First, welcome to all my new followers! Thanks for following!!!
In case you haven’t noticed, the Crazy Train hasn’t taken many road trips lately. Well, there’s a simple explanation for that.
Not swim season, like, the kids are in the pool and playing and having fun, but Swim Season like SWIM TEAM and I am carting them to and from practice every day, sitting poolside, sweating my bohonkus off, watching them swim laps and then getting up at 5am every Saturday to go to swim meets. THAT kind of Swim Season.
But, I am hoping that we can start back to our adventures SOON.
In the meantime, I am writing A LOT over at It’s a Beautiful Tree. I’ve got a series right now on Caroline Ingalls and Helen Ekin Starrett that I am loving. So, if you’re into a whole other type of Crazy Train– like those women who took their families all over the place in covered wagons, then check out my work over there!
Hope to see you there!
For those Crazy Train loyal followers, I heartily apologize for our absence of late. We’ve been doing the responsible thing over the last few months—homework, scouts, student council, soccer… laundry…. And I have been working on my research for my book (and you can see my progress at itsabeautifultree.com).
But now that the weather is looking brighter, the bluebonnets are popping up on the roadsides, and summer vacation is within our reach, we have started thinking about road trip possibilities. Mostly, we are thinking about all those fantastic little dots on the map we’ve blown through on the way TO somewhere else. We’re going to start working on making those THE destinations!
And, in my family chaos, I neglected to report on our latest road trip! As our most ardent friends and followers know, it’s not the destination that holds all the fun, it’s the journey. It’s taken me awhile to get it posted. I promise to do better!
This year, we decided that since the Hub had St Patrick’s Day off, why not spend the Irish holiday in DUBLIN? Um, DUH. What red-blooded American of Irish descent wouldn’t want to spend the feast day of St Patrick—the High Holiday of all things green—in DUBLIN? Having received my early education from Irish Catholic nuns FROM Ireland, I spent every single St Patrick’s Day—from kindergarten in the St Bridgid’s Convent semi-basement classroom to the gym or cafeteria stage at St Luke’s Catholic School singing songs about corned beef and cabbage and smiling Irish eyes. It seemed almost a sin to forego to opportunity to celebrate the holiday anyplace else. So, we decided that on the dull and rainy day of March 17th, we would pile into the land yacht and head on over to Dublin.
Did I mention we were going to Dublin, TEXAS?
Um, yeah. Not the same.
Dublin, Texas, has always had a little bit of fame here in the Lone Star State as the home of Dublin Bottling Works—the place where the amazing Dublin Dr Pepper was bottled until the heartless giants of corporate conformity decided that the little guys in Texas who still had their original contract with Dr Pepper couldn’t keep doing their thing. If you don’t know the Dublin Dr Pepper story, here’s the skinny:
Once upon a time, a tasty carbonated beverage called Dr Pepper appeared on the soda market. It debuted in Waco, and was originally only available there. But in 1925, an independent bottler in the little town of Dublin obtained the first bottling franchise with Dr Pepper to bottle the goodness outside of Waco. Dublin’s distribution territory was limited to a 44-mile radius of the town, which was just peachy until Dr Pepper was eventually sold to Snapple. Weeeelllll…. Snapple quickly learned that people from everywhere were flocking to this little town in Texas for “Dublin Dr Pepper” because they had never changed their formula to include high fructose corn syrup. Dublin Dr Pepper always stayed true to the awesomeness of pure cane sugar, and their loyal followers showed their devotion with their wallets.
So when big ol’ Snapple came along, they saw that this little independent distributor in Texas was making money hand over fist on Dublin Dr Pepper. People were selling it online (not necessarily the bottler) and it was being sold outside the 44-mile radius stipulated in their contract (again, not necessarily by the bottler). Well, big ol’ Snapple didn’t like this one bit, so, although Dublin had less than 1% of the entire US Dr Pepper sales, it was time for them to stop. In 2011, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group sued Dublin Dr Pepper for trademark dilution and stealing sales from other Dr Pepper distributors by selling outside their territory. In 2012, Dublin Dr Pepper ceased to exist.
Thanks, Snapple. Thanks for ruining it for all of us. I hope the $7 million in annual sales you recouped from Dublin helps y’all sleep better at night.
Anyhow, now the old Dublin Dr Pepper Bottling Plant bottles their own sodie-pop in their super-cool vintage machinery in the same plant where the delicious Dublin Dr Pepper used to be bottled. The new stuff is called Dublin Bottling Works, and it’s not bad. The tour is pretty cool and you can see all the vintage machinery and Dr Pepper collectibles in the Plant and in the accompanying museum. Not a bad way to spend a rainy St Patrick’s Day afternoon. It wasn’t the Guinness Brewery at St James Gate in Dublin, Ireland, but it was much cheaper and took a fraction of the time.
The Dublin Bottling Works was the highlight of our trip. NOTHING else in Dublin was open! NOTHING! There were a few shops in town who’s signage said they’d be open until 5:00 or 5:30, but most places were closed. There weren’t really even any restaurants in town, and NO PUBS! What?!?!? I messaged an Irish friend of mine and said that if the Dublin in Ireland found out that there were no pubs in Dublin, Texas, the entire population of Dublin, Ireland might charter an Aer Lingus jumbo jet and fly over here and beat up the town of Dublin, Texas.
(Let me interject about Dublin Bottling Works for a sec here. As we were finishing up—right around closing time, I noticed a family pull up in front of the Plant with out of state plates. They tried the door, but it was already locked. One of the young employees opened the door and told the mom that they had already closed. “Darn!” said the mom, “we just got to town and we are continuing on and we really wanted to take the tour!” Well, THANK YOU SMALL TOWN, TEXAS for showing them what Texas hospitality is all about! I noticed that you let the family in, and I assume you stayed late and gave them a tour anyway. I just wanted to say, even if you don’t ever read this, that your gesture did not go unnoticed, and this Texan would like to thank you for your kindness. It really made me happy to see something like that. You could’ve just ignored them, but you didn’t. KUDOS!)
Anyhow, back to me. A simple Google search would’ve told us that Dublin, Texas celebrated St Patrick’s Day over the weekend preceding the 17th. Oh well. You’d think I’d have learned by now. But it definitely didn’t stop us from our photo ops, because we ALL know that the hilariousness of trips like this lie in Facebook statuses like “Happy St Patrick’s Day—from Dublin, Texas” and then everyone replies “OMG what are you doing in Dublin?” and I respond, “um, St Patrick’s Day! DUH!” However, I was quite sad that I was unable to obtain a Guinness on the Irish High Holy Day. But I did wear green. And blue (St Stephanie—I always wear blue for you!).
Although Dublin claims to be the Irish capital of Texas, the origin of the name isn’t 100% in support of that theory. Could’ve been for the term “double-in” that the settlers used to yell as a warning cry during Indian raids. Or for the double log cabins the settlers built. Or for the capital of Ireland. Regardless, it’s been there since about 1860. It’s mostly and agricultural town, and sadly, most of the businesses and buildings in the downtown area are in need of some TLC. The Ben Hogan Museum was closed the day we were in town, as was the Dublin Historical Museum. And, like I said, most of the other shops were closed for the day too. Would’ve been nice to have seen all the sights since we LOVE to immerse ourselves in the entire culture of a town while we are there.
Perhaps next year, we will check ahead of time and go on the festival weekend. And we won’t assume that stuff will be open in Dublin just BECAUSE it’s St Patrick’s Day!
Hi everyone! With the kiddos in school and soccer and student council and all that other stuff, we haven’t been able to hit the road lately. Such sadness. But I’ve been keeping myself busy at my other blog, so feel free to hop on over there and indulge my nerdy side!
As you can probably tell, the Crazy Train has been stuck at the station for awhile. Not because we WANT to be, but because the activities and homework and schedules and lives of a trio of children have kept us homebound lately!
HOWEVER, this does NOT mean that I am not writing! While the kids are selling Girl Scout Cookies, bike riding, attending birthday parties, riding bikes, making messes, having sleepovers, going on Cub Scout outings, and other various kid things, you can find me at my other blog: itsabeautifultree.com
Once we hit the road again– or I dig up pics from an adventure we took before, I’ll post! But until then, I’ll be in my treehouse.
Like most people looking for some adventure, the Crazy Train often overlooks the little gems that are closer to the homestead. Yesterday, the clouds had finally cleared, the sun appeared after several depressing days of cold and dampness, and we had a few hours to kill. So we set our sites on the towns of Lockhart and Luling. Lockhart is famous for Texas BBQ, and Luling for Texas Tea—OIL. We decided to squeeze in both.
Since I’ve been avoiding shopping for the past way-too-long, our cupboards were bare, so we jumped in the SSPhelps and hit the road, our sites set on Caldwell County. Our first order of business would be food. Rumbling tummies always take top priority.
In Lockhart, there are four Q joints, three of them rising to the coveted status of the Texas Monthly Top 50 List. Kreuz (pronounced “Krites”), Black’s, and Smitty’s. (If you’re not a friend of the Crazy Train, then you should know that one of the driving forces of the Train is Texas BBQ, and we’ll drive for hours to stand in line for the good stuff!) We’ve recently been to Black’s and Kreuz, so we decided on Smitty’s—and we were NOT disappointed.
My first foray into Lockhart BBQ was back in the early 1990s. As a photography major at St Edward’s University in Austin, we’d occasionally trek to Lockhart for lunch and picture taking. Back then, I remember two choices: Kreuz and Black’s. The only differences between them (that I could remember) were that Black’s had plates, sauce, and silverware, and Kreuz had butcher paper, no sauce, and no silverware—but they had knives that were chained to the tables. I think we usually ended up at Black’s because of the whole silverware thing, but the knives-on-chains thing at Kreuz was always fun too.
So when the Crazy Train hit Kreuz a few months ago, I was confused. It was NOT like I remembered. NOTHING. Not on the square, it was new, and it was WAY big. And where the heck were the knives on chains? Clearly I’d lost my mind.
Having graduated from college and no longer living nearby, I was unaware of the events that had unfolded in my absence. Since I HAVE to know, I nosed around and got the skinny.
In 1900, German butcher/grocer Charles Kreuz Sr. set up shop in Lockhart. Refrigeration being what it was (and Germans hating waste) Kreutz devised an alternative to trashing unsold meat—he made sausage from the lesser cuts and smoked the better ones, then slow-cooked it all over BBQ pits he built out back. He sold the meat wrapped in butcher paper, and customers often ate it with nothing but a pocket knife and their hands.
In 1948, Kreuz Jr sold the whole kit and kaboodle to his longtime employee, Edgar “Smitty” Schmidt. Smitty kept the status quo until the 1960s when he closed the grocery, keeping only a few “side” items that customers enjoyed with their meat. In 1984, he sold the business to his sons, who ran things just like dear old Dad. Until 1997, that is. Word on the street is that one son decided to retire, and a kerfuffle arose as to how to proceed. After some in-family negotiations, one son got the building and the other son’s kids got the then 99-year old business name “Kreuz.” The Kruez kids hauled some of the original hot coals ¼ mile north where they built a ginormous BBQ palace. The kids with the building kept the original pit fires roaring, re-christened the historic joint “Smitty’s,” and the Health Department 86’d the chained knives. Some baloney about sanitation and safety.
Anyhow, the Crazy Train (minus Mags) decided on Smitty’s. We arrived just before the lunch rush, and I am giddy that we did! The ribs were unbelievable. I’m usually a brisket and beef ribs girl, but the pork ribs were fanfreakingtastic. Still no silverware, still no plates. The atmosphere was great (as I remembered!) and the employees made us feel just as at home as Tootsie and Kerry do in Lexington. I chatted with one employee about how I hadn’t been in since my college days and that I wanted to take some pictures. She told me to make myself at home, and if I wanted a tour or to go into the kitchen or ANYWHERE, to just let her know and she’d take me ANYWHERE. Love, love, LOVE.
After filling our tummies with delicious Q, we strolled around downtown for a bit before heading south to Luling.
One thing about Luling is that you know you’re getting close because you can smell it. So whenever we’re headed that way, I start singing “it’s beginning to smell a lot like Luling!” to the tune of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” The kids hate it, which makes me sing it louder and more enthusiastically than I would if they’d just keep their yaps shut.
Before the railroads and cowboys arrived, the heavily wooded land where the San Marcos River and Plum Creek converged was the place where the warlike Commanche Indians set up their winter camps. Here, they fought with other tribes, Mexican silver miners, and Republic of Texas settlers. In 1874, the advance crew of the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railroad came to a halt when they had difficulty building a bridge over the steep gorge of the San Marcos River. This bottleneck forced a town to spring up literally overnight, leaving no time for the sheriff, located 16 miles away in Lockhart, to establish adequate law enforcement.
The shantytown quickly descended into chaos, becoming infamous as a place of lawlessness. Like moths to a flame, outlaws, gamblers, felons, gunmen, desperadoes, cardsharps, bandits, and other ne’er do wells were drawn to “The Toughest Town in Texas,” a town with more than 40 saloons—more than twice the number of other businesses—and no churches.
By 1877, the sheriff hired some no-nonsense deputies, and quickly, Luling became a law-abiding community. When the great cattle drives ended in the 1880s, cotton farming took over as the leading source of income.
Enter Edgar B. Davis. In the 19teens, this eccentric millionaire businessman sold off his majority shareholdings of the United States Rubber Company, gave most of his fortune away, and came to Luling to manage his brother Oscar’s oil leases. Edgar was religious, and believed that God sent him to Texas to save the town from its one-crop farming oppression and to lead it to prosperity through oil. In 1921, Oscar died, and Edgar bought up his oil leases. Although geologists told him there was no oil in Luling, Edgar insisted on listening to the advice of the bluebonnets instead. Seriously. Legend has it that he got down on the ground, put his ear to the bluebonnets, and the flowers told him the geologists were wrong.
Turns out that the bluebonnets were right. The first six of Davis’ oil wells were, in fact, dry. However, oil gushed from the seventh. On August 9, 1922, the Rafael Rios No.1 opened up the 12×2 mile long Luling Oil Field that immediately produced tens of thousands of barrels of oil. In 1926, Davis made what was, at the time, the biggest oil deal in Texas history. True to his generous spirit, he gave huge bonuses to his employees and made considerable philanthropic contributions throughout town. The Depression was unkind to this generous man, and he spent his final years paying off debt. Edgar B Davis died in 1951, and was buried beside one of his former homes in Luling—the same site where, 15 years later, a hospital would be built and named in his honor.
I’m sure you want to know why I spent all this time telling you about Edgar, don’t you? Well, here you go:
On June 11, 1926, just after completing his legendary oil deal, Edgar B Davis threw the biggest and most lavish appreciation picnic for his employees and friends. The BBQ drew an estimated 30,000 guests, and cost about $5 million. That’s upwards of $35 million in today’s dollars. At the picnic site, Edgar had a Bath House constructed as a gift to the City. The Bath House’s thick, steel-reinforced walls would provide a cool shelter for swimmers and parents, be a great gathering place for teenagers, and be sturdy enough to withstand temperamental flooding of the San Marcos River.
At the big picnic, Mr Davis supplied a bazillion bottled drinks to accompany the gazillion tons of BBQ he had served up. Unfortunately, a jillion of these bottles ended up smashed in and around the river, leaving enough broken glass to bloody visitors’ feet for decades.
This pillbox of a building, cool in the summer, and perfectly perched between the park, the golf course, and the river, fell into ruin, unusable for all the broken glass. In the 1940s, the decorative wrought iron was cut away and scrapped for the war effort. Vandals began to deface it, creating an eyesore. The decision was made to raze the Bath House, but, Mr Davis’ brilliant construction saved the structure from becoming a footnote in Luling’s history. They COULD NOT BULLDOZE IT. It was impenetrable.
So rather than continue to watch the Bath House suffer further degradation, the city buried it. With dirt. Soon, the dirt sprouted grass and weeds and plants and trees and became a little hill in the park. The City of Luling had sent Edgar Davis’ gift to its grave by the river. But, the little Bath House wouldn’t go down without a fight. That brilliant construction that was intended to safeguard the Bath House from flooding ultimately allowed it to arise from the grave. As rivers in Texas are prone to doing, the San Marcos flooded and the dirt and grass and weeds and trees and most of that broken glass was just swept down stream out to the Gulf of Mexico.
Now, Edgar Davis’ little Bath House is above ground—mostly. It’s covered in graffiti with trees growing out its windows, but it’s as strong as ever. With a little elbow grease (and maybe a little of the philanthropy that Mr Davis was so well-known for) the Bath House could actually be used for its original purpose. Maybe a staircase down to the water, some old-fashioned shoveling, and a power-wash, and Luling could use Mr Davis’ generous gift. (Personally, We’d like to see a Texas Historical Marker on it—it kinda deserves one.) But, until a Lulingite with a few extra coins takes the lead, the Bath House will sit there, waiting for people like us to find it and give it a little respect.
–Gordy, in Stand By Me, 1996
Many of the Crazy Train’s excursions lead us through tiny dots on the map, born of the railroads during westward expansion. Millions of acres lay in wait, untouched by a new breed of American explorers in search of a place to call their own. During the nineteenth century, a herd of iron horses stampeeded westward, forever changing the Western landscape. Likewise, decades later, when the US Department of Transportation paved a spiderweb of asphalt, most of the old railroad towns were bypassed, condemning them to a future of ambiguity. It was on one of these road trips that I made a connection I’d never made before. Usually, when we arrive in a town, I google its history, and we learn about any little interesting tidbits the town had—or still has—to offer. I usually read a little about how the town was founded, its subsequent growth, and its ultimate decline. Or, in some cases, what continues to keep it thriving.
It was in one of these obscure little ghost towns that I made an offhanded remark to the tone of, “gee. All these towns are named after railroad presidents and train muckety-mucks rather than the town founders.” My words were still hanging in the air above my head in a bubble as The Hub turned and looked at me in that, “you didn’t seriously just say that, did you?” expression he gets that is at times humorous, and at other times annoying as hell. “Oops. Yeah, Right. It’s a FANTASTIC idea to name those towns after railroad presidents!” I exclaimed, with a guilty giggle.
I laughed because, in a way, the Crazy Train has VERY close link to one such town. And what is this link, you may be wondering? In the northern California county of Siskiyou, there’s a tiny dot on the map called Swobe. Depending on which map you use, Swobe, California may, or may not, actually have roads. But, one thing it does not have is a population. Or buildings. Or a sign. Or a zip code. Or a train depot. Or ANYTHING. Swobe is pretty much just a dot on the map.
So just where did the name for this tiny dot originate? Just who was this “Swobe” person, and why is there a dot bearing his name? My great-grandfather, Dwight Milton Swobe, was born in 1878 in Nebraska, the son of Civil War veteran Col. Thomas Swobe and his wife, Alzina. Col Swobe worked his way up the ranks in the Union Army, ultimately retiring as Quartermaster. It was upon his retirement that he became a partner in Shears, Markel & Swobe of the Millard Hotel, Omaha’s premier hotel at the time, and one of Nebraska’s political centers. His company also provided dining cars for many railroads. It seems that Dwight Swobe got the railroad bug from his dad, because all accounts I’ve read have him working for railroads as soon as he graduated from college. The railroads brought Dwight incrementally west, became a widely respected short line railroad man, and ultimately became president of the McCloud River Railroad in 1921. He saw the Railroad through the devastation of the 1930s, making use of the line for lumber transport. The company was beloved by its employees and became known by them as Mother McCloud for continuing to offer its employees credit in company stores throughout the Depression, and then forgiving their debt afterwards. Dwight raised a family in Berkeley, and, sadly, passed away at the age of 65 in 1943. After his death, McCloud River Railroad honored him by naming a “town” after him. It’s actually just a mile of tracks between markers 12 and 13 along a picturesque span of the Railroad, but the real honor was in the gesture. Although we rarely depend on the railroads for transportation these days, The Mc Cloud River Railroad, now the McCloud Railway operates as a passenger excursion train, and an 80 mile portion of the former line is being converted into a multi-use trail for hiking, cycling, horseback riding, and other non-motorized sports. For a glimpse of my great-grandfather’s railroad, check out the scenery in the classic movie Stand By Me. The infamous bridge the boys run across to escape the oncoming train is the McCloud River Railroad’s Lake Britton Bridge in Burney Falls Memorial State Park. ***Special THANKS to the people of the McCloud River Railroad and the McCloud Railroad for posting these pictures that I borrowed from you on your webpage. Learn and see more history at mcclourriverrailroad.com, greatshastarailtrail.org/history/railroad-history-summary/, trainweb.org/mccloudrails, ancestry.com, and to my mom, my aunt, and my awesome 2nd cousin Gordon for your assistance in the ongoing Swobe family research!***
The Adventures of the Crazy Train typically follows the adventures of all five of us, and it’s usually confined to the borders of the Lone Star State. But, as today is New Year’s Eve, I felt like shaking things up. In honor of the Ball Drop in Times Square tonight, I’m sharing a story from the annals of Crazy Train History. From before there was a Crazy Train. From when there were just two newlyweds on their first adventure.
Yep. I’m going to tell you a little ditty about our honeymoon! I know, right? Y’all are SO LUCKY!
Actually, it’s not about our ENTIRE honeymoon because, well, y’all just don’t have THAT much free time. And honestly, I don’t think we are quite that interesting. It’s about one day of our honeymoon. A beautiful spring day in May 2002 that in no way, shape, or form, resembles today at all. But, I digress.
No, it’s not a sexy story about a secluded romantic island beach with the two of us surrounded by scantily-clad natives fanning us with palm fronds and feeding us exotic fruit between trysts of naked frolicking in the frothy surf of our own private beach. No. Anyone who knows us knows that nothing about that is even remotely believable. No. This is a story about how we took a romantic two-week rainbow Trafalgar bus tour around the UK with 30 strangers, visiting a different city almost every day.
I think this was the first—and the last—time we ever took a tour where we couldn’t call the shots. We went where they told us and when they told us, BUT, we did this for three reasons: Tennents Velvet, Kilkenny, and Guinness. The good stuff from the Mother Ship. The creamy, frothy, deliciousness from the British Isles in unlimited quantities was the driving force behind our decision to hop aboard the Rainbow Bus and follow the Trafalgar itinerary. No drinking and driving on the wrong side of the road for us! We would drink and ride!
About halfway through our trip, the Rainbow Bus pulled into the Irish city of Tully in County Kildare for a visit to the Comhlacht Groi Naisiunta na hElreann Teo. Or, in English, The Irish National Stud. A horse farm. A big horse farm. If you want to get down to brass tacks, it’s kind of an equine-whorehouse where rich people with really expensive pedigreed horses take them in order to impregnate them by other really expensive pedigreed horses so they can make really expensive super-pedigreed baby uberhorses for racing or status— or just so they can have extra super mega expensive horses.
We knew “The Stud,” as it’s called, was on the itinerary for the morning, but it was the afternoon we were looking forward to. See, I like horses as much as the next girl, but touring a horse farm and hearing about horse breeding is only fun for so long. Tales of “Tommy the Teaser” were stimulating, of course, but it was the afternoon in Waterford that we were excited about.
Yep, Waterford. As in Waterford Crystal. We wanted to see the Waterford Factory and watch the artisans create the sparkly masterpieces. And to SHOP in the FACTORY STORE! Ahhhhh….. Nothing gets me all giddy like Waterford Crystal at factory prices. Especially on a weak Euro day. And with free international shipping on purchases over €200? WOO-HOO! I can spend €200 on Waterford in my sleep—especially back in the days of two incomes and no kids.
So, I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with New Years Eve. Well, if you’ve ever paid attention to anything besides the musical acts and mindless banter by the commentators (most of whom I have NO CLUE who they are anymore) you would know that Waterford Crystal has EVERYTHING to do with the Ball Drop. The giant ball in Times Square is covered with 2,688 hand-made lead crystal triangles, imported from Waterford, Ireland. Each year, some are changed out with ones with updated designs.
At the Factory, there’s a replica of the Ball, and it’s on display where you can see it up close. It’s amazing. After seeing it, I would LOVE to see the real thing in New York. But up close. I hate crowds, so Times Square on New Year’s Eve is probably the last place on the planet I ever want to be.
Back in 2002, they weren’t selling souvenir crystal triangles. But, over the years, I’ve seen that Waterford has started offering them. I may have to start a collection. Maybe the Crazy Train Christmas Tree could eventually look like the Times Square Ball. If The Hub started buying them on our anniversary, they’d start piling up quickly since he counts our anniversaries in dog years. (Theoretically, that’s SEVEN Waterford Crystal triangles a year!) Anniversaries in dog years? That’s another story for another day.
Yep. You read that right. We took our daughter to a bar on a school night. But we had a really, really good reason. And no, it wasn’t because we couldn’t find a babysitter.
You see, one of the best things about Texas is that we’ve got some amazing musical legends right here in our backyard. The Crazy Train is based just spitting distance from the Live Music Capital of the World, so we’ve got plenty of concert opportunities.
In 2012, The Hub and I crossed Willie Nelson off our bucket list, but our eclectic little GirlChild was furious to have been left out. You see, Mags isn’t like most girls her age. We’ve not been tortured (yet) with whatever tween chipmunk helium techno bubblegum earworm death sentence that some parents suffer through. She’s got a heterogeneous musical palette that is admirable for a 10 year old girl. Her playlist has everything from Neil Diamond to Taylor Swift.
(The afternoon before the show.)
So when Willie and Family brought the legendary bus back through our neck of the woods in 2013, we had to go. The 80 year old Redheaded Stranger might not have too many touring years left, so we decided to carpe diem and spring for tickets. Seeing Willie at Floore’s in Helotes had always been on my Bucket List, but the folks in Luckenbach say Gruene is best. Unlike Floore’s, Gruene Hall’s stage is elevated, and it’s a lot bigger, so you’re not packed in like sweaty sardines.
If you’ve never seen a show at Gruene Hall, you should. The historic dance hall was built in 1878, and is known as “the oldest continually run dance hall in Texas.” Not much has changed in the last 135+ years. It’s something like 6,000 square feet of wooden dance floor history with the kind of bar that only serves ice cold longnecks. I think if you ordered something pink with an umbrella, they’d be forced to call the Texas Rangers on you. The fact that it’s un-airconditioned is really irrelevant. The design keeps it fairly comfortable year round.
Tickets went on sale about a month out, so I made sure to be online and ready to pony up with my plastic at the instant tickets went live. In under a minute, I was $312 poorer, but I knew I’d have one excited little girl on my hands.
On the day of the show, we prepared as best as we could.
Brothers at Grandma’s: Check!
Comfy jeans and boots: Check!
Cooper’s brisket in the belly: Check!
In line at 5pm sharp: Check!
While we were in line, we schooled Mags on the concept of General Admission Seating. There’d be a lot of standing around and waiting, but if she played her cards right, it’d be worth it. We told her that once the gate opened and they took her ticket, she’d need to high-tail it to the stage—front and center—and park it there. Don’t wait for mom. Don’t wait for Dad. Park it front and center and DO NOT MOVE.
When the doors opened, she flew to the stage and anchored herself right behind a lady in a wheelchair. BRILLIANT move, Grasshopper. She watched, wide-eyed, as Willie’s road crew prepped the stage. When they set Trigger up directly in front of her, she realized that she had the best spot in Gruene Hall.
About an hour passed before Paula, Willie’s daughter, took the stage. Paula Nelson is a joy to watch. She seems to really enjoy singing both solo and with her brothers and her dad. She has a great voice, and she’s just plain fun to watch. But after a few songs, Mags was tired of waiting for the REAL reason she was there.
But when Paula finished and she saw those braids for the first time UP CLOSE and IN PERSON, she knew that the wait was worth it. She sang. She jumped up and down. She danced. She took pictures. And when Willie threw his bandanas at the end of the show, she freaking caught one. SHE CAUGHT WILLIE’S BANDANA. He threw 2 of them, and she caught one!!! (How do I NOT have a picture of this?!?!?!)
I am SO not kidding. Holy crap. My daughter, age nine, had the most amazing first concert experience ever. She got to see a living legend at an historic venue. She got to stand front and center, and she came away with the ULTIMATE souvenir.
Since the show was on a Sunday night, we chose to crash at a nearby hotel and head back on Monday morning. Knowing that I am not a good enough liar to pull the “she was sick” card, and I am trying to teach her honesty and integrity, I told her it was OK to go ahead and tell her teachers the truth as to why she had missed school on Monday. And I sent a note. With a picture.
A couple weeks later, I saw her teacher and the principal at school. When the principal saw me, she just laughed, telling me that in ALL her years in education, she had NEVER seen such an awesome absence excuse letter. We laughed about it and I shared the story. Only in Texas is taking your 9-year old to a bar on a Sunday night to see a Willie Nelson concert an acceptable excuse from 4th grade!
Unfortunately, I am afraid I have completely ruined the entire concert-going experience for her for the rest of her life, but I am so happy to have given her this awesome memory. Now she has her sights set on meeting him, but I don’t think it’s going to be as easy as she seems to think it’ll be. But then again, she’s a pretty lucky girl! She just might find a way to make it happen.
(In case you can’t read the note, it says: Dear Mrs 4th Grade Teacher: Please excuse Mags from school on Monday… She had a ticket to the sold out Willie Nelson concert in Gruene on Sunday night and she had to stand in the front row and catch one of Willie’s bandanas! I am sure you understand this once in a lifetime opportunity was too good to pass up. Thank you! Mrs CrazyTrain)
And yes. All these photos are mine. Please be cool and don’t copy ’em.