Thursday, April 12, 2007


On this latest trip southwest, one afternoon we visited Denton, Texas, my home from age four to seven years, and spent some time at the town square, which is dominated by a fine old courthouse ringed on four sides with storefront businesses, including restaurants and antique stores. I suspect there were mostly different businesses there in the mid-60s, when Denton was merely a county seat and small college town. These days it's a larger college town and essentially an outer suburb of Dallas-Ft. Worth.

Recycled Books Records CDs, in a 17,000-square-foot purple building across one street from the courthouse, is one of the best used bookstores I've visited in years. It claims 200,000 titles in an array of rooms, everything well organized. I was especially glad to take Lilly in, where she found a few items in the enormous children's section. It's the kind of place to spend an afternoon, though a four-year-old isn't quite as patient as that, so we stayed less than an hour. But I'm glad we went all the same.

On US 69 in northern Oklahoma not far south of its junction with I-44, there's a ranch that raises exotic animals. Unless I've been hallucinating consistently over the years. But I'm fairly certain I've seen both llamas and zebras there at one time or another. This time, it seems to have been added some tourist-trap infrastructure, billing itself as a llama petting zoo or something, but I was driving and at that moment couldn't study the signs closely.

Before we toured Old City Park near downtown Dallas (see April 5), we ate lunch at Ay! Chihuahua, a Mexican restaurant located in the Cedars neighborhood in a small cinderblock structure at a corner next to a weedy vacant lot on one side and another weedy vacant lot across the street. The Cedars, which is struggling for gentrification -- I saw some condo developments in the area, and a DART stop there supporting a cluster of businesses -- isn't quite there yet. But Ay! Chihuahua was wonderful, the best meal of the trip. I had a tasty pork stew and Yuriko had a burrito about as large as the state of Chihuahua. Lilly didn't like her nachos, but she doesn't know good nachos yet. (Ann had french fries.)

Once inside the cinderblocks, the place was everything you'd want in a restaurant with Chihuahua in its name, all the bright colors and nicknacks and photos of old Mexico -- and piñatas hanging from the ceiling. Including a SpongeBob piñata, something I'm pretty sure we didn't have when we busted open piñatas at Favor's Nursery School in Denton.

In Hot Springs, there are a number of fountains in public places at which anyone can fill up jugs with hot spring water. Lilly and Ann and I spent some time at one of these fountains, me mostly sitting around on a nearby bench while they filled their cups and transferred the water from cup to cup and cup to jug and jug to jug (we'd bought two empty gallon jugs). I watched a slow trickle of people come by to fill jugs, and it was clear that some of them later sell the water. One guy in particular was filling jugs marked "Hot Springs Arkansas Spring Water" or some such.

I have to like whoever named the tiny town of Braggadocio, Missouri, which we drove nearby on our return from Arkansas. All we saw of it, in fact, was the sign on the Interstate 55 smack in the middle of the Bootheel of Missouri. According to very cursory research on my part, it was named for a character in The Faerie Queen, indicating that perhaps people used to read that classic. But I prefer a more whimsical story, about some early Italian settlers in extreme southeast Missouri with a sense of geographic humor.

The Bootheel also contains the town of New Madrid, which has lent its name to a fault zone that's going to move again someday and pull the rug out from under St. Louis and Memphis. The fault zone is no secret, and yet as far as I could tell, the people of New Madrid aren't taking advantage of it with a museum or other tourist attraction. To think like Roadside America, there ought to at least be a diorama somewhere depicting the potential distruction.

It was the first time I'd visited the Bootheel. I wondered why it wasn't part of Arkansas. It seems that the citizens of the area, at least the planter elite who counted, wanted to be in Missouri back when borders were being drawn.


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