Previous Installment: Moving to Vegas: The Search for Rest
It was day 2 on the road from Orlando to Las Vegas. We had made excellent time on day one despite some rain. Day 2 looked like it was going to turn into another fine day of driving with Dad. I figured since this was my show, I was obligated to do more driving than Dad. I took the first shift again. This was also nice because I usually got to take a post-lunch nap if I felt like it. Well as much nap as you can get in a moving truck.
As we started, Louisiana was still intact. Katrina was days behind us, so the drive out of state was a quick one: about 90 minutes or so. That’s when we hit Texas. For those who have been to Texas, you know everything is bigger there. It just is. And Texas itself is big. Very big. Big in a way that you can’t drive through the thing in a day big.
Texas also doesn’t look like I thought it would. The stereotype in my mind was that Texas is all pickup trucks and longhorn steers. We saw enough of those, but there are also lovely mountains, sloping hills, plains, and pretty much any other geological configuration you can imagine. Despite the fact that it seems to take forever to drive through Texas, it’s a drive worth taking.
At a little before 1:00pm we reached Dallas, which is a huge city. It sprawls on and on and on. As beautiful as the mountains and other scenery were, Dallas was impressive for its sheer size. We didn’t even drive through downtown. We simply skirted around on one of the many loops around the city. The drivers are a bit crazy and aggressive, but nothing we couldn’t manage. After all, we were in a state that thrives on BIG and we were bigger than most. When driving a Honda Civic, a jacked-up F250 can be intimidating. When driving 25-foot Penske truck with a Crown Victoria in tow on a trailer, the F250s get out of YOUR way. It’s nice.
When in Texas, if you’re in a city, you’re in a city, damn it. But when you’re in the country, you’re in the middle of nowhere. It can get lonely out there. Miles and miles and miles of straight, mostly-flat road and some fields were pretty much the order of the day. The long stretches of nothing were occasionally punctuated by a train on the tracks that ran parallel to the roads we were taking.
I have always loved trains, but that’s probably a story for another day. By some odd coincidence while a Floridian I have always lived very close to active train tracks. Usually within a mile or two and nearly always close enough to hear them as they come through. Because of this continual proximity and the youthful like of All Things Railroad, I have find train whistles rather comforting. But I digress.
The trains in Florida were about a 50-50 mix of passenger and freight. The passenger trains would wheel through quickly and be gone within a minute or two of their initial audible approach. The freight trains lasted a bit longer, but were usually gone within 5 minutes or so.
Staying with the Texas is BIG theme, they had some mighty long trains there. One train had politely stopped on the tracks and enabled me to gauge its approximate length at 2.3 miles using the truck’s odometer. This particular train was carrying hundreds of cars with shipping containers, some double-stacked. We also saw at least four other long-ass-trains (LATs) that were carrying exclusively coal that day. It was really impressive, especially when I did a quick mental calculation of how many semi trucks would be on the road if all this cargo were loaded onto trucks rather than trains.
Thanks to the trains, this absence of trucks hauling stuff on “our” interstate made for easy driving. At this point, we were well north of Dallas and Ft. Worth, probably 50 miles or so. It was past 1:30pm and we hadn’t had lunch. Two Mospaw tummies rumbling in a truck is not a good thing, so it was decided that it was lunch time.
Another rule of this trip was to avoid national chains unless absolutely necessary; to try to eat in places that reflected the local flavor a little bit. Unsure what the local flavor in the middle of Nowhere, TX was, we relied on the roadside signs with the blue backgrounds and friendly white text that told you what kind of food, lodging, and fuel (if any) were available at the next exit.
In a “town” called Sunset, TX, there was one such eating establishment listed on the sign, Jack and Coco’s Diamond S Café. (I could have the names wrong, since I didn’t write them down, but I’ll call them Jack and Coco to keep it consistent.) We were hungry, and since this was about the only place we were likely to encounter for the next hour or so, we stopped in.
At this point, we were on US highway 287. It’s not an Interstate, but looks and drives like one, complete with limited access. We took the exit. Each exit, as you know, typically has four corners. At these exits, you usually expect to see two or three corners occupied with gas stations, convenience stores, perhaps a restaurant, and maybe one undeveloped corner when out in God’s Country.
This was apparently a few miles beyond God’s Country, since only one corner was occupied. By a small building. And on the small building was a small sign that read Jack and Coco’s Café.
This was local flavor.
Although it didn’t look too bad or run-down on the outside, the place was surprisingly clean and bright inside. There was a man in a scooter chair with his wife at one table, a gentleman sipping a huge glass of iced tea, talking on a cell phone at another, and a lone waitress/cook/chief bottle washer milling about and taking care of everyone.
Dad and I selected a table and sat down, waiting for acknowledgment from the waitress/cook/chief bottle washer who turned out to be Coco of Jack and Coco’s Diamond S Café fame, one of the owners.
When you’re on the road, you have a bit of a “hurry up” mentality. It’s not really rushing so much as when you sit down, you want whatever you are about to do – be it eating, pooping, or driving – to take place as quickly and efficiently as possible, without getting too hurried. In other words, you’re not going all out, but you’re not relaxing, either. It’s pretty much the attitude of wanting to keep up a good pace at everything so as not to lose momentum, both physical and mental.
Unfortunately, Coco didn’t know about this. Despite not doing much, it took her easily five minutes to come over and get our drink orders and drop off a couple of menus.
The gentleman with the tea on the phone was quietly chatting away, taking the occasional sip of tea. Further inspection of his table revealed that there were a couple of one-dollar bills and some random change in a pile, presumably a tip. From all appearances, he was done as a customer and was simply soaking up the air conditioning and finishing his tea while taking the opportunity to chitty-chat on the phone. Coco didn’t seem to mind, but she also didn’t have to pay him any attention and didn’t.
Apparently Dad and I weren’t interesting enough to warrant any attention or order gathering, so Coco focused on the older couple who were preparing to leave. Now when I prepare to leave a restaurant, it’s usually a 15-second thing. Grunt at Sheri along the lines of “You ready?”, heft my mass into the air, and walk out. This couple was different. The gentleman in the scooter apparently really needed to be in that scooter. He was barely able to move on his own. Any part of him. I mean no disrespect, but damn he was slow. Mrs. Old-Man-In-The-Scooter made sure that their belongings were properly gathered before leaving. This was all done very quietly and with a minimum of fuss. Unless you were looking for it, you might have missed it. Even with basically nothing going on, it was still enough fuss that Coco decided that she needed to supervise the entire process of these folks leaving.
Roughly seven minutes later (which seemed more like 3 1/2 weeks on the “Waiting for Something to Happen in a Reasonable Time but Knowing it Won’t” Scale) the old folks were properly hugged, kissed, led through the door, loaded into their van and on their merry way.
At least our drinks had been delivered previously, so that we had liquid sustenance while watching this slow motion parade. Mr. Cell-Phone-and-Iced-Tea was still quietly chatting. He may have been a fixture. While he chatted, we waited.
Next Installment: Moving to Vegas: Waiting for Lunch