Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Googling My Way Across Texas

First of all: Texas is BIG. The man at one of the gas station convenience stores where we stopped along the way corroborated this observation: he claimed that the drive across Texas at its widest point, from New Mexico to Louisiana, is longer than the drive from the northern border of Texas up to Canada, and the drive from Texas's southernmost to northernmost point is also longer than driving from Texas all the way to the U.S./Canada line.

So the drive was LONG, thirteen full hours plus the hour we lost from the time change plus the hour or more we stopped for breakfast, lunch, gas, and snacks.

It turned out, however, that I had a secret weapon in my possession for making the miles (well, sort of) fly by. Phone in hand, I Googled every "brown sign" attraction we passed, edifying myself and my fellow travelers by reading aloud the detailed Wikipedia description of each one. In southern Colorado we learned about the heartbreaking Ludlow Massacre of striking coal miners that shocked the nation's conscience and led to lasting reforms in labor law. In western New Mexico we learned about the Capulin Volcano National Monument, which last erupted perhaps 60,000 years ago (though we kept our phone cameras at the ready in case it should emit a whiff of sulphorous smoke as we sped past).

In Texas, I turned to the task of Googling every tiny or not-so-tiny town we crossed. Without fail, I found some tiny tidbit of fascinating information.

Dalhart, Texas, in the western Panhandle, is closer to SIX other state capitals than it is to its own capital of Austin: Santa Fe, Oklahoma City, Denver, Cheyenne, Topeka, and Lincoln are all closer than the 570 miles that separate Dalhart from Austin.

Childress, Texas, engaged in a heated dispute with nearby Henry, Texas, over which emerging town should have the honor of being named county seat (such disputes featured in the Wikipedia entries on just about every county seat we passed). Childress won the first election, which was subsequently challenged by the Henry-ites because Henry had the smoother terrain for erecting a railway depot (proximity to the railroad was significant to the founding of many Texas Panhandle towns). Solution: Henry was renamed Childress, and the folks from Childress-1 moved to Childress-2, and all was well.

Memphis, Texas, got its name in this way. For a long time the town was without a name, as federal postal authorities kept rejecting suggested names as too similar to names of towns already established. Finally, one of its founders, on a trip to Austin, "happened to see a letter addressed by accident to Memphis, Texas, rather than Tennessee, with the notation 'no such town in Texas.'" Ooh! A name that wasn't already taken! And that's how this no-name hamlet became Memphis, Texas.

Estelline, Texas (population 145 in the last census) was ranked by the National Motorists Association as #1 on their list of "Worst Speed Trap Cities in America": Estelline has a "one-person police force whose main purpose is to wait for speeders." We slowed down.

Nothing, however, could possibly top what I found for Dumas, Texas, which advertises itself as "home of the Ding Dong Daddy." What on earth could the Ding Dong Daddy be? I had hoped it might be a variant on the Hostess cream-filled chocolate cupcake: a sort of Texas-sized Ring Ding. Instead, I learned of Dumas's pride in the song "I'm A Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas." Of course, we had to listen to multiple versions of the song, one even recorded by jazz great Louis Armstrong. The lyrics are extensive, all detailing womanizing conquests, but here's a sample:

I'm a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas,
Your ought to see me do my stuff.
I'm a popcorn popper and a big apple knocker,
You ought to see me strut.

The tune is indeed catchy, as you can hear for yourself in this recording by Bob Wills.

Naturally we were thrilled when we passed the Window on the Plains Museum in Dumas and stopped to purchase our Ding Dong Daddy pins and refrigerator magnets.
Not a bad way to pass the time driving for hours, and hours, and hours, across western Texas. . . .

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