Our 2005 Road Trip, Part 3 of 10: Deep in the Heart of Texas

Texarkana Welcome Center!

Pit stop at the Texas Welcome Center in Texarkana, Texas, which is not to be confused with its next-door twin city of Texarkana, Arkansas. Not sure which one’s the evil one.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Welcome to the first installment of another special MCC miniseries, representing the original travelogue from our 2005 drive from Indianapolis to San Antonio, Texas, and back again in far too short a time…

Texas. The Lone Star State. The largest state we’ve ever visited. Which is logical because the only larger United State is Alaska, which we’d have driven to by now if it were thousands of miles closer. We even know someone who lives there, so someday we’ll have to find an excuse to head up there. Maybe if we ever dive deeper into the world of air travel, save up enough vacation days, and remember to fly with any airline other than United.

Wait. Where were we? Oh, right: Texas. That big, long, flat, dry, world-famous state. From our first day inside its borders, as the driver I mostly remember the “long” part.

* * * * *

Welcome to Texas!

Anne tries to snap pics of every “Welcome to _______” state intro sign as we pass them. Some are more cooperative than others.

Once we exited Arkansas and drive our first several hundred feet into Texas, we braked for the Welcome Center and carted off as many tourist-trap pamphlets as we could. We were just grateful they were open — one recurring theme throughout the week was an epidemic of closed welcome centers and rest stops under construction. So much the better for local restaurants, I guess, but why so many at one time? Was there a recent legislative mandate that they all be shut down and refurbished at once?

Hours after the Welcome Center was a stop for lunch in Mt. Pleasant, where the cheap familiarity of Burger King won the family vote. I stumped the cashier by asking about their window sign that promised a “low-carb menu”, earning myself a long dumbfounded look from her until she asked another employee, who in turn explained that “low-carb menu” was a phrase which here meant “sandwiches without buns”. One had to wonder how much further down the low-carb fad would have to sink into the sunset before this BK took down their “low-carb menu” sign and stopped trying to milk the sandwiches-without-buns concept for all the simplistic cash-in brilliance that their head honchos perceived it to be worth. Either way, my field research confirmed my hunch that their Ultimate Double Whopper is much less messy to eat if the staff removes the bun and throws it in a salad bowl with a fork on the side, as they did at my behest, rather than serving it on the usual, instantly biodegradable flimsy bun.

Not long after Mount Pleasant was the great and towering metropolis of Dallas, a city that could beat the stuffing out of Indianapolis and run roughshod all over us without breaking a sweat. Our next tourist attraction: the Sixth Floor Museum…known once as the infamous Texas School Book Depository.

Sixth Floor Museum!

Hi, I’m the Texas School Book Depository! You might remember me from such films as JFK, Jackie, and Ruby! Funny how no one ever wants to make a movie about my school books. No one.

Free parking was on Market Street north of the Museum just over the railroad tracks. The most well-known knoll in the world is on Dealey Plaza down a bit from the seven-story building. The actual death-street runs southwest diagonally from the intersection. The museum proper is on the sixth and seventh floors, with Lee Harvey Oswald’s very own perch (seen above on the same row as, and immediately to the right of, the line of arch-shaped windows) cordoned by glass walls and preserved as a crime scene in perpetuity. If you look down, you’ll notice the hardwood floor within the scene is still there, whereas the rest of the museum was carpeted long ago. A nearby display alludes to the arguments that were had over the recreation of the surrounding boxes of books and how they should’ve been stacked.

The bulk of the museum is wall-mounted descriptions, summaries, photos, and film stills, possessing all the functionality of a coffee-table book writ large, except you have to walk around from page to page. For three bucks extra you can rent a Walkman audio tour that reads the walls to you, in case you don’t like the sound of your own inner voice. You have to look hard and read carefully to find the few choice artifacts, as opposed to the numerous simulated artifacts — e.g., a camera of the same model as Zapruder’s, guns just like those used by the parties involved, displays of merchandise and fad items from the same era as the events in question. Obsessive MCC readers may recall we’re not avid fans of replica props. A lot of the exhibits provided context and set the mood, but far too few items could be prefaced by the phrase, “THE ACTUAL”.

One interesting wall on the seventh floor sported a sampling of relevant newspaper front pages from 11/22/63 and up, from assorted newspapers worldwide. According to my own findings, only the Chicago Tribune and Washington Post had full-color capabilities; only two or three foreign papers used red as a third color. Also on hand were live film samples from the time, most captivating of which was a reel of a local news producer who, less than ten minutes after the shooting, ran all the way from Dealey Plaza back to his studio and preempted a vapid talk-show fashion segment to announce what had just happened — hair tousled, still out of breath, and not remotely calm.

Despite my nitpicking, by the time you’re done sorting through it all, you’re left feeling somber and drained…unless you’re a ten-year-old boy who’s been cooped up in an SUV for one hour too many and has too much energy on his hands. After I bought myself the best-looking souvenir pen of the week, we walked around downtown Dallas for a short while, stretching our legs and admiring the varying architectural marvels that clash wildly with each other. The Dallas panorama before us suggested a hodgepodge too-many-cooks approach to city design.

Old Red Courthouse!

The Dallas County Courthouse, a.k.a. the Old Red Courthouse, was one of many distinctive attractions we hadn’t planned to visit. As of 2007 it became another museum.

Once we realized that Dallas was just too big and too hot, we retreated to the rental SUV and attempted to leave town. The key word there: attempted.

I’d intended to make a left on Young Street so we could swing by Pioneer Plaza and take a gander at the Western statues out front, but some high-ranking wisenheimer thought it’d be a swell idea to take down the “Young Street” signs and replace them with a longer, more pompous name. I don’t recall or care about the actual name, but it was something like “Martin Luther King Memorial Expressway” or “John Wilkes Booth Superconductive Interstate Bypass Deluxe” or “The Verizon Wireless Maria Conchita Alonso Honorary Commemorative Downtown Thoroughfare Throughway Uppercut Detour Doubleplusgood Exhibition Road Lane Avenue, with Retsin.” Suffice it to say, I passed the Street Formerly Known as Young and wound up back on I-35 sooner than I’d wanted to…for all of a block, before I somehow failed to turn with it just right and was relocated onto some neighborhood street or another.

Reunion Tower!

Reunion Tower, formerly home to a radio station, now an observation deck and restaurant. Maybe someday we’ll return to Dallas for Dallas, not just passing through.

The SUV didn’t come with the optional dome compass or GPS, but I knew enough to wend my way through the various one-way streets — not unlike similar mazes to be found in Indianapolis or in Washington DC — until I made my way back to the Sixth Floor Museum and tried again. I made a series of random turns in the same general direction I wanted to go…and finally drove past Pioneer Plaza by accident, just enough to catch a glimpse of the statues beyond the trees…

Pioneer Plaza Cattle Drive!

Wave bye-bye to the Pioneer Plaza Cattle Drive, son!

…and just enough to be frustrated by all the filled parking spaces. Using a completely different set of one-way streets, I made my way back to the museum a third and final time, then rejoined I-35 once again, this time on purpose. After so many laps around in vain, I refused to stop again until Dallas was distant in the rear-view mirrors. An hour or so later we finally felt comfortable enough to stop in Italy. There’s a joke there somewhere that would draw a parallel between Italy, TX, and the Parthenon in Tennessee, but it eludes me. We stopped for much-needed gas well beyond the halfway point on the gas gauge ($22.98), browsed through our first Stuckey’s (which might amuse any hardcore comics fan who ever read Sam ‘n’ Max, Freelance Police), and grabbed another cheap meal, this time at a dirty fly-infested McDonald’s adjacent to Stuckey’s.

As we left Italy and headed south on I-35 to Waco and beyond, Anne and I spent several starry-eyed moments just staring at the great Texas sky. It may have just been that stretch of road between Waco and Dallas/Fort Worth, more so to us than anywhere else in the state, but the sky there was just so…vast. Vast, vast sky.


Like, really vast. It’s as though the Earth is folded back on itself at a sharper angle just so it doesn’t block your view of the sky. Or maybe we’re just crazy naive tourists. Or both, really. I’d concede that point.

We drove the rest of the way to San Antonio without stopping. We’d saved a stop in Waco for the way back on Wednesday, but I do have to note that Austin is a wonder to behold from I-35, where it’s all one big intricate network of bridges and exits and hills and offshoots that looks as bizarre as any of the driving experiences in The Fifth Element. At one point I-35 splits into two separate tracks — one that accesses one set of city streets, one that accesses the rest — that run alongside each other but at different heights. If you take the lower track, it’s like driving through the narrow tunnels in The Running Man — you’re just surrounded on all sides by the walls of other lanes, with still more lanes crisscrossing overhead. It was an exhilarating sort of claustrophobia, the likes of which I hadn’t felt since crossing the Grand Island Bridge the year before. Whee!

After the nine or ten hours of driving, we didn’t arrive at our Quality Inn in San Antonio until 9:30 p.m. Our room reeked of the cigarette smoke from previous occupants. The room fridge, whose brochures had promised us cookies and drinks awaiting us, was empty except for two ice packs and one unopened bottle of Bud Light, which my son promptly threw away. By the time we finished unloading the car, their outdoor pool was closed, as were our eyes mere minutes later.

To be continued!

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

2 responses

  1. I wasn’t in Texas in 2005, but from your post I can tell nothing much has changed. The roads are treacherous and the heat is torturous, but it’s home now and I suppose as good a place as any to visit for BBQ and a view of the wide open spaces from the highway that often functions more like a parking lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • San Antonio definitely had its parking-lot moments for us, not to mention the headaches I had while trying to make sense of the Mapquest directions that made their interstate exit designs, with their ramps that lead to side streets that lead to actual streets and then vice versa, more befuddling than they needed to be.


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