“Where the heck is Ben Wheeler, Texas?” I thought when I learned on Facebook that an old secretary/friend from my agency days was moving to this East Texas town just west of Tyler and only about an hour from Winnsboro. Before we left on our trip I told her we needed to get together when the kids and I made it out to Texas and though she offered to drive up to Winnsboro, I figured that the best time would be on our return trip from Mississippi because it would only be a few miles out of the way.
I’ve known Durenda and her husband Tim since the 80’s. They, along with their kids, were willing participants in a number of industrial films I made for various clients. We shot at their house and Tim, a marketing guy who worked at JC Penney, played a construction truck driver for a Nissan Diesel Truck video. They also appeared in a send-up commercial for a fake product called KTed Hair Producing Formula, that was parodying Ted Koppel, late of ABC News’ Nightline for an Armour Foods sales meeting, of all things. In the commercial we say the product is good for the whole family and we show the Chalmer family all wearing wigs akin to Ted Koppel, even the dog (my ex’s dog Bubba, a Miniature Pinscher). Durenda was our department’s assistant for a while as she made the rounds of the agency. She is now a schoolteacher in Irving but is looking for a district closer to their new digs.
|KTed Spoof Commercial Still - The Chalmers circ. 1990
|Chalmers East Texas spread
|Chalmers' Red Rock Estate
|Callie and Cooper
Their house was cozy and nicely decorated with Tim’s uncle’s colorful art. Tim was nice enough to occupy the kids while Durenda and I reminisced about the good ole agency days. He showed them around their property, including the friendly horses from next door. Ironically, another ex-agency person we knew had organized a reunion at a local Irving pub, but I was already back here in California and could not attend. It would have been nice to see everyone after 15 years. The agency was like family back then and I don’t think I will ever experience a work situation like that again in my lifetime – and I’m not the only one to think that as we use Facebook to keep up with each other. After a few hours of visiting we got back on the road in order to get back to Winnsboro for dinner. It seems we’re always trying to make dinner in Winnsboro. Hmmmm. The visit was a nice cap to the Mississippi excursion.
|Tim and the kids feed horses
|Avery makes a new friend
We basically had 13 days left in Winnsboro before beginning the trek back to Moorpark and so we had to get in everything we hadn’t gotten to earlier. These included haircuts, oil change for the Honda, packing and shipping a box of my old stuff from when I was a kid that wouldn’t fit in the car and going through boxes of Molly’s old clothes to see if there was anything that Olivia could use. I also had a fatty cyst cut out of my back by brother-in-law, Van. Who else would you want to cut into you.
|The Honda gets a change thanks to Van
|A hole in my back or is that Senor Wences' mouth?
|Grandma & the Kids
Thirteen days was a long time when kids don’t have anything else to do so I had to come up with activities to keep them from getting bored or from watching marathons of Star Wars movies or a box set of How I Met Your Mother, which Olivia enjoyed doing with my sister in her upstairs suite. My mom did her part, including helping Avery bone up on his letters before he'd start kindergarten only a few weeks later. She also aided Olivia in determining what old clothes to keep and what was more Johanna's style.
|Grandma the tutor
|Do they make my hips look big, Grandma?
|More mom's style
The first post Mississippi adventure was a trip to Sulphur Springs, the next biggest town to the north of Winnsboro, along interstate 30 and home to the Southwestern Dairy Museum. As I have spoken, this part of Texas was dairy country, one of the largest in the nation, and like all industries, they needed a commemorative museum to celebrate all things dairy. From the giant cows and silo in front to the historical displays depicting the early days of milking cows inside, the museum was quite interesting and educational. They even had an old fashioned soda fountain where the kids got some fresh ice cream. The woman tending bar was nice to the kids and gave them a bunch of bread to go feed the ducks and fish in the pond outside the museum.
|Avery has an utterly good time
|Bellied up for a cool one
|A little too much exercise will get you this
|The ducks know who has the goods
In terms of the gift shop I got out of there relatively unscathed – the kids only souvenirs were commemorative plastic ice cream scoops. After feeding the ducks in the Texas heat we drove by the town square where my sister said was a one-of-a-kind bathroom - only one in the nation, she remarked. Right in the middle of this quaint Texas courthouse square – very typical of small town America – was an ultra modern all-glass public bathroom built by Commercial Glass & Mirror Company. Basically, it was a mirrored box that looked like something out of a Dr. Who episode. What made this water closet unique was that those inside could see out but outsiders couldn’t see in. Of course, we tested it in only a way Avery could test – he mooned the world from inside. We discovered that it was true – nobody saw his bare butt or at least we hope.
|A tribute to Poppa
|All glass mirror bathroom in Sulphur Springs, TX
|"You can't see me...ha!"
It’s so hot in Texas in August that farmers feed their chickens ice so they won’t lay boiled eggs. That reminds me of a joke about Texas heat. A Texan dies and goes to hell where the devil keeps it at 120 degrees and 90% humidity. The devil notices the Texan is happy and carefree. He asks him why is he so content and the Texan replies, “Why shouldn’t I be…this is like Houston in August.” The devil is furious so he turns the temperature down to freezing and he goes over to the Texan who is still grinning. “Why are you still smiling,” asks the devil. “Well, it’s because the Rangers have finally won the World Series.”
You don’t do too much outside when it’s blazing hot – even going in the pool, which the kids did a few more times, required sitting and sweating out on the patio. This quickly turned into watching them through the windows while staying inside. Even in the house I would sweat sometimes. But even with the heat I had the crazy idea of taking the kids to the zoo. I remembered we took Olivia to The Caldwell Zoo in Tyler when she was small and she enjoyed it so we packed up the Honda and we zoomed to Tyler zoo. I also planned to take them to the Tyler Discovery Science Museum, which was recommended by my mother – at least that was inside.
|Avery gets a tickle petting a goat
|"Hey, Charlie, did you hear the one about a pelican and a goose enter a bar..."
Tyler is about an hour’s drive from the house and the quickest route is the back way on Farm to Market roads all the way into Tyler. It’s a nice zoo but it sure was hot, even in the morning and because of the heat most of the animals were hiding in their bunkers trying to stay cool. The kids had a good enough time, especially at the gift shop, which is strategically placed at the entrance or should I say exit...and unavoidable.
|You come hear often? I love your neckline.
|I don't think I can fit in your shoes.
|"Hear kitty, kitty, kitty."
|A rare Moorpark monkey spotted in Texas
|Two bears and a boy enter a hot zoo...
After a visit to a local pizza place with a pretty good buffet we headed to downtown Tyler and the Discovery Science Museum. The kids went crazy and had a terrific time. One section had a variety of animatronic dinosaurs, including one that Avery could actually ride. Another contained all kinds of playacting scenarios – from a hospital to a vet clinic to a bank to a courtroom to a firehouse and every other occupation you could think of. Avery and Olivia could have stayed there all day. There were all kinds of other interactive displays, such as a tornado wind booth, pirate ship, mine tunnel where you can experience what an earthquake feels like, robots, and my favorite – a TV News Station where the kids can play news anchor, camera operator and director.
|Olivia gets all lawyered up
|Dinos at the Discovery
|Like Aunt like niece
|"Yes, we have plenty of fake money, ma'am."
|"Your big red heart sounds great Clifford."
|Wallstreeter in training.
|You can never find parking when there's a fire.
|Aye, matee, I spot SpongeBob, too.
|On the set of Good Morning Winnsboro
|Olivia wants all the limelight
|So that's what a tornado feels like.
Next door they added even more interactive science displays where the kids can learn about all kinds of things, from inertia to static electricity.
We would have shut the place down but when we arrived they
offered a joint ticket for a show at the planetarium at Tyler Junior College,
about a ten-minute drive from where we were. It was the last show of the day and we were the only one’s in
the audience. I thought it would
be more of a typical planetarium show but it was a very interesting film about
aquatic dinosaurs called Sea Rex, about
Julie, an imaginative young woman, as she travels from a modern-day aquarium to
the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. It was Avery’s first planetarium visit but I hope to take
him to the Griffith Park Planetarium to see a real show. I do remember leaving the cool Center
for Earth & Space Science Education and entering the 5:00 pm heat
doldrums. I think we kind of moved
in slow motion to the car because the weight of the heat was just too much. Ahhhhh! Air conditioning.
|Learning the bones...Granddaddy would be proud.
|Olivia B the Science Geek
|Tyler Junior College
A funny side story…while at the Discovery Museum I was standing around when I heard a woman ask if I was Rich Burlingham. I was a little taken aback as I had never seen this older lady before in my life and I only knew a few people in Tyler. Come to find out, she and her husband used to live in Winnsboro and their kids were patients of my sister who now have kids of their own, one of which was also named Avery. This was rivaling the Kim-Kim story. She saw my Avery wearing a Winnsboro T-shirt and asked him his name. She was a talker and spent the next 20 minutes learning all about them and their kids and their grandkids and where they are all living and their vacations and what they had for breakfast…well, maybe not that but I’m sure if I didn’t excuse myself I would have found out that and much more. It’s a small, small world, after all.
|The Two Averys
It was our last Saturday in Texas and so I called up my friends Bob and Steve to see if they’d go with us to downtown Dallas to take a photo of the kids and I where JFK was shot holding our hometown paper, The Moorpark Acorn. As you may recall, I had forgotten to pick one up before we left and Johanna had to mail one to Winnsboro so we couldn’t get photos of us along the first leg of our trip I thought that nobody else would have a photo at Dealey Plaza. To make Avery happy I thought we could park the car at the DART light rail station near Bob's house and take the train downtown. Avery wanted to go on a subway but the only place in Dallas where the trains went underground for a short while was going into downtown. We did just that and Avery enjoyed the ride. We got off at Union Station, where the Amtrak trains come into and which was only a short walk from Dealey Plaza. Bob and Steve said they’d meet us there.
|DART tunnel entrance on the Red Line
|Who's that guy in the blue shirt?
|Natural train riders
We strolled over and just as we got to the corner of Houston & Commerce I heard my name called out. It took a while but I finally saw Bob’s head sticking out Steve’s car as they were looking for parking. We hooked up soon after and proceeded with picture taking, making sure we got the Schoolbook Depository Building in the background. In all my years in Dallas I didn’t ever go visit the site of the JFK assassination. I drove past it but never visited on foot. I do recall one rainy day when coming up Commerce and stopped at a red light at Houston St. when a Jamaican women pounded on my car looking for a ride. For some reason I said okay and let her get into the car. She was very grateful she didn’t have to walk miles in the pouring rain and I was glad to help out.
|On the spot where JFK was shot.
|Steve, Bob and the kids
|Why didn't this shot win the Acorn contest?
Bob and Steve drove us pack to our car and we then caravaned over to eat lunch at Snuffer’s in Prestonwood. The original Snuffers over on Greenville Avenue next to the Granada Theater had been torn down and was getting rebuilt. Snuffer’s had been a college hangout and a location in several student films, as was the theater next door. They have great fried mushrooms and burgers. After lunch I wanted to get a photo of the kids and I at our alma mater, SMU and so we drove to campus. It was Saturday in early August so it was fairly quiet and we were able to park near Owens Fine Arts Building where the three of us had spent most of our time making films and TV shows and editing all night long in the basement. We walked around the arts center, which has been expanded and renovated over the years. They added the Greer Garson Theater. The film and television department moved out to another building and so the old television studio, which was originally supposed to be a dance studio when they built the building back in the 1960’s reverted back to just that – a dance studio. We went inside to see the old hangout. It was both joyful and sad.
|Three amigos at what was the old SMU TV studio.
|Showing off the alma mater
|The old equipment room - what do you mean the CP is checked out!
After getting some photos in front of the SMU main sign, with Dallas Hall in the background, Bob had to get home to take his daughter kayaking and we had to go meet Kevin, Kim and the cousins in Allen so the reunion had to end. We headed north to have dinner with the Brooks clan so the kids could see their cousins one more time.
We headed back to Winnsboro late after a long day. We all got to do something we liked and the kids got to see where Dad spent four crazy years way back when. I’d say I’d like my kids to go to my alma mater but it’s way too expensive now.
We spent Sunday getting packed and buying supplies. We would leave early Monday so we could get to NASA’s Space Center Houston with enough time to see everything. Here we go – the last leg begins.
(Next on A Road Trip Adventure Across America: A tour of East Texas, NASA and Galveston Island)