Tucumcari to Vega
Got a new nickname today: “Petite Rack.” (Don’t ask– you’d be disappointed by the answer.) Made it to a new state, as well. The day was otherwise uneventful. Decent roads and a paucity of anything resembling a hill translated into a 20-mph average for this 58-mile ride. So the biggest challenge for Kyle, Melanie, and me was finding something to do for the two hours till lunch. By unanimous decision, we opted to double back (by car) to Adrian, Texas. Here rests a charming café that marks the precise midpoint of the old Route 66. Because we hadn’t yet had a chance to check in at the hotel, I hadn’t had a chance to shower and change. I tried to imagine what was going through the minds of the staff and patrons when two normal-looking tourists walked in with a guy who was dressed like he’d just challenged Contador on the ride into Paris. (That’d be Guss Contador and Paris, Texas, of course). I did have the common courtesy to remove my hat, however; something that can’t be said for the drug-store cowboy who sat right through his lunch under a souvenir Stetson.
If the day was relatively uneventful, the evening was anything but! We stumbled upon what may be the best-kept secret in the Texas panhandle. Just a few hundred yards from I-40, tucked in the sleepy burg of Vega, is a restaurant that the road crew all agreed was the best of the entire trip yet. The story is that a woman from “off” (either L.A. or New Jersey; the data were ambiguous) was sentenced to several weeks in Vega for the amusement of reality-TV audiences. “Please don’t throw me in that there br’er patch!” she might have pleaded, because herein lay her bliss. She fell in love with a local rancher and opened up a restaurant. A couple of years and several culinary accolades later, “Boot Hill Saloon and Grill” stands as a monument to right turns on the wrong side of town. Melanie and Kyle entered with some trepidation, justified, I suppose, by the “dualie” farm trucks sitting in the parking lot with their diesel engines idling. While this made me feel right at home, I must confess I didn’t have high hopes that the menu would deviate from the TexMex/spaghetti/steak/stir-fry amalgam we’d encountered in a half-dozen diners along the route. We were all in for a surprise.
Once inside, the décor was New York bistro de-minimalized by velvet drapery and swinging doors. We were assigned Miss Terri Lynette, and as the evening wore on, we became more and more pleased with our fate. Without so much as a smirk, Terri insisted that the “Bucket o’ Crap” was the most unique appetizer we’d find in the entire panhandle. And I think I can speak for all of us when I say that it did not disappoint! The three of us had delectable entrées that were well on their way to hitting the spot when Evan (trailing behind on this, his second day off in this segment) finally made it to town and sniffed us out. Not wishing to deny this noble road warrior the same treat we had enjoyed, we all stayed to watch him scarf down his “Billy the Kid,” an open-faced barbeque sandwich topped with pickles and onions. Through it all, we seemed to enjoy the experience more than any of the other customers. Perhaps they take it for granted that every town with a population as high as 968 has a four-star restaurant run by a master chef from the coast (whichever coast that may be). Terri remained as bubbly as the beer and as sweet as the bread pudding that capped off the evening. When Evan asked if we could take a picture with her, she said, “Well shore, honey-britches. Let’s go in the back room.” The rest of us traded anxious glances, concerned that she might have gotten the wrong idea. But an enthusiastic, “C’mon, y’all!” signalled that Terri intended this to be a family photo. And family is what we felt like when she walked us out and gave us each a heartfelt hug.
-Steven Barger, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Departments of Geriatrics, Neurobiology & Developmental Sciences, and Internal Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock. He is also a Research Health Scientist in the Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.