Summertime Signhunting

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Although I had no reason to get up early on Saturday, my internal alarm made sure I was wide awake at 6:00 AM.  The Hotel Indigo in Dallas was pretty comfortable, but I haven’t been sleeping well lately.  I ended up just laying there for a while, wondering what I should do with my extra time.  The previous afternoon, I’d seen the top of an old neon sign from the expressway.  That was inspiration enough for me to do a little research.  By the time I got dressed, checked out, and hit the road I had half-a-dozen sights to see around the area.

Tag-2Although it wasn’t much past 8:00, it was already dreadfully hot outside.  When I took my camera out to take my first photo of the day, the lens was fogged up from being in the air-conditioned splendor of the hotel.  I was already regretting the fact that I’d only brought jeans when I arrived at Sunshine Laundry on Maple Ave.  This was the sign I’d seen on the way into town the previous afternoon and it didn’t disappoint.    The cleaners was established in 1941 and moved locations five years ago; thankfully, they had permission from the city to take their delightful neon with them!  It turned a pretty normal-looking business into something special.

South of the main Dallas metro, I sought out a few more signs.  A Borden’s Dairy plant was the surprising location of a vintage neon sign featuring Elsie the Cow.  The plant was in great shape (they even had a cool mural!) but the surrounding area was rather depressed.  It was clear I’d wandered into a lower-income part of the city.

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I continued through the boarded-up district of dilapidated buildings and came across a surprise:  the Forest Theater. The entire block of buildings was for sale and appeared to have been empty for some time.  A few homeless guys looked at me with the same bewilderment as the old men in Hanna, OK had the day prior as I snapped a few photos.  The great vertical sign is quite a sight; I sure hope it can be saved.

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By the time I pulled away from the Forest, I was getting hungry.  In my early morning research, I’d looked for a good breakfast place and found John’s Cafe; it sounded like the kind of place I’d enjoy.  John’s has been around since 1972 and has been run by the same Greek family the entire time.  I had my standard breakfast (which, incidentally, is their special) and was highly impressed.  The hash browns were fresh, the biscuits were homemade, and the eggs were perfectly cooked.  I’m going to have to stop in here EVERY time I’m in Dallas from now on.  I went back up to the counter to thank the owner for a great meal before hitting the road.

Before leaving the Metroplex entirely, I had one more stop to make.  Some months ago, I posted something on reddit that started a conversation with a guy about bacon (long story).  He worked at a local-owned butcher in Garland, TX and said I should stop by if I’m ever in the area, so I figured why not.  I pulled into the parking lot for David’s Meats at 10:30 & saw a tent being set up next to the shop.  As it turned out, they were having a fundraising cookout for the Texas A&M Agricultural Scholarship.  I bought a freshly-prepared brisket sandwich from the owner and talked to him for a moment about the trade (Grandpa was a rural butcher for decades) before going inside to meet my digital acquaintance.

Dal n OK (153) Garland

We shook hands and also talked a bit about the trade, each of us lamenting the loss of local vendors in a variety of trades in both Dallas and Tulsa.  Since he was on the clock, I didn’t stay long but it was still cool to stop by.  As I left, I marveled at the evolving nature of connection in our increasingly digital world.  I was about a mile down the road before I actually started eating my brisket sandwich, and HOLY SMOKES.  It was the BEST brisket sandwich I’d ever eaten!  No sauce, even.  The meat was DELICIOUS!  Perfectly seasoned, tender, flavorful.  If the cookout hadn’t been a special occasion, I would’ve had to put David’s Meats on my ‘must always visit’ list too.

I crossed the Red River at about 12:30, stopping briefly to get some photos of the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge that sits next to Hwy 75.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to make any more detours on the way home, but after essentially driving in a straight line for over two hours I was ready to make a few stops.  I drove through the rural community of Bugtussle (simply because I hear their name on weather alerts and HAD to give it a few minutes of my time) and the town of Eufala.  The latter was incorporated in 1898 (before statehood) and sits on the banks of the largest lake within Oklahoma’s borders.  The town is deep in Muscogee (Creek) Indian territory and was also once on an alignment of the Jefferson Highway.  I stopped for gas and marveled at their water tower, which looks like a giant fishing bobber.  The bank downtown reminded me a bit of Guthrie’s Victorian architecture, too.

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As the heat of the day really kicked in, I began to tire.  I drove through the towns of Checotah (home of Carrie Underwood) and Council Hill fairly quickly, though I couldn’t help wandering a few side-streets.  I drove through Haskell & Coweta, not stopping even though I saw a neon sign I hadn’t yet captured.  Next time.  I pulled into the driveway at home just before 5:00 PM, worn out but satisfied from a weekend of sightseeing.  Meeting John Carpenter was a bucket-list item and something I’ll never forget.  Wish I could tell Dad about it.

On a side note, the Mustang rolled over 150,000 miles about a week ago.  It’s still running strong and I’m so pleased that Dad’s car took me on this journey.  I hope I can get another 150k out of her!

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About rhysfunk

Rhys Martin was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1981. In 2009, he sold everything he owned and left the country, living out of a backpack for ten months. He discovered a passion for photography while traveling throughout Southeast Asia and Europe. After returning home, he looked at his home town and Oklahoma heritage with fresh eyes. When he began to explore his home state, Rhys turned his attention to historic Route 66. As he became familiar with the iconic highway, he began to truly appreciate Oklahoma’s place along the Mother Road. He has traveled all 2,400 miles of Route 66, from Chicago to Los Angeles. He has also driven many miles on rural Oklahoma highways to explore the fading Main Streets of our small towns. Rhys has a desire to find and share the unique qualities of the Sooner State with the rest of the world. Cloudless Lens Photography has been featured in several publications including This Land, Route 66 Magazine, Nimrod Journal, Inbound Asia Magazine, The Oklahoman, and the Tulsa World. Rhys loves to connect with people and share his experiences; ask him about enjoyable day trips from Tulsa, locations along Route 66, and good diners or burger joints along the way.
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