TWO: University Daze
“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”
During the first semester of my freshman year at University of Texas at Austin I resided at Robert E. Lee Hall, a university dorm, and during the spring semester at the Delta Tau Delta frat house. The frat house was fun but one semester of that sort of fun was plenty, and at the ripe, young age of 19 there was a need for my own space—a place to have fun with friends and where passion’s full dimensions could more amply be explored. But university rules required that freshmen and sophomores live on campus—not a bad rule for an immature college kid like me. A search for the official university statement of this rule led to a publication siting “living with relatives” as an exception.
Listed among apartment rental advertisements was a large, one-room studio apartment above a two-car garage at 1403 Windsor Road. The garage served the main house at 1117 Enfield Road, a postal address evoking my date of birth of November 17. After explaining the university rules to property owner John Luke, I offered to rent the apartment if he allowed me to claim he was my uncle to satisfy the university rule of “living with relatives.” I suggested we pretend he was the husband of one of my mom’s sisters, so that his last name would be far removed from my own. John Luke agreed to the arrangement, which gained for him a tenant and for me an apartment and an Uncle John.
Hometown friend Gary Shores shared the garage apartment that first semester of our sophomore year at UT and each time we paid our rent I’d remind John Luke that if the university called he was my uncle. He’d just smile and say, “No problem.” Uncle John’s pickup truck was parked in the driveway so often during the day that I wondered why he spent so much time at home. I assumed the gray car sometimes parked there belonged to his wife, although I’d never seen her. In Austin’s balmy fall weather Uncle John would sit on his screened-in back porch in a tank-top undershirt while drinking beer. Nearby was a workbench with vise attached and old oily metal parts lying about that appeared unused for months. On occasion, and in a most nonchalant manner, our landlord would yawn deeply as he scratched his hairy arms. He didn’t seem to have a care in the world—an attitude concordant with our minimalist conversations: “How’re ya doing?” “Don’t forget you’re my uncle.”
After Gary transferred to Texas Tech for the spring semester, frat brother Richard Mays, an all-state football player from Highland Park in Dallas, was my new roommate. Upon graduation from UT School of Law Richard joined his father’s Dallas law firm, later becoming a Texas District Judge and is now retired to his gentleman’s ranch near McKinney, Texas.
I struggled with my grades that second semester and knew I had no serious interest in college studies. I was only wasting my dad’s money, but he insisted I attend college with dentistry as a suggested profession. Having no idea what I should study, I enrolled in pre-med courses that were standard sophomore courses with a bit more emphasis on the sciences. But I wasn’t motivated to engage in university studies at all. My only passion was to play guitar and sing, to write songs and to make records. Nothing else excited my interest—nothing at all. The Nighthawks performed a few songs now and then at our frat parties, but Bob and Mike were law school bound and serious about their studies. It was obvious our rock ‘n roll band wouldn’t be rockin’ for long.
While hanging out one evening with students other than my frat brothers, five of us decided to visit the Chicken Ranch in LaGrange—the house of ill repute that inspired The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a 1978 hit Broadway musical followed by a successful film adaptation in 1982 starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton. That evening, 18 years prior to this story’s injection into American pop culture, the five of us did what many young men from UT, Texas A&M, and Austin’s Bergstrom Army Airfield (now Bergstrom Air Force Base) had done so many times before—make a trip to the Chicken Ranch.
We headed southeast out of Austin toward La Grange but soon realized our collective funds were insufficient to ensure the “entertainment” of each of us. As we considered returning to Austin to cash checks, Darwin, a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity, suggested we drive 20 miles south to his parents’ home in Lockhart where his dad would loan us the required funds.
“What will you tell your dad?” I queried.
“Tell him we’re going to the Chicken Ranch,” replied Darwin.
I thought he was joking but his dad, a physician, loaned us money and offered some advice. “You boys be careful driving and have fun at the Chicken Ranch.” From my own family experience I had not imagined such a liberal father-son relationship was possible.
Entering the Chicken Ranch property it was obvious that indeed it was, or at least previously had been, a chicken ranch. We drove past chicken coops and chicken wire fences before stopping in front of an ordinary looking farmhouse. Opening the front door part way, a middle-aged woman asked, “Are you boys here for some fun?” She informed us that the Chicken Ranch was not a place for young men who had consumed too much liquor. “Have you boys been drinking?” she queried while carefully observing each of us. We entered a large living room where chairs were positioned along the walls. There was a jukebox and a bar where Cokes and cigarettes were offered for sale. Several young ladies milled about like so many robotic manikins—some standing, some sitting; some smiling, some expressionless; and some offering what seemed definite expressions of invitation. “Make yourselves at home, have a Coke, talk to the girls, take your time, and when you decide which girl you want a ‘date’ with, she’ll take you to her room down the hall.” It was all very casual, so calmly inviting to the 20-year-old young man that I was—one at best apprehensive, at worst a bit nervous.
Some of us drank Cokes, but with little time wasted we each chose a “date”. In such circumstance it seems likely a young man would choose the girl who most attracted him, or one he thought most beautiful, or one with a compelling figure. Or possibly the color of her hair would be the trigger—a blonde or a redhead—or some other physical characteristic such as an inviting smile or blue eyes and so on. I don’t know what drove my decision that evening at the Chicken Ranch, but I chose a “date” that was not the most beautiful, did not have the best figure, and had no exceptional physical characteristics that I recall. Maybe I chose the one I found least intimidating.
We proceeded down the hall to her room and to edit truth into the famous phrase of President Bill Clinton, “I did have sexual relations with that woman.” Afterwards, she suggested that my friends and I go into LaGrange for dinner and come back for another “date” before returning to Austin. This was my only visit to the Chicken Ranch, and years later, after this brothel became an iconic story and historic Texas landmark, I journeyed back in memory to that evening when five young, fun-loving college boys had themselves an adventure.
Some young men at the age of 20 know few boundaries, and this was true for me. Early in the fall semester of 1959, Bob Venable and I bought a 1952 Harley Davidson K-model motorcycle for $300. It was red and it was fast. The man at the motorcycle shop could tell we knew diddly-squat about motorcycles and warned of three dangers: water, gravel, and cars. “If you find yourself about to collide with a car or truck at an intersection, you’ll desperately be trying to figure out what to do with this Harley.” In such an event he suggested we lay the motorcycle down on its side and get on top to escape the damaging impact with, and from, the pavement. He warned about the deadly danger of gravel and water that is magnified by the small area of contact the motorcycle tires have with the road—a peril greatly increased when going downhill.
This advice took on crucial importance one morning just after a light rain as ex-girlfriend Janet Taylor and I rode along Enfield Road near my garage apartment on a Saturday morning outing for breakfast and beer. She was a wonderful young lady—intelligent, talented, charming, beautiful, and great fun. As we cruised along the damp pavement I noticed a car waiting at a cross-street stop sign. After looking in our direction and then the other way, the woman driver drove directly in front of us. When she had looked toward us I was confident she’d seen us, but a driver’s brain is searching for cars and trucks, not motorcycles or bicycles—surely strong evidence of the human brain’s potential for extreme, sometime dangerous, or even deadly prejudice.
Fortunately, our speed was only 20 or 25 when I shouted, “Jump, Janet! Jump!” And jump she did, just as I laid that Harley down and crawled on top. My head missed the rear fender of the woman’s car by only inches where I was granted a close-up view of the exhaust pipe as the front wheel of the Harley passed beneath the car’s back bumper. The motorcycle slowly spun 180 degrees, allowing me a most memorable view of Janet gliding along a dampened Enfield Road with buttocks and feet in contact with the pavement as though she were hurling down a playground slide. Her big, blue eyes were much larger than usual as she slid along the pavement successfully maintaining balance until her momentum was spent. A plentiful supply of skin from Janet’s posterior was deposited along Enfield Road that morning, while my ability to remain on top of the Harley left me with only a burnt leg from the motorcycle exhaust and a skinned knee. As the perpetrator disappeared on down Enfield Road, we felt fortunate our injuries were so minor. As a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority (the tri-Delts), Janet was pianist for the sorority choir with rehearsals underway for an upcoming performance—rehearsals at which Janet found it necessary to perform in a standing position only.
One morning not long after the motorcycle spill I arrived at the garage apartment just as the car possibly belonging to Uncle John’s wife arrived. “Maybe this is Uncle John’s wife,” I surmised as we simultaneously exited our cars and looked directly at one another. Our eyes met and immediately locked on like wildcats to their prey. We stopped dead in our tracks—mesmerized, frozen still. Our expressions morphed from total surprise to disbelief, then on to certain recognition. We stood transfixed as the silent wheels of wonderment furiously spun round and round. Then with a jolt—one surely emotional, possibly even physical—we disengaged and routinely proceeded our separate ways. The reader might think by extreme coincidence the perpetrator of the motorcycle accident had been discovered, but a more entertaining truth was born. In that one electrically charged continuum of jarring realization I was caused to digest the bizarre truth that recently I had engaged in intimate relations with Uncle John’s wife at the Chicken Ranch. Now some light was possibly shed on why she was seldom home. I rushed upstairs to share the incredible truth with Richard and though his skepticism was understandable, my insatiable insistence convinced him to keep an open mind regarding our landlord and his wife—my uncle and my aunt.
The next time our rent payment was due we noticed my aunt’s car parked in the driveway, causing Richard and me to hurriedly write checks and knock on the back door of the main house. Uncle John wasn’t home, but his wife invited us in and accepted our rent payment after which Richard made some telling remark. “Okay boys, now you know. But if John finds out you know he’ll get really upset.” Perhaps the feeling I experienced that moment was similar to what Galileo Galilei felt the first time he shared his historic telescopic view of Jupiter’s four moons. Now Richard knew the truth of my story, which we have recounted time and again over the years—a story so incredible that many have doubted its veracity. The following should put an end to all such doubt.
As previously stated, the Chicken Ranch, which closed in August 1973, was famously chronicled in the 1978 Broadway musical, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and in the 1982 film adaptation. But prior to this stage and film notoriety three Houston attorneys purchased the Chicken Ranch farmhouse, moved it to Dallas, and in September 1977 opened the Chicken Ranch Restaurant. Advertisements appearing in Dallas newspapers announced that Ms. Edna Milton, madam of the LaGrange Chicken Ranch brothel, would greet visitors at the grand opening. Having seen these advertisements, Richard attended the grand opening and confirmed that madam Edna Milton was, in fact, the woman we knew as Uncle John’s wife. At the grand opening Richard asked Ms. Milton, “Do you remember me? My college roommate and I rented the garage apartment from you and John.” Richard claims she replied in the affirmative and with no hint from him added, “I also remember your roommate, Eddie.”
Having but a brief run the Chicken Ranch Restaurant closed in January 1978. I have no reason to doubt Richard’s story about meeting Edna Milton there in 1977 and my own facts are that even though I don’t remember the name of my “date” during my one and only visit to the Chicken Ranch, an Internet photo of madam Edna Milton closely resembles the woman I knew as Uncle John’s wife. And too, she confirmed her identity to Richard and me on the day she accepted our rent checks. But what is indelibly burnt into that curious college-day memory is the uncomfortable reality that way back when I had sex with my aunt. Well…sort of.
Shortly after sending Richard this story for his review and comments, I received the following email.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Richard Mays"
To: "Eddie Reeves"
Sent: Wednesday, October 05, 2005 1:33 PM
Subject: small world
Upon thinking about the Chicken Ranch thing and reading about the Houston lawyers
who bought the buildings and moved them to Dallas, I realized how often and sometimes
prominent a certain family in Dallas was, and is, to mine. Below is a list in chronological
* My father was friends with an attorney for Louis Hexter who owned Hexter Title Co., which was the leading title company in Dallas, circa 1948-65.
* I went to high school with David Fair (one year below me) and Bill Fair, Jr. (two years above me), circa 1955-58.
* An attorney by the name of Bill Fair, Sr. (father of David and Bill, Jr.) joined
with Louis and established Hexter-Fair Title Co., circa 1965.
* David Fair starts his own title company in Plano, Texas, circa 1970.
* Chicken Ranch gets moved to Dallas, September 1977 and the general operating manager
is Bill Fair, Jr.
* David Fair buys Hexter-Fair Title Co. after both Hexter and his father died, circa
* Eddie Reeves puts final touches on a story for his book regarding the Chicken Ranch and my small part in it, circa October 5, 2005.
* My daughter, Nicole, starts to work next Monday at her first job after graduation from college; you guessed it, at Hexter-Fair Title Co., circa October 10, 2005.
And now you have the rest of the story.... mays
The following two transcripts are excerpts from pages 78 and 90, respectively, of Jan Hutson’s The Chicken Ranch: The True Story of the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Jan Hutson documents that Johnny Luke was the second husband of Edna Milton and they married in about 1961 after she became owner of the Chicken Ranch at age 32. My visit to the Chicken Ranch was in the spring of 1960 when Ms. Milton was still a “working girl.”
“She married her second husband, Johnny Luke, shortly after buying the Chicken Ranch. Johnny shared her bedroom for several years, but they were ultimately divorced. When they separated he took all the couple’s assets except for Edna’s business and a heavily mortgaged rented house in Austin.”
“When Hurricane Carla hit the Texas Coast, refugees from the storm poured into La Grange from Houston, Galveston, and other Gulf Coast cities. Hundreds were provided shelter at the Fair Grounds, the courthouse, City Hall, and the American Legion hall. But they would not have been provided with a comfortable place to sleep without Johnny Luke. Edna’s husband owned a second-hand furniture store in Austin, and he trucked his entire inventory of mattresses to La Grange to help make the unexpected guests a bit more comfortable.”
In January 2006 I visited the Travis County Clerk’s office at 5501 Airport Blvd. in Austin, Texas where I obtained a copy of the document transcribed below stating that John D. Luke, owner of the property located at 1117 Enfield Road, sold it on November 7, 1962.
STATE OF TEXAS
KNOWN ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS:
COUNTY OF TRAVIS
THAT I, JOHN D. LUKE, a single man of Travis County, Texas, for and in consideration of Ten Dollars ($10.00) and other consideration to me in hand paid by KATHERINE GIONAS, the receipt and sufficiency of which is hereby acknowledged and confessed, have GRANTED, SOLD AND CONVEYED, and by these presents DO GRANT, SELL AND CONVEY, unto the said KATHERINE GIONAS, all that certain lot, tract or parcel of land lying and being situated in Travis County, Texas, and known and described as follows, towit:
Lot No. Thirty-three (33), in Enfield “A”, a Subdivision in the
City of Austin, Travis County, Texas, according to the map
or plat thereof recorded in Plat Book 3, Page 44, of the Plat
Records of Travis County, Texas, commonly known and
referred to as 1117 Enfield Road, Austin, Texas;
TO HAVE AND TO HOLD the above described premises, together with all and singular, the rights and appurtenances thereto in anywise belonging unto the said KATHERINE GIONAS, her heirs and assigns forever; and I do hereby bind myself, my heirs, executors and administrators, to warrant and forever defend, all and singular, the said premises unto the said KATHERINE GIONAS, her heirs and assigns, against every person whomsoever, lawfully claiming, or to claim the same, or any part thereof.
WITNESS my hand this the ___7th__ day of November, 1962.
(John D. Luke’s written signature)
John D. Luke
THE DE LEON PEACH & MELON FESTIVAL
“Have you ever been drunk enough to kiss a girl on the navel?”
“Oh I’ve been drunker than that.”
The Annual De Leon Peach and Melon Festival and Tractor Pull is one of America's premier family celebrations, with truly something for everyone who comes to this small town in the heart of Texas' melon country. Since 1914 the celebration has become a tradition for local residents, as well as for the 20,000 annual visitors the Festival brings to this community of just over 2,400 persons located 90 miles from Fort Worth, Waco, & Abilene equally.
The four evenings of the first week of August showcase entertainers, unique family events, a Street Parade, an old-fashioned carnival, and lots of good-tasting watermelon, Arts and Crafts Exhibits & local food vendors. Auxiliary events connected with the Festival include an earth-shaking tractor pull, one of Texas' best bike rides, a sanctioned "42" Tournament and a downtown celebration.
Now just what does the De Leon Peach and Melon Festival have to do with this story? Well, a couple of things. One concerns a young lady with some time to kill until the early-morning bus departed for De Leon, Texas, but the other requires more elaboration.
After dropping out of University of Texas a few weeks into my junior year, I worked at my dad’s retail lumber business in Amarillo for much of the time between October 1960 and September 1961. With Dad’s assistance I purchased a small house advertised for sale with the stipulation it be moved from its location. I bought a residential lot, moved the house onto the lot, made some major renovations and sold the completed project for a profit of about $2,000 (over $16,000 in 2016). It was enough to pay for a seven-week European jaunt with friends Bob Venable and Kenny Wagner in the summer of 1961, after which I took a second shot at my junior year of college.
Just two blocks from the garage apartment at 1403 Windsor Road, I rented an apartment at The Lorrain. In the spring semester of 1962 I moved to a small, unique house at 2314 Swisher Street, which had been designed and built as a special project by a UT graduate student of architecture. The lot had been excavated about three feet in depth to create two open parking spaces underneath the house structure built on stilts like houses situated on a hillside. A curved stairway built of white Austin stone led from the ground level to the front entrance and an all-glass façade struck a modern architectural chord. It was a cool college pad that was fortuitously located directly across the street from Club Caravan, a “members only” nightclub adjoining the Villa Capri Hotel.
At that time Red River Street ran along the immediate east side of Texas Memorial Stadium (now Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium) while Swisher Street was located where the newly constructed and relocated Red River Street now exists—a street realignment causing the demolition of the little house-on-stilts and the absorption of its location by parking lot #39 of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum. The former site of Club Caravan and the Villa Capri Hotel is today part of Frank Denius Fields (the football practice site for the University of Texas Longhorns), which is bounded on the south by Clyde Littlefield Drive (formerly W. 22nd Street that was a westward extension of Manor Road), on the west by Red River Street, on the north by Dean Keeton Street, and on the east by the I-35 Frontage Road. Frat brother Richard Keeton and I agreed to room together at the cool Swisher Street cottage in the fall of 1962 during his final year of law school and my senior undergraduate year had I returned to complete my college education.
Richard graduated UT summa cum laude in 1959 and attended Harvard Medical School for one year, before switching to law and graduating “First in Class” from UT School of Law in 1963. Now a prominent Houston attorney, Richard is the son of famous Dean Page Keeton, the Dean of the University of Texas School of Law for 25 years from 1949 to 1974 and the namesake of Dean Keeton Street on the north side of the UT campus.
The previous year on my 21st birthday I attained legal drinking age in Texas, which made me eligible to join Club Caravan, a “bottle club” where members stored hard liquor in private lockers to circumvent liquor laws that prohibited on-premises sale of hard liquor by the drink. I spent many hours at Club Caravan, invited friends as my guests and quickly became acquainted with many club patrons. Some nights after finishing college assignments I’d cross the street for a “nightcap”—usually a Cuba Libre (rum and Coke with a squeeze of fresh lime). It was a scene straight from Playboy magazine: “College student ends evening of study with nightcap at private club.” Just how studious can one be? On occasion I received telephone calls at Club Caravan from fellow students with questions about class assignments. Imagine needing assistance with your college work from someone hanging out at a nightclub. Surely it was failed student leading failed student, but Club Caravan was my extended residence during that semester. Well-known comedian Jackie Vernon performed there for a few days and we spent some time together. He seemed like a nice enough fellow but taught me comedians can be far less than entertaining, or even funny, off-stage.
“You’re lucky your dad hasn’t been able to reach you. He’s very angry.” Mom’s urgent call resulted from Club Caravan’s mistake of sending my first month’s bill of over $500 (over $4,000 in 2016) to Dad’s office along with receipts clearly indicating nearly all charges were for drinks. If today I received a $4,000 bill for cocktails at a private nightclub for one of my children attending college, I’d certainly have serious questions regarding the true nature of their college curriculum. I told Mom I had paid the club tab for many friends, collected cash for their portion of each bill and the cash for payment due was in my possession. There was some truth to my story and my mistake had been listing my dad’s business address as my business address on the Club Caravan application, even though I had checked the box requesting monthly billing be sent to my home address.
Entering the club one evening at about ten o’clock, I noticed four or five men laughing and carrying on while an attractive young lady at their table seemed entirely disinterested. Each time I looked in her direction she greeted me with a smile. When I gestured toward the dance floor she nodded her acceptance, but the band’s next number was a tango or other Latin number, so I shrugged my shoulders, which she understood—exemplary evidence of the innate fertility of communication at the start of a relationship. The next number was a ballad and we met on the dance floor.
For entertaining reasons I would later learn, the young lady was not using her true name.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Sandra Reeves. What’s yours?”
Sandra’s intuitive perception of my honest reply was to believe I possessed the remarkable ability to detect her charade and that I was facetiously taunting her by claiming “Reeves” as my own last name. I’ve never thought I had great “pick up lines” or “captivating introductory comments” when meeting the ladies, but on this particular occasion I cannot imagine anything more alluring than to coincidentally bear the same family name as the alias Sandra had adopted. She lived at my apartment a few days until an impending parental visit necessitated her departure. The last thing I needed was a live-in girlfriend added to the still simmering problem of a $500 Club Caravan liquor bill.
Buzz Long, a disc jockey on local radio station KNOW and regular patron of Club Caravan, often stopped by the club to “get ready to roll” for his all-night rock slot that began at 11:00 p.m. One evening during the time he was playing “Cry Baby,” my newly released recording on Warwick Records, he invited me to the station for an interview and a “Win a date with Eddie Reeves Contest,” so we could have fun fielding calls from young girls who responded—a silly, ridiculous undertaking.
Along with friends Bill and Steve our less than sober arrival at the station soon had my friends reading the national news from a national wire service—either Associated Press (AP) or United Press International (UPI). One memorable news item that evening announced the break-up of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton—one of several in their off-again, on-again relationship over the years. Buzz played my record, conducted an interview and then announced the contest that soon had the radio station phones lit up. Masquerading as radio station personnel Bill, Steve and I answered calls and one that I took was from a young lady with a pronounced country accent—a real, real country way of talking. She explained that after finishing her baby sitting job at about 2:00 a.m. she had nothing to do until the early morning bus departed for her hometown of De Leon, and offered, “I don’t embarrass easily.” I explained the radio station was about to announce the contest winner but that I would come entertain her until departure of her early morning bus.
We arrived at the Swisher Street pad where quickly we were intimately engaged. As such endeavors go we disrobed with exception of the young lady’s two most basic undergarments. As passions increased I reached to remove her upper article, but my attempt was rejected. Passions continued flowing ever more strongly and again I repeated my attempt, but to no avail. I thought, “I don’t understand. She claimed not to embarrass easily.” The shapeliness of her body was something most young men would find attractive, which further fueled my desire to fully reveal her ample assets. Failing once again, but unwilling to allow that long-term goals be thwarted by short-term nos, I reached to remove her lower undergarment, an effort surprisingly met with immediate and complete approval. Now I was totally baffled. As our passions continued, a final attempt to remove her only remaining article of clothing was again rebuffed.
We continued our wanton engagement until fruition, after which I asked, “What’s the deal?” Wearing only her upper undergarment the young lady retired to the bathroom and soon returned sans bra, but with arms crossed partially covering her breasts. I asked for enlightenment and she conceded, “Well, okay.” Sitting down on the edge of the bed she dropped her arms, exposing her well-developed physique but also the imperfection of a small piece missing from one nipple. I began to counsel that everyone has imperfections, even declaring some of my own in an attempt to encourage her not to feel badly about such a minor physical blemish. She replied that feeling badly about physical imperfection was not the cause of her shyness. I asked, “If not, then what?” She stunningly replied, “Well, I’ve been real scared to let anybody mess with ‘em ever since the night down there in De Leon when that ol’ boy got so excited he bit a piece off.”
What? Could I have possibly understood this young lady correctly—that in the heat of passion an overly excited young man in De Leon bit off a small piece of this young woman’s breast? Now that must be hormones flowing at the speed of light—something I have never quite experienced. And this unusual, remarkable event took place in a town renowned for its peach and melon festival that includes a watermelon eating contest, and even a watermelon seed-spitting contest.
The next day I wrote a letter to frat brother and former roommate Jim Bradley.
It was a usual Thursday afternoon. Like a worn out leaf that’s been turned over so many times that one hardly knows which side, or end, is up, I had attended both of my extremely uninteresting classes earlier in the day. As I sat on the mattress while stroking Baby, my pregnant black cat, I gazed across the way to a most inviting scene, the Club Caravan. As of late, being in the quandary of the aforementioned leaf, I have not been in a habit of drinking on weekday afternoons. Not because of any religious revival of my skimpy soul, but only that I have found this to be an excellent policy to follow while trying to walk the straight and narrow line of being the regular, regular guy. The type of fellow who gets up on time, goes to class prepared, and does just about everything that the regular mother of the hypocritical 20th-century American society would want her probably not-so-naturally regular son to do. However, on this certain afternoon I presented a question to my idle mind. Why not go have a beer at the Club? Being a person who tries hard to judge others fairly, I judged myself with all possible justice. “So why not?” I decided.
The beer did not taste any better than other beers I so very often consume, but for some reason I felt very satisfied deep within. Being of sound mind and body however, I finished the second beer, signed the nasty check, and proceeded to leave the pleasant surroundings. Upon departure I met Mr. Greeley Parnell, owner of an insurance agency whom I had met before at the Club. He invited me to have a drink with him. As I have said, I try to judge others fairly and therefore judged Mr. Parnell fairly, but maybe too quickly. I joined him and his friend to have a drink. It was to be a hurried drink in that I was selected five years ago by one of my uncles to help defend this great country of ours every Thursday night.
Parnell Greeley, or is it Greeley Parnell, has the adverse Texas habit of bragging. One wouldn’t exactly say he was sitting on Fort Knox in a hush-hush sort of way. No, Greeley tells everyone about all the money he has made for the past 20 years and almost drools at the mouth while doing so. This was hardly in my taste in that I have been converted by sister Myra to the Hush-Hush sect of our dollar worshiping religious society. I said, “Greeley, I suppose you’re a gambler among all the other adventuresome acts you commit.”
“Yes, I gamble a little,” says Greeley.
“Well, put your money where your mouth is and get out $50,” says ol’ Ed. By this time I had missed my Army Reserve drill and was feeling warm inside, not only because of the beer but also because of King Greeley. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised to see a $100 bill float out of his billfold.
“Where’s your money?”
“I’ve got a check,” says I.
“No checks here—cash basis.”
“Wait ‘til I go cash one.”
So I went to the front desk and cashed a check. While I was waiting for the money Greeley appeared with his friend and said he didn’t want to gamble with a kid. He didn’t want to take money away from a young kid! Imagine the nerve of that bastard calling the Club Caravan’s best customer a Goddamn kid. I told him to politely put his money where his mouth was and he pulled out a quarter and said, “Call it.”
“In the air,” I said.
He claimed he could make it land any side up and did so three times in a row. He still wouldn’t gamble by letting me call it in the air. At this frustrating point I mentioned poker and they accepted. At my pad we played poker (the two on one system if you know what I mean) and I lost $56, drank one bottle of wine, and one-half quart of Jacquin’s 136 believe-it-or-not Pernod. I quickly paid my debt, bid them adieu, and returned to the Club.
I watched the last of Professor Backward’s show over another drink or two of Pernod. After the show I saw Buss Long, a KNOW disc jockey, who invited me down to the station for an interview. The interview was not extremely exciting but the contest that followed was. Win-a-date-with-ol’-Ed contest was something Austin has never seen and I hope will never see again. An eighth-grader at Baker Junior High School won the close race on the grounds that her boyfriend was in the army for six months and she needed something to take her mind away from her lovesick thoughts. However, she had to ask her mother if she could go. Just imagine some mother not trusting her sweet innocent daughter with ol’ Ed. A brighter prospect called however, who claimed she was leaving town on the six o’clock bus, had nothing to do, and did not embarrass easily. I quickly picked her up and you know the rest of the story.
During the course of the night I had managed to get drunk, miss my reserve drill, not study, repulse everyone at the Club, pinch a waitress on the ass, lose $56, make an ass of Eddie Reeves the recording star, tear the gears out of my car, take advantage of a girl, and have one hell of a good old Jim Bradley plus Eddie Reeves night. And of course, I slept through Friday classes.
And still I ask myself, “Why not?”
It’s about 500 miles from my hometown of Amarillo to the University of Texas in Austin, and on short holidays like Thanksgiving and Spring Break some of our Amarillo/UT group carpooled on these seven-hour trips. Just after a light snowfall on one cold winter day we passed a hitchhiker, and when he was out of view I said, “Stop the car. Go pick up the hitchhiker, and when you drive back by I’ll pretend I’m a hitchhiker too.” My friends wondered what was up, but at my urging they let me out and did a U-turn. I removed my shirt, tied it around my waist, and climbed into a tree next to the highway. As our car approached with our newfound companion in tow, I hung from a tree limb by one hand in ape-like fashion and with the other signaled I was “thumbing a ride.”
“Hey look, there’s another hitchhiker,” exclaimed my friends. “Let’s pick him up too.”
Naked from the waist up in 20-degree weather I dropped out of the tree and half-lumbered, half-limped over to the car in Hunchback-of-Notre-Dame fashion—stooped over, hair a mess, and contorted facial expression.
“Want a ride?” asked my friends, which landed me in the back seat next to the hitchhiker. “Where are you going?” they continued as I grunted, snorted and slobbered with tongue partially hanging out one corner of my mouth. Not willing to look directly into the grotesque face of the “thing” sitting next to him, the hitchhiker resolutely fixed his eyes straight ahead as my friends continued to query: “What’s your name? Where did you come from? Where are you going? Why can’t you talk? Can you speak English? Would you like a beer?” I answered with more grunts and snorts while adding a bit of mumbled gibberish. With gaze still firmly fixed forward and eyebrows raised, the hitchhiker’s eyeballs strained to the extreme corners of his eye sockets nearest me in his struggle to observe the thing riding along beside him. When I leaned toward him and grunted, the hitchhiker’s shoulders slumped, his head dropped down, his stomach sank inward and hands raised to his chest—possibly the onset of an involuntary response invoking the psychological and physical defense of the fetal position. With a destination of less than an hour’s drive, the hitchhiker suddenly had great need to visit his “auntie” who resided in the next town. After releasing our unnerved guest we watched him stand motionless by the roadside facing in our direction until we disappeared from view, as our automobile filled with wild, uproarious laughter. What would I not give to sit next to this hitchhiker at a bar on that afternoon, or any other time?
Paul Fields, Mike Hinton and I made some of these Amarillo-Austin trips together. My two friends were roommates during their freshman year and like many roommates they sometimes bickered and needled one another—nothing serious, just mild tit for tat. Mike was lovable, frenetic, humorous and full of rich personality, but at times his persona invited some teasing. It may be an exaggeration, but one characterization of Mike weds the zaniness of actor Jack Lemon with cartoon character Mr. Magoo—funny, frenetic, loveable and on occasion slightly disoriented, but always memorable.
Our consumption of beer on these trips caused more than the usual number of stops for nature’s call. One such stop was near the town of Brownwood at a Humble gas station, the forerunner of Exxon and possibly the same location of the Exxon station currently located at 1909 Belle Plain Street on State Highway 279 leading northwest from Brownwood. The station was an old country station with outdoor toilet facilities consisting of an old wooden outhouse located about 30 yards behind the station. I used it first, and then Paul. There was barely room enough to stand inside this “little brown shack out back” (the title of a song written by Billy Edd Wheeler) and it looked to be a tight squeeze if a full-grown man sat down. And just in case any one of us had forgotten how outrageously obnoxious the smell of an outhouse was, a sensory-shocking reminder was provided.
As I enjoyed a chance to stretch in the warmth of the afternoon sun, Paul exited the outhouse and Mike entered. Paul noticed my attention focused on the bottom edge of the old wooden structure where boards had rotted so badly it was a wonder the outhouse was still standing. Paul surveyed the crumbling foundation and then looked at me. We both looked back down, then again at each other. Without speaking a word, we nodded our heads and gave a firm push.
As the outhouse toppled Mike began yelling his most choice obscenities with his legs flailing in midair. He struggled out from under the collapsed boards and went straight at Paul—running with all his might while at the same time trying to zip up his pants. Paul was laughing so hard he could hardly run as Mike continued chasing him around and around our car where I had situated myself to observe the comedic treat. Soon I coaxed my exhausted friends into the car to take our leave before our thoughtless destruction was discovered. A picture is solidly etched in my memory of Mike’s legs flailing in mid-air as his feet searched for traction where none existed when those walls came tumbling down.
During those days Paul and I would bet on just about anything. Truth is, we only talked about betting on everything, but seldom bet on anything, since Paul would only bet if the odds were stacked heavily in his favor with this one exception. On a sunny Amarillo day Paul and I stopped for lunch at the Dog House on Bushland Boulevard near the water tower at West 6th Avenue and South Independence Street. Ordinary wooden school desks lined two walls of the one-room diner where my lunch was two hot dogs, two jalapeno peppers, and a drink. After my first bite of a jalapeno Paul asked if it was hot. Even though it was hotter than hell I pretended it wasn’t and took another bite. “It’s not hot for a real man,” I casually stated—all that was required to generate a bet about who could eat more jalapenos. We took turns and after about seven, Paul began turning pale—a sort of greenish shade of pale. With a sickly look and shaky voice he said, “You win. Let’s get out of here, I’m getting sick.”
I opened the front screen door for our exit, and as Paul turned sideways to hurriedly pass me he caught sight of several uneaten jalapenos under the desk where I’d been sitting. I was found out and in the midst of Paul’s urgent, on-the-verge-of-vomiting discomfort, he realized I had only pretended to eat several jalapenos. Still exhibiting a greenish shade of pale, Paul exercised remarkably resolute will-power to delay regurgitation until after he administered a few resounding wallops to my upper arm—punches as powerful as I’ve ever encountered. Then he let those jalapenos fly—and not all that far from where he originally found them. Even though my badly bruised arm was hurting terribly I was laughing with glee. And had it not been for that one fleeting glance, it would be of record that I won at least one bet with my good friend.
“Creativity is the residue of wasted time.” –Albert Einstein
In our freshman year at UT Bob Venable and I joined Delta Tau Delta fraternity. It was a memorable experience and the Delts were mostly a great group of young men. There were some talented musicians. Bob Dickson played jazz piano and Dean Hester played guitar and sang. I especially liked his version of “It’s Too Late,” a cool song possibly associated with Bobby Doyle. But my favorite was Dick Ince from Hillsboro, Texas. One could easily imagine a black man trapped in a white man’s body each time he sat down at the piano and filled the room with blues and soul from his great renditions of “House On the Hill,” “No Money Down,” “Linda Lou,” and others. Mike Cotton was quarterback of the UT football team, Richard Keeton was #1 man on the UT tennis team and Neil Unterseher, the #2 man, was also a talented painter and fellow art student of my Amarillo friend Ed Blackburn. There was great camaraderie at the Delt house including many poker games. And when Mike Hinton began his freshman year in the fall of 1959, our band was again brought to full form for the entertainment of all.
During my freshman year I had the good fortune of participating in two amazing parties. UT fraternities were allowed one over-the-top party each semester and in the fall semester of ‘58 the Delt Jungle Party was a major undertaking that began a few days prior to the party date of Saturday, November 8, 1958. All furniture was removed from the living room, dining room, and game room of the frat house and the 10-foot-high walls were completely covered with white paper on which frat brothers with artistic skills, Neil Unterseher foremost among them, painted jungle scenes—African natives throwing spears at big game and dancing around campfires, European explorers donned in pith helmets being boiled in large black pots and other elaborate, creative jungle-scene caricatures. A giant image of King Kong painted on cardboard and attached to a sturdy, wooden frame was erected in front of the large, two-story, stone-veneer frat house at 2801 San Jacinto Blvd. Spotlights brightly illuminated both the 20-foot tall monster-like gorilla and the real, live bobcat caged inside a circle of poles implanted in the ground and covered by a thatched-grass roof reinforced with heavy wire mesh. For the two days our unique creation existed, it was a traffic-stopper on busy San Jacinto Boulevard.
As pledges, Bob and I were assigned the task of building a waterfall in the dining room where the food buffet and drinks would be located. We had no idea how to build a waterfall and were given no helpful hints by our frat brothers. But we enthusiastically took the challenge and set our creative sights on building the mother of all waterfalls.
Three sets of double French doors in the dining room opened inward to expose the patio at the back of the frat house. We opened the one set of doors nearest the living room so that each door was at a right angle with the outside wall. We nailed two 2-x-4s across the top of the two doors to fix their position and form a rectangle at the top—two sides formed by the two French doors and the other two sides formed by the 2-x-4s nailed to the top back and top front of the French doors. Two more 2-x-4s about six feet long were nailed to the rectangle at the top of the doors (one 2x4 on each side of the rectangle) to create the sides of a slide frame (like a playground slide) that slanted at about 45-degrees from the top of the doors to about 30 inches above the hardwood floor. The ends of the two six-foot 2x4s were connected horizontally by a two-foot long 2x4, and two vertical struts were attached to hold the slide frame in a fixed position about 30 inches above the dining room floor. We covered the entire framework of the slide with a canvas tarp rented from U-Haul and created a water supply reservoir by using roofing nails to affix a portion of the canvas to the rectangle that had been formed at the top of the two French doors. To supply water a garden water hose was attached to the water reservoir at the top of the French doors and a children’s plastic wading pool about five feet in diameter was placed on the floor to serve as a pond to capture the flow of the waterfall. A long piece of plastic tubing connected to the wading pool served as a gravity siphon to prevent the pool from overflowing. When the reservoir was full the water overflowed and cascaded down the canvas water slide, and then fell the last 30 inches (as in “waterfall”) into the plastic wading pool. When the wading pool neared capacity the gravity siphon was activated, and by trial and error a determination was made regarding the greatest rate of water-flow the gravity siphon could accommodate, which in turn set the maximum rate of water flow from the garden hose into the water reservoir at the top of the French doors. Our waterfall was both structurally and mechanically sound with ample water flow, but one serious problem loomed. It looked awful—an ugly piece of greenish-brown canvas in the shape of a crude playground slide ending above a children’s plastic wading pool.
Very late the night before, and possibly early in the morning of, the Jungle Party, Bob and I drove in his new ‘59 black Oldsmobile convertible to one of Austin’s prestigious, upscale neighborhoods—most probably Tarrytown—to “borrow” some exotic landscaping with which to enhance our waterfall. We made several trips, collecting many small and medium-size plants along with some bamboo that dramatically improved the aesthetic although it did not fulfill our most ambitious vision, causing us to make two more Tarrytown trips with a heavy chain borrowed from someone. Bob backed his Olds convertible, with top down, onto the lawn of a luxurious residence where we fixed the chain around the base of a magnificent eight-foot plant, uprooted it, tumbled it into the open convertible and hastily drove away. The towering plant was placed at one side of our waterfall after which we returned to the very same residence where again we backed onto the lawn and acquired a similar plant to complete our contrived wonder of nature. The several transplants from Tarrytown to frat house dining room had miraculously transformed the French doors, the plastic wading pool and the wooden structure covered by canvas into an exotic tropical scene. In the midst of this small, teeming jungle a generous stream of water cascaded into a lush lagoon in which dry ice created a heavy fog that drifted all across the dining room floor with stunning effect. Given the time invested and the money not spent, surely it was a creative wonder of all impromptu waterfalls.
The Jungle Party began about 6:00 p.m. with the formation of a safari that wound its way from the frat house all across the UT campus, stopping at girls’ dormitories and sorority houses where our dates joined the expanding tribe outfitted in jungle attire of many creative forms. Some carried kerosene torches while all participants rhythmically chanted, “Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, Delt—jun—gle—par—ty” to the musical tones of G, F, D, F, and G.
A rope ladder at the front of the frat house leading up to the second-story sleeping porch was the only available entrance to the Jungle Party. Some of us carefully climbed the rope ladder behind our dates while often “looking up” to ensure their safety. The jungle music of Martin Denny’s “Quiet Village” (animal voices and all) and an incredibly dense bamboo forest welcomed all comers onto the second-floor sleeping porch. From there, one couple at a time proceeded through the nearly impenetrable bamboo of the upper hallway where at midpoint frat brother David Ewing, wearing a life-like gorilla costume, suddenly leaped from hiding while ferociously growling and vigorously beating his chest as he grabbed at each young lady. For the first half-hour of the Jungle Party many entertaining, spontaneous screams of fright emanated from the upper hallway.
The band performing might have been Cookie and the Cupcakes, but no matter the band everyone had great fun dancing and singing, eating and drinking, observing the live bobcat and colossal King Kong, marveling at the waterfall and heavy fog, and being entertained by the creative African artwork adorning the walls. Sometime before midnight the water reservoir collapsed and flooded the dining room, but everyone was having such great fun it seemed not to matter. And too, by that late hour there were amorous matters to consider. The Jungle Party was an amazing introduction to fraternity party life and Bob and I were lucky to be in attendance, and not city jail.
The spring semester party theme was Li’l Abner, which propagated many Daisy Maes. A reverend performed a marriage ceremony for each couple as they entered the frat house—big, fake diamond ring and all. Once again all furniture was removed from the living room, dining room, and game room with the game room receiving some special focus. Here, the entire floor was covered with mattresses, all lighting sources were removed or rendered inoperable, and a sign was placed above the entrance proclaiming, “Honeymoon Cottage.” I don’t know if any indecent behavior occurred in the Honeymoon Cottage, but a frat party with make-believe wedding ceremonies and darkened Honeymoon cottages carpeted with mattresses was behavior risqué enough to cause our fraternity to be placed on social probation, which meant no grand party the following semester.
Sometime during the second semester of our freshman year, Bob and I created a silly Buddy Holly-sounding song.
Delta Tau Baby
Bob Venable & Eddie Reeves
A hey, hey, hey Delta Tau Delta it’s a party shelter
Delta Tau Delta that’s where I felt her
We had a dance in the game room
Come on baby won’t you give me some leg room
Delta Tau Delta that’s where I felt that
Delta Tau Baby of mine.
A hey, hey, fornication is nice but incest is best
Delta Tau Delta leads all the rest
I laid my baby on the ping-pong table
Tried to get up but I wasn’t able
Delta Tau Delta that’s where I felt that
Delta Tau Baby of mine.
Living in the Delt house is sure all right
There’s a girl in every room we don’t sleep much at night
Wander off to school early in the morning
Everybody’s starry-eyed, the girls they’re always satisfied.
Because Delta Tau Delta it’s a party shelter
Delta Tau Delta that’s where I felt her
We had a dance in the game room
Come on baby won’t you give me some leg room
Delta Tau Delta that’s where I felt that
Delta Tau Baby of mine.
About 20 years after we wrote this song, I visited the Delt frat house in 1979 while traveling through Austin with a rock band I managed. In a conversation with a group of young Delts I asked if they were aware of the song, and one replied, “Wait just a minute.” Soon a Delt pledge stood before me singing the song exactly as Bob and I had written it. What a kick to think we had contributed to the Delt legacy, although by 2003 it had been dropped from their musical repertoire. Later I learned some parents of current Delt members remembered our song and on occasion sang it for their sons. As Chuck Berry put it, “C’est la vie say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.”
My mom was a legal stenographer who at one time worked for Amarillo attorney L. A. White and my dad and his business partner sometimes sought the counsel of this attorney. Possibly due to these associations, I received a call from Mr. White’s son Alward in 1961 when we both attended UT. Alward was either a freshman or sophomore that year and two or three years younger than me. We didn’t really know each other, but his call led us to my favorite beer-drinking establishment, the Friendly Tavern at 2828 Guadalupe Street (southwest corner of Guadalupe and 29th Streets). While in Austin in February 2006 I discovered this location has been divided into two businesses—an ice cream shop (Cold Stone Creamery) and a tux rental store (Al’s Formal Wear).
I crossed the threshold of the legal drinking age of 21 in the state of Texas on November 17, 1960, which meant I was no longer troubled with creating and using a fake Texas driver’s license to purchase alcohol. Back then, one common method of creating a fake driver’s license was to obtain someone’s expired license and with a razor blade carefully cut out small squares of selected numbers and rearrange them to create an unexpired, valid license that showed the license holder’s age to be at least 21 years of age. In those more innocent times there Texas driver’s licenses had no driver photo, which made it possible for anyone to claim a license as their own so long as the physical description on the license was not too distant from one’s physical reality. Many young people became quite expert at this original cut and paste technique.
At Friendly Tavern we sat at a round table in the middle of the small room that accommodated about eight tables in total and a bar long enough to seat six or seven patrons. There were two entrances—one on the side of the building facing a small parking area and another at the front facing Guadalupe Street. We ordered beers without having to show proof of age, and only moments after being served two LCB agents entered the side door and made a beeline for our table. LCB is the acronym for “Liquor Control Board,” the state agency responsible for enforcing state liquor laws, and LCB agents had a reputation of being badass guys, which for me was ratified by a mean uncle who’d been an LCB agent.
I’ve always appeared younger than my age predicts, and on that day could easily have passed for a young high school student. But Alward’s reality was another matter. At the young age of 18 or 19 his physical appearance was strikingly young—more that of a young junior high school student. One agent asked for my driver’s license, which I happily produced, and the other asked for Alward’s. He complied by producing a license bearing the name of Stanley Marsh, which unfortunately had been altered to show an age of 24. Easily recognizing the obvious contrast between the age on the license and Alward’s physical reality, the LCB man said, “Let me see some other I.D.”
“I don’t have any,” replied Alward.
“Take everything out of your pockets and put it on the table.”
For some reason that I don’t yet understand I said, “Alward, I don’t think you have to do that if you don’t want to.”
“You shut up,” the agent commanded as he pointed his finger at me. With a harsher voice gathering anger he again instructed Alward, “Take everything out of your pockets and put it on the table.” By now the agent was beginning to probe one of Alward’s pockets.
“Alward, I still don’t think you have to do that if you don’t want to,” urged my most foolish advice.
“You’re under arrest,” the agent shouted.
Grabbing hold of my right upper arm the “officer of the law” standing beside me gave a strong jerk that partially lifted me out of the chair. In addition to demonstrating authority, his maneuver bore the obvious intent of physically transporting me from the premises. In a primal involuntary response I pulled my arm free to which the agent responded by grabbing me around the chest with both his arms to apply a “full nelson” hold used to extricate me from the chair and transport me across the room to the tavern’s side door. My feet dangled a few inches above the floor as the agent quickly crossed the tavern. Again in what seemed an involuntary reaction as we neared the exit I raised my knees to my chest and strongly thrust with my legs forward so that my feet hit hard against the door facing, while at the same time strongly thrusting my upper arms in a downward motion that all together broke the LCB man-handler’s hold on me.
As my energy exploded in the described maneuver, something large, white and airborne flew in our direction. Suddenly, I was standing alone in the side doorway and Mr. LCB man was lying on the barroom floor. After only a couple of steps away from the tavern en route to escape I suddenly was frozen still by a voice inside the tavern angrily threatening, “The next man that moves is a dead man.” I was stunned. I realized the event had grown far out of proportion with the crimes committed for which I was later charged—“interfering with arrest” and “resisting arrest.” Stepping back inside I urged, “Arrest me if you want to, but you don’t have to shoot anybody.” The LCB agent, surrounded by Friendly Tavern patrons, several who were UT law students, menacingly waved and pointed his pistol while demanding to know who had slugged him.
The large, white object that had flown through the air was the body of Hootie Dickens wearing a white shirt. He had leapt at the LCB agent holding me and connected with a punch hard enough to knock him to the floor him. Hootie, a regular patron of the tavern, owned a dry cleaners a block north on the northeast corner of 30th and Guadalupe. Neither of the LCB agents realized Hootie was the perpetrator since the crowd of patrons had blocked the view of one agent, and the direction of Hootie’s attack along with all the confusion prevented the other from determining identity of the culprit. After several more threats extracted no plea of guilt, the agent holstered his pistol and escorted me to their car where I was handcuffed and placed in the back seat. Soon the other agent delivered Alward, handcuffed him and placed him in the back seat next to me. One agent stayed with us while the one who had been slugged re-entered the tavern to continue his investigation.
Alward is a small, thin fellow with a bit of a whiney voice. In his most whiney of vocal tones he asked the LCB agent guarding us, “If I make good grades in college and get a college degree can I get a job like yours?” It was Alward as his most smart-ass self. The agent told Alward to be quiet, but again Alward whined, “Well, I just wanted to know how much education I need to get a job like yours.”
The agent looked hard at Alward and angrily commanded, “You shut up.”
I leaned close to Alward and whispered that these guys were livid and that we were handcuffed. “They’ll take us out in the country and beat the hell out of us.” Alward hadn’t considered such a frightening possibility and with a look of serious concern he shook his head in the affirmative. I was hoping it wasn’t too late for future good behavior displayed by us to influence the agents to forgo the administration of broken bones and broken noses of their young prisoners.
The investigating agent soon returned and closely followed by four or five law students who shouted that they knew the law and he was in big trouble. He shouted his own verbal jabs while gunning the car’s motor. As he began to back out of his parking space he turned the steering wheel to the extreme right, causing the front-left bumper to swing out to the left and hit one of the law students. The student fell to the pavement holding his injured knee while shouting, “You hit me. You hit me.” A fellow law student demanded an ambulance be called and an accident report be filed with the Austin police. The LCB men were snookered. They could not let the accident go unreported so ambulance and police calls were made, and soon both were on the scene. A paramedic examined the law student and the police made an official accident report while several other law students closely monitored the proceedings. When I consider the dynamics of this event and the extent of the agents’ anger, I’ve wondered if the on-site accident report by the city police had saved Alward and me from a mean, old, out-in-the-country, no-witnesses-present authoritarian lesson from these LCB agents.
We were transported to city jail where Alward, a minor, was released but at 21 years of age I was transferred to the Travis County jail. I was booked, fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a jail cell for the night—the only night I have ever spent incarcerated. Alward called his father, who contacted a Travis County assistant district attorney by the name of Mr. Blackwell, who Mr. White discovered had attended UT School of Law with my dad. Prior to all charges being dropped a report of the incident was sent to UT where I was caused to appear before a dean to receive both a stern lecture regarding appropriate student behavior and the threat of expulsion should future misconduct occur.
The Friendly Tavern continued to be my beer-drinking place of choice, and during one of my next visits I learned it was Hootie Dickens who had slugged the agent. After meeting and thanking Hootie, he explained he had impulsively reacted in anger when he saw me being so abusively manhandled by the LCB agent. It might have been impulsive but certainly it was gutsy and perhaps even morally, although not legally, correct. Yes indeed, Hootie Dickens was a morally correct “large, white, airborne” object sailing through the air at that particular explosive moment of truth.
As my high school and college friend and classmate Ken Cone drove his ’58 Chevy en route from Amarillo to Austin, I slept in the front passenger seat. Somewhere south of Childress as I bobbed along in one of those half-awake, half-asleep suspended states of consciousness, a notion began forming—one likely driven by vibrations I was feeling and sounds I was hearing. A question about speed emerged and was answered by one foggy glance at a speedometer registering 90 mph. It wasn’t unusual for Ken to drive fast, and from my slumped-down-in-the-seat position my concern was mild until I raised up high enough to observe the blinding snowstorm we were barreling through. It was blinding to the nth degree with visibility reduced to tens of yards. “Ken, slow this damn thing down,” I hollered, causing him to slow to about 70 mph. My complaints continued unabated until our speed was appropriate for the poor driving conditions.
Shortly after nightfall the snowfall ended, but the frozen roadway still limited our speed to about 20 mph. Every few minutes Ken would gun the motor to test the slickness of the road, and each time our quickly spinning wheels confirmed a highway still frozen. On a two-lane highway somewhere north of Abilene Ken gunned the motor with the same result of wheels spinning, but this time the car turned ninety degrees sideways to the direction of our travel and slowly glided into the oncoming lane and then off the highway into a bar ditch as we headed straight for a barbed-wire fence. We were fortunate no oncoming traffic existed and that an opening in the barbed-wire fence serving as one end of a circular driveway for a farmhouse allowed us to avoid any barbed-wire entanglement. After flying through the fence opening our momentum delivered us almost to the farmhouse front porch, which was immediately bathed in bright light illuminating the face of a man peering out from behind a curtain at the late night drama occurring in his front yard. The car’s engine stalled, but Ken quickly restarted it and drove through the other barbed-wire fence opening back onto the still frozen highway. Through it all Ken’s demeanor was no different than having stopped for a stop sign. He never showed much emotion, not even when in the same ’58 Chevy he did a 360-degree spin at about 40 mph on highway 287 en route to Dallas for the Texas-Oklahoma football game.
Ken always had something unusual happening—sometimes something totally unique. During high school he bought a converter that made possible to operate most electrical devices in his car. He hooked up a tape recorder and a radio transmitter with a broadcast range of a few hundred feet to play songs that were known as “race music”—“Bip Bam,” “Sixty Minute Man,” “Work With Me Annie,” “The Real Thing” (the real thing that made my ding-a-ling ring) and other records that Top 40 radio stations didn’t play due to sexually suggestive lyrics. At Stanley’s Drive-In, an Amarillo High School hangout, word would spread from car to car the frequency to dial to hear Ken’s saucy broadcast. He was an inventive and entertaining guy, and crazy as hell.
Email from Pete Meador to some of our Amarillo High classmates:
One Saturday afternoon during the spring of our senior year, a bunch of us were hanging around Stanley's [drive-in restaurant where the Amarillo High School kids hung out]. Among those there were Ken Cone and Vic Plunk. They had recently chipped in together to buy an old Army Air Corps trainer. I think they paid $100 for it. It had a front seat, a back seat, and a sliding canopy. They had both been taking flying lessons, but I'm not sure either had a license yet. They kept the plane at Vic's farm.
The topic of conversation somehow turned to the idea of Ken and Vic flying over Stanley's and dropping a few water bombs. After a while the idea took hold...maybe on a dare and Ken and Vic jumped in a car and drove off. About an hour later the plane appeared in the distance and was soon circling over Stanley's. I think they were probably at an altitude of 500 feet. Since the plane was a trainer, it had controls in both the front and back seat. I don't remember who the pilot was and who the “bombardier” was.
They made a pass over Stanley's and a brightly colored water-filled balloon came out of the cockpit. Those of us on the ground were laughing and trying to predict where it would hit. In a few seconds it hit the ground in the vacant lot behind Stanley's. SPLAT! The sound of the impact was very loud and it left a small, balloon-sized crater in the ground.
Several of us on the ground looked at each other and suddenly realized that a water balloon dropped from 500 feet would have a tremendous impact that could, if it struck a windshield or a person, result in very serious damage or injury. We started waving at Vic and Ken and yelling for them to stop. Obviously, they could not hear us.
The next balloon came out of the cockpit. SPLAT! It landed in the middle of the side street next to Stanley's. It hit about ten yards from a lady who had just gotten out of her parked car. She was holding a small child in her arms. She didn't realize what had happened and did not react. Some of us were really starting to panic. Then the third balloon came out of the cockpit. SPLAT! It also landed in the side street, just behind an Amarillo Police car that was driving by. Since it hit behind the car, the police officer didn't see it, and he didn't pay any attention to our antics on the ground.
The bombing run was over and the plane flew away. Ken and Vic came back later and we told them what happened on the ground. As best I remember, we were all just damned relieved that no one got hurt. As Paul Harvey would say, “And that's the rest of the story.” The reason I remember this so vividly is that after the first water bomb hit I was so afraid that someone would get hurt.
I understand that Vic never gets on the Internet and has little to do with computers. Maybe someone in Amarillo will print this and take it to him to see if my memory is as good as I think. Or, maybe there is another eyewitness report.
At the start of my junior year at UT in the fall of 1960, Ken and I roomed together at the Lakewood Apartments, 2505 Enfield Road. We were two lost souls without rational reason to be registered as students at any university. We had wild parties, drank a lot, and mostly just goofed off, accomplishing nothing worthwhile. Ken concocted a beverage containing 25% concentrated fruit juice and 75% Everclear (190 proof, which is 95% alcohol). It was potent stuff—extremely potent. For one of our parties we mixed the brew in a new, large plastic trashcan, and in late afternoon before the party began a magazine salesman knocked on our door. Ken and I agreed to buy a subscription for each cup of the party punch the salesman drank. The cups were small—about four fluid ounces like small cups found at a five-gallon water dispenser, but after three or four cups and an equal number of subscriptions Ken switched tactics. “I’ll buy a subscription for my mom if you buy one for your mom,” followed by a like offer from me. When the poor fellow left he was drunker than a hoot, but as comical as it was to both of us, I eventually realized how foolish, totally irresponsible, and terribly dangerous our recklessness actions were.
The young professor of my sophomore trigonometry class required students to attend class only four times during the semester—once for each hour-quiz and again for the final exam. My above-average ability in mathematics was hinted at in the eighth grade when for one six-week grade I received an A++. The teacher explained the “++” was for having perfectly completed all homework assignments and scoring perfectly on each test. Given my confidence regarding math I decided to take my professor at his word and attend trig class only as required. I studied all night prior to the first quiz, worked all the problems in the chapters covered, and made an A. I repeated my triumph on the second and third quizzes, but a problem of greater proportions arose regarding the final exam. I was faced with covering all the chapters I had previously studied in addition to the chapters covered after the third quiz. I had studied all the material in depth, but for such a brief period of time that I retained little of the complex information. After a long, grueling night of study, I laid down for a short rest about an hour before exam time and fell into a deep sleep. I awoke a couple hours later, went directly to my professor’s office, explained what happened, told him I was prepared to take the final exam, and offered to do so on the spot. He said, “Reeves, I always tell my students they need only be present for the hour-quizzes and the final exam, and you’re the only one who has literally taken me up on it.” The professor allowed me to take the exam on which I made a “C.” Earning a final course grade of “B” I thought, “This is how college should be.”
As I began my junior year while Ken and I were roommates I learned that professors generally did not require class attendance, which made it possible to adopt the same non-attendance I’d successfully employed for my trig course. Not wanting to seem too brash I attended each class once to learn its particular location on the sizable UT campus just in case of a hurried, last-minute search for class location occurred. I smartly marked the date of the first hour-quiz for each course on my calendar accordingly.
Ken and I were busy from the very start of that college semester with many important things until interrupted one day by a glaring notation on my calendar: “6:00 p.m.—study for hour-quiz.” I screwed around awhile, even went bowling, until about 10:00 p.m. when I was finally not able to further rationalize the avoidance of my college studies. I sat down at my desk with great determination to ace my first quiz just as I had in my trig course, but as I prepared for a long night of diligent study I was confronted with a most serious problem—the problem of not yet having purchased the books required for any of my courses, and a problem complicated by the fact that the University Co-op, the only place to purchase the required textbooks, was closed. With my junior year modus operandi of not wanting to rush into my studies too quickly having gone far beyond any reasonable limits, the following morning I did what was required of a loving son—I informed my parents I wasn’t mentally or emotionally prepared to attend university and was only wasting Dad’s money. I dropped out of UT and worked for several months at Dad’s lumber company until returning in the fall of 1961 for a second effort at my junior year, and the final year of my university attendance.
At a weekend gathering in Fredericksburg at the home of Kitty and Robert Hunter in the fall of 2006 I told this story to some of my frat brothers and one remarked, “Eddie, you must have a photographic memory.” Quickly Robert replied, “Not if he hasn’t seen the photograph!”
Time marches on—everywhere and always. Certainly in Austin, Texas where condominiums have replaced the old Seton Hospital that was located on W. 26th Street between Nueces Street and Rio Grande Street where I was born, the house at 2710 Nueces where our family lived from the summer of 1948 to the summer of 1949, and Wooldrige Elementary School at the corner of W. 24th Street and Nueces where I attended third grade. Also, a modern Delta Tau Delta frat house has replaced the homey old structure at 2801 San Jacinto and the cool pad at 2314 Swisher Street where I lived from the fall of 1961 to May 1962 is now part of parking lot #39 of the LBJ Library and Museum. The Club Caravan and Villa Capri Hotel located across the street from the Swisher Street pad are now part of the Frank Denius Fields where the UT Longhorn football team practices. And sadly, by 2014 the Friendly Tavern at 2828 Guadalupe had become a Subway fast-food restaurant.
The laid back college town Austin used to be in the 1950s is now a frenetic, sprawling, traffic-jammed metropolis. But I’ve not completely abandoned the new Austin. Lena and I were married there January 10, 2009 on the grounds of the Four Seasons Hotel overlooking Lady Bird Lake, and possibly new opportunities will emerge that allow me to deposit a bit of my spirit upon some unsuspecting persons and places to create yet more Austin ramblings worth remembering. Maybe there’s more landscaping to be borrowed.
“The price one pays for not changing is to remain the same.” –origin unknown
On Wednesday and Thursday, July 12 and 13, 1959 Amarillo friend Gary Shores and I rode horseback from the town of Red River to Blue Lake, a mountain lake nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northeastern New Mexico. Blue Lake is located less than two miles southeast of Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico at elevation 13,167 feet. This story is based on notes written during and immediately following our trip—notes made in a 3 X 5 inch Montag’s Blue Horse spiral notebook with a price of “10 cents” marked on its cover.
Permission to enter the Blue Lake area was required from both the National Forest Service and the Taos Pueblo tribe. During summers Gary lived in Red River with his dad and stepmother and obtained the Forest Service permit in either the town of Questa or Taos—a permit that limited the time spent at Blue Lake to a maximum of 24 hours. The rather difficult permission of the tribe was made possible by Gary’s friendship with the son of the tribal chief.
Located about 11 miles northeast of Taos Pueblo (13 miles north of the town of Taos), this pristine mountain lake is the source of the Rio Pueblo de Taos, the river flowing through the Taos Pueblo village. Blue Lake and its surrounding lands are sacred to the Taos people who believe the lake is the source of everything and that the spirit of their ancestors resides there. As the oldest continually inhabited site in America (over 1,000 years), Taos Pueblo is both a World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. A painting by my mom of the Pueblo hangs on my wall and often reminds of my first adventure ever into a mountainous region.
These sacred lands were taken from the Taos Pueblo people in 1908 with the establishment of the Carson National Forest by President Theodore Roosevelt, but finally, and rightfully, returned in 1970 and 1996. Prior to this reinstatement, the Taos people were granted exclusive use of Blue Lake only during the month of August. Gary shared a story about the disappearance of a journalist who had entered the area to secretly photograph the religious ceremonies. Nothing but his smashed camera was ever found. The story added to the promise of adventure for a trip that began very early one morning on a mountain trail about eight miles from Blue Lake and but a few days prior to the start of tribal ceremonies.
Wednesday, July 12, 1959
Our trip started at 8:00 AM at a meadow just before Ditch Cabin on the east fork of the Red River about 8 miles south of the town of Red River. We turned off the main road on to a steep winding trail and rode along the east fork of the Red River toward Lost Lake. This trail ended at the timberline and the trail faded and reappeared several times as we rode along a valley surrounded by shear cliffs, one that was Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico. As we rode along this valley the trail grew steep and we came upon a sign stating “Lost Lake 1 mile” and the direction to Blue Lake. We didn’t see a trail heading toward Lost Lake so we thought the sign was wrong and headed for Blue Lake thinking we could turn off later to reach Lost Lake, our first intended destination. We rode one mile and saw another sign stating, “Lost Lake 2 miles,” pointing in the direction from which we had just come. The first sign we had seen must have been correct and not wanting to turn back we decided head directly to Blue Lake.
We rode along one of the cliffs that surrounded the valley we had ridden through. The horses gave a little trouble at this point because we were about to cross a very narrow ridge connecting Wheeler Peak and Simpson Peak. This ridge is as narrow as about 3 or 4 feet in some places with some step-ups of 2 feet or more in height and a steep drop on each side of the ridge of over 1,000 feet. The wind was blowing hard and cold so I put on my navy P-coat and pulled my cowboy hat down tight. This was the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen. The ridge is about a mile long and ends on the south side of Old Mike Peak.
While on the ridge we could see the road that connects the towns of Red River and Eagle’s Nest and the Red River Pass on our left or east side. To the west we saw the town of Taos, Williams Lake, which is a very green, and the continental divide about 65 miles to the west. We rode around Old Mike Peak and to our surprise could see Eagle’s Nest Lake at a distance of about 8 miles. Here we also got our first view of Blue Lake about a mile away at the bottom of a beautiful mountain canyon.
We arrived at Blue Lake at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. We put up our tent, built a fire, grazed the horses and gathered firewood. Then we explored the lake. The pine trees were thick and grew right down to the very edge of the lake. The lake is about 1,000 feet from end to end and maybe 700 feet across forming an oval. At one end of this deep, very blue lake is a small, clear shallow lake where we saw hundreds of trout. Gary had some salmon eggs, fishhooks and fishing line but no fishing rod so he attached some line to a small piece of a pine tree branch and immediately caught two trout for dinner.
It was threatening to rain so we put the things we wanted to keep dry in our tent but the clouds passed fast and it didn’t rain. We built a campfire, cleaned and cooked the fish, and then had dinner. We experienced great tranquility with the only sound being that of the wind blowing through the many tall pine trees. We sat by the campfire as daylight faded and contemplated life before finally crawling into our pup tent to get some sleep. By the light of a flashlight I wrote some notes of the day’s journey. We are 12 miles from the town of Red River, 13 miles from the town of Taos, and 8 miles from Eagle’s Nest. We are the only people at what must be one of the most pristine and beautiful mountain lakes in the entire world. And the Indians will take over on the 20th of July. So now we will go to sleep and dream of Indian ceremonies, missing journalists and how this lake must have been for thousands of years before our brief visit.
We had tied our horses to some trees and at Gary’s suggestion had tied the ropes high so the horses wouldn’t get tangled. At about five o’clock in the morning there was a very strong thunderstorm with many loud claps of thunder. We heard the horses neigh loudly and went to check on them. Gary’s horse Bucky had fallen down on a steep slope of the mountain with his legs pointing uphill making it impossible for the horse to stand without turning him over so that his legs would be pointed downhill for gravity to be in his favor. Gary said if Bucky remained stuck too long in this position that the misplacement of his innards might kill him. We had to turn him over. Well, it’s not easy to get a horse to roll over and helping Bucky roll over could be very dangerous. The horse was scared, greatly excited and kicking wildly. Gary and I used a rope and without either of us getting kicked finally got Bucky to roll over. He immediately stood up and I don’t know who was the happier—Bucky, or Gary and me.
Thursday, July 13, 1959
Gary started the morning fire with wood we’d collected and placed under a poncho to keep dry. For breakfast we had beans and warmed Vienna sausage, hot tea and some Carnation milk. We broke camp and left Blue Lake at about 8:30. We backtracked out of Blue Lake canyon to Old Mike Peak, Simpson Peak and again along the narrow ridge to Wheeler Peak. There was no wind blowing as we crossed the narrow ridge this time and I felt like I could almost touch heaven. At the north end of this ridge the trail led about 100 feet below the summit of Wheeler Peak. We must have been over 13,000 feet in elevation since Wheeler Peak is 13,167 feet. We continued to follow the ridge across the very top of Mount Walter, elevation 13,138 feet, and then rode a ridge from which we saw Horseshoe Lake on our right at the base of Mount Walter. As its name implies this lake is shaped like a horseshoe but it’s not as beautiful as Blue Lake—not as deep so is lacking the dark-blue color and not surrounded by pine trees. On our left to the west we could see Lake Williams.
As the trail dropped off the ridge we saw two people in the valley below and thought they must be sheepherders. But hoping to get a glimpse of Lost Lake we returned to the top of the ridge but because a bluff blocked our view we didn’t see this lake. But we saw Red River Pass, Eagle’s Nest Lake, and Moreno Valley near the town of Eagle’s Nest. We could also see Vermejo Park, Taos, Rio Grande Valley, Spanish Peaks, and St. Louis Valley.
As we rode down into the valley what we had guessed was two sheepherders were actually two girls hiking to Wheeler Peak. One was about 30 years old and lived 12 miles from the town of Taos. The other was about 16 and lived halfway between Taos and Santa Fe. They were staying at the Taos Ski Run in Twining Canyon and from there to Wheeler Peak it’s about 3 or 4 miles. The girls didn’t have raincoats and it was threatening to rain. We gave them some cans of beans and Vienna sausage and then were on our way.
We rode down into a little valley and at about noon stopped at a small green meadow by a stream to have lunch. At one o’clock we headed for Bull-of-the-Woods Mountain by riding along another ridge from which we could see Questa to the west and the Taos Ski Run in Twining Canyon directly below in the process of being built. The next point of interest was Bull-of-the-Woods Mountain where 10 years earlier the Evans Copper Company sent a man with a bulldozer to level the mountaintop in search of copper. Now a jeep trail runs the 15 miles from Taos to the top of this mountain and we rode along this jeep trail about a mile before connecting with the trail to Gold Hill about 3 miles away. We crossed two meadows where the trail faded and reappeared before reaching Gold Hill, elevation 12,650 feet, from where we looked down a sheer mountainside to Goose Lake 1,000 feet below.
On the west side of Gold Hill we saw an abandoned gold mine where little gold was ever found. As we followed the trail directly across the summit of Gold Hill, a thunderstorm moved rapidly toward us. Suddenly we were engulfed by thick, dark clouds where loud thunder claps consistently boomed and fierce, rapidly repeating lightning flashed. The sound of the thunder came from no particular direction informing us we were at its epicenter—a terrifying circumstance. I didn’t know if it was possible for us to survive the many nearby lightning strikes. As we started down the north side of Gold Hill it began to rain and hail at a murderous rate. The wind was gusting at 50 or 60 miles per hour or more and we were on a very narrow, steep and rocky trail of several switchbacks heading down Gold Hill. The horses were bothered little by the rain and hail but we could tell the thunder and the terrific wind frightened them terribly.
Riding down the rocky switchbacks in the hard rain and strong wind was a wild, frightful adventure. Each horse would lower its head to lean strongly into the heavy wind and at the sharp hairpin turn at the end of each switchback each horse had to fight fiercely to maintain its balance when the wind suddenly shifted from hitting their body from one direction to suddenly and strongly hitting it from another. This loss of balance and the unsure footing on the steep, narrow, rocky trail was a terribly dangerous ride. At each switchback the horses would hesitate, then neigh loudly and bucked from fear of the strong gusts of wind that threatened a long fall down the side of Gold Hill.
It was an adventure of a lifetime. After about 30 minutes of hard rain, extreme wind and a bit of hail the condition turned to only a sprinkle of rain just after we completed the several dangerous switchbacks. Our ponchos kept us mostly dry but our boots had filled with water and we took them off to pour the water out.
Further along we came to a large rockslide that blocked the trail. The composition of the soil there was mostly loose small rocks and soil and the drop below the trail was very steep. The distance across the landslide was about 40 feet but if we tried to cross it and slid down the mountainside, it would be a fall of at least 2 or 3 hundred feet. We paused to carefully consider our options—either cross the rockslide or go all the way back to our original point of entry the previous day. We tested the rockslide area by walking out on it and thought it seemed fairly stable, so while I held my horse and the packhorse, Gary carefully walked his horse across. Then he returned and walked my horse across after which I started across with Penny the packhorse. About halfway across the rockslide began to move under Penny’s hooves and she began moving down the side of the mountain. As she slid she began running in her attempt to not take the fall. Soon she was running hard to simply maintain the same position on the slide area but was slowly losing the battle and seemed to be headed for certain death from a 2 or 3 hundred foot fall. Gary yelled, “Give her, her head.” I didn’t immediately understand what he meant and again he yelled, “Give her, her head. Give her, her head.” I was pulling on the reins trying to help her from going down the rockslide when I finally realized that Gary was urging me to let go of the reins so Penny could lower her head to afford better balance and traction to increase her chance of outrunning her slide down the mountain. By what seemed a minor miracle—likely the miracle of an animal’s survival instinct and tenacity—Penny the packhorse outran the sliding rocks under her hooves and made it to the other side. Gary and I stood dazed and amazed that Penny wasn’t lying dead 2 or 3 hundred feet below us.
The trail led on to Pioneer Creek in Pioneer Canyon where we rode around several fallen trees that blocked the trail and soon we passed four mineshafts and the Carrabelle mill, a 4 or 5 story mill built up against the side of a mountain, where the local ore was crushed. From here we rode the remaining 4 miles into town in a slight drizzle as darkness fell and we reached the town of Red River at about 7:15 PM. We were physically tired, tired of pork and beans, tired of Vienna sausages and we were wet, but our desire for adventure had been fulfilled. We had traveled about 16 hours and about 25 miles through the most beautiful country one can possibly see. The bed sure felt good as I took my next journey—one of twelve hours sleep filled with dreams of Blue Lake, Taos Pueblo Indians, falling horses, and God’s green earth strong on my mind.
After our horseback adventure to Blue Lake, Gary invited me to Red River the following summer and after hanging out a couple of days I suggested that we drive to Las Vegas, Nevada. But when Gary couldn’t be convinced by even my most fervent urging, I headed out on my own. Gary was the only person award of my westward adventure as I sailed out onto the highway in my bronze-colored 1959 Chevy with $300 and a Shamrock gasoline credit card in my possession.
Upon my arrival in Las Vegas I did not rent a room, did not have something to eat, did not drive around town or do anything but go straight to a casino where I immediately lost all of my money—literally all of it including every quarter, dime, nickel and penny. My first thought was to call my brother-in-law to wire funds, but after locating a pay phone I realized I didn’t have a dime—the minimum coin required in those days to access an operator and the only way a long distance call could be made. I stopped a man on the street and asked to borrow a dime promising to return it after connecting with an operator. He gave me a quarter and said, “Keep it.” Just maybe I wasn’t the only down and out person he’d seen on the sad streets of Las Vegas.
Because my dad thought I was in Red River I thought it best not to call him. I doubted he’d be happy about my impulsive caper. So I called my brother-in-law at his office.
“Where are you? Las Vegas? What are you doing in Las Vegas?”
“I wanted to see Vegas and have some fun, but don’t let Dad know.”
“Uh-oh, your dad’s standing right here.”
“What are you doing in Las Vegas?” Dad asked. “I guess you need some money.”
“Yes I do.”
“Please wire $300 in my name to the Las Vegas Western Union office.”
I waited and waited and waited at the Western Union office for more than three hours. Finally the wire arrived, but for only $50—just enough to get me home. I called my friend Jim Bradley whose mom wired $300. Now I was armed and dangerous.
Having gone bankrupt so quickly when I arrived, I decided to prepay a hotel room before hitting the tables again. Unfortunately, a convention had caused nearly every room in Vegas to be booked and the only thing available was an $80 suite at the Riviera Hotel (over $650 in 2016). I checked into the beautiful suite, went straight to the casino and, once again, immediately lost all of my money save a $1 bill and some pocket change. The important lesson I learned that evening is that it’s awful to be in a place like Las Vegas without cash or credit no matter how wonderful the hotel suite one occupies. I had no money for dinner and nothing to do but watch television—I believe a beauty pageant of some sort. Eventually I did some people-watching in the casino until I surrendered to the boredom at about midnight and got some sleep in preparation for the drive home the following day. And from that day forward any reference by me to that desert gambling city of many bright lights has been “Lost Vegas.”
Nearly broke and way past hungry I headed southeast toward the Arizona border with the depository of my $600 in the rear view mirror. The gas gauge was not far from empty and definitely not enough fuel to make Kingman, Arizona where Humble service stations (predecessor of Exxon) honored Shamrock credit cards. There were no Shamrock stations in Nevada or Arizona, but Shamrock credit cards were honored by Humble in Arizona, but not in Nevada. My mind raced to solve my dilemma—basically no money, nearly no gas, possibility of being stranded in the desolate reaches of desert country, and obviously having nary a single lick of good sense. On the drive to “Lost Vegas” I’d seen a gas station a few miles outside the city, maybe where Hendersonville is located today. “I’ll trade my spare tire for enough gas to make it to Kingman,” I surmised. I felt better after realizing my spare tire was at minimum worth a few gallons of gas.
Surprisingly, it was a Humble station, but in Nevada my Shamrock credit card was not valid. I explained my predicament to the nice lady attendant and asked how much gas she’d be willing to give for the spare tire. “I’ll accept your card. You don’t want to be out on the desert without a spare tire. I’ll get my money from Humble.”
With gas in the tank I flew across the desert to Arizona and Route 66, the Mother Road that would lead me home. After filling up with gas again in Flagstaff, Arizona my attention turned to food. Having missed the last two meals the decision of what to buy with less than $2 to nourish the 10-hour drive home was interesting. I considered a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter, and then baloney instead of the peanut butter. While walking through a small grocery store I decided on a pint of macaroni salad, two Baby Ruth candy bars, and a Dr Pepper. Was I ready to haul ass or what? After driving a couple hours on a beautiful, but very hot, summer’s day, I ate both candy bars and drank the Dr Pepper—my breakfast and lunch. Dinner would be macaroni salad.
Somewhere in New Mexico I was stopped for speeding by a state trooper and escorted to the country home of a County Judge whose judgment was a fairly hefty fine. All I could offer in payment was the story of my adventure, which seemed more than adequate based on laughter from both the judge and state trooper. The judge just shook his head as if to say, “My, my, my—what a foolish young man,” and advised, “Get on home now and drive carefully.” Heading back down the gravel road leading to Route 66 I wondered how my self-assessment of being smart and capable was at all possible in light of such foolhardy behavior. A few minutes later I opened the macaroni salad, took a big bite, and immediately spit it out to rid myself of its spoiled, soured reality. With empty stomach I continued eastward where I would soon face an unhappy dad and a debt of $350, and none the wiser from my “Lost Vegas” ramblings.
At the finish of my junior year at UT in May 1962 and at the age of 22, I told Dad I was through with college. Going another year and a summer to make up for some dropped courses didn’t seem worthwhile to earn a business degree that seemingly led nowhere.
“What do you intend to do?”
“I’ll be in the business you’re in”—retail lumber business, residential home construction, residential property development, and residential rental property ownership and management. Dad put me to work waiting on customers and doing anything that was needed at the lumberyard. If he observed me standing idly while waiting for the next customer to appear, he’d direct me to fill the nail bin, mark prices on new hardware and paint stock, sweep the floor and dust off the hardware and paint stock, put new stock on the shelves, go outside to straighten the stacks of lumber, and do anything an observant employee would easily know needed to be done. Dad taught me to work and to pay attention about the work. Seldom have I given him deserved credit due for the critical life skills and attitudes that to my great benefit he instilled in me.
Earlier, during the summers of my high school and college years I worked at the lumberyard making deliveries. One of the more difficult tasks was standing on the back of a flatbed delivery truck and throwing 70-pound bundles of asphalt roofing shingles up onto the roof of a house. There were many wrestling matches with those roofing shingles. Another difficult task was unloading lumber by hand from a railroad boxcar, and it was amazing how hot it could be inside a boxcar in the heat of an Amarillo summer. After three of us toiled and sweated for what seemed to be hours and hours, an old timer picked up the last piece of lumber and said, “There’s the one we been lookin’ for.”
After deciding not to finish college I worked hard at the lumberyard for a few months. One day when Dad returned from an outside appointment he walked passed me en route to his office and stated what seemed to be a casual, but odd, directive: “Edward, go build a house.” He continued on to his office and I thought, “What did he mean?” I slowly realized he was directing me to build a house—a spec house like those built by a residential homebuilder on the speculation that it will be sold during, or soon after, its construction. Many thoughts and emotions shot through me—colliding, then exploding in the form of a question. What house should I build? I’d previously made many deliveries to spec houses being built by Dad and by some of his lumber customers. A few times I’d helped nail the sub flooring and the roof decking, since this was the easiest hammering work prior to the advent of nail guns.
Entering Dad’s office I asked, “What house should I build?”
“You figure it out.”
My mind raced as I retreated from his office and soon the idea occurred that I’d obtain one of the simple plans often used by Dad and his fellow homebuilders. But where would I build it? Again, I entered his office only to hear, “You figure it out.” Shazam! I’d buy a building lot in one of dad’s residential developments, and by now dad’s message was clear—just figure it out and do it. I was being challenged to take the bull by the horns regarding this opportunity. My mind continued racing to understand, organize and create a plan of action. I concluded I would build a spec house, that I would build it well, and that I would do it without further consultation with my dad. But my desire to proceed independently abruptly stalled when the question of financing occurred. Reluctantly I approached Dad one last time. “Go see Charlie Harris at the First National Bank. I’ll cosign an interim financing loan.”
I selected a house plan, obtained blueprints, bought a lot on the north side of Amarillo in Fairlane addition, obtained three separate contractor bids for each building element (foundation work, framing, electrical, plumbing, sheetrock, trim work, painting, brick laying, roofing, etc.), obtained bank financing, and in a few weeks completed a 1450-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath house. Dad carefully inspected my work—looked under the pier and beam floor, looked up in the attic, opened every door including kitchen cabinet doors, and carefully inspected the paint job, brickwork, roofing, and all other construction elements. I didn’t know if he’d previously inspected the house during its construction, but after his inspection he said, “Good job.”
Having given little thought regarding the issue of selling the spec house I asked, “Now what?”
“Put a ‘For Sale’ sign in the front yard, place an ad in the newspaper, and hold open house every Saturday and Sunday afternoon until it’s sold.”
What? I must hold open house each Saturday and Sunday afternoon? My dad seemed to have forgotten I’d be at the lake water skiing every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, not holding an open house. But I followed his instructions and soon David Brown and his wife, a young couple starting out in life and probably only a year or two older than me, purchased the house. They were new parents improving their nest, and David had just established Amarillo’s first Yamaha motorcycle dealership.
I built another spec house that soon sold, and that also landed two other custom-home contracts of potential buyers who had seen the second house. During 1963 I built and sold seven houses, obtained ownership of four small rental houses, acquired my real estate broker’s license, listed and sold some raw land that other realtors had been unable to list, made over $20,000 (nearly $160,000 in 2016), bought a new ‘63 Corvette Stingray (the first model-year for Stingray), joined the Tascosa Country Club, and took up smoking cigars. I was literally “Hell on wheels,” but it would be short-lived.
Throughout my music business career dad’s valuable gift of self-reliance framed by his directive, “You figure it out,” would replay over and over in my mind, but this lesson engaged independent of the fervent fire and desire for adventure in other dimensions building ever more strongly within me.