Saturday, December 21, 2002 

First official road trip stop: The Burger Bar in historic and beautiful Llano, Texas.

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Road food DELUXE - burgers and fries made even more delicious by tasteful western decor handsomely embellished for the holidays.  Dave is rendered speechless by the beauty of it all.

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Why look how nice this antique feed bag looks with a few strands of fake pearls and some gold grape thingies!  Instant glamour.

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Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Burger Bar was their wide-ranging menu choices, including nicotine patches.

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As we wolfed down our perfect burgers and fries, Dave read aloud from the local Llano gazette.  Seems they had asked eight- year-olds to write a letter to Santa with hilarious results.  Our favorite was Casey who asked for a tractor, a cash register, a puppet and an apple.

As we left the restaurant, greasy gastronomic delights safely ensconced in our guts, Dave stopped to record a gripping image and sound collage of the Burger Bar's festive holiday display for drive-thru customers.  Gilt plastic bells and velveteen red ribbon embellished a garden hose on a holder, while a hidden speaker played disembodied Christmas tunes in the style of a quiet dirge.  

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We found a smudged silk poinsettia on the ground behind the dumpster and procured it as a seed for our dashboard display.

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We followed the sun westward and were soon treated to the first of many glorious sunsets that we would witness on our trip, reaching the city of San Angelo just as darkness fell.  Shortly after we arrived, we came across two laboriously decorated houses, side by side, each resplendent with plastic totems, lights and one even sporting sound.  It was obvious an intense rivalry had developed between the two neighbors over the years.  At one of the houses, a large angel that was perched atop a light string Christmas tree had forlornly toppled backwards from the waist, her head pointed dejectedly toward the earth.  An eerie electronic Christmas carol played from a hidden device on the front porch, while the Virgin observed the whole light drenched spectacle serenely from the doorway.  Mixing of constructs was no problem for these creative folks.

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We took back to the streets of San Angelo in ever widening circles searching for other, more spectacular displays of light.  Dave quickly spotted an intriguing trail of lights down by the river.  We paid our entrance fee and tuned the radio, as instructed, to the special corny Christmas carol radio broadcast thoughtfully provided by the city of San Angelo.  As we drove along from one wonderment to the next, we began to wrack our brains, searching for the elusive topical thread which apparently unified all of the illuminated tableaux that were passing before our eyes.  "Why in the hell are there parrots sitting on that damn phone?" we asked ourselves.  "An Eiffel Tower with birds?  What the hell is that supposed to represent?"  The displays were also liberally sprinkled with multitudinous mermaids and leaping frogs, further clouding the already muddy thematic picture.  It wouldn't be until several days later that Shiree would emerge from the bathroom of the sophisticated Thai Taste restaurant in Plainview, Texas and say, "I've got three words for you: Four...Calling...Birds."

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And here's one for the teenagers in the audience:

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We pressed on further west and north, wanting to make Lubbock or Amarillo before stopping for the night.  Our next stop was Big Spring.  Having had so much success at the San Angelo trail of lights, Dave used his superior navigational skills to locate the next notch in our belt: the Big Spring Trail of Lights.  We knew it would be well worth the detour when we spotted giant red and green Christmas light poinsettias near the entrance.  We gleefully drove along what we perceived to be the trail, thrilling to the pictorial prowess evidenced by the exquisitely rendered city history in lights.  Stagecoaches, Indians, giant bunny rabbits, oil wells and wind turbines were all represented in breath-taking detail in glowing colored rope lights.  But as we rounded a bend in the path, we encountered the TRUE trail, gated by vigilant senior citizens collecting donations.  The fellow who came to our car to shake us down asked where we were from and when we told him Austin, he got all excited to have out-of-town visitors.  He lowered his voice and said conspiratorially, "Let me let you in on a little secret - when you get down there to the bottom, park your car and get out and walk down to the spring.  That's the best thing down there."  We thanked him for the tip and did just as he suggested.  It gave us an opportunity to inspect the fabulous giant poinsettias up close and make mental notes concerning construction logistics.  Rebar petal and leaf shapes were held together in the center by a sort of structural rebar basket, allowing each petal and leaf to spring out of the center at its own jaunty angle, creating an amazingly naturalistic effect.  Well, naturalistic considering each giant petal was thickly wrapped with red or green Christmas lights.  "Wouldn't some of these look just FABULOUS in front of my house?" I asked Dave.  The answer was obvious.

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Turns out the spring is indeed big.  It felt great to get out of the car and scramble around the rocks, breathing in the crisp winter air, drinking in the unequaled pleasure of discovering a huge patch of Land-of-the-Giants poinsettias gently twinkling on the bank of the spring, each reflecting a twin blossom in the darkened pool of water rippling below.

We left the brave and cheerful lights of the Big Spring Trail of Lights behind us and made one last push northward to Lubbock.  When we pulled off for gas on the outskirts of town and spotted the nearby Koko Inn, we knew we had found our first nights' lodging. 

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 The Koko Inn housed not only the fabulous Koko Klub, but also boasted the adjacent Koko's Kave for larger gatherings.  What's not to love about a motel that dares to flaunt the dreaded K in so blatant a fashion?  When we found out that for a mere $9 more we could get a room that opened out onto the enclosed pool and tropical garden, we were sold.  Dave even managed to sweet talk the clerk into giving us the lower, nonscenic room price.  We pried the suitcases out of our tightly packed vehicle and settled into the room a bit.  It was by then, of course, time for a few cocktails.  We passed the pool and entered the tufted baby blue vinyl portal to the Koko Klub like we owned the place.  One quick glance around showed mullets to be in strong evidence.  A one-man country band belted out heart-felt ballads in the varied stylings of Merle Haggard, Elvis and George Strait to the delight of a daft-looking older woman who danced with or without a partner, as she pleased.  A blousy blonde with talon-like nails and ample gold jewelry chattered animatedly to her companion - the very icon of middle class male America.  Dave and I quickly found a couple of chairs at the bar and perched there to watch the story unfold.  A woman across from us ordered a pink opaque drink in a tall glass.  Her beau curled around her in an increasingly amorous fashion as the level of the Pepto-Bismol colored concoction slowly descended the side of the glass.  They kissed passionately, breaking only to smoke long filtered cigarettes.  When Dave and I ordered call brand drinks, our young bartender warned us, "Now I'm afraid those are going to be $3.50!"  We assured him price was no object.

With a couple of premium cocktails and a day of fine adventures under our belt, we fairly glowed with love for our fellow Lubbock-lubbing humans.  Until, that is, we were so tired that it became obvious it was time to turn in.  We stumbled back over the 100 feet separating the Koko Klub from our sumptuously appointed pool-side berth and lost no time in falling into the sleep of logs.