Joe stumbled upon the 3 Rivers Brewery shortly after 8pm. It looked comfortable inside – a big bar area, pressed metal ceiling, original antique signs; the references to a life long past as a drugstore. And people kept filing in, well after Hank and Bobbie-Joe were seated at the window. Bobbie-Joe opted for a home-made Root Beer. For dinner, she ordered the highly recommended hot dog with a home-made bratwurst and sauerkraut and Hank went for the smothered black bean burrito with chicken and a locally brewed 3 Rivers Scottish Ale.

Shortly after ordering, the streets outside were eerily quiet. There were no cars. And people had seemed to stop in their tracks at the roadside. Suddenly, slashes of red and blue light were cutting through the dark night. Within seconds, motorcycle police arrived at the T intersection out the front of the 3 Rivers Brewery and cordoned off the street, like they were creating a corral for a Presidential parade. There was much chatter within the bar and people craning their necks to get a glimpse of what was happening outside.

Hank and Bobbie-Joe had the feeling this type of activity didn’t happen too much round Farmington parts.  Within minutes, three buses emerged and turned into the street the police cordon directed. Following the buses were three more motorcycle police. As the buses and tailing police passed through the intersection, the cordoning police started off and followed behind the cavalcade. Hank and Bobbie-Joe were mystified, however, it clearly seemed that there was someone important in town. As the motorcade moved off, the bar punters gradually turned around excitedly conversing with friends about the commotion all the way back to their seats.

In what seemed like a Twilight Zone episode, Hank and Bobbie-Joe’s food arrived. Before orderin’, Hank and Bobbie-Joe didn’t know what a “hoagie” was in food parlance…well they did now; it was a white hotdog roll. Despite the mouth waterin’ description of the home-made, beer-infused bratwurst, Bobbie-Joe looked on longingly at Hank’s smothered black bean enchilada, to which Hank shared with his lovely wife. To round off proceedings, Hank ordered a Kentucky Bourbon Pecan Pie and the rumour that Bobbie-Joe also took a couple of spoonfuls, is true. Calling it a day, Hank and Bobbie-Joe retired to the Region Inn for the night for the visit tomorrow to the Aztec Ruins.

However, still curious about the evening’s police involvement with the buses, Hank  and Bobbie-Joe jumped on the internet to find out what was happening. Turns out it wasn’t the President, but it was the buses bringing in the teams for the Connie Mack World Series of junior baseball. Teams from all over USA, Canada and Puerto Rico win divisions and play off at Farmington. Any wonder it was tough to get a room in Farmington! The opening game and ceremony was scheduled to kick off the next night at Ricketts Field. Hank and Bobbie-Joe didnt want to miss the opportunity especially as the opening game was played by the local team against the Puerto Rican team and clocked it into the itinerary.

After a great night’s sleep, Hank and Bobbie-Joe arose in the morning, keen to get moving. Upon opening the blinds in near nakedness, Hank recoiled in horror to realise that the only window for the apartment faced onto the restaurant’s dining area and pool! Luckily there was no-one on the other side dining on breakfast but the lesson was learnt: Always cover up before you open ANY blind!

Heading out to the Aztec Ruins, it was peaking near 100F again and it was dry and hot. Before going out to explore the ruins, we were treated to an hour-long documentary about how the villagers would have lived and the functionality of the architecture of the time. Additional stories were built on top of ground floors and were accessible by ladder only. Like most indigenous Americans, it was community minded with clear roles and responsibilities for all inhabitants. Hank and Bobbie-Joe were amazed that the buildings belonged to the 11th or 12th century. However there was also somewhat of a misnomer on the ruins being Aztec of origin; they were actually ruins of the Pueblo Anasazi. Talk about Chinese whispers.

After a couple of hours, Hank and Bobbie-Joe headed back to the Region Inn to go to the pool. Upon arriving back they were quite surprised that at 2pm on a 100F day, the hotel had the sprinklers on doing the front lawn. I mean it was a major drought – didnt they have water restrictions? The sprinklers were located at the edge of the lawn, next to the car park. Driving into the car park, Hank thought it would be a good idea to clean the underside of the car grill with the sprinkler. He pulled the car gently into the car park and edged closer centimetre by centimetre over the sprinkler. The sprinkler did its job and both Hank and Bobbie-Joe could hear the water cleaning the grill from grit and bugs. After a short time, Hank and Bobbie-Joe agreed that it was time to hit the pool.

In order to avoid trouble from hotel management for blocking the sprinkler, Hank put Malibarbs into reverse and edged back, when suddenly there was a ripping sound, then a clunking sound, followed by one of the most amazing water spouts five metres into the air that you could ever have seen in drought-stricken Farmington. Hank and Bobbie-Joe looked at each other for a moment in sheer disbelief. After realising what they had done and feeling desperately guilty for wasting water, the nervous energy turned to laughter at how ridiculous the situation had become in just a fraction of time.

Hank got outside that car and surveyed the scene and realised that he wasnt going to be able to re-insert the sprinkler head into the ground pipe. He realised that there was only one thing he could do, as the passing cars were beginning to slow down to take in the new Farmington tourist attraction, the “Region Inn Water Spout”. He had to move the car as quickly as possible to avoid detection. He pulled the car out of the park promptly, if not desperately, and parked around the rear of the building, hoping the 100F day would dry the water on the bonnet of the car quicker than a hotel management inspection of the car park.

Giggling, Hank and Bobbie-Joe entered the building and upon sighting the reception desk, Hank straightened up and authoritatively reported that one of the sprinkler heads seemed to have blown off and there was a massive water-spout out the front. It took a couple of attempts to convince the young receptionist that what Hank was reporting was true. In the end, with reporting responsibilities cleared, Hank and Bobbie-Joe went back to their room and jumped into swimming gear and headed to the pool. After a lovely couple of hours in the sun, chuckling guiltily about the spout and in the stone cold swimming pool water, they were able to relax before they headed off to Connie Mack later that night.

Arriving later at the local stadium, Hank and Bobbie-Joe found a park pretty close by and within walking distance. After paying the $US2 entrance fee and picking up a program, Hank and Bobbie-Joe headed to get some Baseball Town USA style dinner from the Concessions Stand. Lining up in the queue gave Hank and Bobbie-Joe a great opportunity to people watch. Turns out the event is very popular with young teenagers and older baseball officials who were all men. Reaching the Concessions Stand, the volunteers from the local bank really helped Hank and Bobbie-Joe out on explaining what a Chimichanga, Frito Pie and Sloppy Joes were!

After collecting their junk food, they reached the bleachers and found a spot halfway up the stand right near third base with a great view. There were a few people around but it still had some breathing room, given it was still 80F at 8pm. They started to dine on their fast food. The Sloppy Joe’s were an interesting mix of what seemed like bolognaise sauce in a hamburger bun, but quite passable. Chimichangas were described as a deep-fried burrito, which sounded appealing and they are probably lovely when prepared and served in a restaurant setting. However, when they a prepackaged and deep-fried at the manufacturing plant, delivered and microwaved on site then served to unsuspecting tourists, they didn’t hit the Hank and Bobbie-Joe’s top 100 favourite USA meals. Frito Pie was another ghastly creation using Frito chips, chilli and cheese. I can see the fast food appeal, but no, not for Hank and Bobbie-Joe, who dont need food that fast and can wait!

However, before too long, there were plenty of people sitting front, side and behind us, which seemed to have the effect of pooling all our collective heat and preventing any small breeze that could offer any relief. Right next to Hank and Bobbie-Joe was a human eating machine and should have been in the circus as we saw him chow down 3 sets of nachos, 3-4 chimichangas, 2 large boxes of popcorn, a frito pie, a couple of pickles and the leftovers from the family as well as three 2 litre soft drinks. Hank and Bobbie-Joe didn’t feel they could say anything, even though they were genuinely concerned for his health. He was a big unit, and he ate like he wanted to be bigger. At one point, Hank had to remind Bobbie-Joe not to stare. Hank and Bobbie-Joe hope he is ok!

Stifling heat and eating extravaganzas aside, the opening ceremony included a military component and thanks were again given to the men and women in the military, their families and their communities for protecting the mighty USA. Eventually the Governor of New Mexico was invited out to the diamond to rapturous applause to give a short speech and to throw the first pitch. The game was underway!

A very tight tussle in the early innings, however the Puerto Ricans raced to a 6-1 lead by the second innings. No runs again until the 7th innings and the local Farmington boys needed to do something, as it was their last chance. They responded well under pressure by slamming home 6 home runs in the final innings, to get a 7-6 lead. The Puerto Ricans batted, but didn’t trouble the scorers for the remainder of the game. Won by the home side and the crown erupted in an ecstatic outpouring of local and national pride, that was in good spirits.

Overall, a fantastic experience in Baseball Town USA. Full of inappropriately named ruins, great local baseball experience and Hank and Bobbie-Joe made their own tourist attraction in a free water-spout a the Hotel. After being completely unsure of what to expect, it was quite a lot of fun. A big day on the road tomorrow; a visit to the four corners monument, then off to Williams and the Grand Canyon!



Turn left at Alburquerque!?

So its true, we should have turned left at Albuquerque!

Although if Hank and Bobbie-Joe did, they would have missed a whole lot of good stuff! Like New Mexico’s enchanting landscapes and beautiful blue skies.

But before leaving Texas for the last time over the panhandle, Hank and Bobbie-Joe reached a town called Adrian; the geographical mid-point between Chicago and Los Angeles at 1139 miles either side. Hank and Bobbie-Joe pulled into the MidPoint Cafe for the most amazing “Ugly Crust” pie, two serves, of pecan and apple with real home-made ice-cream. Importantly for Bobbie-Joe, there was proper root beer!

Hank and Bobbie-Joe got to Albuquerque in the late afternoon and checked into the romantically rustic Hotel Albuquerque, close to historic Stone Town on Rio Grande Boulevard, within running distance from the Rio Grande river itself; a scene of great John Wayne film.

Hank and Bobbie-Joe were excited by the prospects of Mexican for dinner and headed to El Pinto on the outskirts of town. They arrived with the sun setting creating an amazing spectrum of summery light. It was a lovely balmy evening with an outside table under cover but close to the tranquil gardens. Our first order in New Mexico after being seated, was for two margaritas – makes perfect sense! Hank and Bobbie-Joe were introduced by waiter recommendation to the El Pinto Premium Anejo and we were made with some of the finest tequila in the US. For dinner, Bobbie-Joe ordered a combinacion #3 and Hank ordered rellenos, calabacitas and a taco plate.

The food was beyond any other Mexican that Hank and Bobbie-Joe have ever seen, smelt or tasted. El Pinto was one of the reasons Hank and Bobbie-Joe decided to stay in New Mexico for an extra night. Feeling pleased, full and after a couple of margaritas, tipsy and contented they decided to head back to the Hotel to call it a night.

The next morning, Hank and Bobbie-Joe work up mid morning and slowly got going into the day. Both were keen for a decent coffee and had found a place called Java Joe’s near downtown. Upon walking through the front door to the sounds of a live acoustic guitarist, Hank and Bobbie-Joe saw a couple of members of the local constabulary, so they knew they were in the right place!

Hank ordered while Bobbie-Joe went out front to grab a table on the pavement. Taking Hank’s fancy was a black bean breakfast burrito coated in green chile sauce with a side of bacon. Whilst initially wanting a coffee, upon seeing Java Joe’s also had a wide variety of loose leaf tea, Bobbie-Joe curtly switched to an English breakfast tea. Java Joe’s made a fantastic breakfast burrito so good that hank couldn’t decide whether he liked it better than El Pinto, but they were neck and neck for sheer amazingness of a taste bud wrangling adventure.

After breakfast, Hank and Bobbie-Joe ventured into old Stone Town which is well-known for New Mexican turquoise jewellery, artifacts and quite honestly, some less worthy tacky touristy souvenirs. Although Hank did manage to find some gifts for his mates at home – a hillbilly bubble bath kit. On a more respectable note however, Hank and Bobbie-Joe found a necklace for his Mom as a memento of the trip. After shopping for a few hours, it was time to head back to the Hotel’s pool and laze for a few hours before dinner at Sandia Peak.

On the way to the pool at the hotel, Hank and Bobbie-Joe saw some corporate types doing a workshop outside with drawings and really important words on sheets and sheets of butcher’s paper taped to the windows. Hank and Bobbie-Joe couldn’t be further away from this mindset and reading the body language of the “participants”, most of them didn’t want to be there either. Quite a few were looking longingly over at Hank and Bobbie-Joe with towels in hand and thongs on feet click clacking their way to the pool!

After taking a couple of dips between some well deserved lounging around, Hank and Bobbie-Joe noticed some dark clouds closing in and some spectacular splits of lightening cracking open the skyline. Not long after, the Hotel’s Facilities Manager appeared and politely asked all guests to leave, due to the impending electrical storm activity and an innate fear of civil lawsuits.

Sensing an opportunity to drink a Margarita and enjoy a good storm with the love of his life Bobbie-Joe, Hank found a couple of rocking chairs under the verandah overlooking the gardens that offered an open view of the storm. Gesturing towards the rocking chair to Bobbie-Joe, Hank raced off to the bar to get Bobbie-Joe a white wine and Hank a margarita, returning in minutes flat to the verandah, drinks in hand. The storm gently meandered into view and eventually provided some wonderful shows of lightning with deafening thunder claps for the newlyweds. It’s hard to say how long the storm went for, but Hank had three margaritas, so judge for yourself the timeframe!

For dinner, Hank and Bobbie-Joe headed up to the Sandia Peak. Not realising it at the time, but in driving from Amarillo they had driven into a mountain range and with Albuquerque sitting at 4,900 feet above sea level, the air was surprisingly thin. Driving up to Sandiago’s Mexican Grill at the Sandia Peak Tram, the Chevy Malibu traversed another 3,000 feet to just on 8,000 feet above sea level. The difference between in temperature between the Hotel and the Sandiago’s was easily ten degrees, so for the first time, a jumper was required! The food was good and quite tasty and a lovely dinner out on the balcony overlooking Albuquerque created quite a romantic setting. Of course nothing says romance in New Mexico like a lemon margarita, and they were the order of the evening.

The next morning, Hank and Bobbie-Joe got up early to get on the first tram trip of the day to beat the Saturday crowds. Sandia Peak Tramway took Hank and Bobbie-Joe on the first trip at 8.30am another 2,000 feet above sea level. An amazing trip up the mountain, hundreds of feet above the floor of the national park. Once up to the peak, the air was very thin, so Hank thought he would do some high altitude training and pumped out his best three sets of 15 push ups and dips. The altitude meant that the burn was instant! After a small stroll around the mountain, not wanting to venture too far as there was a possibility of meeting a bear of mountain lion, Hank and Bobbie-Joe saw some chipmunks (non-singing), but that was it for wild life.

Coming back down the mountain after returning to the tram-car base, Hank and Bobbie-Joe headed back to the Hotel to get changed and go for a run along the Rio Grande. Upon arriving the park along the river looked quite wild and it wasnt immediately clear which was the best route, or the least likely to be mugged. Hank saw a gent walking with his son, so asked for the safest and the best fo scenery route. The gent was very helpful and pointed out the ideal direction. Off running, Hank and Bobbie-Joe just took a simple, easy pace over the country side and really enjoyed running under the tree canopy and hearing the rushing of the mighty Rio Grande nearby.

The final destination before departing Albuquerque was the Indian Pueblo Cultural Centre. A very good insight into the traditional native American’s village life. The museum held some very old items and there were some local jewellers on hand selling traditional turquoise jewellery. After exploring the museum there was a traditional dance scheduled for 2pm and Hank and Bobbie-Joe headed out to the central courtyard to see the native dances.

Being 101F and feeling a little tired after the hour-long run, Hank and Bobbie-Joe opted for a couple of chairs under dappled sunlight. The dancers came out and took up their positions whilst the MC provided an insight into the dance about to be performed. What Hank and Bobbie-Joe weren’t prepared for was the repetitive humming and chanting; the first dance went for 14 minutes alone. The second dance approximately ten minutes and the last 12 minutes.

A combination of dappled sunlight, tiredness and repetitive chanting meant both Hank and Bobbie-Joe got the noddies and nodded off during the performance. One can only hope they didn’t anger the spirits of the great warriors!

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Show me the way to Amarillo

Bobbie-Joe was pretty tired and it was late, about 930pm but Hank convinced her to step inside the fine highway establishment by the name of the Texas Roadhouse. It was pure bar room class and made Hank think of the Toby Keith song “I Love This Bar” There all types of folks and there were spent peanut shells on the floor. Each table had its own bucket of peanuts and these peanuts were in their shells, but already salted. Bobbie-Joe was able to explain to Hank how this could have ever happened.

On a booth just next to Hank & Bobbie-Joe was a family and a friend who were celebrating’ somethin’ to do with the Dad getting out of hospital that evening for a heart condition. A heart condition that required hospitalisation. Now, it ain’t polite to eavesdrop but the only two reasons we remember was that the two kids would have been 8 or under had just guzzled their first little of coke each and were demanding of the waitress for their comp refills. And the second reason was that the Dad had ordered the biggest steak on the menu with chips and a huge soft drink. The man’s wife claimed an equally large portion and let’s just say that even though Hank enjoys his food, he didn’t think that even he would be able to put away a monster dinner like that. It was truly amazing. But in the diners and fast food joints all across the States, it was a too familiar story for Hank and Bobbie-Joe.

There was an amazing rest stop three miles from the Gray County line – see the tiled rest room because they take bathrooms artistically here!

Amarillo was a busy little city but like Dallas, not really geared towards the traveller. Hank & Bobbie-Joe headed out of Amarillo the next day headed towards Albuquerque, but before they departed, they stopped off on the Interstate 40 for the Cadillac Ranch. it was another hot 100F day with a breezy day blowing hot air and dust across the fields which eccentric Amarillo millionaire Stanley Marsh III hosted this installation from the Ant Farm in the 70’s. They were comedic architects who thought that there should be no bounds predicting how people would use land space and time. Ant Farm would come up with these out there inspire visions and then find a client to sponsor the works. They just seemed to have a great time and tested the boundaries of architecture in the context of demonstration, LSD and modernist architectural styles. In this case it was Stanley Marsh III who sponsored the Cadillac Ranch, a homage to the disappearing feature of early Cadillacs; the mighty tailfin.

Modern art is the key word here and it’s one of the most unusual sites in the USA; Hank & Bobbie-Joe agreed. It’s surreal at the same time. Take your own paint, if you want to add to the art. Hank & Bobbie-Joe simply took a few photos and viewed from different angles. Oh and they took some video for Bobbie-Joe’s montage of the trip across the States.

Cadillac Ranch is just a one of a kind and worth a stop.

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Take me down to the Oklahoma City

After a great short stay in Dallas, Hank and Bobbie-Joe headed off to Oklahoma City for another overnight stay. When Hank thought about Oklahoma, he thought of its cowboys, its horses and its wide open spaces. We also thought of the Oklahoma City Bomber, but only because as fate would have it Hank and Bobbie-Joe stayed at the Marriot on a deal. It just happened to be next to the Oklahoma City FBI building.

Now, we found out courtesy of our Mesquite Rodeo Host that people from Oklahoma were called “Okies“. They also had another name: “Sooners” with a pretty rich western history.

A short trip by comparison, of about 206 miles or three and a half hours driving in the Chevy. Leaving Dallas late in afternoon, meant that Hank & Bobbie-Joe arrived in Oklahoma City late, around 9.30pm. Neither Bobbie-Joe or Hank were hungry after the late Sunday lunch in Dallas at the Iron Cactus, so they decided to settle in for the night and look for great things to do in Oklahoma City.

It was August 1. Getn’ up early on holiday generally means about nine o’clock when check out is ten o’clock. Or if check out times is 11am, then ten o’clock is getn-up time. On Hank and Bobbie-Joe’s only morning in Oklahoma City,  they got out of the hotel at about ten o’clock and headed to Lake Hefner named after Robert Hefner a former Okie Mayor, and not the ubiquitous Hugh. Arriving at the Lake, the temperature was gaining speed toward 100F.

Now it would be fair to rank the skin tones of Hank and Bobbie-Joe as light and very fair respectively. The original plan was to hire a rowboat for an hour or so for a relaxing time on the water, but once the Chevy’s outside temperature gauge hit 111F (44.5C), there was no way Hank and Bobbie-Joe were going to be in the sun anywhere near the middle of the day, on a lake, catching skin cancer. Instead we dropped in on Stars and Stripes Park. Hank and Bobbie-Joe could safely describe it as one of the least exciting places they had visited so far in their USA road trip. Now while Stars and Stripes park did have permanently mounted binoculars, Hank did burn his eyelids on the scalding hot steel eyepieces that had been sitting in the burning sun for over 5 hours.

After a bit of a walk round the small park, Hank and Bobbie-Joe had convinced themselves that they had “given it a go” and it was time to leave. Next stop: the National Cowboy & Western Museum further into Oklahoma City. It was a pretty amazing collection of paintings and artists competing for the Prix de West:
Charles FritzRock NewcombeKeith ChristieKyle PolzinTony Eubanks, Walt Monske and the Back Road to Pilar,  James KramerDaniel F GerhatrzSpanish DanceJim Wilcox with his landscapes, Bruce Green’s CowboysKen Carlson who loves his animalsGeorge Hallmark, and Robert Lougheed with his Bell Rumida.

There were some amazing sculptors too:
Richard LoflerCynthia Rigden’s sculptures of horses in New Day and In my Dreams They Run Free were amazing. As was Deborah Copenhaver Fellows and Walter T Matia.

The Museum store had some pretty cool stuff too!

All in all it was a pretty impressive Museum and a huge number of display areas including saddles, bowie knives, fashion and clothes as well as military artifacts from the Civil War. The only downside was that whilst it was 44.5C outside, it was 4C inside – it was freezing and the Museum was laid out in a meandering claustrophobic way, so you never knew where you were (or where the nearest toilet was!).

After having to get out of the freezing Museum, Hank and Bobbie-Joe headed down to Bricktown for a late lunch at the Bricktown Brewery. Hank ordered a beer and buffalo wings and Bobbie-Joe fancied herself a club sandwich. It was a geat, casual lunch – just what Hank and Bobbie-Joe needed.

After a bit o’ time at the Bricktown watering hole, Hank and Bobbie-Joe headed off on the drive to Amarillo. Texas, that is.

And as Hank and Bobbie-Joe left the booming Sooner city of Oklahoma City, they stopped at a souvenir shop in search of Bobbie-Joe’s beloved snow domes, but found something far more Daniel Boone-like.

Driving Down to Dallas in the Lone Star State

Heading into Dallas, travelling through the biggest and tallest interchange on the planet that is five levels high Hank & Bobbie-Joe needed to find somewhere to stay for the night. It was hot. Dallas – Fort Worth was heading into a record of consecutive 100+F days, arriving at its 37th when Hank & Bobbie-Joe chose to drop by. Spare a thought for poor old Wichita Falls, Hank thought, in Texas, they have passd their 100th 100+F day.

However, Hank and Bobbie-Joe made a critical mistake. Through their travels, they had learnt how to find great areas to stay in the city the were due to arrive by the usual suspects of Trip Advisor, Expedia and as well as the odd Google search.

But on this occasion, Hankgoogle-ised “places to avoid in Dallas”. Check out the comments in this blog about where the danger’s at or even where to avoid when renting. It seemed everywhere Hank and Bobbie-Joe researched, every web page, every review made Dallas sound like bad news. Hank & Bobbie-Joe wanted to stay somewhere else, but after an eight-hour drive, it had to be Dallas. And somewhere with a pool. And somewhere near Mesquite.

Mesquite? Mesquite. Bobbie-Joe just happened to have done some interweb researchin’ while drivin’ through and found a pro rodeo at a Dallas suburb called “Mesquite”, called the Mesquite Rodeo, oddly enough. And to give her and Hank a place to camp out for the night, Bobbie-Joe had booked into the Double Tree at Dallas which also happens to be a Hilton, so Hank & Bobbie-Joe felt they were in good hands.

Knowing they only had a 30 minute turnaround after arriving at the Double Tree at Market Center before Hank & Bobbie-Joe had to get to Mesquite, they checked in, bags were very quickly dragged upstairs and while Bobbie-Joe took to the bathroom, Hank headed to the pool. After travelling all day, even with the air conditioning in the Chevy, it was a long, hot day and a ten minute dip in the pool did the world of good for Hank. Heading back up in the lift, Hank couldnt help but notice the name on the lift’s compliance certificate. Check out the photo below…

Anyway, after a quick freshen up and a fresh change of clothes, Hank & Bobbie-Joe set out to get to the Mesquite Rodeo using just a Chevy, a GPS and their wits.

Arriving at Resistol Arena, after re-negotiating the High Five, Hank & Bobbie-Joe were excited to be at their first rodeo. It seemed that going to the rodeo in Texas was just like going to the football in Australia and was very much a family affair. There were kids as young as you can imagine all turned out in full cowboy gear. Bobbie-Joe’s favourite though was the young four year old with jeans, a belt buckle, a miller shirt, cowboy hat, a vest and great looking cowboy boots…with spurs on!

Finally getting tickets and entering the air conditioned stadium, Bobbie-Joe craved her very first corn dog and Hank went for nachos, in true Tex-Mex style, coupled with a Bud Light. At 7.30pm sharp, the lights went down and the stadium was filled with good ol’ country and western music. The evening’s MC welcomed everyone to the stadium, letting all the folks know that we were in the greatest city, Dallas, in the greatest state, Texas, of the greatest country in the world, the USA.

Like most public announcements Hank & Bobbie-Joe had heard, servicemen and their families were recognised and thanked for their contributions. He thanked the Okies, Oklahoma, for coming. He welcomed Arkansas-ians, but reminding everyone that the home to the world’s largest trailer park belonged to folks from Louisiana and they were welcome too!

Not really knowing what to expect, the night got under way with some good ol’ bull riding, saddle bronco riding, bareback riding, cowgirl barrel racing, tie-down ropin’, steer wrestling and team ropin’. This Texas rodeo delivered everything Hank & Bobbie-Joe thought a Texas rodeo should have although they both winced when they saw what happens in the tie-down ropin’ events…it wasnt very kind to the calves, let’s put it that way.

The clowns did their job saving more than a few cowboys from an errant hoof or a steaming bullhorn. One of the clowns dropped his pants to show his underpants, much to the disgust of the MC who thundered, “What do you think you are doing with your pants down there?”, “Well, I’m an episode of COPS!”.

Half way through the evening there was a break in proceedings. According to the MC, this was the time for the littlest tackers to get involved in a sport called “Mutton Bustin’“. Geared up in a crush proof vest and a helmet, the smallest kids are thrown onto the back of a sheep and the sheep is herded out into the arena and it doesnt just trot, it bolts for it’s life! Not many of the kids stayed on for long, nor did they have the most graceful of landings.

After Mutton Bustin’, the call went out over the PA for all kids aged 7-12 years old to get down onto the rodeo arena for a race. It took over ten minutes to get all the kids onto the arena and were all herded to one end ready to start the race. There must have been over 1,000 youngsters jostling for position at the start line and after a couple of false starts and a couple of cheeky kids pushed back behind the line after sneaking over, it looked ready to start. All of a sudden, a couple of calves were released at the other end of the arena and the MC called “Go kids!” and it started.

Y’see there were a couple of ribbons tied to the tails of the calves and the aim of the game was to get yourself a ribbon before the next kid got to it. The arena was a swarm with kids and the calves tried to weave their way through the heavy traffic and few of the kids weren’t quick enough to get over and tasted the Resistol Arena dust as they hit the floor.

After a couple of minutes of mayhem, all the ribbons had been captured and the contest was declared over, with the winners getting their t-shirt prizes. One boy deserved special mention because he helped up a poor little girl that had fallen over in the dust after being jostled by a combination of kids and calves. The kid drew applause from the crowd and scored himself a very nice T-shirt souvenir.

The MC summed up Mesquite, Dallas, Texas perfectly when he declared over the PA, “How’s that hey? It’s illegal to smack your kid in Wal-mart, but it’s perfectly legal to put them into a rodeo. Work that one out”.

Thanks Mesquite, Rodeo, for Hank & Bobbie-Joe’s pure Texan adventure.

The next day Hank & Bobbie-Joe headed to the Fifth Floor, a JFK museum established in the same building on the very same fifth floor Lee Harvey Oswald is said to have fired the fateful bullets that ended the life of President Kennedy. It was a hollow feeling visiting the site of an assassination, although Hank & Bobbie-Joe found out quite a bit of the Kennedy backstory, the context of the times and the conspiracy theories. Putting all that aside, Hank & Bobbie-Joe felt that it was such a waste of life. One of the more macabre elements of the museum is that you can look out the same window Oswald apparently did and see the roadway upon which the President had travelled in the open top car. Because the Presidential car was turning a hairpin corner in the planned route, it had to slow down quite some. The small stretch after the hairpin turn was where the assassination took place. It was clear line of sight and was quite unsettling.

After a couple of hours, Hank & Bobbie-Joe headed outside into the 100F and down to the infamous stretch of road. There are two crosses marked on the roadway itself, highlightin’ where each evil bullet struck it’s target. We stood on the grassy knoll and just felt sad for the President, his wife and family and for the country at the time. The photo below shows the view from the final of these crosses, looking back up at the building.

After such a somber experience on empty stomachs, Hank & Bobbie-Joe decided to find somewhere downtown Dallas. A restaurant called “The Iron Cactus” beckoned through good reviews and great looking food. It was 3.30 pm on a Sunday and Hank & Bobbie-Joe was hopin’ they’d still be serving. And to the hungry relief of Hank & Bobbie-Joe, they were.

“A margarita is in order to send off this fine city of Dallas” declared Hank, and margarita he did. You can see it below in the photos. Bobbie-Joe enjoy a sip or two of Hank’s margarita and smiled at Hank, thinking what a lovely man she had married and what an amazing second honeymoon adventure they were having. Hank smiled back and kissed his beautiful wife. “Where to next Bobbie-Joe?” Hank playfully queried. “We’re goin’ to Oklahoma sweety”.

And with a flourish of a credit card to settle the account, Hank & Bobbie-Joe left the Iron Cactus for the familiar air conditioned confines of the Chevy, started her up and began the trip to visit the Okies.

Dixie Dinin’ at Texarkana

Leaving the vintage Vista and memorable Memphis early in the morning, Hank and Bobbie-Joe decided to pass on the complementary continental breakfast of tinned fruit and cornflakes and hit the road at 9am for Dallas.

Ahead of Hank and Bobbie-Joe was 8 hours of horizon watching, a few towns and at the end, the Mesquite Rodeo in suburban Dallas was awaitin’. In the interests of getn’ to spend a week in Vegas, there wasnt a lot of time to meander in this stretch. So, sorry Arkansas fans, but Hank and Bobbie-Joe didn’t get a chance to stop in your state, other than to refuel, hightailin’ it to the Lone Star State!

After leaving Arkansas, Hank and Bobbie-Joe were welcomed into Texas, not by signage but by big blue lone stars plastered on the side of the bridges and overpasses we encountered entering the state…another spaghetti junction of intersecting roads, bridges and highways. The GPS did its duty and moved us through the tangle.

On the other side, Hank and Bobby-Joe were both ravenous after having eaten bananas and dates for breakfast and came across a highly recommended little place that promised to give the comfort we were looking for after a stretch of 5 hours in the Chevy.

Hello Dixie Diner!

Hank and Bobbie-Joe were met at the door by our waitress with a big smile and southern drawl “Welcome to the Dixie Diner, I’ll be your server today” and we proceeded to a booth, covered in pleather and a table a touch high that made Hank and Bobbie-Joe feel like they were little kids, peeping over the top.

The waitress handed the menus over and to the delight of Hank and Bobbie-Joe, it promised all the lovely delicacies the South can offer; fried chicken, grits, biscuits, even chicken fried beef steak.

The waitress returned and as Hank and Bobbie-Joe started to order she queried, “Are y’all from Australia? Cos I watched a movie last night with an Australian in it, well it was an American actor but he was playing an Australian and y’all accents sound the same”. She was delighted when, despite the American sounding names, Hank and Bobbie-Joe were in fact, Australians. With a giggle, the waitress resumed taking the order.

Bobbie-Joe ordered a half serve (3 pieces) fried catfish and two sides; one of mash and gravy, the other of fried okra. Hank went for the meatloaf,  with three sides; fried okra, black-eyed peas and, keeping with the mantra of trying food never tasted or heard of before, also ordered a side of turnip greens. Hank had heard Elvis sing about turnip greens in Polk Salad Annie and this was the time he was gonna try them. Inspired by Uncle Lou, we also ordered some sweet tea.

The Diner was quite large, could seat a hundred people and as it was approaching 2pm on a Sunday, not too many people in there, surprisingly. Or not? Perhaps we had been given a bum steer or was the Dixie Diner pumped up too much? Hank and Bobbie-Joe were nervous, but tired. They were here and it was here they would be eating as there were still palpable hours ahead on the road to Dallas. Not too long after that, our food arrived.

The feature of the meal would have to be the meatloaf in its taste but also that in size it resembled a small loaf of bread. Coated with a home cooked tomato sauce, it was delightful.

The food tasted like I was in my grandmother’s kitchen, if she was a Southerner. Cooked perfectly and we rounded it out with buttermilk pie a la mode. The ice cream tastes like how it used to taste before companies cared more about profits than product – you could taste the cream. Hank and Bobbie-Joe hadn’t tasted food like this before and both swore if they could, if they ever had the chance, they would move to Texarkana, just for the Dixie Diner’s food. And for the friendly service.

Hank and Bobbie-Joe loved the Dixie Diner. If you’re ever finding yourself travelling from Memphis, through Arkansas to allas, Texas, wait til you get to Texarkana; don’t go to a chain to eat, do yourself a favour and visit the humbly, brilliant Dixie Diner.

Food from the South before the Backbeat of Memphis

Memphis has such an amazing musical history. To twist a quote from Con from the Castle “There is Music everywhere Mr Kerrigan”. For Hank and Bobbie-Joe to get to everything, to hear the stories was always going to be hard. But we had a go.

Now Beale Street is the heart of musical Memphis. Hank and Bobbie-Joe both agreed that Beale Street was a much grittier place than Nashville’s Broadway. In common, both street have amazing musicians and artists. There are so many bands, musicians and artistsplaying every night that you could spend a lifetime in each of the streets and still not see everything.

Beale Street was where Elvis hung out as a boy, picking up tips and tricks from the Blues guitarists and singers. It was this street that BB King came to as a  19 year old, convinced he was the best blues guitarist. After a time, BB realised he wasnt quite there yet and headed home to Louisiana, determined to come back and show the Beale Street musicians he could cut it. The best way to prove you belong on Beale Street years after you have made it is to get a bricks and mortar bar and name it after yourself – thats exactly what BB King did. And Jerry Lee Lewis watched the honky tonk piano playing as a boy in Memphis, which is where he got his unique style.

In enjoying the Mississippi last night Hank and Bobbie-Joe decided to book a Memphis tour with Backbeat Tours. But before Hank and Bobbie-Joe started out on the three hour tour, the Blues City Cafe on fabulous Beale Street next door was beckoning for an early lunch.

The Blues City Cafe website is great, make sure you check it out – they have a jukebox pop-up playing some of the best blues you’ve never heard.

Music aside, after being shown to a window booth by the friendly waitress, Hank and Bobby-Joe checked out the menu to see what would take their fancy. They ordered their food and took in the atmosphere. Not lost on either Bobby-Joe or Hank was the big sign behind the counter above the grill: “Get some south in your mouth”. Enough said!

The food arrived and Hank and Bobbie-Joe were in heaven. The chili that arrived at the table was the best he had tasted so far in the second honeymoon travels. In the spirit of trying menu items never before tasted (or heard of) Hank tried the seafood gumbo – and it was an amazingly thick soup with big, chunky, tender pieces of fish, oysters, crab meat and rice. It was one of the most amazing Southern dishes Hank had tasted. Bobby-Joe didn’t order the tamales, but became a big fan of them and really enjoyed sharing them with Hank.

After an amazing meal, Hank and Bobby-Joe headed outside and checked into the tour office awaited the tour bus. It wasnt hard to spot when it pulled up in Beale Street out the front of the Blues City Cafe.

What is different about Backbeat Tours compared to the others? They both visit the sights of Memphis and tell the musical stories, but only Backbeat employs a working musician as the tour guide, complete with guitar playing songs from the rich Memphis musical heritage. Our guide was Brandon, who was a tall fellow who had unfortunately put his back out the night before playing a gig. Of course Hank had a quick chat to him and showed him some stretches to help ease his back pain and away we went! The bus got going and Brandon started belting out a few numbers from Elvis, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. Percussion instruments were handed out and the whole bus was suddenly a band, with Brandon on guitar lead.

Church Park was the first sight where the first black millionaire from the South, Robert Church bought a large slab of land to use as a park among African-Americans. Also, we saw the Beale St. Baptist Church, the first brick constructed multistory church in the US built by African-Americans for African-Americans

Next stop was Sun Records and we had a tour of this famous studio. Originally, before it was Sun Records, Sam Phillips’ business was “Memphis Recording Service – anything, anywhere, anytime“. However, after recording a number of artists and seeing the artists go to the record labels, Sam Phillips decided he needed to keep some of those artistic gems for himself. Hence, Sun Records was born.

Searching for a new sound, Sam Phillips heard Elvis in one of his auditions at Sun playing around with “Thats Alright Mama”. That was the birth of rock n’ roll, right there in the Sun Records studio.

A musical history revealed some very interesting influences; Howlin Wolf, Rocket 88 and Bear Cat by Rufus Thomas that somehow Sam Phillips had morphed into Hound Dog, with morphed being a euphemism for copyright infringement. Sam Phillips ended up having to pay a massive $1580 settlement with Lion Records.

The Prisonaires  were a group that came together when a couple of gents doing 99 years apiece for murder came together in the Tennessee State Penitentiary with a couple of other long termers. They sang harmonies together and sang songs like Just Walkin in the Rain. So appreciated were they that the Governor of Tennessee used to let the gents out on day release so they could perform at his mansion. It was these guys that the film “O Brother Where Art Thou?” featuring Georg Clooney and the Soggy Bottom Boys (Man of Constant Sorrow)was loosely based on.

In 1986, an Elvis tribute album titled “Class of 55″ with Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. A fellow by the name of WC Handy penned a song called “Mr Crump Blues“, a protest song about the largest political figure in Memphis at the time – Edward Crump.

A Slim Whitman concert at Levitt Shell in Overton Park is where Elvis knocked the socks off the rednecks at the “Hillbilly Hoedown” singing Thats Alright Mama and for encore Blue Moon of Kentucky. It was Elvis’s first public appearance and the rednecks weren’t all that happy that their girlfriends were teary eyed and screaming for a slick haired, hip swivelling, pretty boy in a pink suit. He had to hightail it out of there after encore after encore. Elvis also sang his a and b sides on his single for the Louisiana Hayride, a rival to the Grand Ole Opry.

The Million Dollar Quartet on December 4 1956 (Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis) jammed in the Sun Records, performing a broad range of gospel songs. According to Johnny Cash, no-one wanted to follow Jerry Lee Lewis, but you have to read Cash’s biography to find out why.

We then drove past Stax Sudios, the home of soul,and rival to Motown in Detroit. If Nashville is the home of C&W and Memphis of Blues Stax was the home of soul. Artists such as Booker T. & the MGs, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Al Green all recorded there. Stax records was located in an old movie theatre. During the transition from theatre to recording studio, they kept the cinema bass speakers and the raked seating flooring which gave recordings from Stax a unique sound.

Driving past Brandon was and providing his personal insights on Memphis history and sites (Sun Studio, National Civil Rights Museum, Stax Museum, WC Handy House, Beale Street and Overton Park).

We saw quite a few examples in Memphis of a shotgun shack where you could walk into the room and fire a shotgun and kill everyone with one shot because the layout was really just one long skinny room.

We also visited the Peabody Hotel. Now this Hotel has a fountain in the main foyer and its such a lovely art deco hotel that a fountain doesn’t seem out-of-place. And when you hear the sound of the water rushing over the fountain, its quite relaxing, But when you see ducks in the fountain, well, you get a shock.

The Peabody is a Memphis landmark for a couple of reasons. One is the ducks. The other is Mr Lansky at Peabody. He was the man who Elvis would visit and get his fashion advice and clothes from for his performances. e was known as “Lansky – Clothier to the King”. Elvis used to model some of his clothes for him. And even today, the store is right there in the foyer of the Peabody Hotel.

We also saw where Elvis lived with his family after he arrived in Memphis, It was an apartment in the projects where rent was $35 per month. BB King and Elvis were neighbours; Elvis lived in apartment 48 and BB King in apartment 52.

We also drove past the Lorraine Hotel, where a lot of the Stax records artists would stay and hang out. You see Stax Records didn’t have air conditioning, so these boys and girls would be singing soul all day and night and would get back to the Lorraine Hotel to the airconditioning in their rooms. In these late night parties and jam sessions at the Lorraine Hotel the songs Knock on Wood & Midnight Hour were all written at the Lorraine Hotel. The Lorraine Hotel was also where Martin Luther King wrote the Mountain Top Speech (see part 1 and part 2), a moving and inspiring speech.

Unfortunately and its prophetic in his speech, as he knew his days were numbered. Within 24 hours of giving this speech at the Memphis Masonic Hall around the corner from the Lorraine Hotel, Martin Luther King was assassinated. The white wreath on the balcony marks the place where his life was taken. It’s a very sombre moment of the trip.

Later though Brandon was able to lift the spirits of the group as we came to the end of the trip and it was tip time.

That night after getting back from the tour, we went to Rendezvous and Hank enjoyed some good ribs with two sides; one of slaw and awesome black beans and a pickle. Bobby-Joe enjoyed a cheese sandwich on Memphis’ own Wonder bread, the bakery round the corner and is the whitest of white of all breads. Ever.

Keen for a dessert that supported the great flavours of Memphis, Hank and Bobbie-Joe stopped by the Flying Fish. It was lovely, had a big lineup, and was a bit smoky inside. Extractor fans didn’t seem to be drawing all the smoke, so it felt a bit greasy. However, the the Key Lime Pie, fried chocolate cake and margaritas were excellent. But it wasnt just the key lime pie that was amazing about this place; it was also the “World’s First Billy Bass Adoption Centre“. True to form, every wall was panel to panel adopted Big Mouth Billy Bass fish.

After dinner, Hank and Bobbie-Joe headed back to the Vista and chilled out for a while before we headed back into Beale Street and stopped by the Black Diamond Bar and heard a band called The Bluesmasters play an awesome blues song called Real Sad Story and a Bobby Womack song called Stand Up In It ; a song about men thinking the know what women want and goes out to all the 5 minute brothers. It was written in response to Denise LA Salle’s Lick it Before You Stick It. And another song I didn’t get the full title of, but along the same vein.

Memphis is definitely grittier than Nashville, but an amazing place for music, people and stories. Well worth a second visit.