This past week, I took my first trip to Texas. I was kind of excited and kind of nervous as I didn't know what to really expect. I have known only a couple of people from Texas. They wore shirts with slogans on them, like "There are two kinds of people... those who are from Texas and those who wish they were." They had other shirts that stated that Texas should just move off and be its own country. I had never been a fan of country music (with the exception of Kenny Rogers' Coward of the County) and have long theorized that the Country Music Television breaks millions of mute buttons on television remotes a year (the guys out there know what I'm talking about).
However, I have to say that I loved my trip to Texas. My fears of being outcast as an outsider were completely unfounded. Spending most of my life in New England, I had forgotten to account for one basic thing: southern hospitality. They say that everything is bigger in Texas. That saying has never been more true than when describing that hospitality. My wife and I just had to drop our jaws at the level of politeness.
For spending just a few days, we got a lot of "touristing" done. We were in the Dallas area for the most part, but drove up to Longview for a wedding. Here are some of the highlights:
- Thanks to PT Money - I have to thank Phil Taylor for his article on frugal things to do in Dallas. It's a very helpful list. I even sent him some e-mail about specific questions I had and he was happy to answer. The lesson here is that Phil rocks.
- Fort Worth Stock Yards - This area is very much cut out of any Western that you've seen. What's there to do there and how much does it cost? I'm glad you asked:
- Cattle Drives - They have two cattle drives a day. We were fortunate to catch the first one at 11:30 as we did want to stay until the 4PM one. It was very cool and you can't beat the price of free.
- Riscky's BBQ - A lot of people mentioned this as a great place for BBQ. It was decent, but didn't knock my socks off. It certainly was not as good as Everett and Jones. However, $9 all-you-can-eat ribs is a great deal.
- White Elephant Saloon - It's a very authentic looking saloon, because that's pretty much what it is. While it's biggest claim to fame might be that Wyatt Earp drank there, younger folks might recognize it as the exterior of C.D.'s Bar and Grill from the television show Walker, Texas Ranger. The price of a pint of Bud Light there? A frugal $2.
- Drink Dublin Dr. Pepper - Dr. Pepper is huge in Texas - because it was invented there. There's an original formula using Imperial Pure Cane Sugar made in small qualities and still distributed locally. You can get an old school bottle of Dublin Dr. Pepper at a few shops around the Stock Yards for $1.50.
- Much More - There are more things to do there, but we just didn't fit it in. There's a rodeo on Friday night, but we had to move on to Longview for a wedding on Thursday. There was a maze featured on the fifth season of The Amazing Race that you could go through, but I think it was $8 and we just didn't feel up to it. There were some museums that were interesting to stroll through, but nothing that knocked my socks off like...
- The Sixth Floor Museum - Peter King mentioned this a couple of weeks ago in his very popular football column. I didn't think that I'd be that impressed, but I never wanted to leave. For those who don't know, this is the site of John F. Kennedy's assassination. It's turned into a museum not just of that horrific tragedy, but of Kennedy's life. If you don't openly cry, you have no humanity left in your soul. Interestingly one of most amazing things I saw was pretty well hidden on one of the walls. It was a quote by Kennedy the morning of his death:
You know, if anyone wanted to kill the President, it wouldn't be so difficult. All one would need was a high-powered rifle, a tall building, and wait for the opportune moment.
Oddly, I could only find mention of this on this one Facebook page. How is it possible that only me and this one other person are the only people to mention it on the Internet?
If you do nothing else in Dallas this would be my recommendation. It was well worth the $13.50 (or $11.50 with our military discount).
In case you are wondering Las Vegas has the odds at about 85% that the Secret Service will be visiting my home in the next 30 minutes. Searching Google for all forms of "high-powered rifle" and "kill the President" will do that.
- Restaurants to Eat at: - We stopped at quite a few places to eat along the way. I thought I'd write a little about each of the significant ones:
- Wolfgang Puck's Five Sixty - This is the signature restaurant in the Dallas Reunion Tower. (The Reunion Tower looks like a bigger version of New Year's Ball in Times Square suspended on a smaller version of the Seattle Space Needle.) It rotates so you get a good view of the city while you eat. My wife says it must be 560ft high, because otherwise Mr. Puck failed his geometry class. We can't figure out why else he would name it the 560 instead of the 360. The dinner there is quite expensive... the sushi appetizers were $18 for example. Most entrees were $40+. However, they have a happy hour at the bar from 5-7 where you can several drinks and appetizers for $5.60. We got out there with two drinks and three very small (but extremely good) Kobe beef sliders for around $20. The best part? You can time happy hour with the sunset and it's fantastically romantic enough that you forget that you are being frugal.
- Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse - A lot of people mentioned that I had to try this place out. I liked it better than Riscky's, but it was still no Everett and Jones. It was about the same price as Riscky's.
- Whataburger - The aptly named fast-food restaurant is all around Texas. As a commenter mentioned we should try this place as well, we did. I was a little surprised by the pricey $7.14 combo meal for a double burger (the single burger looked small and I was really hungry. I was more surprised when this burger didn't come with cheese. $7.14 for your signature burger and it doesn't come with cheese? For a dollar or two more, I might as well go to Friday's or Outback and sit down. Fortunately, the burger was extremely good. I liked my bite of my wife's chicken sandwich as well. Still fast-food drive through for two people shouldn't be over $15.
- Gator's Croc & Roc - When we got of the plane this was the first place we went to. Coming from California it was still 9PM for us and a good time for dinner. It was 11PM there and we were grateful to find an open place. I went for their "Ultimate Texas Grande Belt Buster Burger." I love a challenge, I was hungry, and it was less than $10. It was a much better value than Whataburger. It was so big, I just focused on the meat an tossed the bread aside... no-need for filler.
The most fun of the night though came when an off-duty (fairly attractive) waitress was hitting on a guy at the bar. They had obviously known each other from before the way she greeted him. I noticed her free up both hands by finishing up both of her drinks almost like Popeye would down two cans of spinach. I realized this could get interesting when I noticed the restaurant had grain alcohol on the menu. She went into a game of, "Let me show you my tattoos" with the gentleman. Somewhere along the line my wife heard her mention something about her boyfriend. Wouldn't you know it, the boyfriend shows up not ten minutes later and it's just the 7 of us at the bar (me, my wife, the bar tender, the cook, and the love triangle). Everyone took it outside, except my wife and I stayed there to eat. Somehow no punches were thrown. I figure the boyfriend realized that his girl was the instigator. Anyway, it was good drama at the start of our trip.
- Hampton Inn Longview - Lastly, if you ever find yourself in Longview, TX (and I don't know why you would), you can do a lot worse than stay at the new Hampton Inn on North Eastman Rd. As we checked in on Thursday, the people at the front desk were kind enough to inform us that celebrate guest appreciation with free beer, wine, and appetizers on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 7:30 in the lobby. The wine was boxed Franzia and the beer was your choice of Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coor's Light in a can, but it was worth every penny. The appetizers were actually quite good and we ended up skipping dinner that night.
- Three odd parts of our trip worth mentioning
- Gator's Croc and Roc - Just making sure you are paying attention...
- Weird Toll Policy - When picked up our car rental, the place tried to see us a $32 package of pre-paid tolls. We declined saying that we don't know what tolls we'll use, but we'll pay them as we come across them. The rental place pointed out that there are several highways that no longer take cash. You rack up fines if you don't have a transponder with the appropriate money in it... and you rack them up fast as each checkpoint is a $25 fine.
I can't understand two things. 1) Why not have one cash lane or people from out of town, technophobes, or just people with malfunctioning equipment? 2) Why have a pre-payment for something that you might not use? It wasn't clear if we were going to get refunded this money if we didn't use it. I tried to ask that and the car rental place didn't seem to understand that we didn't want to give them money for a service that we didn't intend to use, but we would pay for services that we actually use. Unfortunately that wasn't presented as an option.
As it turned out we found two restaurants that we wanted to go to, but couldn't because of Dallas' silly toll system. We tried to plan around back roads, but our GPS and Google Maps just gave us a response of "You can't avoid that leg of your trip."
The car rental place that Dallas was going in this direction with all it's toll roads. Note to Dallas: You'll be sinking tourists who don't have reasonable access to your transponder system.
- Visiting NAS Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base - As part of the military, we went to check out the military base in Fort Worth. Sometimes you can some good deals on clothing. I did find a bright purple suit just like the Joker's, but my wife refused to let me buy it. I thought it would be good value for $30, but she pointed out that it wouldn't fit anyway. That wasn't really the freaky part though. We found out about the Fort Hood shootings the next day just two hours from the base we were on.
dallas, dr. pepper, fort worth stock yards, longview, reunion tower, sixth floor museum, sonny brians... and focuses on:
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