July 12, 2011Finished up our cover photo shoot of Donna Howell-Sickles at five last night. Had a great celebration dinner in her loft in downtown Saint Jo. Solved life and made many toasts to our success.
Ken A. and I took off this morning at seven for New Mexico. Drove for a couple hours up through Wichita Falls and Quanah. Town after town, with the same dynamic: pretty houses and failed businesses. We both got hungry and started looking for a good breakfast place. Got off the freeway at Electra and drove around the downtown. Really sad. Every store closed or not open. Failed business after failed business, finally stopped and rolled down the window. Saw a woman in a nurse's outfit going into a building: "Excuse me, is there a cafe around here that serves breakfast?" She look at us, kind of startled: "Sorry, I don't live around here," she told us. Before we could leave, another woman ran out of the building, "I'm sorry," she said, "We lost our cafe, but we have a Subway up by the freeway." She said it like she had lost a member of her family. We felt her pain and drove on to the next town, Vernon. Ken assured me we would find a great restaurant. I can't say I really believed him. We drove through downtown Vernon and it was the same thing, we saw nothing open. Boarded up restaurants from time to time, many gas stations (also closed), but it was the same thing: failure and doom, very sad. What has happened to our small town downtowns? They are endangered, if not totally gone.
Out of desperation, we stopped at a chain restaurant, Braum's. We went inside with some dread, it had the same freeway choices, picture food and empty calories, cholesterol city, salt and fat. Ken asked two men seated at the window, "is there a cafe in town that we can have a decent, old school breakfast?" One of the guys laughed and said, "The only place in town that still serves that is in the basement of the Herring Bank Building. it's shoulder to shoulder in there with a lot of talking, but you won't learn a thing."
It was an ominous warning, but Ken and I knew it had potential for adventure, and at this late date in American culture, this was a chance we were willing to take.
We drove back toward the same downtown where we had seen nothing open. We spoted the Herring Building (it really was the tallest building at four stories). We saw the sign: "The Perk 'em Up Coffee Shoppe." We parked, got out and walked into the building. The Perk'em Up was a very small and the men inside were lined up, shoulder to shoulder at two tables. As we walked inside everyone looked at us as we made our way to one of the last remaining empty booths.
After ordering coffee and ham and eggs, the waitress warned us not to let the locals take advantage of us. As if on cue, one of the locals, "Buddy" walked over to us and said, "You're not from around here, are you?" We assured him we were not. And, so, Buddy proceeded to explain to us a coffee game of high and low, where we could get our coffee for free if we correctly guessed the high and low of a random number.
We assured Buddy we were up for any game they had to offer and they proceeded to run through the game so that we were the goat, the losers of the game. And when we laughed and accepted our fate, they told us that was just a fake game and that now we were ready for the real game.
After some maneuvering, we got to the number (172), and a guy named Joe Chat (I'm not making this up) lost and had to pay for all of our coffees. The waitress assured us that Joe could afford it since he's one of the richest guys in Vernon. We weren't sure, we weren't even surprised since we were willing to pay for everyone's coffee from the start, so I guess you could say we couldn't lose. And if you were with us this day, you would have to admit that we had a good time, and a good breakfast in Vernon, Texas at the Perk'em Up Coffee Shoppe.
By the way, the game goes off at 9:30 A.M. every day.
"We'll take you there."
—True West Mantra