Of Mice and Mockingbirds

9 11 2009

Texas MouseA Twitter posting this morning reminded me of an occurrence. Years ago I built computers for a Texas company. My office had a back door opening on a side road. Our salesman used to toss all the wrappers from the many candy bars he ate daily into my trash can. At night, mice climbed into the can seeking the wrappers and could not get back out. In the morning I would pick up the can, walk across the street, and dump the mice in a field. One day I had barely returned when one of the mice came high-tailing it back across the street headed straight for my office. Down from the sky swooped a mockingbird. Bam, he hit mouse, swept up the sky with it, flew over to the field and hung the carcass from one of the barbs on top of a fence. I always thought there should be a moral to this story, but what?Mockingbird





Waltz Across Texas

23 05 2009
San Antonio Riverwalk
San Antonio Riverwalk

The spring Texas trip began with a flight from Seattle to DFW. Before changing planes I grabbed a Cousins sliced beef brisket sandwich. Nowhere but Texas, my friends. Also, many of the chairs in DFW airport have an unique design. Instead of long rows, they are grouped in fours with a table between every two chairs. A small thing, but if you travel a lot, this is a real convenience.

DFW Airport

DFW Airport

Then flying on to Austin and a short drive down to San Antonio. Last time I looked, San Antonio was the tenth biggest city in the country. It certainly doesn’t feel that way. The flight selection is terrible and the downtown area traffic is incredibly light. It is often easier to fly in and out of Austin. Of course, this knucklehead got lost for a while, driving back and forth between two toll booths. I had to stop and dig my shaving kit out of the trunk. That’s where I keep all of my change.

Finally finding I-35, I drove the short trip to San Antonio listening to Dan Simmon’s Hyperion on my iPod. The best thing about new cars is the auxiliary jack for iPods.

Visually, there is no separation between Austin and San Antonio these days just mile after mile of Dennys and Olive Gardens, chain after chain after chain. Sigh.

The hotel in San Antonio is downtown, just a few blocks from my next-day appointment. It was late when I got in and I decided to have dinner in the hotel restaurant. That was a bad choice. The food was terrible and some kids—teenagers—were sitting at a table next to me with a cell phone on speakerphone and chattering mindlessly to some brain dead individual on the other end. The waitress did not ask them to turn it off, but she did bring me a tumbler full of wine “on the house.”

Calling on the military distributor in San Antonio is always a delight. The buyer is knowledgeable and a good person, and we share many memories of publishing in Texas. The head of the company is a hoot, he is smart and funny with lots of personality.

Molcajete

Molcajete

Presenting our titles went well and then we adjourned to the Riverwalk for an early dinner at Boudros. This restaurant must have the best guacamole in the entire universe. They make it at the table using a traditional molcajete, lava stone mortar and pestle. The guacamole starts with ripe avocados, of course; finely chopped red onion; garlic; lime juice; a mixture of fire-roasted peppers, onions, and tomatoes; and…the juice of half an orange. Wow, this is stab-the-waiter-in-the-hand-with-a-fork-if-he-tries-to-take-it-away good.

The River Walk is a nice touristy attraction. I suppose it is the biggest thing in San Antonio. Lots of great food with boats toodling up and down the river, including boats with full dinners served. In April the temperature is in the low 80’s, so tolerable. Summers in San Antonio can be insufferable with temperatures over 100 and high humidity.

San Antonio has a swell history with great Mexican food all over the place. Chili, Texas chili, the real, genuine, original chili—that’s chili with an “i” my friends—chili began in San Antonio with the Chili Queens selling it on the street by firelight. No beans, just beefy, spicy goodness.

Of course San Antonio is also the site of the Alamo, the old mission around which every Texan rallies. Davey Crockett died there, and Jim Bowie, and the massacre of the colonists foreshadowed the battle of San Jacinto where General Sam Houston defeated Santa Ana and won independence for Texas. Funny, it seems like today most of the visitors to the Alamo are from Mexico.

Leaving San Antonio, I headed back to Austin for dinner with one of our authors, a very famous author. He and his wife have become dear friends of mine and I look forward to seeing them with great anticipation. Four hours at the dinner table turned out to be not long enough to cover every subject. What fun.

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

The next morning I stepped out the door of my motel room in Austin. It was warm and humid. A brown grackle was prowling in the grass at my feet looking for food. The air in front of me erupted as a mockingbird chased a boat-tailed grackle away from her nest. Yep, spring in Texas.

Mockingbird

Mockingbird-State Bird of Texas

Driving up to Dallas. Traffic is heavy, the roads are badly in need of repair, and thunderstorms are rolling in. Listening to the Groucho Marx version of the Mikado helps.

Stagecoach Inn, Salado, Texas

Stagecoach Inn, Salado, Texas

What memories on that stretch of I-35. It passes by Salado, a tiny town noted for the Stagecoach Inn, on the old road where the stagecoaches traveled—the swimming pool is spring-fed, and the wait staff has to memorize the menu, it is not written down—and then past the exit to Killeen where Fort Hood is located. The first thing I ever did as a Ballantine Book rep was to rack Fort Hood, all 13 stores, for Ballantine War Books. The brainchild of one of my mentors, Ian Ballantine, those books sold like crazy. I wish they were still in print.

Passing Killeen and Belton and Temple. Temple was the home of the local distributor and a great place to call on. Ha! Memories of one drunken night in downtown Temple with the book buyer. He drove and managed to bottom out his car on a concrete divider in downtown Temple under the innerstate. When you went drinking with him you were in for it. It always began at the Ramada Inn bar. Every time he finished his beer he ordered another, and one for you. Sometimes I would have three or four beers sitting in front of me. I vaguely remember winding up at a Czech dance hall one night. Times were different then. We would have wound up in jail…or dead, today. Now I won’t get in a car if I had even one drink.

On through Waco, infamous for the Branch Davidian fiasco. But I remember on my first road rep trip south traveling with the legendary Dink Starns, once described by publisher Tom Doherty as a “boulevardier.” Dink took me to some old bridge that used to be a main thoroughfare and we trekked down under the bridge so I can see a spring bubbling on the edge of the river. Dink taught me many things, including how to sell books.

Near Waxahachie

Near Waxahachie

I-35 divides at Hillsboro with the west branch leading to Fort Worth, and the east branch to Dallas. I go east past Waxahachie and the super collider that wouldn’t be. The condition of the road is horrible. Texas always took pride in their miles and miles of miles and miles of interstate and I am sad that the highway system has fallen into such disrepair. At the same time, around cities, they have taken to painting overpasses. What a waste of time and money! Let concrete be. Spend that money on road repair. Now everything that is painted will have to be repainted, or wind up looking as shabby as the roads.

Dallas traffic, as usual, is brutal. Drivers in Seattle are so nice I forget what it’s like to drive in an urban combat zone. You have to be alert, mean, and aggressive.

Up I-35 East past downtown Dallas and the insane interchange there. I exited when I came to Royal Lane. Lordy, how many times have I taken that exit…well I just couldn’t count them. East on Royal Lane, the businesses are even more decrepit than before. Looks to me like the general infrastructure in Texas is disintegrating, but I haven’t seen everywhere.

Bumping over the railroad tracks at Denton Drive. This always makes me think of my friend Gary, who was a US Treasury agent. He picked me up once, at Martin News, for lunch. As we toodled down Denton Drive, Gary kept honking his horn. He knew every hooker in that part of town. He told me a story about searching for a suspect with his partner in that neighborhood. It was Sunday evening and a little hole-in-the-wall church had just let out. It was a hot and sultry Texas evening. Gary and his partner had each bought a beer from a nearby convenience store and were sitting on the curb in front of the church.

One of the congregation, a prostitute, came out, bought a beer, and joined them on the curb. Her pimp walked up and started berating her for not being on the job. Well, this hooker just got tired of him, and pulled a straight razor. She slashed at the pimp, cutting his fancy outfit but missing flesh. In a flash, he took off across the tracks down through the bottoms. The hooker hiked her tight skirt up around her waist, kicked off her high-heeled shoes, and ran after him brandishing the razor. Gary and his partner watched them disappear into the distance. Then they turned and resumed their manhunt.

Martin News and a Boat-tailed Grackle

Martin News and a Boat-tailed Grackle

On the other side of Denton Drive there is a post office on the right, at the corner of Gemini and Royal.  A right turn on Gemini and Martin News is on the right. Everything is closed up and the fences enclosing the loading docks are topped with razor wire.There used to be a Dairy Queen across the street from the Post Office where we often ate lunch. Now it is Tacos and Teriyaki, whatever the hell that means.

Martin News was the book and magazine distributor in Dallas, probably since the 1930’s. It began with K.T. Martin, Sr., then his son K.T., Jr., “Bubba.” Bubba Martin was infamous for his temper, but he was also a clever manager of his business and it thrived while he was alive.

Some years after Bubba’s death, the family sold the operation to Anderson News, who recently shut their doors. See my previous blog “Give Me That Old-Time Magazine Distribution” https://chadao.wordpress.com/2009/02/12/give-me-that-old-time-magazine-distribution/.

Tacos & Teriyaki

Tacos & Teriyaki

I first caught sight of Martin News in 1975, when my boss at Trinity News, Garry Wilkerson, pointed it out as we drove past. Garry and I were on our way to open a new Century Book Store on Mockingbird Lane. Since then I spent much time, a whole lot of time at that agency, selling both magazines and books. They offered me a job once, managing a bookstore they were opening, but I declined.

So many of my friends worked in the business and Martin News was a meeting place, especially if you were a book rep. Regardless of other business, all book reps had to gather one Friday a month to show their monthly offerings to the book buyer.

Bubba, himself, did the buying for many years. You never knew what was going to happen. When I was with Ballantine, my boss from New York went in with me once, and got thrown out. I kept my mouth shut, and Bubba’s parting words were, “If I didn’t see Pierce back there working his ass off every week, I would throw you and every blankety-blank one of your books out of here.” Then we went out to the company car. My boss chewed me out for a while for not backing him up. To his credit, he eventually ran down and admitted that I had to work at Martin News and did good to keep my mouth shut. Ah, Fridays at Martin News.

Whataburger

Whataburger

Every time I visit Texas I have to have at least one Whataburger. So I traveled the back streets from Martin News over to Walnut Hill to a Whataburger that has been there since the 1950’s. When I lived in Texas, Whataburger had a jalapeno burger but since had dropped it from their menu. Now it is back. Glorioski!

The last leg of the trip involved a flight to Amarillo to call on Hastings Books. After all these years in Seattle I am always amazed at just how flat Amarillo is, up there on the caprock. Amarillo and Edmonton, Alberta are the two flattest places I have ever been. I mean flat.

I visited one of Hastings’ stores while I was there and was happy to find our Pathfinder books.

Amarillo

Amarillo

My return trip to Seattle went through DFW, but the Amarillo to DFW leg was cancelled and the new flight postponed several times. Hell is sitting in the Amarillo airport. Good thing I had a good book. Bad news is I had planned on eating barbecue at Cousins’ again at DFW, but my flight got in just in time to catch the next leg and head back to Seattle and rain and cool and the place I now call home.

 

We started off with Willie. Now Buddy Miles and Mike Bloomfield can take it on home. I just got in from Texas, babe, indeed!