Yellow Rose Of Texas

6 Jan

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I saw Buckle’s Lounge (Western Bar, Dancing) out of the corner of my eye as I pulled into town on I-40 West.  Most of the hotels and motels in Amarillo were only about thirty bucks for a night, but I remembered Cezar’s spider bites in El Centro and thought I better rest my head in at least a three star hotel, one or two star hotels being breeding grounds for bed bugs, fleas, and anything else you can catch for thirty bucks.

I found a three star hotel for sixty bucks and they even had an available room on the ground floor as I requested.  The lack of stairs made it much easier to load amps and guitars into my room.  I promised Cezar I’d take care of his gear. I didn’t want my guitar stolen either.

For those of you who haven’t been to Texas, your perception has been molded by its outsider reputation. The first time I traveled through the Lone Star State as a seventeen year old punk rock musician in 2001, my guitarist’s parents’ faces became considerably more white when we told them we were headed through Texas.

“You’re driving through Texas?”

“Yeah.”

“Just be careful in Texas. It’s just… we come from the Easy Rider generation.”

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For those who haven’t seen Easy Rider, see it.  I hope I won’t ruin your cinematic experience by letting you know that both Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s characters are killed by shotgun-toting, pickup truck-driving rednecks at the end of their road trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans.

In Tucson, Arizona in December 2019, this conversation seemed to repeat itself.

“You’re driving through Texas?”

“Yeah.”
“Be careful, just don’t get shot. They shoot people out there.”

yellow rose

Where does this reputation come from?  In 1836 between 182 and 257 Texans died defending The Alamo in San Antonio. Around 600 Mexicans were killed or wounded. A man in Hico, Texas claimed to have been notorious outlaw Billy “the Kid” who raised plenty of hell in the late 1800s. In the 1930s, Dallas, Texas’ own Bonnie and Clyde committed over 13 murders, along with their burglaries.  In 1963, JFK was assassinated in Dallas.  In 1993, 76 members of the Branch Dravidian Cult were killed during a siege in Waco, Texas. In August 2019, at an El Paso Walmart, a gunman shot and killed 22 people, injuring 24 others. Plenty of terrible things have occurred in other states, but like they say, “Everything is bigger in Texas.”

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As a touring musician who traveled through Texas quite a few times, I found Texans to be genuine polite people who had real respect and admiration for original music.  I found country music dance halls to be fascinating, where people of every stripe – black, white, Latino, young, old, all dancing the Texas two-step, couples amicably switching without complaint, the continuation of  dance being the most important thing.  People seemed to treat each other with an old-worldly respect.

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Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours

People say, “Please, thank you, ma’am, and sir.”

Real gentlemen still exist in Texas.

As a traveling dental supply salesman I was also fortunate enough to spend time in San Antonio and Austin.  For several years, my old punk band Clorox Girls would travel to the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, where we’d almost always spend a week crashing with friends.  We enjoyed the hospitality and the breakfast tacos.  California does breakfast burritos, but Texas does breakfast tacos, scrambled eggs and chorizo on a heavenly, fluffy, buoyant, stretchy warm flour tortilla.

Many of my favorite musicians come from Texas, including but not limited to Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Lefty Frizzell,The Dicks, The Big Boys, Kris Kristofferson, Ernest Tubb, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Towns Van Zandt.  I’ve attempted the Texas two-step in San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas.

Amarillo, yellow in Spanish, known as “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” is named for the yellow wildflowers that blanket the panhandle during spring and summer.  My trip from Irving, Texas to Amarillo had taken me through a number of one-horse towns, one road, one movie theatre, one church, one gas station.  Being a fan of the films “The Last Picture Show” and “Tender Mercies”, these one-horse towns fueled my imagination.

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Pulling into town I had to find a budget hotel that didn’t have bed bugs with a ground floor load-in for the amps and guitars weighing down my poor 2013 Honda Civic.  Found one for sixty. Three star.  A couple blocks away from my hotel was Bikini Players Club.  That would be my second stop.  First things first, haul ass over to Buckles and see what it’s all about.

A few pickup trucks dotted the parking lot.  I pulled my Honda Civic with Bernie Sanders bumper sticker right in front of the place.

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“Fuck it,” I said to myself, and swung the front door open.

There was a group of young people playing pool to the left, one of them a woman wearing a black wrist brace.

I sat down at the bar. A very large man was asleep at the bar next to me.  Across at the other end of the bar a couple of guys with square white beards were deep in conversation. They could have been stars on the show “Duck Dynasty.”  One of them had on a Texas Longhorns hat.  To their left was a guy with a cowboy hat and a mustache smoking a cigarette and nursing a Bud Lite.

The girl with the wrist brace came up to the bar next to me.

“Claudette, a couple more Ultras with Limes, please?”

Michelob Ultra with a lime was the pool players’ drink of choice.  The Duck Dynasty guys were drinking large Bud Lites in metallic blue bottles.

I ordered a Shiner and a shot of tequila.

“What’s your well,” I asked Claudette.

“Juarez,” she responded.

“I’ll try that.”

Terrible choice.  Juarez did not go down smoothly.

“$6.75” Claudette said.   A bargain.

The large man next to me was suddenly awake.  It appeared that he wasn’t sleeping, he was just chatting quietly into his cell phone, cupped in his gargantuan hands.  He had to drown out Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blaring above.   Country Western bar indeed.

I must have looked road weary enough to fit in.

The big man turned to me, “You work around here? You look familiar.”

“No, I’m just passing through.” I said with a grin, the quadruple shot of Juarez beginning to kick in.

The man’s name was Mike.   Mike was smoking a cigarette and nursing a Jack and Coke.

“I’m a retired trucker on disability.  But I still drive under the table. I’m leaving for Tracy, California tomorrow morning.  The last time I went out there I stayed in one of the cat houses outside of Vegas.  Not for the hookers, but just ‘cause the hotel is cheap.  I met a 19 year old girl there.  She didn’t wanna be there.  So I took her outta there, gave her a ride to Phoenix.  When I pass through, she lets me sleep on her couch.  I have another girl in town here. She has two different kids by two different black guys.  I just bought her a new washing machine.”

“It’s good to do things for other people,” I said.

“I used to be the doorman at Billy Bob’s over in Fort Worth. I saw everybody there. I mean everybody.”

“Willie, Waylon, all those guys?”

“I mean everybody.”

Mike coughed a little.

“Man, I got sleep apnea, real bad. They tell me my heart stops in the middle of the night. So I got this oxygen respirator.”

Mike took another drag of his cigarette.

He told me a little bit about his ex wives and grandchildren and how his truck needed some repairs before he drove out to Tracy in the morning.

“So, are you a fan of Mister President?”

“No, I am not,” I replied calmly.

It wasn’t brought up again. We just kept chatting. This is how political conversations should go. Just talk about something else. I respected Mike for that. Our countrymen should follow his example.

A Dominoes delivery guy showed up.

“Mike?”

“Yup that’s me!”

Mike signed for the pizza.

“You wanna slice of pizza?”

“No man, I’m good, thanks. I just ate.”

“Hey Claudette, you gotta try a piece of this pizza!”

Mike had a couple of slices. Claudette took one.

“Now Claudette, I’m gonna need you to make me an orgasm.”

“I don’t know how to make that one.”

“Look it up on your phone!”

She did.

Claudette came back with an icy fluorescent drink in a highball glass.  It had a pink shot next to it.  Mike took it down.

“Ah that’s good!  You made it right!”

He went back to his Jack and Coke.

Mike was sniffing a little bit.  I didn’t ask.

A Latino trucker came in who was sniffing quite a bit more.

“Hey, do you have any wine?”

Claudette dug deep into her freezer and pulled out this urine-yellow bottle of Chardonnay.

“This thing has been in here for like three years.”

“I’ll have that,” Latino trucker said, nearly chewing his lips off.

“I Could Just Kill A Man” by Cypress Hill came on the jukebox.  Latino trucker began slapping the bar with two open palms, in tempo with the music.  No one flinched.  I ordered a second shot of tequila but went for something a little more higher shelf than Juarez.  It was Hornitos.  Better than Juarez but not by much.  Ordered a second Shiner Bock to wash it down.

The next song was Rage Against the Machine covering Cypress Hill’s “I Could Just Kill A Man.” Someone put the same song on the jukebox twice.

Wrist girl came up to the bar again, standing very close to me. She gave me a sideways smile.

“Claudette, two more Ultras with Lime please.”

I enjoyed chatting with Mike, but I after two giant shots of tequila and two beers, I figured I might get into something deep if I stayed.  I had six hundred miles to drive in the morning.  I shook Mike’s hand goodbye and wished him a safe drive to Tracy.  He looked me in the eye and had a firm grip. I value these small things.

I thought about going into Bikini Players Club for a last drink.

“Fuck it,” I said to myself and went in.

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There was a small cover charge at the door. A nervous looking skinny white guy was in line ahead of me.  He pocketed his change anxiously.

The door girl was a cute Latina with a big smile.  I paid the cover and went in.

Bikini Players Club was about half full. It was mostly black guys in there with a sprinkling of Latinos and white guys.  I ordered another Shiner Bock , paid in cash, tipped a buck and sat down near the stage.  The first dancer was a black girl in a bikini who was pretty unenthusiastic, no one paid her much attention and she only made about five bucks in tips. I sipped on my Shiner Bock and surveyed the room.  There was a group of black guys who had their own table front and center, looked like it was someone’s birthday party or bachelor party.  They had their own personal waitress who brought them another round of drinks on a tray.

A white guy two seats away from me got swooped up by a girl who offered him a private dance. He agreed and was quickly whisked away to a back room.  The next dancer was a Latina with a one piece bathing suit which served as a thong in the back.  She was a real lady with stretch marks and all.  She stood on all fours and made her exposed parts jiggle and shake.  A black girl in nurse’s scrubs, came up and put a few dollars inside the hip of the woman’s bathing suit and gave her a light spank.

“Thank you, hun,” the dancer said.

My Shiner Bock was empty, and I had seen enough. I figured I was next on the chopping block to be pulled into the back for a dance.  I had six hundred miles to drive in the morning after all.  It was a chilly walk back to my hotel, I figured it was about 30 degrees.  I went through the Whataburger Drive Through and took the food back to my room.

I couldn’t sleep, but “Vacation” with Chevy Chase was on TV.  Man, they sure went through hell to make it to Wally World.  They had to tie Aunt Edna to the roof of the car when she died.  Good stuff.   Clark gets caught naked in the pool red-handed. Good stuff.

In the morning I had an egg and chorizo breakfast burrito.  Nothing else in there. Just scrambled egg, chorizo, and the best flour tortilla known to mankind.  I hit up a Mexican grocery store and bought two four packs of Topo Chico in glass bottles and some warm flour tortillas.  It really doesn’t take too much to make me happy. I’m a simple man.  Just give me the open road, a cold Topo Chico, some warm flour tortillas, and Ernest Tubb on the car radio.

Amarillo seemed like a lawless place. A trucker town, a border town, a meth town, a Texas panhandle town. I loved it. Driving across the state alone listening to Waylon Jennings and Buddy Holly brought me into a tranquil, meditative state.  A lady working the counter inside at a service station (unleaded gasoline was $2.50 per gallon), asked me if I played the guit-tar.

“I used to have a guit-tar.  My ex boyfriend kept it. Miss the guit-tar, but he was a nice guy. It’s been so long.”

“It’s never too late to pick one up again.”

“Yeah, I donno. Maybe.  You have a safe drive.”

There were a few Mexican bars that I wouldn’t mind stopping in.  The pawn shop was sure to have something good in it.  Passed the local TV station building.  I wondered what was on Amarillo’s local news today.  I wondered how much rent was.  I wondered if I could find work in Amarillo as a sign language interpreter.  I imagined what my little house in Amarillo would look like.  Maybe I could play country music Thursday nights at Buckle’s.  Maybe a late-night radio station would let me DJ some tunes.

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Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo

Passed Cadillac Ranch on the outskirts of town. I never did have that free seventy two ounce steak at Big Texan that had been advertised on billboards for hundreds of miles.  Mike told me that it was a scam anyhow. He told me two people had died trying to eat it all in one sitting.

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The Yellow Rose of Texas disappeared in my rearview.  It kept a chunk of my heart, seventy two ounces worth.  I knew that I’d be back soon.

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