Childress is an old railroad town with a neglected display of equipment and, we discovered, a post office turned into a museum.
It was enormous, at least a dozen rooms, tracing the history of Childress down the depths of its soil. There was a painting of an airport landing strip with a lighting sequence depicting it at various times of day and night, even thunderstorms flashing in the background.
As the only visitors, we the full attention of the well-dressed woman who was its curator. Of the hour we were there, she talked a good 50 minutes. It was like a Smithsonian tour conducted by Mr. Smithson. When we at last escaped, Childress’ most promising antique shop showed no signs of opening soon.
Next, Paducah, Texas, with a population of a bit more than 1,000, surrounded by square miles of scrubgrass. Anticipation was enhanced by our adventures in its Kentucky namesake. On the north edge of town a museum, in the railway station of the former Quanah, Acme & Pacific, was closed.
So was almost everything else, including the post office, taking a long lunch. Abandoned storefronts surrounded the town square; the print shop and news office had only sighed when we asked about postcards. Poor Paducah was little better off than Boynton, Oklahoma.
But on the way out of town, we did find a tiled mansion called the Hunter’s Lodge, elegantly appointed and decorated.
The concierge, of British extraction, said business was very good among traveling sportsmen at $50 a night.
We turned then toward Matador, 36 miles to the west. We craved lunch, but if Paducah was this pitiful, what could Matador do? According to our guides, it was even smaller.
A cut-metal sign greeted us at Matador city limits. With the camera in the right position, Matador was framed by its own welcome.
And, it was busy. The postmistress led us to the little cafe which would introduce us to the Southwest staple of chicken- fried steak followed by a delicious spice cake. (In Matador, though, order a “stack” and you WILL get pancakes.)
Matador had a mural, several stores and a library/museum which provided a lot more postcards. Matador’s Main Street is eight lanes wide, probably, we speculated, to accommodate the passage of driven cattle. (Route 62 in Matador, though, is Bailey Avenue, just like in Buffalo).
On a map, Matador and Paducah are indistinguishable, identical in climate and agri-nomics, yet one hustled, the other busted. Some places wring their hands, while others roll up their sleeves.
At a crossroads west of town, two arrows pointed in opposite directions; it was 28 miles north to Turkey, 28 miles south to Dickens. Along a curving ridge we stopped and took a panoramic picture of the only man-made object above the landscape — our car.
Doug drove on, declaring “I can just hear Woody Guthrie singing” when another man-made object appeared in our rear-view mirror. It had a flashing red light. We pulled over. One Ranger slowly circled the car while the other, standing carefully behind Doug, inquired politely as to whether any emergency was necessitating such haste. Doug said no.
“Well, Mr. Smith,” the Ranger said, “when I went by you going in the other direction, you were OK, doing about 72, but by the time I got back here, you were really up there, about 77, I’d say.” Doug didn’t dispute a word of it. “I’m really embarrassed,” he said. “I drive a wheelchair van back home and all the other guys tease me about being the slowest driver on the staff.” The Ranger went to his cruiser, then returned with citation in hand.
“Mr. Smith,” he said, “Welcome to Texas. This is an official warning. Do try to avoid getting another one.” After normal breathing resumed, Doug asked for help with directions. The Ranger, intrigued by the scope of this adventure, pinpointed the next turn and suggested a pause in Floydada.
“You’ll like Floydada,” he predicted. We already did.
Floydada (rhymes with “boy data”) calls itself “The Pumpkin Capital of the U.S.A.,” a proudfully silly little city of some 3,000 with orange foil pumpkins on every street light.
Polly enhanced the prosperity of two nice five-and-dimes while Doug looked for postcards. The variety store sent him to the City Hall, the City Hall sent him to the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber had locked up for the day, so he went back to City Hall with its mockup of Cinderella’s coach.
“How many you want?” asked the clerk, and she left her post, skeleton-keyed into the Chamber office and came back with five, “FLOYDADA” emblazoned across fields of orange gourds. We love the way they do business in this part of the country.
Doug now read the fine print in his Official Warning, which assured him that none of this would ever appear in his driving record. It said Texas believed that public safety was best served by sensible hospitality, by issuing just warnings to those in minor, non-threatening violation of the highway code.
Polly found the Generations antique shop in the lobby of a former movie theater. It was open only two days a week and this was one. She paid for a rare piece of Depression glass at the old box office window. “Sorry I can’t offer you a senior discount,” the proprietor apologized. “It’s OK,” said Doug. “We just got one from the highway patrol.”
With a keen eye on the speedometer, we zig-zagged south by the sorghum fields of Ralls and straight through Lubbock. For a city of six figures, Lubbock yielded fairly easily to our passage along Buddy Holly Boulevard. At an attractive cut-stone high school, students were milling noisily, but peacefully, out front.
Our destination was Seminole, near the New Mexico border. Job One would be replacing the now empty flagon of Maker’s Mark. We settled on the Raymond Motel, its units in clusters of two, scattered seemingly at random around the shady grounds, affording unusual privacy.
Its proprietor was a gentleman of India, with a degree in engineering, he said. He took pleasure from a layman’s appreciation of his establishment’s unique design. Then Doug carefully famed an inquiry: “Sir,” he said, “I am a temperate man, but could you perhaps direct me to the liquor store? “
“Ah.” said the propietor, whose name was not Raymond, “there is none, sir. This is a dry county.” He paused to let this sink in.
“But, sir,” he continued, “As you are a visitor, it it within the regulations for me to be permitted to present to you one can of beer. Would you like it now?” He reached under the counter and produced a cold Coor’s Light.
Doug reached into his pocket and produced an old dollar bill.
“Ah, sir,” said the host, “I could not. accept that. We would both be in trouble. This is with my compliments!”
Confidentially, Doug despises “light” as counter to what God intended on the day He invented beer. By bedtime, he had made it go away.