Sunday, August 5, 2007

We pretty much wrote today off as part of our vacation, figuring we would simply head to Dallas, but it turned out to be a lovely day anyway. We started our morning with a trip to Waffle House, for some reason a family favorite during long road trips. This spot was pretty much like every other: thin, greasy bacon, a healthy mix of local and traveling patrons, and a bottomless cup of not-too-awful coffee. We laughed, though, at the poster that announced, "Now hiring friendly folks." I couldn't help but imagine the kinds of employees they accepted before that sign went up. Inside, a hand-made poster advertised a coloring contest for kids: "Boys 12 years or younger" "Girls Ask your server for details!" I'm certain that odd placement of distinct messages formed the impression that girls must endure a special trial before even getting to participate, but we all got a kick out of the sign anyway.

From Texarkana we anticipated a relatively straight shot to Dallas, two or three hours away. We saw smooth running traffic and frictionless end to our cross-country journey, and we all agreed: We can't stop now. So instead of settling for the interstate we took a swell state road heading to Paris, Texas. Since that place was mentioned in a John Mellencamp song we enjoy playing on long stretches ("You've Got to Stand for Somethin'") we figured it'd be a cool stop. Sure enough, the downtown square is worth a stroll, although an impressive fountain was filled with soap bubbles and, inexplicably, a dead fish.

After our visit to Paris (recognizable for its hanging banners that depict an Eiffel Tower topped by a cowboy hat) we searched for a wireless hotspot in nearby towns, following Jenny's suggestion for a perfect end to our trip: one last stop at a Texas BBQ restaurant and a dessert of Blue Bell Ice Cream. Fortunately, a number of downtown regions have begun to maintain wireless clouds, and we had no problem spotting a well-reviewed place in Tioga: Clark's Outpost. We pulled up directions and found a mess of dog-leg turns through state roads and even some farm roads, but had no real hassles reaching our destination and our last BBQ meal of the trip. We ended on a good note, enjoying a batch of sumptuous brisket (and some only less excellent pork ribs). The sauce was served warm from an antique-looking bottle.

Afterward we asked if they served Blue Bell. "No, but we serve Blue Bunny," the server offered. Our barely disguised scowls easily detected, she added, "Or you could go to a convenience store and pick some up…" Of course! Up until now we'd figured that Blue Bell was a delicacy spotted through luck; we'd forgotten that this ice cream is an everyday treat to these folks. We stopped at a nearby convenience store, bought a pint of Cookies and Cream, asked for three plastic spoons, and found a nearby table to share our dessert. I wondered what we'd do with the leftovers, but Jenny just laughed at my silly question. Within ten minutes, we'd finished the whole thing and were back on the road. From that point, the roads became a one-way sluice that led to DFW. We seamlessly returned to the interstate and found our rental car drop-off.

I write this last line in the airport, waiting for our flight home. It's been a long two weeks, a treasure and a joy. We saw old friends, we jumped off dunes, we grooved to the blues, we slept in a shack, and we've placed a BBQ thumprint on the back of Jenny's shirt for every stop we made. As is my usual habit, I labeled this trip the best one ever. Jenny and Vienna still hold even fonder memories for Hawaii and Australia. But I know we'll look back on these fifteen days of BBQ as a highlight in a long line of memorable journeys.

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All text and photos copyright Andrew and Jenny Wood