Sunday, September 27, 2009

Empty Rooms

Life can have empty rooms where the living
can leave their rage, fears, doubts, and pain
when they fit appropriately no place else.

Life has tidy little boxes
where the inappropriate agonies
can be locked away, out of the mind's eye.

There's a trick to living a happy life.
It's as simple as staying out of the wrong rooms
and hiding suitable boxes in all the right places.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I've been busy, which is one reason for the lack of posts.

Another reason is that my wife just had an internal cardioverter defibrillator implanted in her chest, with leads placed directly into the atrial and ventricular chambers of her heart. The reason for the implant was her irregular heartbeat and the potentil for sudden cardiac arrest.

The idea of the docs doing this work had me on edge. She came home today and is feeling fine, though, so I'm not as distracted. But I'm still godawful busy. I did cancel my participation in a client event in Washington, DC next week, though; sending someone else in my place. So, my stress has been taken down a couple of notches.

I need to take the stress level down a few more notches.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Road Trip: Abilene

We got a very late start, close to 10:45 am. We went to the office at 11:00 to drop off a bunch of stuff for a staffer’s garage sale; we have been talking about having a GS for years, but nothing has happened, so my wife turned our sales items over to the staffer.

Then, we headed toward Fort Worth. The intent had been to go to Mi Cocinita, a “hidden kitchen” at the back of a lady’s driveway in Fort Worth (reported on Hidden Kitchens NPR series a couple of years ago. But I called and got a recording saying the place is closed but hopes to reopen in September after “my mother” (the voice recording said) “follows the doctor’s advice and gets better.” She then thanked everyone for their good wishes. So, we will try Mi Cocinita later. Instead, we went to Los Vaqueros in Fort Worth, near the stockyards. Decent food, very attractive old warehouse turned into a restaurant.

After lunch, we headed west on I-30 (which turns into I-20). I started falling asleep about 2:30, so my wife took over the wheel. She stopped about ½ hour later in a little town (Eastland) where she wanted to buy something cold to drink (2 root beers and some beef jerky, for me). As we were leaving, she asked if the area was dry; yes, the counter girl said, but we could go 10 miles back to Ranger or 26 miles further on to Putnam. We did the latter. Bought some gin and tonic and were set for the bar for the rest of the trip.

We got to Abilene an hour later and checked in to the Hampton Inn on Ridgemont. Then, after a brief break, we headed out early for dinner…left just after 5. It rained a bit as we circled the city on the loop. We finally ate at Catfish Corner, where we tried some chicken fried bacon for a starter. My wife got the combo of catfish and fried shrimp; I got just the fried shrimp. Both of us got a baked potato, cole slaw, and hush puppies.

The place was a madhouse. It’s split in two; two dining areas, with a kitchen in the center. It was crammed with people and understaffed, but they seemed to be nice people. Lots of good ole boy families, a few scattered people of color, and us. Most of the hulky, heavy, middle-aged plus waitresses wore Capri pants and sported bizarre tattoos on their calves, wrists, forearms, etc.

After eating as much as we could, we went to the counter to pay. Our waitress printed out our ticket and I was blindly going to pay it, but my wife noticed that we were charged for an order of onion-rings we did not order and did not receive. The waitress was too ready for her objection, claiming she knew she had made a mistake on someone’s ticket and she was just SO glad my wife caught it. Lies, miserably conniving lies! I simply paid the adjusted bill and we walked outside, where it was pouring rain.

I ran to the car and my wife made it most of the way there but stayed under a cover while I backed the car out and drove closer to her; otherwise, she would have had to walk through mud.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Albertson’s where I bought 2 limes. And there we sat in our motel room, me typing away and sipping my gin & tonic and my wife laying on the couch, reading a book and occasionally sipping her gin & tonic.

Tomorrow, I said to myself, steak dinner. But we were going the play the rest of the day by ear.

September 5, 2009—Abilene Road Trip

We started out the day rather early for a vacation day. My wife was awake by or before 7 am and I was up shortly thereafter. We had decided the night before that we’d first consider two options for breakfast: The Dixie Pig (downhome style basic breakfasts) or Mary’s Restaurant (Mexican restaurant that serves breakfast). I jumped online to try to find out if both were open on Sundays; if one were and one were not, we’d go for the one that does not open Sundays on this Saturday morning. I called The Dixie Pig first; no, they are not open on Sundays, I was told. So, I called Mary’s. Yes, they are open on Sundays. The decision was made for us.

September 4, 2009—Abilene Road Trip
Off we went in search of The Dixie Pig. The parking lot was full, mostly with pickups, and the place looked like an old-style diner from the outside; plain, simple, and unobtrusive. We went in and sat ourselves at a booth. All around us were old men, mostly, and the occasional old woman. The waitresses all were wearing hot-pink t-shirts with writing on the back, “I Pigged Out at the Pig, Abilene, Texas.” I wanted to get some photos, but it just wasn’t appropriate in the environment.

A geezer who was sitting in the booth behind my wife (who had left for the restroom soon after we walked in) was 85, at least, I’d say. He was finishing up his breakfast when another geezer, a man probably ten years his junior, walked up and began talking to him. I couldn’t hear every word, but the younger guy seemed to be explaining that he’d like to sit with the old man, but he was meeting his family at the place for breakfast. The old guys chatted back and forth for awhile and the older of the men said, “Well, I think I’ll go on now; I came in hoping to find somebody to buy me breakfast,” to which the younger guy replied, “Well don’t look at me, look at him,” gesturing to me and grinning. I grinned back and chuckled, thinking that’s the sort of thing my Dad used to say in similar circumstances. He’d engage an unsuspecting stranger by telling a waitress “I believe that young man offered to buy our breakfast this morning,” and motion to the stranger, grinning all the while and getting the stranger engaged in this silly banter.

The breakfast was good; simple and sufficient in quality and quantity. No heart-healthy fare for me yet, though, as I had eggs and sausage and hash browns and biscuits and gravy. My wife had a similar meal, with ham substituting for sausage and wheat toast filling in for biscuits and gravy.

After taking a couple of photos of the restaurant’s sign for the record, we wandered around Abilene for awhile, driving by the Catfish Corner (where I took a picture…couldn’t the previous night because of the rain), Mary’s (the next day’s breakfast spot), and various other old, weather-beaten and battered restaurants that hold so much more appeal to me than flashy new places with the latest equipment and style.

We made our way to downtown Abilene, which is actually rather interesting. It looks to me like the place has enormous potential to be a great draw for tourists. It would be interesting to take photos of the downtown area as it is today (I did not take such photos, of course, because it just occurred to me) and then do it again in a year or two. I suspect the photos would show an accelerated pace of restoration of some of the old buildings and their unique architectural style.

Happily, along the way I recorded another automotive palindrome for posterity. Along First street, there is a string of sculpture that is intriguing, if not spectacular. I got a few photos of my wife standing in front of a large pink flamingo holding a pair of sunglasses in its beak. I took some shots of a bizarre female pig made of rusted metal. I got some other shots; we’ll see if they are adequate to grace this blog at some point.

Then, we took a long and leisurely drive into the county, going south to Buffalo Gap so we’d know how to get there for dinner later on (our reservations were for 7:30 pm at Perini Ranch Steakhouse). A big festival of some sort was going on in the tiny little town (population: 431), but the traffic was not too bad so we were able to get through town without a breakdown in my social order. Off we went to Perini’s, where we found a huge metal sculpture of an armadillo once we got inside the gate. I insisted my wife pose for a photo by the beast so I could capture the scale of the piece.

The even tinier town of Tuscola was just a few miles up the road. As we approached the town, we saw what appeared to be a stadium filled with people, but we had a hard time finding a road to get to it. We finally found a way to reach the place (which we discovered behind the high school) and learned that a football game was underway. Considering the size of the town, it seemed apparent to me that friends and family of both teams from miles and miles around had converged on the stadium to watch the midday version of Friday Night Lights.

When we got to Lucy’s, a tiny metal building that performed double duty as an eat-in and drive-through restaurant, we realized that someone involved in that game had put in an order for 30 burgers and fries and drinks. As we entered Lucy’s, we saw a table filled with brown paper sacks that were being filled with burgers and sides. And, as we entered Lucy’s, we felt the overpowering heat and moisture of an overworked grill with inadequate ventilation. We ordered our burgers and ate there, but it was a godawfully uncomfortable place to be. I expected the burgers to be good (there was an entire family working behind the counter, so these really were “home cooked” burgers), but I was mistaken. The meat patties were large, but insanely overdone so that there was no juice left in the burgers. I ordered a bleu cheese burger, which was laden with dry bleu cheese and bacon and tomatoes…even the tomatoes were dry. Ah, but it was a country experience.

Our trip back into Abilene was slow as we took our time to look at anything remotely interesting along the say. When we finally made it back to town, we took another trip into downtown Abilene, where we stopped to visit the Grace Museum, a building that had once been a hotel. It was an intriguing place, combining art with education and history. One of my favorite exhibits was a sculpture composed of multiple pieces of wood, stained or painted in various colors.

It was intended to be touched, for when one placed one’s palm against each piece of wood, a different tone or sound would play back from speakers mounted above the piece. The piece was called “Grace Notes” by an artist named Edward Weiss.

The rest of the museum was equally interesting. A full-sized boot shop had been recreated on the third floor (complete with very interesting video exhibits). While we were watching the video about how boots are made, a young guy with a huge camera came in a started taking pictures of us. After getting several shots, he introduced himself as a photojournalist with the local newspaper and said he was getting shots in preparation for a special section about the Grace; he got our names and asked where we were from so he could include that in the paper if our photos were used. He asked why we were in Abilene; when we explained we came primarily for dinner at Perini Ranch Steakhouse, he advised us to have the beans. My wife took him up on his advice later that night as it turned out to be good advice.

Just down the street, a Texana store catering to tourists was bustling; no one was walking the streets, but there was a crowd in the store. As is our custom, we did not buy anything to take back as a memento; instead, we bought a Dr. Pepper that was bottled in Dublin, Texas; apparently, the bottling company in Dublin got special dispensation from the Pope of Pepper (or whoever controls the ingredients in Dr.Pepper) to use locally-grown cane sugar in the drink, which has a very different flavor than “normal” Dr. Pepper.

After the visit at the Grace and the Texana shop, we wandered up and down first and took pictures of some of the sculpture that lines one side of the street. Downtown Abilene had very little traffic on this Saturday afternoon, so we were able to get out to view some of the sculpture.

From there, we went to visit the Frontier Texas! exhibit housed in a very attractive little compound at the end of the downtown area. (The buffalo and wolf photo is from there.) It was loaded with videos and animated features about the history of the Texas plains, told from the perspective of pioneers (and their successors) who did not see anything morally wrong with killing tens of millions of buffalo and the massacre of entire populations of Indians. I found it patently offensive and very poorly-done, but the building in which it was housed was spectacular.

We went back to the motel, where I engaged in behavior unbecoming myself and took a nap (these are becoming more common for me, an indication that I truly have entered geezerhood). Normally, it would be my wife who naps, but this time I took the prize. Then, finally, it was time to head out to Perini’s. This time, it was no dry run; it was the real deal.

The place was jammed with people when we got there, so we parked quite a distance from the front door to the place and walked up the caliche road to the restaurant. When we gave the man our name, he had a time finding it and asked if we were sure we had reservations. A young woman standing behind him finally pointed out our name to him on the list that appeared to be utterly and completely without order.

We were invited to wait in the hallway toward the back of the restaurant, just inside from a very large open-air patio in back where there was a lot of catfish-eating going on. Not everyone goes to Perini Ranch Steakhouse for steak. Before long, we were seated in a room with large screened windows open to the evening air and walls covered with a combination of weathered cedar, knotty pine, and metal siding. We were asked what we wanted to drink, to which I replied I wanted a Perini Martini (dirty martini made with Tito’s Texas Handmade Vodka and garnished with jalapeño-stuff olives) and my wife said she wanted a pomegranate sangria. Because Buffalo Gap is in a deeply religious area which means alcohol is the drink of the Devil, every guest who desires to engage in the Devil’s Drink are required to pay $3 for a two-day membership in a Devil’s Drinking Club which, based on what I read later in a “newspaper” published by a Buffalo Gap psychopath, I’m sure goes to fund the round-up and slaughter of liberals. I turned over my driver’s license to the waitress and she returned it shortly thereafter with proof that I am a cousin of Satan.

During the evening, we discovered that anyone “in the know” in the place ordered a Rack of Ribs for an appetizer. We were not in the know. The idea of ordering meat as an appetizer for more meat seemed odd to me, but lots of people did it and I have to admit the ribs looked very good. But we opted to stick with the options that were included with the dinner: either two vegetables or a vegetable and a salad. My wife ordered the salad and Old Fashioned Green Beans to accompany her 8-ounce filet (medium) and I ordered Green Chile Hominy and Zuccini Perini to go with my 16-ounce ribeye (rare). Before you drop your jaw at the volume of meat, let me say we both took doggie bags with us when we left.

Now, Texas Monthly proclaimed that Perini Ranch Steakhouse is the third best steakhouse in Texas. All I can say is that it is a damned good steakhouse. The meat, which is grilled over mesquite coals, is superb. Except for my run-ins with religion in the past, I would say eating it counts as a religious experience. The marbling in my steak was perfect, adding flavor that I’ve only dreamed of. My god it was fabulous. And my wife’s filet was equally magical, as were her green beans. My zucchini Perini, on the other hand, was better suited to an Italian restaurant; it wasn’t bad, but not a good accompaniment to orgasmic steak. The green chile hominy wasn’t bad, either, but I suspect high-grade crack would have come in a poor second to the meat that night. We both ordered a glass of wine with our dinner, as well; I had a nice glass of Argentinian malbec and my wife ordered a glass of merlot but was served a glass of pinot noir, despite the fact that the waitress insisted it was not the pinot noir that she initially said it was. Both were perfectly good, and inexpensive, accompaniments to the meal. The total cost of the meal, including a very healthy tip, was $100. That’s considerably more than I’d pay for a meal on an average evening, but less than I’d expect to pay for a meal at most high-end steakhouses around Dallas…and the food would not be as good for the money.

After dinner, we drove back to the hotel, stuffed and satisfied.

September 6, 2009—Abilene Road Trip

We could have skipped breakfast and no one would have been the wiser. But we didn’t. We wanted to experience what more than one person on said was the best Mexican breakfast in Abilene. Mary’s Mexican Restaurant, if it has the best Mexican breakfast in Abilene, is just a breath away from annihilation when someone opens a merely adequate Mexican restaurant that serves a good breakfast. Both my wife and I ordered migas which, according to Mary’s, is simply scrambled eggs with a few tortilla chips thrown in and then topped with cheddar cheese. It’s not that the dish is bad, it’s that it tastes and feels and looks nothing like migas. Migas should have tomatoes and onions and garlic and diced jalapeños mixed with a relatively low volume of eggs and thin strips of corn tortillas and lightly covered with Mexican cheese. And it should be accompanied by a firey red, smoky salsa with distinct flavors of cumin and chile powder and roasted peppers. But Mary’s Mexican Restaurant may cater to an uneducated palate. Or, Mary’s may be a fraud. At any rate, I was sorely disappointed at for recommending such a charlatan as the “best” Mexican restaurant in Abilene.

After the sad experience with Mary’s, we went looking for a place my wife had seen twice during our travels around Abilene but, because of my insistence that I pay close attention to driving and traffic, I had not yet seen. My wife described a building with a chicken’s eyes and beak emerging from a wall. And when we found it, that’s what we found. It was Belle’s Chicken Dinner House, a place with a huge parking lot (empty on Sunday morning, of course). Upon seeing the place, I instantly wanted to try it, but I knew it would be impossible on this trip. But I’ll be back. And speaking of back, the back side of Belle’s Chicken Dinner House has a very large train car sitting on tracks. I don’t know whether the train car is part of Belle’s, but I do know that every time I see such a rail car I want to have one for myself. But I still don’t have one.

We checked out of the hotel around 10:30 and headed out of town, this time back in the direction of Buffalo Gap. We had failed to get to see the “historic village of Buffalo Gap” the previous day, so we decided to drop by to see what the signs were all about. The “historic village” is roughly the size of one city block and is composed of a bunch of very old frontier buildings, all behind chain link fence. I assume it may be open to tour at some point, but not that morning.

I don’t know exactly where we went from there; my wife controlled the map and simply instructed me to turn left or right or look for highway number so-and-so. But it was fun. As we drove, we began seeing large fields of wind-turbines off in the distance. We got closer and closer but, to my chagrin, I could not pull off to take close-up pictures, so I cannot share any close-ups. But I can share what we learned about these enormous fields of wind-turbines. They comprise part of the Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center, said to be the world’s largest wind energy farm. While I can appreciate the fact that wind energy generators can be said to be unattractive, I think they have merit. And I think they should be painted bright colors to add a little drama!

Elsewhere during our rural wanderings we came across several highway signs that read “Atlas ICBM Highway.” After we got back home, I learned that Highway 604 was given that designation by the Texas Senate on September 5, 2001, to commemorate the contributions to world peace that the twelve silos that housed intercontinental ballistic missiles had made during their service protecting us from the horrors of the cold war. Hmm. Intercontinental ballistic missiles made a contribution to world peace; who knew?

We swung back north and got back on I-20 heading east just a few miles east of Abilene. We were not hungry in the least, but figured we ought to stop for lunch at some point, so we started looking out for possibilities. We saw nothing but fast food chains for miles. I had a vague recollection of a place called Mary’s that a friend told me about a few years ago; he said it had the best chicken fried steak in Texas. My memory told me it was in Ranger, so we held out until we got there and wandered around the town, looking for it. No luck (when I got back home, I did some research…Mary’s is in Strawn, not Ranger…no wonder we couldn’t find it). Back on the freeway heading east, we decided we could stop in Thurber for lunch at the Smokestack Restaurant or the New York Hill restaurant. We ended up at the Smokestack, where we had chicken fried steak (the thought of Mary’s had elevated our tastebuds). It was good, but too much, so we got doggie boxes and headed home.

And home is where we are now. It was a short trip to Abilene, but a truly enjoyable time. I’m ready to do it again.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

This Post Has Been Removed

This post has been removed for content offensive to my sensibilities. The author led himself away in handcuffs, occasionally beating the prisoner's legs with a heavy rubber hose.

Soon, the content of this blog will be refreshened with mindless happy claptrap, followed by periods of dark and sullen comments and accusatory statements. In the meantime, if you'd like to read something I think is worth reading (or, at least, was worth writing), try this. Or this.

Now, I'm off to eat Mexican food in a "hidden kitchen" and then, tomorrow, steak in a restaurant located on a working ranch.