Travelogue: the Americas (part 3)
Posted 04 February 2008 - 09:09 PM
Darlene, and elderly lady, has the A-1 Taxi Cab Service, and drove me in from the airport after a dawn patrol flight that had me driving out on I45 with the Mustang crunched down burning gas pulling a full load, while I listened to a Nuevo Latino CD.
The A-1 has four cars and five drivers, but the problem right now is that some of them are out sick.
It's a flu. It takes you off your feet for several days, and then you wake up feeling fine. Of course, with some of these drivers, they're just worms. Can't find their way to a destination to save their lives.
Just to give you some of the ambience.
Darlene, fine soul she is, filled me in on a few good places to eat in town. She can't eat at many of them any more, as she's suffering from acid, which hurts something awful, but she did enjoy the food before.
Darlene has advised me to take in the Wall Street, and for Mexican, to try Donna Anita. She also recommended Hernandos, and she says the ribs at The Bar just fall off the bone.
And for BBQ, there's Johnny's, not far from the Hilton, where we're camped out.
With Darlene as my mentor, my trepidation is passing away.
I'll fill in more of this as I go. I really have to concentrate on getting Bogota done up properly.
Posted 13 February 2008 - 07:03 AM
This is a place that was crying out for a Ry Cooder soundtrack. Lonely steel guitar, plaintive notes of loneliness, and the whistle of the wind through vacant streets.
And those streets were darned vacant.
It was a Monday, a business day, and we were in the downtown core, driving through empty streets on our way in from the airport. I was with Darlene, a charming native who spent many decades in West Texas, and now had a taxi company here in Midland.
Darlene told me of some places to eat, and I made my notes. Ribs. BBQ. Mexican. She did dearly love Mexican food, but her acid wouldn’t let her eat it any more. Pity.
As Darlene drove and talked, I looked for signs of life in the town. Something other than the paltry few cars about the roads.
Nothing. No one. Zilch.
I felt like I was on the set of Stephen King’s The Langoliers, where time is dead, stale, and waiting to be finally consumed.
One of our crew had done time here (not in the penal sense) and he and everyone else I’d talked to (including Darlene) had recommended The Wall Street Bar & Grill. Who was I to fly in the face of public opinion?
Luckily (as we were hungry) The Wall Street was just a block down from the Hilton where we were staying. I put on my long coat, and we walked. On the corner was an old bank building that was being redone as high end condos…..Someday. It had done service as a church at somewhere in the past, the logo “Satan is Defeated” still etched into the glass. I looked at my reflection under the signage.
Across the street from that, next door to the barbershop (seniors only $10) was the green awning of Wallstreet. Inside was a beautiful study in western dining. Lustrous dark brown wood, a fantastic old bar, and serviceable seating, four chairs to the table, and crisp linen under glass.
Things were getting better.
Don’t let this photo lead you astray. There were people in here, and there was good business being done. We hadn’t strayed into the Langoliers after all.
Our waitress was a middle-aged lady of upstanding character (which means she wasn’t lying down on the job), with that comfortable manner about her that you only seem to find in small towns.
I like small towns….at least, to visit.
One of the team ordered the shrimp popcorn. A fine study in deep fried food.
Nothing at all to complain about with this dish. Crisp and still hot to the table. The colour that wonderful golden brown, with streaks of red prawn meat showing through.
Myself, I ordered the black bean soup. This was the day’s special. Our waitress apologized for the bit of a mess in getting to out table, but when someone’s as nice as she was, you’re not going to hold it against her.
I cracked up my corn chips, and let them sog down a bit with the soup.
The beans were good, not broken down, but still with some texture to them.
The drinks selection wasn’t bad, either. A good variety of imported beers. My only regret is that they didn’t have any draught, only long necks. This place would work well with draught. For my part, I ordered a bottle of Bass (I figure you should always try to get some fish in your diet).
When I’d ordered my soup, the waitress had asked if I wanted salad. I’d said no, and her comment was “oh, that’s a very light lunch”.
I let her know I wasn’t finished ordering yet.
I guess they do a lot of salads for lunch.
I ordered the porterhouse.
This was a fine cut of meat, draping over the plate, and loaded with fried potatoes that hadn’t come from a McCain’s bag.
I’d ordered the steak rare, and it came out just off of blue in the middle. Buttery, and soft to chew.
The bar was a nice old antique (similar to me, but leave off the “nice” part). Well aged wood, the sort of thing you could see yourself coming up to after a hard day on the range and ordering a shot of whisky (it wouldn’t be Scotch, so no “e” in the whiskey), pushing your hat back, and giving your reflection in the mirror that 1000 mile stare.
I passed on dessert. It all sounded good enough, but I was beginning to find some difficulties in getting into my suit.
Probably a good time for a walk, I thought.
Posted 13 February 2008 - 07:31 AM
I saw a couple of folks moving from their cars to their offices, and one teenager huddled over in the cold, intent on her cell phone, a hood pulled over her head as she sat cross-legged atop a cold stone cube.
My intent in walking was both to get a bit of exercise, of which I’ve been significantly lacking this trip, and to sniff out what else there was for food, working primarily from Darlene’s recommendations.
Just down Big Springs I found Johny’s. Darlene had spoken well of Johnny’s and it was close enough to the hotel that it would work well for us as a lunch spot.
Given that it closed early – around 7 - it was going to have to do as a lunch.
Farther down Big Spring I came across the Asian contingent, a Thai restaurant called The King and I. Somehow I’d picked up the impression that I’d be better off in Bangkok for Thai food. Unfair, I know, but we have to go with our gut sometimes (mine tends to lead me about).
After that, there were the old stand-bys; Dairy Queen, Subway (I think), and other fine dining establishments. I turned around and worked my way up the other direction, back the way I’d come.
Not much, but I did figure out where I needed to go for dinner, so I’d accomplished something in reconnoitering the place.
After work we fell back on the Mahogany Bar in the Hilton. Happy hour, and the beers were affordable, and they had live music of the West Texas persuasion, which means someone with a guitar. I sounded others out about dinner, but people were getting leary of my dining choices by now.
Dinner was a step out from the Hilton out the back door and across the parking lot by the library. There was a cold wind blowing through the empty streets, and my coat flapped as I covered the ground.
I needed to get under the freeway and up a few blocks. I jumped the railing and dropped a couple of feet to the sidewalk that went under I20. There was the usual grafitti, but, surprisingly, no homeless sheltering from the cold under here (Midland has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country). Surfacing on the other side, I found myself amidst auto body shops side by side with a Heavy Metal CD retailer. I went past a boarded up house that had been closed off with shingles and looked disturbingly familiar from numerous 1970’s psycho films, a Winnebago or two, and empty used car lots. There was also a mini-warehouse business
I guess grease monkeys – plural – might be alright. You just don’t want them there on their lonesome.
From there it was just a matter of getting across Florida. This took a bit of a wait as I let the police and the emergency services go by. It seemed the wise thing to do, rather than insist on my rights as a pedestrian.
Did I mention that there weren’t a lot of people on the streets?
Folks had recommended Dona Anita’s. And, with several cars parked outside, at least it seemed to be inhabited.
Inside, it was fairly ramshackle, always a good sign in places like this. The TV was covering the primaries, and there was a staff of three or so taking care of the Spanish speaking customers. A large neon sign proclaimed “Cerveza Budweisser Siempre Fresca”.
I took a table by the wall, and looked over the menu. But first I ordered a Tecate.
The waitress came back a couple of minutes later. They were out of Tecate.
I ordered a Corona.
The waitress came back a couple of minutes later. They were out of Corona.
I overheard one of the neighboring tables ask for a straw. They were out of straws. Then they asked for a Coors Lite.
Yeah, you guessed it.
I switched tactics and ordered a marguerita. On a hunch, I asked them what sort of tequila they had. They didn’t have a liquor license, so it would be made with wine.
I went for a Dos Equis. That they had.
A lot of the menu looked pretty Tex-Mex, but there were some interesting dishes, mainly steaks and a couple of stews. The tacos al carbon had gotten a write up in one of the magazines (Texas Monthly), and I asked the waitress her opinion on them. She said go for the tacos.
She also recommended the deep fried jalapenos. That sounded good, but she came back to say that they were out of jalapenos.
“It must’ve been a really good weekend?”
“Oh, yeah. We were really busy.”
I didn’t feel so bad about things at that point. At least there was a reason for the place being drained of supplies.
The waitress asked me if I wanted something. Being Canadian and unable to understand anything, I just nodded and said “yes, please”. What I got was a big bowl of what I think was melted Velveeta in a bowl to go with the corn chips.
I wouldn’t say it was particularly appetizing, but I did have a frosted mug for my beer.
My tacos were quite good. Lots of oil and grease on the tortillas, as they’d been fried up. My hands were a mess afterwards. The meat was crispy, and hot as sin when it came to the table. A simple dish, but that’s often a good thing.
The beans were that unfortunate diarrhea-runny texture that makes me think of canned goods. But, then again, the canned versions all give themselves names from this part of Texas, so maybe this is more the original?
It doesn’t matter much, as I didn’t eat much of them. I’d grown fond of the thicker, starchier version at Hugo’s in Houston.
I finished up and hit the road, all cold wind, flapping coat, and that lonesome guitar soundtrack. I had another stop to make.
I cut through some open ground and went past Luigi’s pizza. I was looking for The Bar, which I’d been told was around here somewhere.
I found it soon enough, and stopped in for a beer and to check the menu. Darlene had said their ribs were good, and I still had faith in her.
The menu was very interesting. Ribs and steaks, as you’d expect, but also frog legs and quail. This place was definitely up on my list of dinner targets. And the staff were good. As with The Wall Street, they had that ability to put you at ease. The décor was oilfield, which I’m comfortable with. Signs from a lot of the companies that don’t exist anymore, and plenty of articles on the bizness.
Plus, they have what may be the largest collection of beer cans on display.
I’ll come back to this later. For the moment, I contented myself with a Bock, and took in the feel of the place (and it was crowded, too. I was growing starved for human company in this town)
A couple of beers in me, I headed back to the hotel and checked out the insides of my eyelids.
Posted 13 February 2008 - 07:43 AM
I’d been right.
The fried stuff had been alright – spring rolls and such – but the soup had been sad. Sealing the wontons (wontons at a Thai place?) hadn’t been high on their priority list, and the summer rolls came wrapped in saranwrap.
The highlight for the guys was when they had to go around outside to the back to use the can. Obviously, it had been a gas station in a previous life, and the amount of reworking had been marginal.
We wouldn’t be going back there.
Instead, for lunch, two of us headed over to Johnny’s.
Unfortunately, as we’d gone straight from work, I forgot to bring the camera. I’d taken this shot the day before when I did the walkabout.
Let me talk you through it.
From the door, it was a funnel up to the counter, which had two guys working the line. The popular choices were one, two, or three meat dishes – with ribs, ham, brisket, sausages, hot links, and turkey – with a selection of cole slaws, potato salad, fries, rings, and other stuff to fill out the gaps in your diet.
I went for ham, sausage, and hot links. With this I got fries and beans, and ordered a Miller. The meats came slathered in red bbq sauce. In the condiments section it was pickles. Bread and butter, but also jalapenos, and a couple of other hot chilis that I couldn’t identify – sort of tomato shaped. I loaded up on the pickles.
The sausage was more tender and juicier than the hot links. The hot links seemed softer. Both were good sausages, and I was happy with having chosen them. The ham was also good. I find it difficult to find a ham on the menu at a lot of places, unless there’s a carvery on the go, so I take advantage of it when I find it.
My partner was having the ribs, and I tried a bite of his. More of a dry cook, taking the side of the argument that doesn’t go for the “falling off the bone” style.
My plate, piled up with meat, put me in mind of meals in Germany from years back, and I could see that the original central European stock in this area must have had some influence on the food (that should open me up for some cheers of derision from the bbq experts out there). But as I looked at the plate in front of me – setting aside the fries and beans – I was thinking of schlachtplatte-style eats I’ve enjoyed in the past….maybe without the red sauce, too.
We’d gotten in just ahead of the crowd. When we looked up from our feed the lineup was stretching the whole length of the restaurant, and back up to the door. It was cold outside, so the line didn’t go beyond that point.
Behind the queue on the wall there was a small framed photo up of Johnny himself. He’d opened this place back in 1952, having returned from Korea.
An interesting crowd, very oil field, with a lot of discussion of the rigs and development plans going on around us, along with talk of the pasting they’d just taken from UCLA. Two good old boys caught my eye. They were both as wide across the shoulders as their table, and looked like they could’ve picked up a good length of drill stem and used me as a golf ball.
Every table was occupied, and we were starting to get some stares for being there for so long. We didn’t linger, and headed back to work before I ended up on the driving range.
I had problem explaining my dinner plans.
“Where are you eating tonight?”
“The Bar. For ribs.”
“They have food in the bar downstairs? I thought it was just peanuts and stuff.”
“I’m not eating in the bar, I’m eating at The Bar.”
Hu’s on first………
It was getting colder outside. Cold and windy.
Our plans almost derailed when I saw a sign for menudo, something I’ve been on the lookout for, but it turned out to be a false alarm.
Either the place was still getting ready to open, or it had been vacant for some time. In either case, there’d be no tripe for us tonight (my comrades breathed a collective sigh of relief).
The Bar was pretty much packed out. The parking lot was full, and there were people – real live walking around people – heading inside. We found a table in the back amongst the dead deer and deceased fish (and with photos to show the catch).
I was a little disappointed to find that the frogs’ legs had been 86’d earlier in the day. Still, there is some benefit to erring on the side of caution. And then we found that there was only one order of ribs left to be had.
The manager felt bad about the double whammy, and bought us a round of beers, which more than cheered us up. I grabbed the last of the ribs, making a deal with one of the other guys to split it with him in return for his Jack Daniels glazed rib eye.
For starters, the frogs being off, I went for the quail. No problem with this dish, the little birds had been well marinated and grilled, and then served on a bed of sweet potato fries.
The ribs were, indeed, falling off the bone. An easy eat, and the smoke permeated the meat. The rib eye was also excellent, and I didn’t begrudge (too much) having given up some of my pork.
The manager stopped by to chat with us some more. I’d had some questions about a couple of things, and he was happy enough to put up with my queries.
First, the man behind all of this is Scott Gunn. He’d started off here as the beer delivery guy, and then worked his way in, and finally bought the place out. I’d wondered about the menu, as frog legs aren’t necessarily what I expect on a Midland bar menu. It seems that Mr. Glenn gets out to Vegas a few times each year, and everytime he finds something good being prepared, he looks to see if it would work for The Bar.
I like the sounds of this guy.
The beer can collection is up for a worl record. I’d thought maybe he’d been collecting for ages and ages, but the answer wasn’t so romantic. Several years ago, a local woman had approached him with her grandfather’s beer can collection. He’d bought it in one go. This was quite a take, as most of the cans are quite rare. We spent a good while looking through the different brands and styles that took up about three walls in the front of the bar.
There were even a couple of cans of Billy Beer (Jimmy Carter’s brother’s short lived brewing venture) up there (and we were so slow witted they had to point them out to us).
Along with the devotion to petroleum memorabilia, taxidermy, and beer, Scott’s also a big Elway fan, with loads of football stuff around. He even named his dog Elway, and carved Elway’s name into the floor.
I appreciate obsession in a person.
On the way home, I toyed with the idea of looking in on Hot Shots and another bar who’s name escapes me, but found that they were advertising karaoke. That was enough to send me fleeing back to the Hilton.
This turned out to be a good move. Mahogany was doing an open mike night, and it was a good crowd that was in. Young, guitars in hand, and an easy camaraderie amongst them all that indicated they were all acquainted (heck, it’s Midland. How could they not all be acquainted?).
Live, original (mostly) music, and tequila. How could you not have a good night with a combination like this?
Of course, the next morning was another matter.
That was it. The Midland stop was pretty quick. We’d done what we came to do, and now it was time to get out of Dodge. We checked our bags, and then stopped for breakfast.
From here, we had to change planes in Houston, and then it was time to go North.
We’d thought Midland was cold.
We were about to learn about cold.
Posted 15 February 2008 - 09:10 AM
Houston (part 1) was out of the way, and, as with every trip, I was growing to like it more and more.
Bogota (part 2) had been truely wonderful, in the sense of the word as "full of wonder". It was not what I had expected, and I was yearning to go back.
And even Midland had been good in many ways, giving me a reminder of small town life, away from the hustle and bustle that I've grown used to. I liked the good manners, and the easy approachability of folks.
And now we were heading to Calgary, in that very young of middle-aged nations, Canada.
One thing to remember about Canada.....
Before we were a nation, we were a department store.
Posted 15 February 2008 - 09:36 AM
In retrospect, I think it's a shame I didn't get a rental and check out Odessa.
It might've been interesting, from what I heard.