Hometown Road Trip, Part 1

NOTE: In a first of four part blog, I answer the question: “how’s my hometown of Pampa, Texas, 37 years after I left? 

News of Pak-a-Burger’s demise stopped my heart.

Technically it’s a drive‐around as in drive‐to, park‐near, walk‐up, sit‐and‐wait, then drive‐around.

Home of the best hamburgers in the Milky Way, this drive‐in burger joint earned its reputation for cheap food, sold hot and greasy.

Locally owned and operated, Pak‐a‐Burger opened the same year — 1954 — my parents relocated the tribe to this Texas Panhandle town. Like so many families in Pampa, we were in the “oil‐bidness,” my father earned the money, and my mother raised the children.

Eating out was a Big Deal. My parents complained of the cost, similar to their carping about long distance calls and new school clothes every August.

They broke down on some Saturday nights, opting for Pak‐a‐Burger treats. Even the best mothers break down after too many tuna casseroles.

My order never changed: Combo #3, Cheeseburger and Fries. We never ordered drinks or dessert. We had plenty of Dr. Pepper and stale cookies at home.

Mention Pak‐a‐Burger and I go Pavolovian. Yes, drool. Consider:

Little white sacks dotted in grease stains.

Seven‐inch burger buns smashed down, the insides branded with charcoal stripes. Thin beef patty hanging beyond the bun. American cheese dripping over tiny fingers. Lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle imprinting against the meat.

Second sack held French fries too hot to touch. But when these long oily slivers cooled off, they stuck in bunches of six or seven so you learned early to eat them fast and free. As in sans ketchup: why adorn perfection? 

Today’s menu includes Mexican food and BBQ? Egad!

Several years ago, we buried my mother then treated the nine grandchildren to Pak‐a‐Burgers.

Their response?

These are good?”

I noticed all the food was consumed within a half hour. Or the youngsters were really hungry on that long, tough day.

Two weeks ago, we buried our oldest sister in the hometown church.

I insisted on one last Pak‐a‐Burger run after the service.

Perhaps green means go — for a later opening on an hot August afternoon?

We spied the green light, read the  diner’s urgent message, “Call In/Take Out Only.” The white shoe paint on the window boosted its homespun appeal, as it reminded us. Small town America suffers the Covid blues, too. 

Drive‐up side reveals an interesting synchronicity: the burger shack and my eldest sister each lasted 66 years.

Later we learned the news: Pak-a-Burger’s owner sold the real estate for development.

This town of 17,000—less than half the population of my childhood years—needs that promise of something better.

I hope it comes.

Sooner rather than later.

I leave with one question.

What’s home without Pak‐a‐Burger?

Old Radios, Aging Broad

Despite years as a radio journalist, I never looked inside the machine that sent my stories out into the world.

Then I found this, the backside of my grandmother’s old radio:

Guts-eye view of my grandmother's 1948 Crosley radio
Guts‐eye view of a 1948 Crosley radio: aren’t those vacuum tubes gorgeous?

At the bottom of the picture, as if lying down for a long nap, lies what you’re no doubt looking for: the radio dial. Here it is, full frontal:

Four wave bands — AM, FM, shortwave, and police — with push buttons for on/off, sound, and station controls.

I’d forgotten that radios once had shortwave and police bands on top of the information and music channels we utilized most.

In my grandmother’s day, AM radio was primo. Lawrence Welk was her favorite! When he switched to television, so did she.

Scope the station buttons on the lower right of the picture. You’ll find my grandmother’s favorite AM station, KPO, marked by its broken, smudged glass. It’s an old San Francisco radio station. Did Welk produce his show there?

From the station buttons, my radio friends will recognize KGO, KARN and KONO. The others are all California‐based, still on the air, 70+ years later.

The FM band would have meant Future Media to my grandmother. But I wonder if she ever listened to the police band. Maybe shortwave radio? On a lonely Saturday night after her son had left home for university?

This old radio enchants as does the larger set of my grandmother’s furniture.

Entertainment center with cocktail cart; console includes turntable on upper left with storage for 78‐speed records below.

I remember the glitz of her Adolphus Hotel apartment. Dinners included soft jazz emanating from the black box and cocktail ice clinking from the cart. Fancy, intimidating moments for a little Pampa girl.

Perhaps it’s not the memories, but nostalgia for old equipment? Today’s gizmos can’t replicate the simplicity of a one‐function device. Solid state and digital technology isn’t as warm as wood and doesn’t glow like tubes. Also, satellite voices talking to the masses never impact as deeply as locals who name names.

But you reach a point where the past can’t keep talking to you.

So, we donated these pieces to Vintage Sounds Houston. They’ll find a home for these gems.

Meantime, I clear out my space, listening to the future now.

Which voice do you tune in?

Fast, Masked & Waaay Far Apart: Corona House Closings

Six months to clean, 73 days to sell, and ten minutes to close.

That’s a pandemic time stamp to wrap up the “house” part of my sister Mimi’s life.

This timing mimics, with numbing speed, the roller coaster of grief and estate matters that first hijacked my life last October.

Like clockwork, coronavirus hijacked our last biggie: the closing of my sister’s house last week. But this day brought the quick dealmaking I’ve ever experience with a house sale.

The red alerts began with the title company’s final email the day before: 

Email screams: “This is not your average house closing!” At least we were warned: nothing ‘ordinary’ here. But we’ve known that since last fall…

We gathered at the house of my other sister, Merrilynn Stockton. The thick wad of house‐closing papers arrived.

Thank the hand model (Merrilynn) for displaying the customary wad of dead trees, all “required” for a house closing.

We sisters signed. And signed. And signed. Even as our fingers and palms cramped and ached.

DH had paperwork, too: a silly affidavit with legalese about inherited versus community property.  

Merrilynn delivered the completed papers. I took the historic photos. Terri, the Title Lady, inspected our signatures.

Who’s missing from this party?

Yes, the buyer.

A young couple from outside Houston bought our sister’s house. From the documents we’d signed, we discovered they had sat in their own remote location the day before. They wrote their names a bazillion times, too. All we learned or saw of them was their signatures.

Closing on a house used to be fun. Now, it’s only memorable.

This one I’ll remember as the most creative. Which has taught me one thing.

When chaos reigns, you can do anything — even clean, sell, and close a house.

All you need is willpower.

By the way, have you updated yours—your will, I mean?

I promise that’s my last friendly reminder.

You don’t want to live this road trip.

Have Shields, Will Travel

Four months buried in the ‘burbs, this RoadBroad needed a break.

Off to The City — that’s Houston, by the way — I drove, my trunk bearing sack loads of face shields. Each was destined for other broads, all writers like me.

We Wednesday Writers “talk” weekly to share stories either written or read in the previous six days. Yes, it’s a Zoom chat — what else is there nowadays?

Each visit renews my life. Literally. And connection matters.

During last week’s screen visit, I casually mentioned a recent find: face shields, available by the table‐full at a local store.

What do they look like?”

The question landed in multiple. I tried to describe: It’s a sheet of clear plastic that hangs below your chin, almost to your chest, with a blue plastic band that goes around your head.

I modeled mine then volunteered to gather more for those interested. On Sunday, I delivered, realizing on the way that the drive marked only my second trip into The City since March. Another first in 30‐plus years living here.

How many more firsts will I live? How many in this pandemic alone?

The next surprise came with when I saw my writer friends for our carefully‐planned, all‐masked, mostly‐distanced reunion.

Happy.

No hugs.

Sad.

I learned it’s hard to stay physically away from people I care about. It’s triple‐hard when it’s several people.

I learned real human connection delivers a buzz that nothing else can. That buzz amplifies the more I connect with others in person as evidenced by another friend reunion later that day.

Maybe that’s my Big Learning from this entire coronoavirus pandemic: relationships really do matter to me, the self‐proclaimed, fiercely fiesty, independent creature.

Why I Became a Street Walker

Note to Reader: She’s on the war path. Just sayin’…

I walk four miles every day.

Before dawn each morning, I don my black pack then stuff my orange towel into the waistband.

My exercise comes from a habit born of a health crisis. It mimics, on a much smaller scale, this Covid‐19 nightmare that whacked us all three‐plus months ago.

The lessons, however, are the same.

I walked and I’ve kept walking. Then the neighbors joined in. Great! I thought.  A collective pursuit of better health!

Not so great anymore. Now, we’ve got neighbors of neighbors walking our sidewalks and pedaling our streets.

Frustration overwhelms me these days because of this one simple irritant: a common lack of sidewalk manners.

I do not mask up to walk. I would suffocate in such a four‐mile adventure.

I do, however, step off the sidewalk when someone approaches. In one fluid move, I cover my nose and mouth with my towel and never lose my stride.

The two actions matter as much as my breath. Together, the pair of moves protects my fellow walkers. And me.

In these recent weeks, a minority of walkers has matched my move. Sometimes they even beat me to covering up or stepping away.

But the more common reaction involves what I call the barrel away. These strangers scooch steadily toward me, never slowing. As they barrel into their shortened version of social distancing, I hop down to the street. These walkers, oblivious, continue their barrel away down the sidewalk. It appears only their walk matters. Is this their corona daze?

On the worst walks, crowds come. I’ll spot three to five walkers jammed in a horizontal line across the concrete, aimed head‐on at me. And as I step down, they glide by like an incoming tide.

The guiltiest party involves the high school track team but I’ll forgive them. They’re teenagers, self‐involved.

Even so, age shouldn’t matter—aren’t we all in this together?

Elected officials have re‐opened most places. To get to any of those locations, we must walk. Through parking lots, malls, and airports; along beaches and dirt roads, into/out of restaurants and shops; even down to the mailbox. Then there’s those of us who walk to live.

Can’t we all walk and, when it may save a life, step away from each other? It’s only for a few feet and a few seconds. It might keep all of us safe.

Perhaps it’s a futile question and I should give up my rant and pray. Maybe, ultimately, the littlest among us are correct in their offering of sidewalk calm:

When Cars & Age Don’t Mix

I began driving (gulp!) nearly a half century ago. I figured out that factoid yesterday after buying a new car left me feeling Ancient.

My decade‐plus car gave up its air conditioning last week.

Second time in two years. I shouted Sayonara!

A plethora of car research later, I headed out on the road.

Blast from the past: when gears want a push, not a pull.

Inside car #2 at the second dealership, I guffawed at the dashboard: push‐button gears? 

My mind flicked back to childhood. In my mind’s eye, I saw Mother struggling to shift the skinny gear stick that poked out of the steering column like an Auto Gumby. Further back, I spied, from the back seat, as my grandmother Allie pushed what looked like sticky buttons on her dashboard then her big car inched forward.

Other car memories dropped in. None of our autos had:

  • Air conditioning
  • FM radio
  • Center console
  • Seatbelts, or
  • Power anything: windows, locks, brakes, or steering 

In the demo car, I eyeballed the dashboard, looking for the familiar, the necessary.

CD player?” I asked the salesman.

Nada,” he said. “Bring your phone and play your own music.”

I didn’t dare mention I have never downloaded music. I play CD’s or an old radio. Both serve my audio‐challenged purposes.

I asked about the car radio. He turned it on. I spied nirvana: high‐definition (HD) radio. Interrupting his chatty spiel, I hijacked the dial and searched for my favorite music — the tunes that calm, never crank‐ify, me. Eureka! Classical music!

The salesman interrupted my reveries, sharing other shockers about today’s cars (is this what I get for hating to car shop?):

  • Tires filled with nitrogen, not air
  • Auto inspections = no more stickers
  • Keyless entry = bigger fob, and
  • Cameras and radar eyeball parking, lane centering
The orange‐circled headline (lower right corner) screamed at me in the checkout lane the day I got my new car.

All these radar sensors, linked together by cameras and computers, come with repeated assurances about ‘spectacular’ safety devices.

I swallowed the Kool‐Aid. It’s called New Car Giddiness.

But I swallowed hard the next day when I spotted Consumer Reports. A cover article revealed a multi‐billion dollar industry now salivating over its planned “harvesting” of driver data from American cars.

Their goal? Million‐car tracking next year alone, salivating at a multi‐market revenue stream.

All fine, if data is used legally. But everything has a cause‐and‐effect. And a price. As do new cars with new gizmos.

I head off here now — to learn how to silence most of what I just bought.

When Voodoo Beats ‘Rona

I smiled at the fence and whispered, Ah, Dorothy, we’re not in Portland…” 


Memories of this infamous shade of pink — and the tasty product it telegraphs — drew DH and I to burst our bubble of coronavirus quarantine.

The lure?

Newest location of Voodoo Doughnut. In Houston.

As it’s been eight weeks since we’ve driven into The City, this road trip felt like an excursion into a foreign land. A first after 40+ years of Big H living.

We expected a repeat of our first Voodoo experience.

Portland, Oregon. Summer, 2018.

The locals swore a Must‐Do was sampling Portland doughnuts. Not a normal food choice for either of us. But DH and I share a hard travel rule: wherever, whatever, indulge as the natives do. Within reason, of course.

A two mile walk from our hotel, we discovered the Voodoo crowd: 

The never‐ending line outside Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland, OR (Image copyright, DSC_0242.jpg.)
Whatever you can doughnut, plus more.

Their wall‐mounted menu elicited a “Holy moly!” shriek. What you see to the left is one section of a three‐paneled menu.

Hard to see the variety. I remember what we ordered: Viscous Hibiscus, Blueberry Cake, Raspberry Romeo, Voodoo Doll, and School Daze PB&J. 

Good!” understates the divinity. 

But, truth is, the ensuing sugar rush hijacked my blogger’s eye and writer’s brain. And I no longer remember what else was on the menu — doughnuts or drinks. I do remember The Pink. 

The same Portland pink dominates the Houston store, too.

I smacked on these local bites of heaven but my eyes rebelled at all the Pepto‐Bismol pink.

Maybe that’s the point? 

A second point: after you eat your box of doughnuts (because who buys or eats only two or three Voodoos?), you need yummy tummy medicine! 

So, why not sell PB in your stores, Voodoo Doughnuts? A commission later?

Oh dear reader, I beg your forgiveness for my doughnut‐brain. This post does stink like a commercial. I promise the only green exchanged came from my own pocket. And it was a pricey grab: $2.80 per doughnut on average.

The second ouch! came two days later when I stepped on the scale. 

Alas. Must we always pay in both pennies and pounds?

Can’t we catch a break in these pandemic days?

Pandemic Road: Week 10

Hello Friends! Does this picture make you feel better or worse?

I saw this artistic gem earlier today when I walked into the local restaurant known as 100% Taquito. I laughed out loud. The decision to visit this establishment today revolves around the idea that Tuesday was Cinco de Mayo. (May 5th for you gringos who don’t speak Spanish.) Otherwise known as my birthday. I won’t tell you which birthday, but I am getting closer to Medicare than I care to admit.

Having a birthday on May 5th was never a big deal growing up in Memphis, Tennessee. I think I heard about Cinco de Mayo while studying Spanish in high school, but it was not considered a significant holiday. Then I moved to Houston. I learned that Cinco de Mayo rivaled St. Patrick’s Day as a major party and celebrate day. I even heard one bartender in Austin refer to it as “Cinco de Drinko”.

When my new Houston friends discovered this was my birthday, I was taken out to many Mexican restaurants over the years. We would all gather in the bar for a couple of hours drinking margaritas while waiting until our table was ready. Mexican restaurants are really crowded on this date. Unless you’re in the middle of a global pandemic with face masks and social distancing.

Originally way back in the wayward youth of my 20s, I was told that Cinco de Mayo was the Independence Day for Mexico. Wrong. That is still a common misconception that many have today. Please stop thinking that. Cinco de Mayo represents the Mexican victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. If you need more information than that, then I would suggest you goggle it for yourself. Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th. Who says you can’t learn something by reading random blogs? You’re welcome.

I now go to other restaurants on my birthday. However, again we are in the middle of a global pandemic. So this year my Dear Friend delivered a delicious dinner from Giacomo’s to my home and we ate on a cool and breezy balcony. I enjoyed a vodka martini. It was the quietest birthday I have celebrated in a while, but I am still lucky to be safe and healthy.

I took one other picture while I was at 100% Taquito. I saw this quote by Abigail Smith Adams hanging on the wall just to the right of the counters. Just in case you don’t know who Abigail Smith Adams is, I will give you a second history lesson for the day. (Are you feeling smarter yet?) Abigail Smith Adams is considered to have been the strongest female voice during the American Revolution. She is also sometimes considered to be one of the Founders of the United States. Oh, and yeah, she was also the wife and closest advisor of the second President of this country, John Adams.

Abigail Smith Adams really doesn’t have anything to do with Cinco de Mayo. However, just like 100% Taquito, I am adopting this quote as my motto for the rest of the pandemic.

What’s your motto?

Until next week.….

Does Climbing Ladders Equal a Road Trip?

I didn’t plan these 48 hours: climbing ladders and cleaning attics.

Blame two insurance companies and Covid‐19.

The latter led to what I call a Double D.C. with DH.

Translation:  DeCluttering & Deep Cleaning Project with Dear Husband.

OMG! We have to clean this? 

With time on our hands and remembering last fall’s house‐clearing experiences, we began The Project.

This weekend, it was the garage; today, the front closet and our attic. Of all the ancient goods we rediscovered, only two of each now remain: boxes of books and nearly‐new suitcases.

There’s an ancient stuffed reindeer bagged up there, too. A post for next year’s holiday blog?

I’m grateful for an unused bedroom. It’s now two feet high with donate‐ables, all Goodwill‐bound when ‘Rona bails and frees us to venture wide again.

When an attic ladder meets sisterly memories…

Post‐attic, I scaled a second ladder, this one at my sister’s house.

Standing at its highest rung, I looked down. Gulped. Hard. The ladder’s lowest step peeks right into her empty bedroom. 

Sniff, sniff. I’m still not used to her absence, six months ago last Thursday. 

A broken heart does what it must.

I climbed the ladder because we’re checking Mimi’s roof. Big Leaks, we fear. Total repairs are guess‐timated $26K+, funds none of us has. Hearing that number, I ouched louder than I’ve cried since this nightmare began.

But as I stood atop this ladder, my inner fight grew.

Get roof repairs fully funded, somehow! Either by the crotchety manager who just cancelled the existing homeowner’s policy because we don’t insure vacant houses or the new company which insists we’ve got to see the roof! 

Me climbing ladders, much less two within an hour, marked a first. In these days, it’s particularly curious as Uncle Sam considers me ‘high‐risk.’ I stepped up anyway, scaling rungs and standing higher than nine feet, nearly twice my height.

Boys will be Brave & Adventurous?

Before the afternoon ended, I rejected a third climbing opportunity. No go! to the roof, I nearly shouted. Instead, two young hunks, shod in Super Soles, shimmied up to play their high‐in‐the‐sky games. 

I played mine. I stood on terra firma and I spun around. My eyes spotted him.

A headless man, climbing a tree. Desperate to escape. Is that a stand‐in for me, today?

Play “name this scene!”

Take a peek: what do you see?

Your answer echoes the moral of my post: climb two ladders, save half your things, then go play.

Your life will be richer.

For each and every experience you name.

What’s your Essential Business?

Standard response to a pandemic health appointment?

First came the email from my doctor’s office. Then came a phone call, instructing me: “Wait in the parking lot with the security guard until the nurse calls you.”

The next day came a second request: “Enter through the side door, off Sweetwater Boulevard.”

Then the third call, command: “You must come alone.”

Rather high maintenance for a little female problem, I thought.

When the nurse called the fourth and final time, she said, “Come up to the 3rd floor and walk straight back in to Room 5.”

She didn’t warn me about what came before the doctor’s hands.

I call it the Full Corona Treatment.

Outside the hospital stood a lone sentry. He eyeballed me head to toe then keyed the sliding glass door.

Inside, a six‐person team stood, sat, and stared. Waiting. For. Me.

Amazed by this focus; my hands shook as I snapped the photo!

Hard to see here (I became too intimidated [yes, me] to snap a closer photo), but each person wore full coverage, a head‐to‐toe white hospital suit.

Faces stayed impassive, shielded behind masks, glasses, AND plastic sheeting that extended past their shoulders. Hands raised skyward, both gloved to the elbow.

Before I could step forward, the tallest responder barked, “Temperature, ma’am!”

He poked my forehead with a steel‐spiked thermometer gizmo. No assent/dissent allowed.

The woman sitting to my right—like a queen behind her table throne—fired away: “Are you having any breathing problems? Are your lungs clear? Have you had any fever in the past two weeks? Have you traveled overseas since March 1st? Have you been around anyone with confirmed coronavirus?”

A second woman, standing near the plate glass window, shook her head “yes” to my every “no.” Questions completed, she stepped forward and banded my wrist with a yellow bracelet.

My body responded “no” to every query. Why did I merit a coward’s color? Don’t ask here! 

Orange barricades block entry/exit for all.

Moments later, I turned the corner and saw massive orange barricades extending across the hospital’s main entrance.

I froze.

My mind raced back to 9/11, ruminating, assembling, connecting.

Full racks of weighted barriers. Six‐person checker teams.

A nasty bug we cannot see.

Coronavirus as terrorist? War? 

What else will I experience in my lifetime?

The doctor did what my body needed and I’m healing nicely.

What did I learn during my CoronaWorld Medical Adventure?

  1. Most people will rise up to your expectations if they understand your ‘why’, — and -
  2. Essential business” applies as much to individuals every day as it does nowadays to grocery stores and gas stations. 

Both involve a choice. 

What better time than a pandemic lockdown to identify what’s essential in your life?

As for me, I’m focusing on my health first, and writing a close second.

How about you?