now what?

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now what?

This is what sitting around does to me. Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? A tune that continuously repeats and there's nothing you can do to make it stop? A little ditty - inevitably a song you don't particularly care for, but the beat or lyrics just happen to be catchy. I know this has happened to everyone on occasion and at this moment, 'The Macarena' is on a non-stop loop in my brain. HEEEY Macarena! God I hate that song.

I've decided I need to get out more often, so last night I went to a county fair. It was a mistake. Allow me to list but a few of the ways I did not fit in. A. I was overdressed. By overdressed I simply mean that I did not have on a beater or jorts. In fact, my shirt actually had a collar, which after last night, I can only assume has been outlawed. B. I have most of my teeth, which is kind of self-explanatory. C. I didn't even know they made cargo jorts. D. I was sober. E. I do not have a tattoo of Jesus or an ex-girlfriend on my neck. F. I did not have a posse, pack, gaggle, or gang. Apparently this is required. G. I wasn't chewing gum or tobacco. G (part 2). I was not spitting into a cup. H. Lastly, and perhaps it's just me, but clowns in general creep me out. I always think there's a body in the basement. So in summation, the whole episode was slightly depressing for someone who considers himself a man of the people. The tasty elephant ears, corn dogs and pulled pork barbecue platter took some of the sting out of the evening. They were out of fried pickles. 

Willing to bet everything I own that one of these guys doesn't have to put on additional makeup to perform. 

Willing to bet everything I own that one of these guys doesn't have to put on additional makeup to perform. 

On to my second brilliant idea. When I was a kid, my dad loved taking his six kids to the zoo. (It is worth noting that we lost at least one kid on each visit because my dad never did a head count until we got home. Those of us not lost simply waved as he drove 80 miles an hour down Kenneth Street on his way back to the zoo.) Easily my favorite attraction at the zoo was the chimpanzee show. Every afternoon at The Jo Mendi Chimpanzee Theater, Jo would roller skate, walk a tightrope, ride a scooter, unicycle, bicycle and motorcycle, balance on stilts, and drive his own electric car. Always in a diaper and occasionally while smoking a cigarette. My dad would double over in laughter every time Jo rode the unicycle. Something about a chimp on a unicycle got him every time. Fortunately we finally figured out that bikes, scooters and cigarettes aren't part of a chimp's natural habitat. In 1983, the Zoo Director, Steve Graham deemed the shows to be cruel and ended an almost 50 year run. The Jo Mendi Theater was dismantled and a new four-acre habitat was created. It was touted as the most naturalistic habitat of any chimp exhibit in the world. But sadly when I walked into the zoo last week I was thinking of only one thing. A chimpanzee riding a scooter with a cigarette dangling from his lips. Not even the mating zebras could top that.

Jo Mendi the Wonder Chimp, seen here with two of my older brothers. The man on the right is Jo's agent Felix Dexstein. Every time Felix gently squeezed his belly, Jo passed gas. Much to the delight of my brothers and more than likely the dismay of Jo Mendi the Wonder Chimp.

Jo Mendi the Wonder Chimp, seen here with two of my older brothers. The man on the right is Jo's agent Felix Dexstein. Every time Felix gently squeezed his belly, Jo passed gas. Much to the delight of my brothers and more than likely the dismay of Jo Mendi the Wonder Chimp.

Okay, so the carnival wasn't very satisfying and the zoo only served to bring back odd, unreachable memories. Now what? Time for brilliant idea number three - The racetrack. After all, what's better than standing at the rail, slapping your program into your palm and shouting at the top of your lungs as your pony comes flying down the stretch? Right? Well, for one thing there is the unending line of people that I had stand behind to place a bet. Then the sea of humanity you pass through to get to the rail. Was Fellini in town casting a movie? Am I the only guy who doesn't own a piece of John Deere clothing? Is there a comb-over contest after the second race? These are the thoughts rummaging through my brain as I stroll through Darwin's waiting room to take up my place at the rail. 

"Springdrops in the seventh," I overheard a man say. "I know the trainer. It's a sure thing." Now we're getting somewhere. "They're dropping him in class. Get on him," said the man who happened to be wearing a magical toupee that moved ever so slightly when he spoke. Now keep in mind that none of this conversation was directed at me. I was clearly eavesdropping, while being entertained by his dancing hairpiece. "Trust me." Oh I trust you. Springdrops was on the board at 28 to 1. That's about a $58 return for every $2 bet. Put $50 on the nose and the payout is around $1,450. So I plunked down $100 and waded back to the rail, giddy thinking about how I was going to spend the $2,900 I was about to win. 

"And they're off," says the PA announcer who sounds like he was the G-man in every Bogart movie. "Springdrops jumps to an early two length lead, with Tenderfoot second, Brutus three lengths off and Sherry, Penny Earned and Solo rounding out the field." I'm feeling pretty good. My program is coming apart at the seams as I pound on the rail. "Come on Springdrops, Daddy needs a new pair of shoes." And down the stretch they come! Springdrops still in the lead by a solid length, Sherry on the inside and Penny Earned pushing hard three wide. I'm screaming "AAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!" (It wasn't an articulate scream.) And then it happened. Springdrops suddenly looked like he stopped running. He didn't of course. It's an optical illusion that takes place when every other horse passes you. "AAAAAAHHHH!" (Even less articulate.) "And it's Penny Earned by a nose over Sherry. Tenderfoot takes third, followed by Solo, Brutus and Springdrops." As I drop my program and mope toward the exit, muttering profanities under my breath, I pass the cashiers window.  And there he is. The man with the magic toupee is cashing in tickets. What the....? "Hey pal, who did you have in that race?" "The winner. Penny Earned. How about you?" "I had Springdrops." He shakes his head, hair doing the bosanova. "Come back next week. He's dropping in class. Sure thing." 

Springdrops jockey, Ted Koezinsky, seen here winning by several lengths the week after I bet on him. The couple in the background, Bobbie and Kip Jordache, had won a radio contest and were allowed to watch the race from the infield. They did not bet on Springrops to win. Losers.

Springdrops jockey, Ted Koezinsky, seen here winning by several lengths the week after I bet on him. The couple in the background, Bobbie and Kip Jordache, had won a radio contest and were allowed to watch the race from the infield. They did not bet on Springrops to win. Losers.

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Home

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Home

I've been home for almost a week. Still trying to process the events of the last 100 days. Fairly safe to say I didn't foresee being abducted by the F.B.I. when I started my 50 state bar tour. Nor did I anticipate being held in an empty white room for days on end. Or jumping from buildings, only to be knocked out - yet again - and interrogated by guys straight from the set of Men In Black. Seriously poor planning on my part. Obviously I should have anticipated being drugged, kidnapped and mistaken for a spy. Happens all the time, right?

With respect to the 50 state bar tour, I only made it through six or seven states before getting hit in the noggin. So I'm chalking up this adventure as having reached an unfortunate conclusion. A bit of an understatement, but why cry over spilled milk as they say. I may shed a tear over spilled bourbon however, but why belabor the point. The dozen or so bars I visited were a mix of howling blues and shit kicking fun. As always I met a few memorable characters that will hang in my memory for years to come. People that I enjoyed having a drink with, a few that I couldn't get out the door fast enough to avoid and every type of Tom, Dick and Sally in between. That's the beauty of an adventurous soul. 

This photo was taken the night before I arrived in Vegas. When I asked Barb about the significance of her tattoos she said, "Obviously they represent peace." In that moment I knew I should just be quiet. 

This photo was taken the night before I arrived in Vegas. When I asked Barb about the significance of her tattoos she said, "Obviously they represent peace." In that moment I knew I should just be quiet. 

So what's next for The Bearded Man? I'm not sure, but I know I have to get back on the road pretty soon. For now, I'm going to lay low and hope some guy in a dark suit, brown shoes and a bad haircut doesn't come strolling up the road. These days I keep looking over my shoulder, thinking a hand is about to reach around and cover my mouth. It's a bit unsettling, but will eventually fade away, only to be found as an occasional tickle in the stilted corners of my mind. In short...I'll be fine. By the way, tomorrow is my birthday and I need a new pair of jeans.

This photo came in an email today. The email read, "Hope all is well Mr. Porcello. Look forward to seeing you in Vegas some time. Your pals at the F.B.I." There was a smiley face emoji at the end.  

This photo came in an email today. The email read, "Hope all is well Mr. Porcello. Look forward to seeing you in Vegas some time. Your pals at the F.B.I." There was a smiley face emoji at the end.  

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The Man in The Panama Hat

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The Man in The Panama Hat

Large pieces of memory were coming back to me. Clearly. Like awakening from a dream with absolute detail. Four men repeatedly calling me Mr. Porcello. Four men repeatedly asking why I was in Las Vegas. When was I meeting my handler? Where were the documents? "You have the wrong man," I insist. "This can happen two ways - The easy way or the other way." "I'm not Mr. Porcello. You've mistaken me for someone else." "You're not going to like what comes next Mr. Porcello." And in that moment, I went from being The Bearded Man to Mr. Porcello. All it took was one injection.

The man in the dark suit was growing impatient, slowly laying the photograph on the bed. "Are you sure you don't recognize any of these men?" "I'm sure." Pieces were beginning to fit, but with a few unyielding sharp edges. Kidnapped and held in a white room. By who? Escaping, only to be picked up by four men. Men I had not seen in the white room. In both cases drugged. In both cases referred to as Mr. Porcello. Ending up in a hospital, with a man in a dark suit sitting across from me. A man who also refers to me as Mr. Porcello. A man who is walking toward me with a needle in his hand. "Time for playing games is over Mr. Porcello. I need to know the names of the four men in the photo. Why did they hide you? What information did you give them?" He grabbed my arm with force and as the needle began to puncture my skin, a man wearing a cream Panama hat entered the room. "Put down the needle Agent Scriff. Now."

I came to learn this man's name is Turnstill. Agent Turnstill. This photo represents his happy face. 

I came to learn this man's name is Turnstill. Agent Turnstill. This photo represents his happy face. 

The man in the Panama hat walked up to me and gently rested his hand on mine. He was clean shaven and I picked up a soft scent of aftershave. His glasses reflected the ceiling's white light, making his eyes inaccessible. His clothing carried no labels. "Good evening," he said before sitting on the edge of my bed. "My name is Federal Agent Turnstill. I know that you are not Mr. Porcello. Let's start there." The cheek of man in the dark suit twitched. He was clearly uncomfortable. "I need information," said Agent Turnstill in a flat voice. "I need to know what happened in the white room." "I've told this gentleman everything I can remember. I didn't really interact with anyone. I was held against my will, but I was never interrogated or punished. It was as if they were simply housing me for someone else. Was it for you?" He showed no recognition of a question having been asked. "Did they ask you any questions about documents?" "No." Do you know why you're here?" "No." His hand was still on mine when he said, "There has been a mistake." 

As my memory slowly reappeared, my itinerary - something about visiting bars - began to grab a foothold. The Horse You Came In on Saloon. I think that's where I was supposed to be. I hope I still don't have an open tab.

As my memory slowly reappeared, my itinerary - something about visiting bars - began to grab a foothold. The Horse You Came In on Saloon. I think that's where I was supposed to be. I hope I still don't have an open tab.

"Mr. Porcello is a foreign national wanted by several agencies in connection with espionage," said Agent Turnstill. "You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. You match the description given to us by Interpol. You see, we've never actually made contact with Mr. Porcello." Agent Turnstill was emotionless. "I had you taken to the white room. We allowed you to escape - notwithstanding the shots fired by Agent Scriff. There was no intent to harm. The white room was intended as a psychological primer for what came next." As I listened, I felt as though I had been inserted into a Tom Clancy novel. What happens now that they know I'm not Mr. Porcello? Do I represent a threat? "Mr. Porcello was captured in Chicago last night. He was carrying documents in the frame of his glasses. He intended to hand them off to a Pakistani diplomat. Before I entered your room I was handed a photo. This is Mr. Porcello." He reaches into his shirt pocket and unfolds a regular sheet of paper. Before handing it to me he smooths the creases. "It's an uncanny likeness. I'm sure you'll agree." I sit up in bed and take the photo. I'm nervous. I turn the sheet over and staring back at me is a black and white photo of me. 

I've been driven to a remote parking lot, secured by tall chain link fence with razor wire resting on top. Agent Scriff and Agent Turnstill sit on either side of me in the back seat of a black Suburban, driven by a young man with a perfectly squared hair cut, just above his collar. As we get out of the vehicle, an older man in jeans and a sweatshirt that said HARVARD on the chest, shakes Agent Turnstill's hand and nods to Agent Scriff. "Tom," said Turnstill. "It's over here," said HARVARD. "We've replaced what we damaged in the work out and detailed the rest. That's a hell of a nice RV you've got there sir." "Thank you," I said, still reeling from the past 24 hours of this Clancy-like affair. Turning to me Agent Turnstill extended his hand. "Here's my card. If you're ever in DC, give me a call. I owe you one." The smallest hint of a smile crept across his lips. "Thank you, I will. But right now I just want to head home. I still have a couple of blank spots and I hoping time on the road will help fill them in." I shook hands with all three gentlemen and opened the door to my Sprinter. They were still standing there when I looked in the rear view mirror and turned onto Interstate 15.

Back on the blue roads heading home. The Bearded Man abides.

Back on the blue roads heading home. The Bearded Man abides.

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On The Roof

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On The Roof

I was out of breath by the time I reached the end of the corridor. As I ran its length I saw no one. I was alone. 

As with every door I had encountered in the white room, the door at the end of the corridor blended seamlessly into the wall. It took several seconds of running my hands over the smooth surface to locate a crease and sunken latch. Slowly opening the door - not knowing what was on the other side - the sun bore into my eyes. I stepped through the door and onto a rooftop. Heat from the tarred roof rose up and danced in distorted waves. Dazed, I suddenly understood that I was looking directly at the Las Vegas skyline. Struggling with the light, I walked to the edge of the roof. I was three stories from the ground, but the roof continued one floor beneath. Suddenly, there was a voice. "Mr. Porcello, please come back inside." I turned to see a man in a dark suit walking toward me with his hands behind his back. "Mr. Porcello, please. I am here to help you." I began to take a step forward, then turned and jumped to the roof below.

A man in a dark suit with a gun behind his back, saying he is here to help me. I'm not James Bond (or am I?) but this doesn't feel right.

A man in a dark suit with a gun behind his back, saying he is here to help me. I'm not James Bond (or am I?) but this doesn't feel right.

I hit the roof hard and awkwardly rolled before gaining my feet and running to the edge. Gathering myself to jump to yet another roof one floor below, I hear the sharp sound of gunfire and the tar next to my feet explodes. "Mr. Porcello, stop! Let me help you!" I have no interest in being assisted by a man who just shot at me. I jump to the roof of the first floor, bounce up and sprint to the edge, where without thought or hesitation I make my final leap onto the pavement below. When I hit the ground, my head glanced against the side of the building and everything went dark for a moment. Then I began to run. Two shots kicked up the gravel as I zigzagged away from the building. Faintly the words "Mr. Porcello, we want to help you!", reached out to me before turning a corner and sliding up against a wall. I was free.

Back of the building where I was held. White room was on the third level. Who knows what was on the first two floors. Probably a Barnes & Noble and a Starbucks.

Back of the building where I was held. White room was on the third level. Who knows what was on the first two floors. Probably a Barnes & Noble and a Starbucks.

When I woke up, the man in the dark suit was sitting across from my bed. The man from the rooftop. "How are we feeling this evening, Mr. Porcello?" "I remember the white room." "I was sent to retrieve you from the people who were holding you. I was sent to bring you in. But you ran." "You shot at me." "I was trying to make you stop. My job was to bring you in." "Why?" "Try to remember what happened after you ran, Mr. Porcello. We need to know what happened after you left the white room." "You found me in a casino and brought me here." "That's correct. But something happened in between. What happened after you ran? Who did you meet?" He reached out and handed me a photograph of four men. "Do you recognize any of these men?" I did, but after a few moments I responded, "no." My memory was kicking into high gear.   

These fellas look innocent enough. But behind the cheery disposition, cheap suits and bad haircuts lurks a quartet of CIA operatives. The white socks gave them away.

These fellas look innocent enough. But behind the cheery disposition, cheap suits and bad haircuts lurks a quartet of CIA operatives. The white socks gave them away.

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Tamii with two i's

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Tamii with two i's

I spent the next seven days in the white room. Exquisite meals were promptly delivered each day at 6:00 AM, noon and 6:00 PM. When I requested a book or newspaper to read, it was brought to me within minutes (there were no electronics). A drink? Virtually instantaneous. When I needed to go to the bathroom I simply said "I need to use the men's room". A door opened and a young lady - never a man - appeared to escort me down the long corridor. During each walk she would always ask the same single question. "Are your accommodations comfortable Mr. Porcello?" And each time I would ask a series of questions. "Where am I? What is this place? Why am I here? Do you have a sister?" Her response was always the same. "If there is anything you need, just ask and we will do everything we can to meet your request." Always spoken with a smile. A big, gloriously white toothy smile. I imagined her name was Tamii - with two i's. Then there's this tidbit. As we walked down the long white corridor, there was always a gentle breeze blowing in our face, regardless of which direction we were walking. Her hair would move ever so slightly and she would gently move her head from side to side. I began to have the distinct impression that I had been kidnapped by a group of disturbed individuals who were secretly making shampoo commercials.  

How can the wind always be in your face? It's one of life's great mysteries. It's right up there with who shot JFK and the contents of Spam.

How can the wind always be in your face? It's one of life's great mysteries. It's right up there with who shot JFK and the contents of Spam.

Some of you may be reading this and thinking...Gourmet meals three time a day, drinks on demand, long walks to the bathroom with shampoo models, unlimited reading material, more peace and quiet than you could possibly wish for...What's the problem? The problem numb-nuts, is that I don't know where I am (a large white room?), I don't recognize my own name (Mr. Porcello?), my memories are scattered and disjointed at best and I have no idea how I came to be here or why. Other than that, yeah, this place is great. 

One day when they delivered the books I had requested,  several old comic appeared. These two were my favorites. Just the thought of Superman crushing it and flying around the bases - literally - made me smile. But then something about baseball began to bring back memories. 

One day when they delivered the books I had requested,  several old comic appeared. These two were my favorites. Just the thought of Superman crushing it and flying around the bases - literally - made me smile. But then something about baseball began to bring back memories. 

On day eight they stopped responding. "I need to use the men's room." The door didn't suddenly and soundlessly swing open. "Hello. I need to use the men's room." Silence. A small rush of panic toyed with my chest. "Hello. Hello?" Nothing. I walked to the place in the wall where the seamless door had always opened. There wasn't a handle on the inside, but slowly my fingers found the crease of the door frame and pulled. The door silently floated open. I stepped into the long empty corridor and hesitated. Then I began to run. 

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The White Room

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The White Room

"Why are you in Las Vegas?" asked the man in the dark suit. "I honestly don't know" I said.

This is what I remember. I'm in a large warm room. My metal framed bed is pushed off to one side, but the rest of the room appears to be empty. There are no windows and the artificial white light hurts my eyes. The floor is white tile, which makes the light brighter and my head ache. I reach over to steady myself against the wall and my fingers feel a slight give. As I begin to get to my feet I hear a voice. "Welcome Mr. Porcello." The voice, tinged with glee, seemingly came from all parts of the room at once. "Did you sleep well Mr. Porcello?" Was I supposed to answer? "Where am I? Who is Mr. Porcello?" "We apologize for any inconvenience this arrangement may cause. We will have a meal delivered to you in minutes." "Where am I?" "Patience Mr. Porcello, patience."  

The white room.  I have to admit the room service was spectacular.

The white room.  I have to admit the room service was spectacular.

"We hope you enjoy your lunch Mr. Porcello. Please let us know if there is anything else we can provide." The gleeful voice came and went. I began to pace the room. As far as I could tell, the room was without a door. How is this possible? "I need to use a restroom." "Someone will be there to assist you in a moment." At which point a door seamlessly materialized from the wall and out stepped a meticulously dressed young woman. "Please follow me Mr. Porcello." "Where are we going?" "To the restroom." With that she opened the door and we stepped into the longest corridor I've ever seen.

My first meal in the white room.  How did they know I love salmon? How do they get lemon wedges to stand on their side like that?

My first meal in the white room.  How did they know I love salmon? How do they get lemon wedges to stand on their side like that?

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The Man in the dark suit

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The Man in the dark suit

The morphine drip made me feel warm and numb. I've been in the hospital for 48 hours and slowly, hazily, small bits and pieces of the last 71 days are beginning to emerge. The man in the dark suit visits me twice a day. He has yet to identify himself and at this point I am content not to ask. He brings me newspapers and gum. I tell him I can't chew gum (I'm afraid I'll choke because I'm so high) but that doesn't seem to matter. "Why are you bringing me newspapers?" I asked during his first visit. "Maybe something will jog your memory. Bring a piece of you back." "Why is this important to you?" "It's important to a lot of people."

Initially, the only memories that surfaced as a result of pouring over newspapers in a half-drugged state were random, disconnected points. For example, I like the Detroit Tigers and hate the Yankees. I remember reading and loving Thomas Wolfe (not the one with the natty suits). Snippets of driving cross country appear like blotches on a canvas. But then I remembered this. A hand reaching over my shoulder and placing a handkerchief over my mouth before everything turned black. 

My sketches of the man in the dark suit.  Claimed Wrigley Spearmint was the finest gum.   

My sketches of the man in the dark suit.  Claimed Wrigley Spearmint was the finest gum.   

A 1950's ad for Wrigley's Doublemint gum.  The man in the black suit cautioned me not to confuse Doublemint with Spearmint. "I've seen it happen.  It can get ugly fast," he said.

A 1950's ad for Wrigley's Doublemint gum.  The man in the black suit cautioned me not to confuse Doublemint with Spearmint. "I've seen it happen.  It can get ugly fast," he said.

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Vegas

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Vegas

It's 3 AM. I'm wandering aimlessly around the casino floor, trying to remember exactly where I am. My head is throbbing. My vision is slightly blurred. There is a slight metallic taste in my mouth and my wrists are raw. As I pass a mirror I'm shocked by my appearance. My clothes are tattered, my hair has been cut in jagged seams and I am wearing a pair of brown shoes I don't recognize as my own.

I woke up surrounded by three doctors and a man in a dark suit. The contrast between the white lab coats and the dark suit was sharp and made me uncomfortable. "Sir? Sir? How are you feeling?" asked the doctor to my left. "Where am I?" "Valley Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas." "How did I get here?" "A policemen brought you in. You were lying on the floor at The Venetian, semi-conscious. Do you remember being brought in?" "No. The last thing I remember is looking in a mirror and barely recognizing myself. I must have passed out." "You didn't have any identification with you. Would you mind telling us your name?" "My name?" "Yes. Can you tell us your name and where you live please." A sliver of panic ran the length of my spine and I suddenly felt cold. "Can I get a glass of water?" I couldn't remember my name. "Take your time," said the man in the dark suit. "Take your time."

I arrived in Las Vegas 71 days ago. 70 of those days are blank.  

The only known photograph of The Bearded Man at Valley Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas.  Photo was taken by an unidentified man in a dark suit and released to the press on April 3, 2017. 

The only known photograph of The Bearded Man at Valley Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas.  Photo was taken by an unidentified man in a dark suit and released to the press on April 3, 2017. 

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Bearded Man rolls through haunted flagstaff on his way to vegas

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Bearded Man rolls through haunted flagstaff on his way to vegas

Gallup, New Mexico to Flagstaff, Arizona is a three hour drive along I-40 and remnants of Route 66. At some points they become tangled and figuring out which road your on is anyone's guess. Along this stretch of Route 66 is Winslow, Arizona, a booming town before the I-40 bypass began construction in 1977. But, as anyone who has listened to a radio in the last 45 years can tell you, Winslow is omnipresent. 'Well, I'm a-standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona - Such a fine sight to see - It's a girl, my Lord, in a flat-bed Ford - Slowin' down to take a look at me.' (I know you were singing the song in your head.) Written  by Jackson Brown and the Eagles Glenn Frey in 1972, the corner in Winslow, Arizona became etched into the American psyche - symbolic of youthful freedom. I had to swing by and see the corner of Second and Kinsley. Adorned with a bronze statue of a man and his guitar and the words 'Standin on a Corner' on a sign above his head, the corner looks amazingly like a billion other corners in the USA. Behind the statue is a storefront mural depicting a red flatbed Ford. 'Come on, baby, don't say maybe - I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me.' (I wish.) After rubbing the guitar for good luck and eating four perfect shrimp tacos at Mi Pueblo, I was off to Flagstaff. 'Well I'm a running down the road - tryin to loosen my load.'

Hotel Monte Vista is said to be haunted. I just wanted to put that out there so that my stay is not colored by anything resembling fear. The Bearded Man believes in ghosts, but it has been a while since I've run into one. However, as I was checking in I had the distinct feeling that my luck was about to change. This place has a vibe. Kind of like the vibe from 'The Shining'. Old hotel, photos of even older buildings on the wall and an elevator that I was expecting blood to pour out of at any second. Then I got to my room, where four black and white photos of a man long since departed, hung above my bed. (Does anyone else find that odd?) Upon closer inspection, I think they were photos of Walter Brennan, who's name means nothing unless you are at least 50 years old. Maybe 60. My dad loved Walter Brennan, if that helps. In any case, I ended up taking a nap under the watchful gaze of Walter and the smell of what I'm betting is embalming fluid.

Hotel Monte Vista in Flagstaff, Arizona. If you are looking for a place to stay up all night, with one eye open, this is the place. The twin little girls walking down my hall at 3 AM will forever haunt my dreams.  Pretty sure they were mumbling redrum...redrum. 

The Monte Vista Cocktail Lounge is just off the lobby of the hotel, a floor below the Rendezvous bar, which I think exists solely for out of towners who don't know any better. The Lounge is a comfy little joint with a polished wood bar, pool tables and a dance floor in front of a karaoke stage that was in full swing. A young, fragile looking gal in a cowboy hat singing 'Britney Spears, 'Oops, I Did It Again' as if she were auditioning to be a backup singer for Adele. 'Oh, baby, baby - Oops!... You think I'm in love - That I'm sent from above - I'm not that innocent.' Oh waitress, a cocktail please. Britney was followed by what can only be described as confusing. Dressed in cowboy boots that appeared to be several sizes too small, she introduced herself to the crowd as Terii 'with one r and two i's' and sang James Blunt's 'You're Beautiful', more as a plea than a statement. Where is my waitress? 'Are you enjoying ladies karaoke night?' 'Excuse me?' 'It's ladies karaoke night, sir. We get great talent in here.' 'Seriously? What time do they show up?' I bet Rhonda spits in my drinks all night.

'Did you know that Humphrey Bogart stayed at this hotel?' Carlotta asked as she pulled out a chair and plopped down next to me. Trust me, plopped is the right word. 'Where you from good lookin?' 'I'm from Mississippi originally, but I've lived all over the country.' She smiled. She had the kind of smile that made you think her town didn't have access to fluoride until recently. 'I knew you wasn't from around here. I could tell by your shoes.' 'My shoes?' 'They ain't boots. They're shoes. Look around. You're they only man without boots in here.' I looked around. Not only was I the only man without boots, I was virtually the only man in the room. 'Hi, I'm Carlotta. Call me Carly, everyone does.' 'Hi Carly. Do you sing as well?' 'Oh yeah. That's why I'm here. Have a few beers, sing a few songs and head back to my trailer and my four boys.' 'What are you going to sing?' 'The theme from Titanic. I think of Leonardo when I'm singing.' 'That's funny, so do I.' 'You're a hoot. What's your name?' 'Scott Baio.' 'Hi Scott. I'm Carla, but you can call me Carly. Everyone does.' Alrighty then. 'I'm up Scott. Wish me luck.' And with that she planted a sloppy kiss on my cheek, stumbled to the stage and sang as if she had swallowed a bag of gerbils. Please dear merciful God, make it go away. To an untrained eye it may have appeared as though I ran out of the bar, but in fact I was only walking at a brisk pace. 

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in a scene from 'Casablanca.  Slim behind the front desk told me that a few scenes from the movie were actually filmed at the hotel. Maybe that was Bogart standing in the corner of my room all night. When I woke up there were cigarette butts all over the floor. 

After a restless night of odd noises and cigarette smoke from the poltergeist/specter standing in my room, I was up at 5:00 AM and ready to skip town. Hell, I was ready to leave Arizona. Hotel Monte Vista had lived up to its haunted billing. I'm a big fan of Bogey, but I'm not okay with him visiting me in the night. Before he died it might have been cool, but let's just say I won't be watching Casablanca for a while. Actually never. Ever. 

It was early and I didn't want to stop at Snow Cap Drive-In, but I couldn't help myself. After a mostly sleepless night and blowing out of Flagstaff like a guy with stolen tires, I needed a small dose of Route 66 kitsch. Jackpot. Built by Juan Delgadillo in 1953 with scrap lumber collected when he worked for the railroad, Snow Cap is a place you can't drive by without smiling. In my case, without eating. I wolfed down a great bacon cheeseburger, with stringy fries and a chocolate shake. But the best part of the stop was when I pulled off to the side of the parking lot and went to sleep for two hours. I woke up with ketchup on my shirt and a chocolate ring around my mouth. I'm ready for Vegas baby.

Snow Cap Drive-In on Route 66. Home of one of the best milkshakes I've ever had. Author's Note: Ask for extra napkins and don't ever fall asleep with a straw in your mouth. I've had a lisp for three days.

I can't get enough of Route 66, so I stay on all the way to Kingman and Hackberry General Store - my last stop before Vegas baby. (Can you say Vegas without saying baby?) How can I describe this place? Old gas pumps and rusted out cars dot the front of the store and trail off across the property. Large Coca-Cola signs hang above decal covered windows and Mobil's Pegasus takes flight from the roof-line. If you didn't know any better, you might think you had driven through a black hole and arrived in 1955. Walking inside only heightens the impression of time travel. Elvis and Marilyn are here. A jukebox to spin some 45's and a dime store Indian stands guard, obviously protecting the countless dollar bills that line the walls. Then there's the men's room. Ceiling and walls are pasted with pinup beauties in various stages of disrobing. Now there's something you don't see every day. (I'm pretty sure one of the photos was my aunt Madge.) I grabbed a couple of Route 66 root beers and a Chick O'Stick, almost tripped on the dummy on the front porch - It's an actual dummy - and made my way to the Sprinter. Pulled onto Route 93 with visions of black jack and tourists dancing in my head. I felt excitement and dread in one fell swoop.

Vegas, the town without eyes or ears and a misplaced conscience. The town where Mo Green was shot in the eye and Wayne Newton still plays 118 shows a day. The town where bachelors go to make memories they can never share with their wife. Where women go to use the name Sissy or Barbie for the night. Then of course it's a town the whole family can love. Provided you don't might your 12 year old being handed a hooker's business card every two blocks. It's a unique slice of America that should be required visiting. This is who we really are when no one is looking. If you survive Vegas with a clean conscience and a full wallet, you're a good person. Vegas - My home for the next two nights. I've sanded my fingertips, so I won't leave any clues.

My room at Aria in Vegas. Not an understatement to say I splurged a bit. But it's okay.  The bottle of water in the fridge is only $27. Thanks again MountCo.

 

 

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Bearded Man hits Route 66 on his way to Gallup New Mexico

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Bearded Man hits Route 66 on his way to Gallup New Mexico

To my avid followers who may have been wondering where I've been since New Year's Day (yes, both of you), I have a very simple explanation. I sat in Port O'Connor for a couple of extra days, laying in the sun, studying maps, reluctant to leave a hotel room with a marlin on the wall and Buckwheat Zydeco on the radio. But leave I must and leave I did. With maps splayed across the front seat, a Mexican Coke in the cup holder and a new pair of flip flops on my feet, I hit the road. Eighteen hours of northwest highways between here and Gallup, New Mexico. 

Around one o'clock, I pulled into Cripple Creek Restaurant in Del Rio, Texas, in search of armadillo eggs. I was told by the good people at Poco Loco Lodge that I had to try a few before leaving Texas. In hindsight - this is called foreshadowing - I wish to God and all things holy that I had just left Texas. To be fair, the armadillo eggs were delicious. Spicy breakfast sausage wrapped around a cream cheese filled pepper - All wrapped in bacon. A cardiologist's dream. Then there's the pepper. This is where I made the mistake that introduced me to every rest area bathroom between Del Rio and Fort Stockton. You see, armadillo eggs are made with various types of peppers and mine were made with jalapeno peppers. I believe the rest is self explanatory.

Armadillo eggs. Although delicious, they should be served with a list of bathrooms on Highway 285. As a public service, here they are.  Pecos, Orla, Angeles, Loving, Carlsbad and Artesia.  If you make it to Roswell, you have a cast iron stomach and will be abducted by aliens for future studies.

Following an eventful night at The Fairfield Inn of Fort Stockton (I'm referring to my night as 'eventful' so I don't run the risk of losing either of my two readers) and a breakfast of yogurt and water, I was back on the road. Gallup, New Mexico was eight hours away and I was praying that my investment in a 32 ounce bottle of Pepto Bismol was a wise one.  But I digress. 

After three and a half hours across some of the most uneventful terrain America has to offer and only 18 ounces of Pepto, I arrived at the International UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico. As museums go, this one is on the thin side of artifacts. Unless you count replicas depicting the events of 1947, of which there are many. Replica spaceship, replica aliens, replica crash site and a replica horse, which I'm still trying to understand. And I should caution you, unless you have a spare hour and want to discuss why 'the incident' is real, do not engage Randy. Let's just say Randy makes me believe that people are in fact abducted and returned. I also believe they keep the good ones and Randy didn't make the cut. 

UFO Museum tour guide Randy. Nice enough fellow, but he had a wandering eye that made me think he could see around corners.  Probably could have used a breath mint as well. 

After promising Randy I would write, I drove over to Big D's Downtown Dive on Main Street for a lunch of anything that didn't include the word armadillo. My stomach had settled enough to sample their famous garlic fries, paired with a bowl of chicken noodle soup and some cottage cheese. Cherie, my bubbly, slightly cock-eyed waitress, asked if I had been to the UFO Museum. I said that I had just visited and found it interesting. And then this happened. "Awesome. So maybe you met my dad Randy! He's a tour guide at the museum!" Check please. "Yes I met your dad. Wonderful man. Very knowledgeable." "He knows Huck Finn and Mickey Rooney." Check please. "That's wonderful. Well Cherie, I have to run now. I'm due back on planet earth any minute now." I walked out of Big D's feeling like I had just been cast in a Fellini movie. You just can't make this stuff up.

When I left Fort Stockton, my plan had been to make it all the way to Gallup and have a few drinks at the 49er Lounge, before calling it a night and sliding into a coma at The El Rancho Hotel and Motel. (As an aside - How are you allowed to be a hotel and a motel? I thought you had to declare yourself to be one or the other. Just seems a bit pompous.) Alas, fate intervened and I ended up spending the night at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm in Albuquerque. What type of role did fate play you ask? The role of a flat tire while exiting to fill up my tank. Not the most romantic of fates, but enough to make me want to drive a mile down Rio Grande Boulevard and book a room.

My initial reaction upon arriving at Los Poblanos was, "Huh?" A stylish inn at the end of a street a few blocks from the freeway seemed mildly incongruous. When I opened the door to my hacienda suite, my initial thought was, "I wonder if I can cancel the rest of my trip and just live here." A bouquet of fresh lavender was bedside. Hand carved wooden beams looked down on hardwood floors and hand plastered walls. Natural light was everywhere. A generous sofa and leather chairs sat across from a burning fireplace. (Here I must apologize for sounding like Martha Stewart. This review is not helping my image.) I threw my duffel in the corner, opened my book on Teddy Roosevelt by Douglas Brinkley and fell asleep in roughly three minutes. 

Los Poblanos Inn. When I woke up from my nap I accidentally knocked a glass bowl off the table and it broke. That's right Martha I'm a bad ass at heart.

Every once in a while something happens that you weren't expecting. Finding this inn and farm is a perfect example. I didn't know this gem existed until about three hours prior. According to their web site. "The Los Poblanos land was originally inhabited by the Anasazi (ancient pueblo Indians) in the 14th century. Many of the original settlers in this area were thought to have come from Puebla, Mexico, a citizen of which is called a “Poblano.” In 1932, Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms commissioned architect John Gaw Meem and numerous WPA artists and craftsmen to renovate the ranch house and create the Cultural Center for political and community events and recreation with gardens designed by Rose Greeley." James Moore, Former Director, The Albuquerque Museum, says Meem, "is without question the quintessential New Mexico architect of the early and mid 20th century and…La Quinta is one of his most important, if not the most important, projects of his career in this state.” And I just took a nap in one of his rooms. Like I said, every once in a while even a blind squirrel finds a nut.

Dinner just gave me another reason to abandon my tour, get a job on the organic farm and never leave. My culinary stroll began with House Cold Smoked Salmon, with blue corn breaded green chile and feta.  Followed by Braised Lamb with roasted vegetables and charred potatoes. Completed the culinary journey with Homemade Peach Lavender Gelato, which I can't describe because I haven't seen heaven yet. My glass of Shafer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select pushed me to the edge of delirium. All this as the result of a flat tire and being slowed by armadillo eggs. Maybe God is just messing with me.

Part of the grounds at Los Pablonos.  In all my travels, this is one of the most exquisite properties I've encountered. The fact that they rented me a room without doing a background check is amazing.

It's fairly routine for me to wake up in the middle of the night and read a book, watch a movie or wander around like a zombie with really bad hair. So imagine my surprise when I woke up at 6 AM, after falling asleep at 11:00 PM. Seven hours of continuous sleep! This can't be. I checked my phone to make sure I wasn't dreaming. Opened the curtains to make sure I was still on earth. (I thought maybe this was the handiwork of Randy or his bubble-headed daughter.) It was such an odd and wonderful feeling and quite naturally gave me yet another reason to stay. Instead, I made a pot of coffee, took a 30 minute shower and strolled over to the farm store. Don't tell anyone, but I bought a few bars of lavender soap before jumping back in the Sprinter and heading west. 

Gallup, New Mexico is an easy two hour drive, due west from Albuquerque on I-40. But I had no interest in I-40, because a stretch of old Route 66 ran along the same path. A thread of cement that originally made its way west from Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66 gave everyone with four wheels the ability to travel from the Midwest to the Pacific. It gave birth to countless businesses and a generation of roadside attractions that defined the word Americana in the 20th century. Neon sign makers thrived. Gas stations, restaurants and aspiring hoteliers sprang up all along the route. Giant paper-mâché dinosaurs, motels disguised as tee-pees and a blue whale you can walk through were must see attractions. "Honey, I'm in a whale!" Trinkets became commodities to be cherished. Route 66 was a microcosm of the American dream. Four wheels, freedom of movement and a cheap hotel. Paradise was there to be had in the form of a Chevy front seat the size of a sofa.     

Much of Route 66 is littered with relics of a bygone era. Old rusted out cars are scattered across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.  Original works of art, rusting in the sun. If backseats could talk much of my parents generation would be in trouble.

They bill the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico as 'The Hotel of the Movie Stars." They also say it has "The Charm of Yesterday - With the Convenience of Tomorrow." The first one I understand because the El Rancho Hotel was indeed home to movie stars in the 30's and 40's. Errol Flynn, Doris Day, James Cagney, Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster, Betty Grable - The list goes on and on. I also get "The Charm of Yesterday", because El Rancho has that to spare. It's "The Convenience of Tomorrow" that I don't quite understand. I mean, how can we know what the conveniences of tomorrow are if they haven't arrived? (I may be over thinking this just a bit.) In any case, El Rancho exudes charm and old world class. It's what I want to be when I grow up.

The grand lobby of El Rancho can transport you back to the days of magnificent lodges built by railroad barons to attract people west. A towering beamed ceiling, held in place by large hand carved lodge poles, mounted with the antlered heads of deer from decades past. Walls filled with Native American art from the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni. Beautiful pieces that draw you in and give you a sense of their rich history. Comfortable sofas and hand woven rugs that invite you to sit and relax. Then there's Kenny, the man at the front desk, who asked me how long I would be staying. "It all depends on how good the drinks are." He almost smiled - it was more like a smirk - before handing me the key to my room. "Bogart stayed in this room", he said. "Seriously?" "Yes. As did Katherine Hepburn, hubba hubba." "Did you just say hubba hubba?" "I did. Enjoy your stay with us." Is it just me that attracts these characters or is this simply life? 

El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico. Home of movie stars, the 49er Lounge and Kenny. The only man under the age of 80 that has ever uttered the words hubba, hubba.  

The 49er Lounge is inside the El Rancho Hotel. They say John Wayne and Ronald Reagan had a few at the bar - back in the day. When Errol Flynn was filming a movie nearby, he would ride his horse into the bar to order a drink. These days they let guys like me in the place and unlike Mr. Flynn, I walked in and took a seat at the bar, surrounded by dollar bills and Christmas lights. I ordered a glass of Blanton's on the rocks and settled in for a while. It didn't take long. "Hi. What's your name cowboy?" "They call me The Bearded Man." (Not quite Mr. Tibbs.) "And why do they call you that?" "I'm thinking it's the beard." Did my parents tattoo 'talk to me' on my forehead as a child? "Where you from cowboy?" "I'm a man of the road." (I know - it's pathetic - but that's actually what I said.) It was at this point that a rather large man, wearing a purple workout suit, saunters over and gives the nameless woman next to me a rather long kiss. "This is Delray. Delray, this is The Bearded Man." "Hi Delray." "Why do they call you The Bearded Man?" "I'm thinking it's the beard Delray." Cue the theme song to The Twilight Zone. "Let's go Carol. Everyone's waiting." And off into the New Mexico night they went. Carol and Delray - Two star crossed lovers. Or a hooker and her manager. I couldn't decide.

That's Delray in the purple track suit. That's my back, just to Delray's left. Carol is on my right. This was taken just before Delray kissed Carol and my journey into The Twilight Zone began. I was left pondering how Carol could break up with a guy who has the nerve to wear a purple track suit in New Mexico.

Compared to Carol and Delray, the rest of the evening was proving to be fairly uneventful and I was just fine with that. After a second glass of Blanton's I found the hotel restaurant and ordered a Ronald Reagan burger, which came with a side jelly beans. Now that's a first. Since it was only 11:00 when I finished Ronnie and I was one shy of my four drink minimum, I walked back over to the 49er and once again found a seat at the bar. Can you guess where this is going? "Bearded Man. Can I join you?" "Sure Delray - Grab a stool." Honestly, you didn't see that coming did you? "Bearded Man, can I ask you a question?" This has always struck me as an odd question, since it is already asking a question. "Sure Delray, what's up?", I asked over the sounds of a country western tune - My baby left me with nothing but a two dollar bill and a bale of hay. "Have you ever had one of those days where nothing goes right?"  "Yes, at least once a week. Why?" "I think Carol left me for another man." So much for my hooker and manager theory. "I'm sorry to hear that Delray. Can I buy you a drink?" "No, Bearded Man. But thanks. I just thought I'd ask." And with that he stands, shakes my hand and walks out of the 49er alone. I have got to get this tattoo on my forehead removed.

Ronald Reagan before there was a hamburger named for him. When he was still tossing back beers at the 49er and dreaming of one day amounting to something.  Handsome devil. Whatever happened to Ronnie?

Ronald Reagan before there was a hamburger named for him. When he was still tossing back beers at the 49er and dreaming of one day amounting to something.  Handsome devil. Whatever happened to Ronnie?

 

 

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Hot Damn - Bearded Man Does New Year's Eve in Texas

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Hot Damn - Bearded Man Does New Year's Eve in Texas

About 90 minutes south of Oklahoma City, just off US 35, is the tiny town of 'The Singing Cowboy', Gene Autry, Oklahoma, population 158. It is also home to the Gene Autry Oklahoma Museum, which honors B-western singing cowboys - Of which Gene was king. In 1939 Gene arrived in Berwyn, Oklahoma, purchased 1,200 acres and called it The Flying A Ranch. In 1941, all 227 residents signed a petition to rename the town after its illustrious film star resident. Aurthur Flem is said to have voted against the measure, but was ear punched by his wife Pearl. In any case, the museum is one of those little American gems scattered across the landscape, waiting patiently to engage a curious visitor. According to their web site, "It is now purported to be the Largest Collection of Gene Autry and Singing Cowboy memorabilia in the World." Not sure who else is purporting to have the largest collection, but the one in Gene Autry was pretty good. Four stars on The Bearded Man O'meter.

Gene Autry, The Singing Cowboy, starred in 93 films and 91 episodes of The Gene Autry Show. Gene lived by the cowboy code, a set of rules that he felt all men should live by. I've always struggled with #8..."He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits." 

Having rolled out of OKC early, it was right around lunchtime when I pulled into Hillsboro, Texas and found William's Drive In. I was hungry and this looked like a place to get a good burger. It also looked like it was straight out of a 1950's horror movie. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that whoever owns this place hasn't bought a can of paint since 1976, when they dressed it up for the bicentennial. Aesthetics aside, when Becky slapped that tray on my half rolled window and the smell of my bacon cheeseburger wafted up to greet me, I knew I had made the right choice. The involuntary throaty Mmmmmmm confirmed what the rest of my senses were telling me. After so many great meals, the simple joy of a big greasy burger with well done fries and an ice cold root beer was paradise. I found a local rockabilly station on the radio, hit the call button and told Becky to bring me another.  

William's Drive In, Hillsboro, Texas.  I was told this photo was taken just before the death-eaters came to town looking for Harry Potter.  Not finding Harry, they decided to stay and have a burger before flying off to Dallas.

From Hillsboro I had about two hours of uneventful driving before I reached the W Hotel in Austin. If you've never stayed at a W before, it's a treat. First class everything and an interior decorator that is in all likelihood color blind. My guess is every W has this conversation at some point before opening. Manager, "Ralph, the design looks fabulous!" Ralph the designer, "Fabulous!? Are you mad!? We need to push the boundaries! More blue!" Manager, "But Ralph, we have enough blue!" Ralph, "Then give me more orange! I need orange!" At this point they simply agree to disagree and settle on having more pillows than any hotel on the planet. 

After my double cheeseburger fest in Hillsboro, I wasn't in the mood for more food, so I settled into my room. Moving a few pillows from the window ledge, I had a perfect view of the Texas version of the Colorado River. Still not sure why they call it the Colorado River, since it never touches Colorado and there is a more famous version of the Colorado that actually runs through Colorado. Why not the Texas River? Or the Dallas Cowboys river, brought to you by AT&T. Hold massive music festivals each year, with acts coming in from all over the country. Attract millennials who drink craft beer and wear Chubbies. I'm going to bring this to the attention of the Austin city council. I can't believe they haven't thought of this. 

The 'living room' at the W Hotel in downtown Austin, Texas.  They kicked me out of this room three times during the night.  I just wanted to sleep on the couch.  The third time they were upset because I had taken some pillows off the couch and fell asleep in front of the fireplace.   

Tom, the bellman, hailed me a cab for the short ride over to The Broken Spoke, the 'Last of the True Texas Dancehalls. My game plan was to take in a show during dinner and then mosey on over to the dancehall and watch everyone two-step in their shit kickers. The first thing you notice when you stand in front of The Broken Spoke is not the look and feel of an old trading post from a John Wayne movie - although you definitely could imagine The Duke walking out of the place. No, the first thing you register is the fact that this unimposing dancehall is sandwiched between two rather large condo developments. Imagine a country western saloon between the Jefferson's condo and Bob Newhart's apartment and you get the picture. Apparently the zoning commissioner suffered temporary blindness, or now has a shiny new summer home. Whatever the case, it's time for the show and I'm starved.

James White and his wife Annetta, have been operating the Broken Spoke since 1964 and have hosted every great country western musician from Roy Acuff to Willie Nelson. On the right you can see the building where the Jefferson's moved on up - "to a deluxe apartment in the sky."

The entertainment during dinner tonight is Roy Heinrich. For those of you unfamiliar with Roy, here's his modest promo. "Want to experience music the way God and Hank intended it? Kick back at a Roy Heinrich show, and you'll hear the lonesome sounds of a man whose voice is too peppered with experience, lost love, and heartache to not be real." I say modest, because claiming to know what God likes is such a modest declaration. Then ole Roy starting strumming the sweetest honky tonk you've ever heard and as they served up my chicken fried steak I began to think that maybe God really is a fan of Roy's. Loretta, bring me another bottle of Lone Star. I'm settling in for a few.

I don't want to imply that Lone Star Beer needs to step up their marketing efforts, but damn.

I mentioned they call this place the last of the true Texas dancehalls, right? Did I mention the low ceiling? The one that forces performers over six feet tall to abandon the stage and play from the dance floor so they don't bounce up and hit their heads. Or the fact that young and old hit the dancefloor like it's the last time they will ever hear a tune? How about the sound of boots scuffling the floor in unison, sounding like the hum of a million honey bees. And then there's this tiny fact - After three bottles of Lone Star, I took a trip to the men's room that reminded me of long gone Tiger Stadium. I mean you just don't run across urinal troughs any more - I thought they were all on lawns across Texas being used as flower planters. After four bottles of Lone Star, I thought I could two step. I joined a line. I held my partner and swung her around. I shuffled. I said yeeha at the appropriate moments. I moved up and back with ease. I was two stepping! Wrong. Everyone was polite and my partner even smiled as she excluded me from the next dance. In the end, I think being the only person who's footwear couldn't kill a cockroach in a tight corner gave me away. Damn you Sperry - Why do you refuse to make a pointed tennis shoe? 

Two steppers Sherrie Wilson and Ferd Turgle. This particular move, perfected by Ferd during his time on the space shuttle, is known as the Turgle Tap. Just another reason to bring back NASA.

Arrived back at the W around 1:00 AM, crawled into bed and couldn't sleep. My ears were still ringing with honky tonk and I was wondering what I didn't like about myself that made me order chicken fried steak. Took out my map - I'm a maps guy - and reviewed my route to Port O'Connor, Texas. Looks like a three hour drive to the Gulf of Mexico and my home for the next few nights, The Poco Logo Lodge - The antithesis of every place I've stayed so far. I'm looking to ring in the new year as quietly as possible. Walking along a deserted beach, just me and a heaven full of stars.   

My leisurely drive from Austin to Port O'Connor included a single stop to visit the Gonzales Memorial Museum, which honors the "Immortal 32 who died in the Alamo." On display is the "Come and Take It Cannon which fired the first shot for Texas Independence on October 2, 1835." It's a beautiful structure described on their site as "an elegant Art Deco complex...constructed of shell limestone and trimmed in Cordova cream limestone." (Alas no Corinthian leather.) Inside the vaulted ceiling display room, various guns, letters, cannons and personal effects of soldiers are neatly arranged. For anyone interested in a piece of Texas history, I would recommend a visit. While there, don't forget to pay .50 cents to get a penny flattened. Never pass up a chance to turn .50 cents into a penny. It's why I am the financial success I am today.

The Gonzales Memorial Museum in Gonzales, Texas. Home of the famous 'Come and Get It' cannon. Edgar Dunst uttered those famous words just minutes before a fatal heart attack. He had eaten a chicken fried steak earlier in the day.

The Poco Loco Lodge was everything I hoped for. Remote and clean, with a comfy bed, a marlin mounted on the wall and a two minute walk from the beach - Not a corporate logo in site. I threw my bag on the bed and immediately walked to the water. King Fisher Beach isn't much to look at. It's small, the sand is kind of grey and as the name implies, there are a few scattered fisherman. Tucked into a small dune I find two Adirondack chairs and a small fire pit. I know where I'll be at the stroke of midnight. 

It's a short walk from Poco Loco to Beacon Seafood Market, where I pick up some fresh shrimp and a banana pudding cup. From there a skip and a jump to Alvins Food Store for a bottle of champagne and then back to the lodge for some rest and relaxation. I can't tell you how comforting it is to have a marlin on the wall. I feel bad for the marlin, but I've wanted a marlin on my wall since I was a kid and my dad would bring home fresh perch. Have you ever seen a bag of perch? Great to eat, but not much to look at. And you wouldn't dream of putting a perch on your wall. 

My bedroom at the Poco Loco Lodge. That's not a marlin on the wall - The marlin was in the other room. Those are pillows on the bed. Lots and lots of pillows. I bet the owner knows the decorator at the W.

11:30 PM. I've had a great shrimp dinner in my room, complete with banana pudding for desert. I walk outside and make my way to the water. As I had hoped, it was just me and the lapping tide. Not another soul in sight as I light a fire in the small cast iron pit. I pop my bottle of champagne, pour a little into my plastic cup and take a seat. Overhead I hear the squawks of seagulls, while off in the distance the faint sounds of revelers, preparing to welcome 2017. Out in the bay, lights from fishing boats dance on the horizon. The only close sound is the rustling of sea grass in the wind. As 2016 slips away, I take a sip of champagne and toast those I love. Here's looking up your old address. Happy New Year everyone.   

Not a bad way to end 2016 - Or begin 2017.  Thank you to who ever left the plaid blankets on the chairs. I left them as I found them.  One might have a little champagne spill on it from when I fell asleep. 

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Oklahoma City welcomes Bearded Man

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Oklahoma City welcomes Bearded Man

When I travel across the country I try my best to avoid freeways. Instead sticking to what author William Least Heat Moon dubbed 'blue highways'. These are the back roads - Roads with character. Original arteries that pumped people and businesses into a growing nation. But every once in a while, getting from point A to B is nearly impossible on back roads. So the morning finds me heading west from Little Rock to Oklahoma City on US 40, because the spiderweb of back roads that lead to OKC would turn a five hour drive into an eight hour drive. Albeit a more interesting one, but being on somewhat of a schedule, I have to cut a few hours of travel time here and there. Sorry Poteau, Boonville, Ola and Atoka - I promise to visit on my next journey.

One thing freeways do offer are casinos. And in Oklahoma they are popping up like dandelions on a warm April morning. Fortunately for me, one sprung up last year about halfway into my drive to OKC, so I pulled in for a quick bite and maybe a game or two of blackjack. The Cherokee Casino in Rowland, bills itself as "full of thrills and excitement" and invites the weary traveler to "come in and get in on all the winning action!" Be honest, could you resist the pull of such promise? Neither could I, so I sauntered over to the buffet, piled a plate of what I believe are scrambled eggs, onto a few slices of bacon and hash browns. I found an empty table and ordered a large glass of orange juice from the bubbly waitress Terri. "Where y'all from?" she asked. "Mississippi. And you?" "Clementine Street, about a mile from here." So you're from Roland?" "No, Clementine Street about a mile from here." Really not much you can say to that, so I smiled, nodded and began to eat. Terri turned and walked away with the same expression she had when she arrived. After my meal and quickly losing 17 straight hands of $5 blackjack, I walked back to the Sprinter, cursing myself for stopping. But at least I had met Terri, who was clearly destined for great things.

Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilor David Thornton and his granddaughter Alexus Thornton at the new Cherokee Casino ribbon cutting ceremony.  The gentleman on the left refused to hold the ribbon. Said Elmer Jenkins, "I wanted to hold the ribbon. But every time I grabbed it that dickweed Running With Yellow Shirt pulled it back into his pocket."

What began life as a Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant is now the unconventional 21c Museum Hotel. Marketing materials state that "the update of this iconic industrial building includes 135 guest rooms and suites, a contemporary art museum and Mary Eddy's Kitchen x Lounge, inspired by regional culinary traditions." The hotel also has this..."an installation of six, nine, and twelve foot red arrows, pointing in every direction, and pulsating with a dynamic lighting sequence." Excuse me?  “We have co-opted the stripped down language of commercial signs, incorporating casino style way-finders that tear through the floors of the museum with skyward trajectory,” explain SuttonBeresCuller, the trio of artists who conceived and created the artwork for the guest room floors. Come again? "You Always Leave Me Wanting More is intended to address the sustainability of growth as it pertains to aspects of our social, economic, and natural environments." Brilliant I say. But please tell me there are no pulsating arrows in my room. $50 says I have nightmares.

Installation entitled, You Always Leave Me Wanting More at the 21c Hotel in Oklahoma City. Freud would have had a field day with this one. 

My room had what they called a 'wet room''. A new term for me, but it consisted of a 'standing shower' (Did they feel the need to clarify how to shower? Do people shower sitting down these days?) and a 'soaking tub', not a bath tub. Apparently clientele at the 21c only soak, they don't actually bathe. So after standing in the shower for about 15 minutes (God forbid I sit) I soaked in the tub, all the while being careful not to bathe. As I stepped from the 'soaking tub' I reached for the 'plush robe', grabbed a 'complimentary bottled water', marveled at the 'original art', made myself a cup of 'Nespresso' and collapsed on to my 'luxurious bedding', where I fell asleep thinking about the pulsating arrows one floor below. Author's Note: Hotel 21c did not pay me to point out several of their upscale amenities. However, at the end of my trip I will be sending them an invoice and a request for the 'wet room' blueprints. 

Fresh from an arrow-free nap I went down to Mary Eddy's Kitchen X Lounge for a good meal before heading over to the Wsky Lounge for the evening. I was greeted by Ezekiel McMurtry, a fine looking young man, who reeled off a few specials of the day. He had me at octopus. Grilled Spanish octopus with green papaya, thai basil, fresno, peanuts and pho broth, to be exact. Followed by an entree of seared scallops, wheat berry risotto, swiss chard and pomegranate. To end this memorable meal, served attentively, I had a bowl of ginger sorbet with a shortbread cookie and a cup of robust coffee. My evening was off to a marvelous beginning. Immediately I wanted to take a nap. 

The Uber driver's name was Kalil Jamil and it rolled off the tongue. I kept asking him questions just to say his name. He didn't seem all that annoyed until he asked me "why do you keep using both my first and last name." I told him that it was the most lyrical name I had heard in a while and he thanked me. "No one has ever said that to me before. I always found my name odd sounding." "Kalil Jamil, your name is unique. You are fortunate." "If you say so. What is your name?" "The Bearded Man." "What?" "The Bearded Man. It's a long story." "I bet it is," said Kalil Jamil as we pulled up to Wsky Lounge. "I bet it is."

My Uber driver, Kalil Jamil, who made me promise to hide his face.  Something about alimony, loan sharks and immigration issues.  I told him not to worry because he doesn't have a memorable name.

Wsky Lounge is "billed as "Oklahoma City’s premier whisky club" and with over 350 bottles of whiskey its name seems fitting. On the other hand, they are also home to what they call 'Wsky Wheels'. Concoctions with some rather bizarre ingredients. Take 'The Red Layer' Wheel for example. Old Overholt Rye, Licor 43, dill, celery bitters and toasted wood chips. Toasted wood chips? Did you say toasted wood chips? Or the 'Tequila Maipoa' Wheel. Espolone Blanco Tequila, cucumber ribbons, lime wheels, sliced jalapeno, basil chiffonade and agave syrup. Did you say sliced jalapeno? I know I promised my sponsors I would have four drinks at each bar on the tour, but I never said I would drink basil chiffonade. I asked my waitress Penny Cole to bring me a wheel of whiskey and ice - "hold the wood chips." 

Wsky Lounge Wheels.  Not to be rude, because people were putting these away like Red Bull at the X Games, but I would love to meet the person that invented these and ask them just how far down the rabbit hole they were when they had this dream.   

Comfortably settled into my beehive patterned both, I finished my Wsky Wheel and decided that a glass of Bailey's on the rocks sounded refreshing. Omnipresent Penny kept my glass full and the elegant, laid back atmosphere made me wonder what this place was like before they made it smoke free. It just had the feel of a cigar bar and I probably would have lit up if they hadn't changed. A big fat Partagás. Nurse that puppy for about an hour. But it wasn't to be and instead I found myself asking Penny how she got her name. "My mom found a nickle on the way to the hospital and thought it was an omen. A sign of good luck. But she couldn't name me Nickle, so she called me Penny." "Why couldn't she name you Nickel?" "I asked my mom that question when I finally heard the story - I was about 15 or so. She said nickels were silver and pennies are copper. And she would never name her black daughter after a piece of silver. Apparently she thought copper was okay. Hey, there are worse names than Penny Nat King Cole." I didn't stick around to argue the point. After all I'm The Bearded Man. I wonder what the hell my mother saw on the way to the hospital.

Penny's superstitious mother, Emma Lee Cole.  When Penny Nat King Cole was born, Emma Lee owned two Cocker Spaniels. Sidney Poitier (Sid) and Sammy Davis (Sam).  Penny's younger brother, born in 1967, was named after Jimi Hendrix and plays lead guitar in a Rush tribute band.   

The Uber ride back to my plush digs at the 21c was uneventful. No Kalil Jalil, but rather Dan Smeer who I'm fairly certain had his vocal chords removed as a child. As a result the drive was conversation free. Although as he dropped me off I think he muttered something about acorns or Altoids - Who knows. He motored away in his Subaru Outback, probably still muttering, while I took the elevator up to my soak tub, where I would be careful not to bathe. 

 

 

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