Saturday, May 28, 2011

More Texas pics......

Crazy pod houses just outside Italy, Texas. Some guy made a lot of money on this fad.

Old-time ad from Dr. Pepper Museum in Waco.

Cowboy and horses outside the Chisholm Trail in Waco, Texas.

Another old-time ad from Dr. Pepper Museum in Waco.

LOOK at these gas prices! Station just outside Hewitt, Texas

My new best friend Kris - let me spend the night at his ritzy place in an uber nice subdivision outside Hewitt.

A Few Texas Pics ~~~

Rest stop by a post office in little ole' Irene, Texas

The Catfish Plantation. Owners Richard and Ann Landis standing in front of a picture where a ghost appeared in the upper right hand corner.

Found a Texas license plate on the road just outside Arlington.
I threw it on the back of my bike - one of the locals said,
"Don't tell Gov. Rick Perry - he'll think it's a good idea and make us all do it."

Friday, May 27, 2011


West, Texas - The Senate in Austin passed a bill to legalize noodling, an old southern tradition where Texans catch catfish with their bare hands. Noodling actually involves catching a catfish by finding its underwater den, sticking your hand inside the hole, and when the fish latches on to your arm with its mouth then you haul it out.

One comment among lawmakers during debate on the bill - would noodling with your feet be legal?

On Saturday, I had a nice surprise while sitting outside a grocery in the small town of West, Texas.

A pair of teens, Taylor and Bailey, asked me about the tour and then asked me to go fishing.

We kept it old school, and used poles.

Taylor was a high school junior who wore skinny jeans, a tame Mohawk and liked punk rock.

Bailey was a high school senior, had green spear earrings and a bit of a wanna-be-rebel attitude.

Both were naturally good-hearted. We got to the fishing hole in Taylor's old Plymouth. We had to rearrange a bit so we could push my bike in the trunk, so I had to hold a chair in my lap in the front seat.

Topics of discussion that afternoon ran the gamut from music, to college, and dreams of moving to Colorado.

We pulled in about a dozen healthy bluegill and then Taylor said, "You can spend the night at my house."

The whole setup felt so comfortable, I didn't hesitate to say yes.

We drove about seven miles to the small town of Aquilla where there was a welcome wagon of seven puppies.

My first red flag popped up when I entered the home and there was the "sweet smell" that uncles Cheech and Chong just left.

And there was Taylor's mom; I think this was the first she was hearing of her house guest.

It was about 7:30 p.m. and there was still some light left; I grabbed my gloves and headed for my bike.

The drama started as Taylor's mom came out onto the porch and yelled, "It's okay Hun, you can stay."

Then she doppled over to my bike and explained how she wasn't sure if "that-damn-Matt’s going to shine around" and she just didn't want any trouble.

Turns out "that-damn-Matt" was a kid who grew up in the house, but later got into some personal trouble and now was on the run from the law.

Taylor and Bailey were extremely reassuring - everything would be fine - and there was fish to eat, so I reluctantly stayed.

With everybody hungry, the homemade fish dinner quickly changed to pizza and ice cream.

I felt like I was at a party for a five-year-old.

With the edginess on the evening subsiding, we relaxed with a bit of King-of-the-Hill therapy, and I was ready to turn in for the night.

Taylor showed me to my bedroom. "How do you like this bed," he said pulling on the metal-pipe headboard. "We got it out of an insane asylum." The bed was industrial.

"Just kidding," said Taylor. "We pulled it off the curb." (That was one unique factor of Taylor's personality, he liked to kid.)

When we were having pizza, he didn't take any. After a couple minutes, I asked him if he was eating. "Yeah, I'm just waiting. I put poison on the pizza and forgot which half....... just kidding," he said and loped into the kitchen to grab a plate.

It was prickly humor and it made my eye twitch.

Within a half hour of going to bed my fingers started cramping, I guess I was clutching my pepper spray and flashlight too tight. I flipped the covers on the bed to get more comfortable and heard something like a battery fall to the floor. Managed to find it right away; my bad... I was wrong - it was a bullet.

I stewed; it was one more stake in my flagging morale. I finally brought it to Taylor who was still watching TV. "You found that here? Swear to God we don't even have a ......" and he stopped mid-sentence.

"That-damn-Matt," said Taylor.

After a lot of consoling, Taylor and Bailey said everything would be fine. I needed a beer, or 12. I went back to bed and looked to lock the door, but there was no lock. Matter of fact, there wasn't even a doorknob. An orange sock hung through the hole. I shook my head, put my faith in prayer and pepper spray, and lay down for the night in front of the door.

This was now crazy with a side of crazy.

My friends asked if I thought about leaving, and I did, every hour - 1 o'clock, 2 o'clock....

At 2:30 a.m. I heard the front door slam and shot up in bed.

I listened and before I knew it my bedroom door opened and I was face to face with "That-Damn-Matt".

I stood up and in that moment Matt went wide-eyed and found religion. "A lady in my bedroom - Thank you Jesus," he said with a heavy drawl that sounded like Spicoli swallowed a Texan.

Then he let go a low Beavis-and-Butthead laugh.

That-damn-Matt looked like he was 12 years old. He had a round face, shaggy bowl haircut, and said he was ready to party. I was taller, Matt was quick to point out I was older, and I was in no mood. I quickly set my boundaries using my no-nonsense voice, which included dibs on the bedroom. I turned, closed the door and flipped my sock-lock in disgust.

I spent the rest of the night with one eye open and making frequent surveillance trips with my water bottle to the kitchen. During one trip I grabbed a fillet knife off the counter and slept with it under my pillow.

At 5:30 a.m. I left with the thought, it’s all part of the adventure.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Irving, Texas - How it all began.....

Irving, Texas - Landed about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Dulles Fort Worth Airport. Weather is sunny, breezy and a comfortable 72 degrees.

Limo driver, Stan, hovered and chatted with me while I put my bicycle together.

He was in his early 60s; worked himself to death by choice. He regularly put in 14-hour days but seemed to thrive on it.

"I don't want to name drop, but I've driven Steven Spielberg," he said about the movie director. And the I'm-not-bragging list continued.

"Jennifer Aniston, Adam Sandler, Michael Douglas, Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise, ....."

He did his best to offer me some direction on Texas roads, but bicycling out of the airport was something new and he was understandably flummoxed.

Pedaling out of the airport was rather simple. Within eight miles I was in Irving - a small town, south of the airport.

I had a backpacker's hostel lined up for my first night.

I swung over to the Dallas Irving Backpackers Guesthouse - it was a little sketchy.

A simple white house on 6th Avenue, on the edge of a business district.

There were a pair of hand-written signs on the door and a beat up van under the car park.

Instructions to visitors were spelled out in black felt marker. "Pick up phone on the left and call number listed."

If that option didn't work, visitors were instructed to 'walk around the side of the building' and see if anybody was inside to 'let you in.'

It seemed inviting and homey, in a Jeffrey Dahmer sort of way.

The phone 'on the left' was a desk phone resting on the porch with a hard-line cord pinched between the closed front door. The white phone, now a tinge gray, lay under a clear plastic sheet - similar to something you'd use to tow a pile of leaves to the curb.

I peered around the side of the building and thought twice.

I managed to secure a couch in the youth room at Irving First United Methodist Church. Pastor Sean said he'd trade out the space if I'd give a brief speech to his 7th and 8th graders about my tour.


Irving, Texas has a lot of small-town charm.

Historic homes with gabled entrances and a wing-architectural style, popular in the early twentieth century.

The home of Eugene and Mary Ann Beaufford is on Main St. and part of the Irving Texas Centennial tour. It was one of the oldest houses in the community, constructed in May 1904 the property was used as an irrigated truck farm.

Another notable home belonged to Fred Joffre. An early contractor and carpenter, Joffre designed and built a California-style airplane bungalow in 1919.

A rusty, black wrought-iron fence was set along the sidewalk. A half-circle gravel driveway led to the entrance of the home which featured two simple armless rockers and a porch swing.

Pioneer Dr. Franklin Monroe Gilbert and wife Dorothy purchased the home in 1939 and for nearly 30 years patients came night and day as they knew help was available for examination, medication and emergency treatment.

Up the street was the Irving Park Veterans Memorial.

"Can you take my picture," said a man standing alongside one of the bronze military statues.

"I need a picture to update my profile on"

His name was Tim. He was tall, a simple man with a figure of a mashed potato and I say that in a warm non-judgmental way.

Dressed in baggy blue jeans, a black Michael Jackson t-shirt tucked in his pants and cinched tight with a black belt whose front end hung out about a foot.

A green cloth bag from the Irving Texas Public Library sat on a cement bench next to Tim. It was packed full of dog-eared spiral notebooks, a half-empty plastic bottle of water and a box of Kool Aid Twist juices.

I took his disposable Kodak camera and snapped a couple photos.

"I need a full-body shot," said Tim. (head nod to Jon Heder and Napoleon Dynamite.)

"I need my feet in the picture because the head and shoulders I've posted so far haven't worked."

Tim was a sharer and looking for love.

Some may say Tim's picture request was a clumsy attempt at flirting. I say he was seriously set on posting an updated photo and I was the closest help available.

After the photo shoot, we talked. And when I say 'we' I mean Tim. He laid out the combo platter that was his life.

Tim talked about working 23 years at K-mart in Michigan, getting sacked, wandering a bit, living in homeless shelters, and his job driving a box truck.

Tim blamed the demise in that endeavor on a no-good partner.

"He was in a lot of trouble because his wife caught him cheating with her sister," said Tim.

"I won't tell you his name, because you might figure out who he is."

Blank stare.

All the while chatting, Tim kept his arm wrapped around the shoulder of the bronze statue. It was the same pose he held in his soon-to-be-published photo.


Took off first thing Thursday morning to Joe's restaurant on Irving Boulevard.

The menu featured Texas Chili omelets, 'delicious homemade biscuits, and Big Bird pancakes with two eggs, hash browns and bacon or sausage.

After putting in a watching-my-figure order of bottomless cup of coffee, two eggs, and salsa on the side - I had regrets.

The couple at the booth next to me ordered the hot cakes; they came with a pail of blueberries dumped over the top.

Texas - does it big. Everything is big.


- A man I met at Joe's restaurant in Irving sent me an e-mail. Ramey Faries wrote: "Met you at Joe's this morning. I meet Uncle Dick every morning for breakfast at Joe's. Just wanted to say you were a breath of fresh air, always great to meet interesting people. It was funny to walk in and see someone sitting with him at the table. I hope this finds you having made it to Waco safely. I noticed on your blog many pictures from your adventures. If you have a favorite you should send it to me; I do oil-on-canvas paintings and would love to do one of something important to you.

- Stopped at a small church outside Arlington to fill my water bottles and met Bill Dunn. He was the only man amongst a group of women playing dominos.

Bill had black, round, super sized Harry-Potter glasses, a small tuft of white hair on his head and another on his chin, and he reminded me of the Colonel from KFC.

Bill was also an Army veteran. "I was in the Cold War and over in Germany in 1961," he said.

Stationed in the artillery division Bill talked about how the Germans would break into communications. "They'd play the German National Anthem; it sounded like a funeral dirge," he said.

And although it was more than five decades ago, Bill still lamented missing Elvis during a USO show.

"We had only 30 minutes to try and see him," said Bill.

"I had to pull a shift and couldn't get there on time and went back to duty."

Bill and the church group invited me to stay for lunch. They dumped the dominoes and spent the next hour talking about whether their Governor Rick Perry would run for president, how few of them voted for the referendum for the new Dallas stadium, and there was a lot of disagreement on the concealed carry law.

Midlothian Texas - Monday, May 23

Tim at the Irving Veterans Memorial

Doris, from the Town Cafe in Italy, Texas
- she made my breakfast that morning -
two eggs and salsa.
Doris said she'd have to quit the diner soon but didn't know what she'd do with herself.
Look at how TALL this corn is! Photo taken just outside of Venus, Texas.

Bill from church outside Arlington.
He spent the lunch hour talking about his service in WWII and Elvis.

Midlothian, Texas - If a person at a library offers directions with the caveat, "I'm really bad at directions," that's often an honest, spot-on admission.

I stopped at the public library in the very small town of Venus, about 35 miles south of Dallas.

It was late, 4:30 p.m. and I had about 50 miles on the day.

I say late because normally I find a place to stay by that time and with darkness around the corner and miles from my destination city, I was starting to feel a little nervous.

I confided in the librarian I was looking for help and a church or safe haven for the night. She suggested I try the Cowboy Church off Highway 67.

Wow - Cowboy Church, this must be Texas.

I had been biking much of the day on Highway 67 so when the librarian said 'you go over a bridge and it's on your left,' I didn't equate bridge with a highway overpass.

About seven miles out of town the sheriff's deputies made it clear. I was rerouted again - with an escort.

I'm such an embarrassment for bicyclists and the state of Wisconsin. (Mind you, during these situations I tell officers I'm from Illinois.)

Off the highway and through a mile of forest, I'm completely lost. The road empties onto a main street in the small community of Midlothian.

I stop at a park and seek advice from a series of football moms sitting in folding chairs along the sideline.

All of them point to the parking lot and a man sitting in a Ford Explorer.

It's Pastor Bruce Smilie from Crosspointe Church and he allows me to spend the night in the youth room at his church.


- Spent the day visiting Dallas Stadium and Texas Rangers ballpark in Arlington. Small world - on my way into the stadium I saw a number of Brewers shirts and questioned the group, which ended up being from Wisconsin Lutheran College. Once inside, Heidi behind the front desk said she was from Campbellsport.

- Spent the night at a tiny First Baptist Church in small town of Italy. Found the pastor's daughter, Ronda Cockerham, working at City Hall. She let me into the church and handed me a basket of soaps and a towel. I took the gift more so as one of hospitality than a subtle message that I had much of my day's journey stuck to me.

- Italy's claim to fame is it's the hometown of Dale Evans.

- Passing through Waxahachie I took a tour of the Catfish Plantation. The restaurant, set in a home built in 1895, is said to be haunted, and has been featured on several national shows, including the Travel Channel and the Discovery Channel's Ghost Lab.

Sitting on the front porch, I paged through hundreds of letters in a three-ring binder - testimonials of guests who witnessed ghosts. Sightings included things like "While I was at Catfish Plantation the doors attacked me, my food was floating, the lights were flickering," and Carolyn Horsak wrote that she was "eating my shrimp dinner when I picked up a shrimp to dip in the sauce and noticed there was already a bite taken."

"That book's a bunch of hogwash," said a woman who walked through the porch like a bull in a china shop with an opinion.

Shane Sparks was the manager and executive chef at Catfish Plantation. "So many of those people don't know the difference between a breeze blowing through the building and a ghost."

Shane was a large, saucy woman with feathers dangling from hoop earrings. She was also on a mission to set the record straight.

"We do have ghosts, but so many people come here thinking they'll see one - they freak themselves out," she said.

Matter of fact, many customers got carried away, especially in the bathroom.

"We had to put up a sign "No playin" because people would be screamin' in the bathroom if we had a short circuit and one of the light bulbs would flicker."

Shane rolled her eyes - she had little patience for amateurs.

"I've actually seen the ghost," said Shane, running through a list of examples about how a ghost would really push open a door or appear in a picture. "One of the ghosts actually slapped my 13-year-old daughter on the arm.

"I wasn't mad, because we all felt like giving her a crack that day - it's just that the ghost beat us to it," she said.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

On the road Texas!

**Arrived Wednesday at DFW Airport just outside Dallas.

Made it to Irving - about 25 miles south of airport and stayed the night at Irving First United Methodist Church.

Stopped at a flower shop outside Arlington and ran into this guy, Bill Simpson, wearing a Packer hat. "I've been a Packer fan all my life. Jerry Jones (owner of the Cowboys) has a way of turning a lot of people against the star (Dallas symbol)."

Outside Arlington Stadium - the MLB stadium is across the street from the NFL stadium.

In the gear shop at Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

Big home-made sign of the state of Texas... and my bike. :-)

Bunch of newspaper boxes outside Arlington.

Statue off MacArthur Street at St. Maria De Guadalupe.

Statue outside North Lake College on the south side of Irving.