Saturday, April 4, 2015

Weekend Road Trip: Part Two

In case you missed part one of our four day road trip, you can check it out here.

We started Monday morning with the Hampton Inn breakfast and though I don't have any pictures to show, I wanted to point out that it was very good and made the cost of the room that much more reasonable.  Cheapskate that I am, I always look for hotels that offer free Internet and free breakfast.  Of course, nothing is free and those things are figured into the price, but you get the point.
Part two of our trip would take us from Fredericksburg up to Abilene along an enjoyable drive through several small towns like Mason, Brady and Coleman.

Before heading out of Fredericksburg, we took a short drive down to the Wildseed Farm, a place we have visited more than a few times before.  Eva wanted to grab some wildflower seeds to prepare ourselves for next October when we will supplement the Bluebonnets growing in the yard (remind me to show pictures of this year's crop).  As always, this place has lots to see and plenty to spend money on.
They always have loads of samples out and I happened upon a plate of Carter's Bread & Butter Jalapeno Dip Mix.  One taste and I was sold.  I can't wait to make some for our next gathering.

We also stopped along Main Street in Fredericksburg to hit a few more shops before moving up Highway 87 toward Abilene.
The drive is very pleasant with many opportunities to pass slower vehicles.  In almost all cases, I was pleased to find that Texas drivers (outside big cities) move over to the shoulder to allow those folks going faster to safely pass.  In return, the friendly wave of thanks keeps the traffic flowing smoothly.
 By the way, we wrongly guessed that we would see Bluebonnets in full bloom up in Fredericksburg, simply because our part of Texas was so fully covered.  The ladies at Wildseed told us we were about a week early, but we did see a few along Highway 83 as we traveled north.
The first town of note we hit was a place called Mason.  A common theme among a lot of these old towns is the big town square, either a courthouse or some sort of city hall.  We stopped to grab a coffee and take a few happy snaps.
I suspect another theme for small Texas towns is to get into the antique game.  Across the street from the court house was a row of nice old buildings with stores open for business.
Finally, Eva could not help taking a picture of this nice old house.  I love the columns, the upper balcony and honestly, the color looks better on a house than a muffler shop.
Moving up the road, we found our selves driving through the small town of Brady.  In hindsight, it seemed like a carbon copy of Mason in the grand scheme of things, though perhaps a little newer.

They do have their own roadside attraction in the form of the Brady Propane thing.
As we were heading out of town, Eva caught the glimpse of the word Oddities on one of the shops.  When you mention Oddities, that calls for an immediate illegal U-Turn, State Trooper watching or not.
We parked and walked inside D And J's Good Ole Days, to be immediately greeted with a firm handshake by one of the owners, Joe Evridge.  He welcomed us and chatted for several minutes before welcoming us to walk around and remember that, "This ain't no museum, everything is for sale."  Later, he mentioned that he had just gotten a shipment of prosthetic eyeballs, if we were in the market for some. 
Honestly, we could have stayed in this place for hours and later, we were kicking ourselves for not doing so.  Eva regretted not buying an eyeball or two, just for fun.  If you need a reason to stop in Brady on your next road trip, D and J's is more than enough.  I wish they had an E-Bay page.
Next, we hit Coleman, another small town with the same set-up of a town square and such.  I did stop in one of those self service car washes to clear the windshield of dead bugs.  As I was spraying things off, some local police pulled over a speeder so we had that action to enjoy as the bugs got cleared.

Anyway, of interest in the town of Coleman was this public art project.  In the shuttered windows of an old building, they put up these fun pictures of cows.  What a fun idea.

When we got to our destination of Abilene, we had just a few places we wanted to hit for sure.  We had seen a story on Texas Country Reporter about the Storybook Sculptures in the downtown area.  We also wanted to see Dyess AFB since I had never been there, and on the eating front, I had done some Googling and located what appeared to be a pretty good place to eat.

Something I noticed about many Texas towns is the effort that smart people are putting into public art spaces.  I'm sure one intent is to attract people like us who will stop to take a look and perhaps spend a few dollars in local shops.  The interesting thing to me though, was that in spite of this effort at downtown renewal, the rest of Abilene was rundown and for the most part, pretty rough looking.  Of course, everything in context.  I'm sure someone not familiar with San Antonio or our little tri-city area could find really unappealing areas and form an ugly opinion.  Having said that, we both said to each other on more than a few occasions, "Okay, why did we come here?"

But on to the good stuff.  The storybook sculpture project is a combination of Dr. Seuss characters and several other children's books.  At the Abilene visitor center, we were given a map showing the several block area where we could find them all.  It was sort of a treasure hunt because a few were somewhat hidden.
Honestly, and I hate to harp on it, but being in this downtown area full of sculptures and public art spaces was like some sort of sanctuary compared to other parts of the city.  And please, no suggestions that I'm some sort of fantsy pants culture dude, because we all know that ain't true.
We left the downtown area and took a drive to Dyess, just so we could say we had been there.  Honestly, the hope was to purchase a challenge coin from the base, and then they were out of the one I was looking for.  But, lots of cool planes on display.  This O-2 is a favorite.

My only connection to Dyess ever was that I attended Leadership School with a guy who was Combat Controller and his team was stationed at Dyess.  For our graduation ceremony, his Commander, First Shirt and members of his squadron did a low altitude paradrop onto Goodfellow AFB, certainly outclassing the other commanders who arrived via rental cars.  Good times.
By the time we left Dyess AFB, we were eager for a bite to eat so we made our way to the much acclaimed (according to the Internet), Town Crier Steakhouse.  Not gonna lie, when we first walked in, we were surprised to learn that it was more Luby's style than traditional sit down restaurant. I actually told Eva that if she wanted, we could just turn around and walk out, but the menu was all she needed to see.  Chicken Fried Steak was prominent on the large menu posted on the wall.

We both ordered the CFS which included the salad bar and sides.  As we went down the cafeteria style line, we grabbed iced tea and paid the cashier before moving out to one of the dining areas and finding a booth.  The salad bar was well stocked and clean.  As quick as we were pulling out toppings for our salad, there was a guy coming behind us to fill things up.  I was pleased. My salad is on top, Eva's creation is on the bottom.  And yes, the table was one big billboard of advertisements.  Remind me to set the DVR for Mad Men.
As we sat down to eat salad, a random server brought us hot rolls with real butter.  Let me adjust my belt while I remember how delicious they were.
Next, our dinners were served.  On Facebook, someone asked me what the thing to the left of my CFS was.  That is a fully loaded baked potato.  Perhaps I should have taken an extra Metformin for good measure.
As we finished up, a man who I assume to be a manager or perhaps an owner came out to chat with us.  He explained that if we had ordered the all you can eat shrimp dinner, we'd be served some fresh Cinnamon rolls for dinner.  We explained this was our first visit to Abilene and we had stopped in to this steak house for the very first time.  That was excuse enough for him to have some dessert delivered to the table, though I suspect everyone is given the special treatment by these fine folks.
I'm not even gonna lie.  I'd go back to Abilene and I'd eat at the Town Crier again, if only for the hospitality and the rolls.  Everyone we talked to in that town was as friendly as could be.  And the Chicken Fried Steak, maybe not the finest I've ever had, but I promise, it was a Tasty Treat.

We once again stayed at the Hampton Inn (if they read this, they ought to give me some free points for all the advertisements) and we were quite pleased.  The staff proved friendly and in fact, it was a member of the front desk team who called the tourist bureau to get me the specific details of the Dr Seuss sculptures.  Our room was great, breakfast was wonderful and aside from the twenty or so tennis players staying on the floor above us that practiced running in the halls until midnight, we slept great.

Don't let my honest comments about much of Abilene feeling rundown, scary and ugly deter you from enjoying the many fine places we saw.  Likewise, if you live in Abilene, I'd encourage you to push for more of the positive development we saw in the downtown area.  It really was worth the stop on our journey.

Next up, Part Three.

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