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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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 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.
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.