Our Nation's Treasures

My Photo
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Texas's I-10 to LBJ Ranch

To get back to San Antonio in time for the rodeo tonight, Mark and I leave Terlingua, Texas just after 6 a.m. Terlingua is outside the western entrance to Big Bend National park.

Mark’s driving, and once on I-10, I read to him from our handy AAA roadmap the distances between cities: 125 miles to Ozona, another 35 to Sonora, and Junction is 55 miles beyond that if he wants to push our luck. He ignored my suggestion to fill up before we got on the highway. Who knows if these towns marked on the map will even have filling stations?

Before we left on this trip to Texas, my dad warned of the desolation: lots of highway with no towns and not a lot to see. Halfway to Ozona, with Mark in control and my fill of viewing cactus and tumbleweed, I tilt the seat back and nap.

I awake about 90 minutes and 120 miles later and start chatting. Mark’s terse responses clue me in that he’s not quite his laid-back self. I see the low gas light illuminated.

“You didn’t get gas in Sonora?!”

“It wasn’t right off the highway, and I couldn’t remember how far you said the next town was. I thought we could make it.”

“You ‘thought’? Do you still think we’ll make it?

“The light came on about 50 miles ago. Signs say Junction’s about 25 miles further.”

That’s not an answer, but now I’m in the same mind as he is: Maybe we’ll make it, maybe we won’t.

After 4 hours and 40 minutes on the road, Mark exits the highway into Junction, Texas and fills our 12.5-gallon tank with 12.3 gallons of gasoline. He jokes, “We weren’t that low after all.

Into Johnson City about 1 p.m., we stop to tour the LBJ ranch.

Mark and I watch the introductory film, an engaging video tour of the place that LBJ and Ladybird made for TV in 1963, before forging the bridge across the water that fronts the 2,700-acre ranch. Lyndon Baines Johnson, our 36th President, grew from humble beginnings.

Buffalo graze in the fields. A show barn has a horse, a bull and a calf in pens. A sign reads “Don’t touch animals,” but they walk up to their respective gates when we pass, and I can’t resist.

The visitor center loaned us a CD about LBJ’s life that we listen to as we drive the ranch. He was the oldest of five, graduated high school at 15, worked a couple years and then went on to college like his mom wanted. He worked all during school too.

Impressed with what LBJ had made of himself, we return the CD and aim south. Despite the stop-and-go traffic, we arrive in San Antonio in time to clean ourselves up and go out to eat before the rodeo.

At Grady’s BBQ patrons place their orders before sitting, yet a waitress delivers the food. We order. Mark can’t pass up the special “Bucket of Beer.” Five bottles for some ridiculously low price.

We choose a booth, and just after we sit, the waitress sets in front of Mark a little metal bucket full of ice and four beers. She unceremoniously places the fifth bottle on the far side of the bucket, almost like an apology, and leaves.

Mark pulls a bottle from the ice, twists the cap off, takes a swig, grabs the lone bottle and shoves it down into the ice as far as it’ll go.

I wrinkle my brow, pondering the presentation. “You’d think that if they have a special on a bucket of beers, then they’d have bigger buckets to fit all five beers. Or, she could serve you the beer that didn’t fit; twist the top off for you, like it was meant not to fit in the bucket.” Mark sees my point.

After our imbibing, he hands over the keys, and I drive us the two miles or so to the AT&T Center. We are early enough that we can inspect the fair area. Not much going on this late in the day. I buy a cone of frozen custard, and we walk next door to our seats in the Center.

What a satisfying ending to a five-day whirlwind vacation: a rodeo that ends with a concert by Brooks & Dunn. We just sit back and relax now.