Wednesday, July 26, 2006

My Trip to Waco... Part One

Ahh, summertime... the time of year where washing your car is all of a sudden more important... the time of year where the smell of charcoal burning sends people in a frenzy (why, I even saw a vegan running in flip flops with a sack full of Boca burgers and portobelo mushrooms)... the time of year where one thinks of his childhood, and all the fun he had not going to school for three months.

It was this summer that I decided to return home to see my mother and my hometown... the former I had seen over Christmas, and the latter I haven't seen a July of in about 5 years. And did I mention home for me is Waco, Texas? All jokes aside (and I'll address those later), I had forgotten just how hot Waco can be in the summertime. How hot you ask?

In the sleepy little town of San Diego, where I have happily paid exorbanent amounts of rent for six years, the weather pretty much stays the same. It's cool in the summertime and warm in the wintertime. And while those adjectives for temperature vary depending on the time of year, they still equate to somewhere around 72 degrees... the number most of the world sets their thermostat. Now, this past June our fine city (America's finest no less) hit "record highs" as temperatures soared to over 80 degrees... Fahrenheit!!! Everyone, myself included, were wilting in the hot Southern sun... when will relief come? Well, let me be the first to selflessly admit:

We are a bunch of whiny little pansies.

Jump to my trip home, mid to late July 2006. Waco is, as the song goes, deep in the heart of Texas. Let me get to the point. In the daytime the temprature struck upwards of 105 degrees... add the humitemp (that's when the equation of temprature + outdoor sauna = stupid idea to be outside) and you have anything from 110 and up. At night, the temprature settles to around 80... ish. Let me put it this way... A normal San Diego high is less than or equal to Waco's low.

Bottom line: I was visiting Waco in July. My friends in San Diego all scorned and laughed at me... I jokingly said "I'm going to Texas to beat the heat!" But they could see past my clever lies... Because they knew the weather was hotter there... I tell you they knew, and they didn't try and stop me. Some friends I have... some friends...

But, since Texas is aware of it's heat problem, residents and business owners have installed air conditioning in every home, building, automobile, city park, sidewalk, cowboy boot, domesticated pets, and tube of toothpaste in the state. So, basically as long as you are in a hurry to get from your car to the nearest indoor destination, you're fine...

But I digress...

So, what did yours truly do in Waco? Aside from moving lots of furniture around for my mother, I did several things.

First thing I do is roam around the city (population 113,000 people... yeah, we're probably bigger than your town, and many state capitals... you loser) just to make sure nothing had changed... and it hadn't.

I made my way to the Lion's Park, a place that has some small amusement rides, miniature golf course, large slide (which only works when you sit in a burlap sack... yes, we pay to sit in potato sacks and ride down slides... and we love it.) tennis courts which are now go kart tracks, and a community pool which is now a place to ride bumper boats. The place got its name because it is funded by, and sits right across the street from, the Lion's Club of Waco. They are like other fraternal organizations, only I guess instead of secret handshakes and fez hats they make amusement parks for children. In any case, I tend to bring my camera along on days like today, and here are some pictures I took:

This seemingly real missile or rocket thing has always been at the playground, from the metal era to the more child safe plastic-azoic era. I kind of like the idea of weapons of mass destruction at the playground... makes me feel safe to know that if anyone messes with me, there's 20 megatons of Texas whup-ass waiting to send them to the moon. Still, there are other alternative playground decorations...

I took this while jogging through the city of Bordeaux, France. Yeah, I know I just jumped countries... try and keep up. So, shown in this picture we have a children's playground with a graveyard in plain site. Kind of keeps the kids in check you know? It says to them "Enjoy your childhood now... cause youth is fleeting, and we all have to go sometime." I think the children in France are more prepared for life's disappointments... don't you?

But hey, we're talking about the country of Texas here, not France! (Yes, Texas was once a country, which is why we are the only state in the union that can fly our flag on the same pole as the American flag. Also, as exhibit B, I offer you our tourism slogan: "Texas... It's like a whole 'nother country."

So, probably the most popular attraction in Lion's Park is "Kiddieland USA." Not to be confused with "Kiddieland Vietnam" or "Kiddieland Philippines," "Kiddieland USA" has a bunch of rides meant for the little kids. Here's the entrance...

Notice the missle motif again... this time the nose cone is much bigger. Yeah, from the surface it looks like an ordinary ticket booth... but with the push of one button a rocket full of atomic death is ready to dispense its payload on some lesser known amusement parks lookin' to stomp on Waco's turf... like "Kiddieland Uganda."

Okay, so I was going to go back at night, when all the lights are on, but I forgot... so I found this picture on the web. In the distance you can see the big potato sack slide I was telling y'all about. Kiddieland is mainly composed of rides that go in a small circle. Like the one with the space ships that kind of resemble cut out oil barrels with wings and lights that rise and fall as they rotate around in a circle. Another is a boat ride, that to my memory is also fashioned out of oil barrels, only this time they float around a circle of water... and when you splash that water at your cousin you get grounded (at least when you're six). Also, as far as I know, it's the same water.

There's a small ferris wheel, which is unique in my memory as instead of sitting in open benches, you sit safely in a wire mesh cage... there'll be no jumpers in "Kiddieland USA," no sir, not like "Kiddleland Morocco." All of the honorable mentions are there too... Moonwalk something else that moves you in some kind of small circle... can you believe you've read this far just to hear my ramblings about heat and amusement parks? And good for you, you didn't even skim... because you wouldn't want to miss another Kiddleland reference, would you? (Kiddleland Belize... that's Unbelizeable!)

Still, there's more to Waco than just Kiddleland USA... Did you know that we are known for stuff too? Take the Waco Suspension Bridge for example... Here's an excerpt from the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau

Waco's Historic Suspension Bridge was the longest single-span suspension bridge west of the Mississippi when it was completed in 1870. The bridge was built with cable supplied by the John Roebling Co., who built the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Crucial to traders and travelers for well over a century, the bridge stands as an icon of Waco history and is the centerpiece of many community festivals and events including the 4th on the Brazos celebration and Brazos Nights concerts.


Well, isn't that interesting? I find that quote kinda funny, because it admits that Waco only uses the bridge as a centerpiece of Waco celebration two months out of the year. I guess most of the time it just kinda sits there, less like a centerpiece, and more like a... bridge.

While I was walking on the bridge, I spotted a child down below. He was with his mother, running ahead of her, and playing with the ducks. Remember when you were a child? All of the earth's creatures were so wonderful and new! We were so curious about animals... which is why this child was chasing the ducks and kicking them as hard as he could. Here's an action shot

Notice how I get him right at contact? Yeah, I prefer landscapes, but I can also get the action shot. So, this child runs around kicking ducks. Of course, the ducks are used to getting bread and bottle caps from humans, so they just stand there... because after all, if this child has kicked five of their friends into the water, what are the odds that he'll give him a loaf of freshly baked French bread?

While I didn't take pictures of these next establishments, I feel obligated to bring them up only because you should know that:

Waco is the birthplace of Dr. Pepper. We have a museum that sits in the original factory and bottling center. You can also buy six packs of original formula Dr. Pepper there. I forget exactly where, but there is a DP factory in Texas that somehow never caught on to the NutraSweet and Corn syrup fad, and instead use the real sugary, made from mostly sugar, original formula. As a footnote, Waco is also the home of Big Red, a soft drink widely unknown outside of Texas. It's red and sweet, and leaves that signature red upper lip on its consumers. About 15 years ago the makers of Big Red took a gamble and made Big Peach. Imagine melting a hundred peach Jolly Ranchers, adding carbonated water, and putting it in a can. Yeah, it was gross... but not as terrible as Coke Blak... Now that's a bad idea in a bottle. (For those of you unaware, they mix coke and black coffee. It tastes just like it would if you were at home and mixed the two in a glass...)

Waco, as I understand it, is also the birthplace of some notable actors, including:

Steve Martin
Jennifer Love Hewitt
That Girl Who Took Off Her Clothes On The Web Cam in American Pie

Now to the moment you've all been waiting for... The moment where I talk about one of the most infamous people associated with Waco... and it isn't who you think. The best part about this is that I had no idea this person lived in Waco. Now, to my knowledge, he wasn't born here, but has lived here for some time... originally out in the sticks, but now well within city limits, right next to Ridgewood Country Club. Wanna know who he is?

Ted Nugent

Really! So, incase you haven't turned on VH1 or OLN lately, Ted Nugent is known for being a fifth of rock has beens in "Supergroup," and probably has some sort of hunting show on OLN. He also sang "Cat Scratch Fever," but he's mostly known for hunting with a bow (as far as I know, only a bow) and acting generally nuts.

So, my mother tells me there's a mural painted of him in Waco, above the Lone Star Music store... so one day I drive up, and sure enough...

Shown here as a young hunter, the man to his right could be his father (notice Dad's huge floppy ears...). Then there's an indian guy, who looks upset because Dad is in the way of a Ted Nugent head shot. The boy in the corner has a big ol bow, if for no other reason than to shoot him a buffalo. But the fun doesn't stop there!!! Around the corner, you can enter the music store, climb some stairs, and admire all of the animals Ted has killed!

Our journey starts in the stairwell, where some goats and another horned animal greet you... But these are like the random column in Rome, standing alone on your way to the Colosseum.

Here we are in the "Ted Nugent Dead Animal Sanctuary" as I call it. Now, keep in mind this is quite normal in many states... Taxidermy shops can be found in much of Texas, and Ted seems to have kept a few in business. What you're looking at here is the way I just came in (that grey door in the left of the picture). Around the corner, you'll see this...

Yep, you guessed it! More dead stuffed animals! Why, its a veritable cornucopia of head and horns! I found it interesting, that amongst all of the animals it felt like I was in a greenhouse. For whatever reason the air conditioning I told you about earlier... the one that was in every building, argyle sock, ham sandwich and laundry detergent in the state, was somehow omitted from a room full of dead animals. Fortunately, all of the would be heat activated smelly parts of the animals were removed prior to display. And now, a picture of irony...

You may have to click on the picture to see it, but believe me, the animals do... maybe they think they have it good considering the alternative.

Finally, in my Ted Nugent Dead Animal Pictorial, I give you the happiest looking dead zebra you'll ever see...Awww... Black with white stripes... white with black stripes... who cares! I jus wanna wuv th' li'l fella!

So, after touring the room, and seeing all of the animals, and pictures of other animals that I guess wouldn't fit (in one, he was standing next to a dead RHINO), I headed out towards the door. Upon exiting, I noticed something that didn't catch my eye on the way in... Click on the image to enlarge it and see how you should be raising your children...
Three things you may not see in the picture...

One is on the left the kids are seemingly identical in their boredom... (Plus the carpet looks plush and expensive... must be nice)

Two is on the right the kids are wielding bows that are bigger than them... plus it looks like the kid in the front is in danger of receiving three arrows from the other un-bored at this time children.

Finally, only in Texas will you find a store that successfully blends Music with Archery...

On a side note, for those of you wondering about Waco and David Koresh, I submit the following: David Koresh and his Branch Davidians lived in Elk, Texas... Wanna see how close that is to Waco? Mapquesting it turns up this result:

To get from the heart of Waco to the heart of Elk (which most likely a stop light) is 16 miles.

There, I feel better! Well, that's all for part one of my two part series giving you an insiders look at the urban metropolis that is Waco, Texas (in JULY!) Come back soon and learn about other Texas staples such as:

The Texas food I enjoy, with accompanying pictures!
The Racetrack in Bellmead, complete with video of a demolition derby!
Another picture of the boy who kicks ducks!
Maybe more surprises! (I' can't think of any now...)

Okay, y'all take it easy!

Your pal,

Michael Lamendola