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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Driving north on Highway 281 to Forth Worth

I left the apartment at 7:30am. The sun was just tipping the horizon when I drove through Lampasas, and was fully up north of town as the terrain briefly flattened. The grass looked very dry here; no wonder there is a burn ban in effect.

An hour later I was hungry and stopped in a small town, Evant, for breakfast. The town claimed a population of 393 and I didn't doubt that one minute. This was a small ranching/farming community. All I saw were sun-drenched old adobe buildings and antique stores. The town's cafe on the east side of the road barely stood out but for its red "Cafe" sign. The brick building had darkened windows and the pick-ups outside precariously stood close to the highway. It was the only place in town with life in and around it.

As soon as I walked inside I felt out of place. Of the 14 people there, there was only one other woman. Of the thirteen men sitting around, 11 wore head gear, of which nine were baseball caps of various sorts. The others were Stetsons or Panama hats. The older men in the crowd, the majority, talked about their animals. "If you take it to the vet you'll be paying him $20!" said one old man to another. Other topics discussed were the local church groups, tomorrow's Super Bowl game (Giants and the Patriots) and a few other people in the area. The small restaurant was about a third busy.

I wasn't greeted and the young teenaged server seemed nonplussed about serving me. This was not a good start, and not a place I could sit and talk with the propietor. But the food was good and the ambiance ideal for a small town.

I had my usual breakfast of two over-medium eggs, dry wheat toast and hash browns and ate it all within a few minutes.

I wasn't about to leave, though. I looked around: the chairs were a red vinyl cover, the floors were old vinyl and the ceiling looked ready to cave in the middle. On one wall was an ad for a house for sale, another advertised ten acres "with valley view" for sale, another poster sought the return of a white Pit Bull "Friendly with people and other dogs." Another poster advertised the Texas Travelers and an upcoming casino trip to Louisiana, another had the basketball games of the local high school posted. Paintings on the wall looked like they were painted by a junior high school art class. Other signs in the small restaurant also looked amateurish. This would be a great place to sit back and meet the locals...but the locals did not seem interested. They chatted and smoked among themselves.

This little place no doubt is a busy place and a favorite for the locals. But I wasn't a local and wasn't treated with much attention. Even when I complemented the owner for the good food, she barely smiled or thanked me. I was out of there within 30 minutes.

The drive got interesting as I made it further north, passing the town squares of Hamilton. It was here that a woman and her children were massacred by a raiding group of Comanche.

I stopped to read every historical marker along the route. I photographed dilapidated buildings. I photographed weird signs or other roadside attractions. I spotted a herd of buffalo and photographed them too.

After Hamilton I headed up toward Stephenville, this time stopping in the town square to admire its courthouse and the statue of "Moo-la" the cow, claiming Erath County was #1 in daily cows. There were no signs of any extra-terrestrial aliens or UFOs from last month.

The town square was another pretty town square, with more historical markers, more 19th-century limestone or brick buildings, more monuments dedicated to Confederate Soldiers of the Civil War. But as in most southern towns, there was no one in the streets walking around, and I didn't see any pedestrians of significance. After my walk around the square I continued on US Highway 377 for another 60 miles.

I stopped in Granbury's town square "Where History Lives in Texas" and the many tourists a.nd the shops that cater to tourists.

Granbury's courthouse stood out from most courthouses in Texas with its dark-grey tower. Shops around the square selling ice cream, chocolates and coffees (typical tourist fare) brought in many pedestrians. An elderly man sat at one corner selling his paintings and seemed otherwise oblivious to people walking past him. The town was photogenic. The Town Square smelled of sugar and spice. More than a few hours is all I could spend in Grandbury.

By now the land was getting flatter but there were more small lakes and ponds off the road. I was now in North Central Texas' Lake Country, and indeed the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area is surrounded by lakes and reservoirs of various sizes.

It was getting warm now, and I was feeling underdressed with women around me wearing colorful blouses and make-up. Most Texas women make me look frumpy.

It had taken me four hours to get to Fort Worth. There were too many small things to stop and admire, and the weather was getting nice.

I saw the city's skyline as soon as I drove through Benbrook. Once I got into the town limits I continued on Camp Bowie road, which took me through the Cultural District and some historical neighborhoods, including Ridglea. I drove right passed the Will Rogers and Visitor's Center where I stopped to get some more information.

A short, elderly woman in a pastel-yellow sweater over a white blouse manned the Visitor's Center. Sylvia had been working there for many years and knew her town well. She was eager to pass out every map she had of Fort Worth. She was quite proud of her town. "We have a very pretty downtown" she bragged, and later I confirmed her pride when I walked around Sundance Square. She gave me information on the Stockyard District and other worthy sights in town. Once she learned that I am from Arizona, she told me about her trips to Sedona and Flagstaff. "There are so many beautiful places in Arizona," said Sylvia.

The Will Rogers Center was hosting a three-week Stock Show and she gave me a free gate pass. "Don't tell anyone else I gave this to you" since otherwise she'd be forced to give out more passes than she had available. "The border collie exhibit is tomorrow morning at 8:30am." Tomorrow was the last day of the Stock Show, and with the Super Bowl scheduled I can't imagine many people wanting to see the late Rodeo.

"You came to Fort Worth on a great weekend!" said Sylvia. It was 1:30pm and I had time to idle away before the 4pm Cattle Walk in the Stockyard District, a walk that is held twice a day through the original stockyards. This I had to see.
This year's Stock Show brought in 848,000 visitors, up from last year when icy conditions kept many people away, but not as many as 2006's record attendance of 902,600. This year an average head of cattle only brought in $4000 instead of last year's $5000, thanks in part to the economy. One prize-winning steer yielded $185,000, though.

(I am too tired to write more, so these were just notes. I'll do the editing when I'm back at my apartment Monday)

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