Sunday, October 31, 2010

Night at the Wales Winery

You might recall a visit to the Wales Winery in McKinney, Texas. John “Josey” Wales was sponsoring evening events outdoors on his winery. We got ourselves on his e-mail list and (after the weather cooled considerably) decided to take one in. It wasn’t until October 2nd when, after several months of 90+ days and sometimes nights, the weather broke. The north wind pushed through and promised a rather crisp evening, which actually required long pants and jackets.
I should explain that in Texas we have two distinct weather patterns. For most of the year we ascribe to a southern wind, which rises from the Gulf full of humidity and warm (some say stifling) air. It drives up north and slams into the cooler air of the Midwest and generates the tornadoes we see on CNN and Discovery channel. Depending on where that cold front resides decides where the tornadoes strike. It has come as far south as central Texas but has reached down toward the areas at a line from Austin to north of Houston. Most of the stuff occurring in the south Texas zone are those pesky hurricanes wending their way from the Caribbean.

So, after a seriously hot summer, you hear there’s a north wind coming, we break out the fall clothing and open the champagne. Like the winter storms of New England, the nor’easter we get tends to be very cold blowing air (admittedly without the driving snow or sleet), which can cause one to cover their plants as well as the outside water spigots so you don’t freeze and break a pipe. Though the cold front moving through that night was just a short break in the action, it was welcomed relief for a hot, damp north Texas.

Joined by our friends (and concerted wine drinkers) Debbie and Torrey, we got there as sunset came upon us. Well, there was that brief unwillingness on our part to concede we were kind of lost. The guys were in front and the women were in back. Debbie had us turn up onto a road she felt was the way to the winery. Being the dutiful husband, Torrey (against his better judgement) took the path and we quickly saw we were not on the right road. Though Debbie quickly conceded she was wrong, Torrey and I took the male view of (as I’m sure Columbus did), “Hey, let’s see where this goes.” As the sun was setting (recall the unrelenting darkness of a Texas night) fear began to take hold but a quick check of my iPhone GPS app found we were actually circumnavigating around the winery land. Two quick turns and we were there. Thanks Steve Jobs, we might still be driving if it wasn’t for you.

Once there, we were herded to our parking place by two 10 year olds on a 4 wheel ATV. A stop at the entrance and we paid our $10 cover charge and, with folding chairs in hand, found a soft spot in the grass to see the stage. Lots of folks were already there (probably took the right turn) and lots of wine was already flowing. Mr. Wales had told us on our first visit that his highest sales are from the outdoor events. We could see why. Turns out the $10 cover charge went straight to the band; Mr. Wales doesn’t take a cut.

That evening we were entertained by Jon Christopher Davis  and his band. Mr. Davis is a singer-songwriter who has written for some big names like Dolly Parton, Hal Ketchum, Tammy Cochran, Sherrie Austin, Billy Ray Cyrus and Timothy B. Schmit of the Eagles. "Little Bird," as recorded by Sherrie Austin, peaked at number 4 on Billboard's Top Country Singles Sales Chart. He also recorded his own songs for Warner Brothers, Sony and MCA Records, with Vince Gill singing back up.

He has collaborated with some of the biggest names in the business like Rodney Crowell, Radney Foster, Steve Lukather of Toto, Stan Lynch of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Charlotte Caffey of The Go Go's as well as hit producers, Dann Huff (Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban) and David Z. (Prince, Jonny Lang).

As part of the festivities, Mr. Wales had a hot air balloon available and for $10 bucks you could ascend on a tether to above the tree line and look out over the landscape. Of course, I had to get the skinny on the balloon and asked questions of the crew as they assembled then inflated the balloon in an open space next to the open-air venue.

The balloon, an AX8-88, was made by Head and consisted of 90,000 sq feet of envelope owned by Ann & Lance Terry of Frisco, Texas. It’s about 73 feet high with the basket and about 60 feet in diameter. It consists of 24 panels or “gores” and uses a combination of Nomex and Kevlar in the panels and lines. The basket contains the 30 million BTU burners and the 30-gallon liquid propane fuel. Once all stretched out, the 15 person crew then partially inflates the envelope with a big fan then fires up the burner to get the balloon on it’s feet. Once up, they began taking passengers including the happy couple who just had their wedding just prior to the event.

As we settled in, ate our sandwiches ( Jimmy-Johns ....the best) and sucked down a pretty good white and red wine, we watched the balloon flair to life with each ascension. After a time, typically in the evening in Texas, the wind came up and really cooled things off. Trouble was it began to exceed the performance envelope of the tethered balloon. As we sat and listened to the soft Country sounds of Jon Christopher Davis, Mr. Wales broke in to caution those of us on the eastern side of the venue to move because the balloon was becoming unstable in the now swift moving north easterly wind. When the burner wasn’t churning out hot air, the envelope grew dark and virtuously invisible in the now complete darkness that surrounded us outside the glow of the stage lights.

That all changed for as soon as Josey put out the warning, a roiling blob of fabric rolled toward us and, like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man in Ghost Busters, laid over the crowd causing some to bolt and others to just let the blob have them, dumping people out of their folding chairs onto the cool grass carpet below. The crew had tried to quickly dump the hot air from the balloon but not before it got caught by a gust of wind. Nobody got hurt but it definitely was an icebreaker as strangers laughed with other strangers as they compared notes on the experience. There was, after all, a lot of wine flowing by then.

Once the excitement died down, we continued to sit and watch Mr. Davis and his band entertain us with old and new Country music. At one point, Josey (who may have been drinking a little more wine than the rest of us) decided to order pizza for everyone who wanted it. A surprisingly short time later, Pizza Hut delivered about twenty pizzas, which quickly touched the pallets of about 50 people. The store involved probably had to shut down their delivery orders to get this done.

Mr. Davis finished out the evening playing some old Country standards and as my bedtime approached (10 pm Central Standard time), we decided to pack up and make our way home. It was just as Josey had told us, a relaxed gathering of his friends (and customers) to drink wine, eat, and laugh. We did all those and were sad to leave but invigorated with a new sense of community that hanging out with a bunch of friendly Texans can bring you.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tecumseh, Oklahoma

Sometimes the smallness of the world can just slap you upside the head. My wife was born and raised in San Diego, California  and lived most of her young life in a suburb called Linda Vista until she graduated from Kearny High School and, much to her chagrin, married me. She lived in a home on Atlas Street and one of her long time girlfriends she grew up with, Melanie Fortson, lived next door. The Fortson’s became an integral part of her life and helped her through some tough times after the untimely death of her mother.

During our 31 years together in San Diego, friends came and went. The shiny new neighborhoods and schools of the 60’s we lived and played in morphed into old neighborhoods we hardly recognized. Many of us have lost contact with those we knew then and only fleetingly come to mind when driving through an old haunt or a High School reunion. So went our relationship with the Fortson’s.

Vaughn and Gerry Fortson brought up their five children in that Linda Vista neighborhood. Vaughn worked at General Dynamics where they built Atlas missiles and later Atlas boosters for satellites and Mercury spacecraft (now redeveloped into the New Century Center) in Kearny Mesa and Gerry was a full time mom and worked part time at the Bank of America branch in Serra Mesa. They had a long and happy marriage and were very active in their community. Dianna spent lots of time there and the Fortson kids spent lots of Summers in Dianna’s pool.

Melanie got married the same year we did (1975) and Gerry sponsored Dianna’s bridal shower and our wedding reception in her home. Melanie had three kids in rapid succession and she and her husband moved to New Mexico so he could work at a little known computer chip start-up called Intel. I began my career as a cop and Dianna went into the world of mortgage banking.

Although we lived just a few miles away, we only caught occasional glimpses of Gerry and her younger kids at the FedMart (a Wal-Mart style self-serve department store) or like passing ships on the road to somewhere. At one point, we heard Vaughn and Gerry had retired and moved with the boys to Oklahoma. Our kids grew up and when I retired, we made the move to Texas so Dianna could continue in her career path in the mortgage banking business with Countrywide.

By now, Dianna had gotten quite techno savvy and began a crusade to put her life on Facebook. She had gotten the bug locating old high school and neighborhood friends from days of yore. It seemed like every day she’d make a new “find” and relate tales of the life path a friend had taken over the ensuing years.

One day Dianna came to me gleefully reporting that she had received a Christmas card from Melanie and that Melanie was helping to organize a surprise birthday/family reunion for her 80 year old mother, Gerry. Unbeknownst to us, Gerry and Vaughn had moved to their childhood hometown of Tecumseh, Oklahoma  a mere three hours up the I-35 from our place in North Texas. We signed on and were rewarded with the look of disbelief and joy on Gerry’s face when we walked into the Tecumseh Housing Authority Community Center. We got to reacquaint ourselves with family, friends and grandkids we hadn’t seen in a bunch of years.

A year later, Melanie contacted Dianna and asked if we could come up to Oklahoma to coincide with a visit she was making to her mom’s house in Tecumseh. Melanie lives around Lincoln, Nebraska and makes the drive often. We made the time and made our way across the Red River up the mighty I-35 Purple Heart Trail to Sooner Country.

Tecumseh is a small town set aside from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Once an up and coming agricultural and transportation center in the new Oklahoma Territory, Tecumseh, not for the want of trying, became a quiet backwater berg in what is still an underutilized portion of the State.

Tecumseh is the product of the great land run (or "rush") of the 1890s. While many of us may recall the land rushes for individual land ownership, Tecumseh was born from the little known town site rushes. This requires a discussion of Sooners, Boomers, and Moonshiners.

Sooners is the name given to settlers in the midwest of the United States who entered the Unassigned Lands (like the Native Americans had never been there) before President Grover Cleveland officially proclaimed them open. Boomers were members of the "Boomer Movement," white settlers who believed the Oklahoma Territories were public property and open to anyone for settlement, not just Indian tribes. Moonshiners were Sooners who crossed into the territory illegally at night, and called "moonshiners" because they entered "by the light of the moon." Some of these folks were lawmen and surveyors who had been on the land prior to the rush and had knowledge of the best spots to claim. Moonshiners would hide in ditches at night and suddenly appear to stake their claim after the land run started, hours ahead of legal settlers. It’s always been about who you know.

Little side story to the whole Sooner, Boomer thing was the nickname given to the Oklahoma University student body and teams. For ten years they tried Boomer and even Rough Riders but in 1908 settled on “Sooners”. The OU Athletics website explains, “As time went on, "Sooner" came to be a synonym of Progressivism. The Sooner was an "energetic individual who travels ahead of the human procession." He was prosperous, ambitious, competent, a "can-do" individual. And Oklahoma was the Sooner State, the land of opportunity, enterprise and economic expansion, very much in the Progressive spirit that engulfed the old South in the 1920s.” Isn’t it great the way an institution of higher learning can ignore the history it teaches and “spin” what was an illegal act into something positive?

Although the US Government had relocated many Native American populations to the “Indian Territories” north of Texas around 1870, with names like Creek, Seminole, the Iowa, Sac and Fox, Absentee Shawnee, Citizen Band Potawatomi, and Kickapoo ( yeah, I thought that had been made up by Al Capp too). The Dawes Act of 1887 changed all that and prepared the land for the rushes of 1890 by pushing the Native Americans farther west into, in most cases, desert land unsuitable for farming or ranching. This opened up vast swaths of land for populating and extending America’s control from sea to shining sea.

When the rush came, townships competed for the opportunity to be the County Seat for a particular region, which would bring the railroads and prosperity. The two big contenders of the time were Tecumseh and  Shawnee, OK both vying for control of Pottawatomie County. Although back then government was having a hard time keeping up with all the land claims and all the town sites weren’t immediately named but were referred to by numbers. The Counties by letters.Though incorporated in 1891, it wasn’t until 1896 the town was officially named Tecumseh.

Tecumseh muscled right in and completed a County Courthouse in 1897 figuring they’d get the jump on Shawnee but a series of missteps by the town fathers and the railroads ultimately got Shawnee the County Seat. It saddens me to report that it was an extension of our very own Frisco Railroad Line (and maybe a bribe or two by Shawnee town fathers) that cut Tecumseh out of a spur to the Santa Fe, which it needed. It wasn’t until 1930 when Shawnee became County Seat.

Shawnee had their share of grief when they tried to get the jump on being the State Capitol. The original capitol had been given to Guthrie, Oklahoma  in 1889, which was also the starting point of the great Oklahoma Land Rush. Soon after, town sites all over Oklahoma began politicking to be the capitol. Shawnee even built a Governor’s Mansion in the hopes of getting the nod but lost out to Oklahoma City in 1910. Though the Oklahoma Legislature approved funds for a State Capitol building, it wasn’t until 2002 (yep, that was 2002) the final cast had been added completing the Capitol Dome. Nothing in Oklahoma moves quickly. Well there was a depression, dust bowl, two major wars and the oil bust which kind of held things up for awhile.

The town was named in honor of the great Shawnee Chief Tecumseh. I know most of you figured it was named for Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman but you’d be wrong. A figure of note, Astronaut Gordon Cooper was born in nearby Shawnee, Oklahoma and piloted both the Mercury spacecraft Faith 7 and later in Gemini 5. I learned this when we arrived in Tecumseh for our visit. We had a little time before meeting Gerry and Melanie and took the time to visit downtown. The very utilitarian 1897 Courthouse is no longer standing and has been replaced by the modern City Hall and Library complex. However, the graceful 1905 Opera House still resides across the street from the Tecumseh Historical Society Museum.

I (to the consternation of my wife) cannot pass up a museum of any kind. Leaving her in the air conditioned comfort of her Nissan Rogue; I entered the little storefront to find one of its senior members, Ruth Hulin, on duty. She directed me to several items from Tecumseh’s past including a poster for a city festival a couple of years back. That’s Ruth on the left and our friend Gerry Fortson on the right standing in front of the town movie theater circa 1946. Turns out they were both raised in Tecumseh, went to school together and are card carrying members of the Historical Society. As we talked, Gerry’s son, John came in to check on Ruth. John is the current President of the Society. Most of the region’s history is laid out in "Pott Country and What Has Come of It: A History of Pottawatomie County" by John Fortson, Gerry’s brother-in-law. Didn’t see that coming.
During that first day with Gerry, I mentioned our meeting with Ruth and John at the museum. This set Gerry off on a walk down memory lane relating tales of early Tecumseh and the surrounding lands. Gerry's neighborhood was originally the site of a Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) camp. The original owner told her he had dug up a septic tank used at the camp when landscaping the front yard. After a long afternoon of history and talk of family we made our way to Shawnee and our hotel on the I-40.

The following morning we took some time to wander around Shawnee. Shawnee too has fallen on hard times. It is still the County Seat but has long ago lost its importance as a commercial hub. Like so many towns we have visited, the railroads determined their viability but as industries changed and technology took over, towns had to diversify or die. The real death knell was the building of a huge mall on the I-40 at the north end of town. All the mom and pop businesses on Main Street practically collapsed overnight and the once vibrant business district became a boarded up ghost town.

At the east end of the business district still lies the Santa Fe Depot built of Bedford limestone blocks next to the tattered tracks. The design is Romanesque Revival with a touch of European Castle thrown in. Built in 1902 and used until the last train came through in 1956. It sat dormant until made into a museum in 1982.
I, of course, cannot pass up a cemetery either. We made our way to the City’s main cemetery, Fairview Cemetery that has graves dating back to the time Oklahoma was still “Indian Territory” prior to the land rushes. We came upon the grave of Dr. Brewster Higley. Dr. Higley was from Kansas and is credited with coming up with the original words and music to the famous western ballad “Home on the Range”. Problem was that, unbeknownst to the good doctor, somebody else published it in 1910 and Dr. Higley never saw a dime of the royalties for his widely popular song.
 The cemetery is also the final resting place of Mrs. George Fluke, the designer of the current Oklahoma State Flag. A native of Shawnee, Oklahoma she won the flag design contest in 1924.

Cool story about the Oklahoma State flag. The first Oklahoma State Flag was adopted in 1911. The 1911 flag displayed a white star, edged in blue, centered on a field of red. Inside the star, the number "46" was shown; reference to Oklahoma as the 46th state to enter the union in 1907. It is said that the flag began to fall into disfavor after the Russian Revolution in 1917. The Red flag and single white star began to be too closely associated with symbols of Communism (well we can’t have that, can we).

So in 1925 they changed it to Mrs. Fluke’s winning design of an Osage warrior's shield made from buffalo hide and decorated with seven eagle feathers hanging from the lower edge on a field of blue borrowed from the blue flag that Choctaw soldiers carried during the Civil War. The flag design was revisited in 1941 and the state name "OKLAHOMA" was added to the 1925 design.

The other cool thing which seems very popular in Oklahoma is the prolific use of painted horse (and Buffalo)statues. We first saw this during our visit to Oklahoma City (specifically the Oklahoma Bombing/Murrah Building Memorial). Businesses and government buildings acquire this art and place them outside of restaurants, Courthouses and City Halls. They usually have some historical significance and honor people, places and ideas. This one was outside the Shawnee City Hall and Safety Center.
Shawnee no longer has its original Courthouse and has substituted it for a very sanitary WPA (Works Project Administration) building with hints of Art Deco in the late 30s. Next to it is a real 1920s Carnegie Library which now houses the District Attorney’s Office. Right next to that is the newly constructed veteran’s memorial park.
Our visit with the Fortson’s behind us, we wended our way back home but not before stopping at the Original Fried Pie Shop  (I call it a shrine) at exit 51 on the I-35 at Davis, Oklahoma  . Here you can acquire handmade fried pies of every flavor imaginable. My favorite is the Pecan Pie. Loaded up with great memories and a dozen fried pies, we left the Indian Casino world of Oklahoma (Texas doesn’t have Indian Gaming yet), crossed back over the Red River and returned home.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rockwall, Texas

On a quiet Sunday, the wife and I decided to take a drive to the city of Rockwall, Texas. Well, we actually made the trek to Terrell, Texas to follow-up on an earlier blog about the No. 1 British Flying Training School (BFTS), located in Terrell. In an attempt to get into the Museum, contrary to the information I had, we discovered the Museum was only opened on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Go figure.

We then moved back into the city of Terrell to ascertain if there were any other historical sites or data I could report on. It seems that the historical content of the town consists of the really old Iris Theater built around 1926 and closed 2001, now a bookstore. Several NFL players and a USA Track Team member of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta were born there. One such notable is the actor Jamie Foxx who was raised in Terrell. It can be a very small world.

We (ok...I) was hungry and we had originally set out to have a late breakfast on the road so we cruised E. Moore (State Hwy 80 Business) to locate the historic downtown area seeking sustenance. As it turns out, historic Terrell is about two blocks long and consists of a series of old (maybe early 1900s) boarded up brick facades on both sides of the street interspersed with a couple of traffic lights. There seemed to be a dearth of eating establishments (well there was the Sonic Drive-thru). I now understand why Jamie and those NFL guys left.

Still in need of food, I decided to hightail it out of Terrell and head north up the 205 to Rockwall, Texas  . We had been to Rockwall before but I needed photos of Rockwall’s Courthouse and square. They market themselves as the “smallest square in the smallest County”. It is the County Seat of Rockwall County ( what a coincidence) and the smallest County in Texas. Rockwall was part of neighboring Kaufman County but split off in 1873. It is diminutive by Texas standards, its only 147 square miles. The average Texas county is around 1000 square miles. Brewster County is the biggest at 6,193 square miles.

However, for its size, Rockwall County residents enjoy the second highest per capita income of all 254 counties. Not too hard when the City of Rockwall holds approximately 18,000 people and the whole County only holds about 43,000.

Initially, no one could agree on a name for the County or the Town. Ultimately, the city’s name came from a unique geological feature of the area. When residents started digging for wells, they found what they thought were large underground rock walls that were initially believed to be man made. Later study of the wall-like features by geologists and archaeologists found them to be jointed, naturally occuring sandstone dikes but the names stuck. Rockwall is on the east shore of Lake Ray Hubbard a huge reservoir and recreation center within the DFW area.
They do have a pretty nice Courthouse but I think you’ll agree the 1893 Courthouse made of local sandstone was the best. It is the fourth Courthouse built in 1940 we see today. The first two burned and the 1893 Courthouse began to crumble (thus the name "sandstone") and had to be razed. The County approached the Feds for stimulus money to build their new Courthouse. They secured $52,000 in funding from the Works Projects Administration (WPA) and completed their Art Deco building for $92,000 bucks in 1941. Probably couldn’t do that in today’s dollars.
Ok...a word about well meaning native Texans and the overuse of the word "Historic". We have been to a lot of places but never have I seen "Historic" references bandied about like in Texas. Yeah, Texas, all six flags of it, is loaded with history (well it's actually eight. Spain actually held Texas twice and there was that little Republic of Fredonia  thing in 1826 but who's counting). But Rockwall city fathers ( and I'm sure the Downtown Preservation Commitee) have labeled their current Courthouse "Historic"(note transom window below). Construction started in 1940 and was completed in 1941.  Not to say there was nothing important going on (well except that little skirmish commonly referred to as WWII) but I can't say anything of significance occurred in Texas much less Rockwall during that same period.

Throughout Texas, many cities and towns describe and market their downtown areas, town squares and various points of interest as "historic". Yet many are just plain old buildings and structures some with little real "historic" value whatsoever. A running joke here is the use of generic State of Texas knock-off historical markers which just state, " On March 2nd, 1836, the Republic of Texas declared it's independence from Mexico. Wild Comanches roamed the plains and Texas Rangers protected the frontier settlements. But in this spot absolutely nothing happened."

On our arrival, I spied a new café ( and the only eatery opened, well it was Sunday) across from the Courthouse at the corner of Goliad and Rusk, TR Café and Grill . It had recently been refurbished and may be the oldest building in Rockwall. According to the owner (and the Historical Society), it was built just before 1900 and originally housed the Lowe & Allen Dry Goods store. In 1911, a millinery operated out of the building and from about 1913-1930, it was the home of Guaranty State Bank. It is now a neat little family run restaurant, which has a light menu of baked goods, sandwiches and salads. During the week, their primary function is as a Starbuck’s style coffee bar for residents trying to wake up for the trip to their big city jobs in Dallas.
The floor in the dining room hearkens back to when the building was a bank - wood for the tellers and patterned tile for the customers. The old vault is still there and is visible to the dining room. The vault houses the restaurant cooler. The owner said, if the power goes out, it can keep cold for three days without defrosting.

While waiting for the food, I couldn’t help but notice the large sections of open walls showing off the old masonry. I thought this was a nice touch and was a reminder to the patrons of the history of the old building. When I commented about this to the owner, he said that was an unintentional consequence of leaving the masonry exposed.

He explained that the original masonry was so poorly done that he had to make several structural changes to support the walls when he moved in. He said I should walk around and note the amount of “dust” on the floors. Every day they sweep and mop the floors of the restaurant. But the next morning they find more dust on the floor where there had been none the night before. Turns out, it’s the dust from the crumbling masonry constantly falling to the floor. So leaving the walls exposed makes it easier to see potential masonry failures and fix them. Gives one a new perspective on using an “historic” building for your business. Any moment, the walls could come tumbling down.

The food came and the wife had their burger and fries and I had the chicken sandwich and side salad. Very reasonably priced and big portions. Thumbs up to TR.

Like most Texas towns, Rockwall had its beginnings as a rural farming and ranching community. In more recent times, farming and ranching have been displaced by tourism and housing. When Lake Ray Hubbard was built in the late 70’s by damming the Trinity River, it flooded the western edge of Rockwall County but opened up a whole new growth industry, upscale lakefront housing, where most of the monied residents set up shop. Generally regarded as a bedroom community of Dallas, new home development has made parts of Rockwall somewhat exclusive and gated communities litter the landscape.

Rockwall has few points of interest but for you “Idol” fans, two residents of note are Jason Castro - Top 12 contestant on American Idol (season 7) and his brother, Michael Castro - American Idol (season 8) contestant. Two contestants from the same small town, how crazy is that.

Rockwall does have an extensive lakefront mall, marina and resort area along Lake Ray Hubbard that we plan to take advantage of and will report back when that happens.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Every year, the City of Grapevine, Texas celebrates it’s wine making industry with a festival called GrapeFest. This festival always gets a lot of attention and gets quite a crowd for the weekend events. Although we’ve been in Texas for almost 5 years, it’s our first time to the festival. This year the wife and I decided to go on the first day of the event which fell on a Thursday. This was done for two reasons. The first is to avoid the crowds and I’m a cheap bastard and attendance on the first day was free.

Grapevine closes off Main Street and vendors and exhibits fill the streets. There are three open air stages with a constant flow of music coming from each. GrapeFest is a big deal (think small County Fair) with lots of stuff going on for adults and kids. The central theme is Grapevine’s Wine industry from wineries to wine production.

The other is the food. To understand the importance of food at Texas outdoor events as well as the State and County Fairs that take place around the landscape during the Summer months, one needs to understand the almost fanatical Texan’s affinity for fried foods.

The Texas State Fair  in Dallas has been sort of ground zero for everything fried . It began with some simple stuff. A couple of guys wanted to spice up the drab hot dogs they were selling and decided to dunk them in cornmeal batter and toss them in the french fry fryer. Thus Carl and Neil Fletcher introduced their "Corny Dogs" at the Texas State Fair sometime between 1938 and 1942. Native Texans love to use this as a “first” and believe emphatically that Texas invented the Corn Dog. Small problem is the process was patented in 1929 including the recipe for “korn dogs” describing how they were baked in a corn batter and resembled ears of corn when cooked. The patent also included boiled ham, hard boiled eggs, cheese, sliced peaches, pineapples, bananas, cherries, dates, figs, and strawberries and skewering them with small sticks for holding.

That said, Texans have made it their mission to fry just about anything that moves (or doesn’t). Every year, the State Fair has a competition for the most creative and tasty fried foods. As you can imagine, there is serious money to be made on the Midway. Competition is fierce and many “chefs” work all year to come up with the latest and greatest artery clogging inventions imaginable. The winner gets bragging rights to Best of the Fair awards and a Wanted Poster at the offices of the American Heart Association.

Over the years, some of the winners include deep-fried Oreo cookies; deep-fried Twinkies; deep-fried pork ribs; fried cheesecake; deep-fried butter; deep-fried peanut butter, jelly, and banana sandwiches (one of Elvis’ favorites); batter-based fried Coke, chicken fried bacon, fried banana splits, deep-fried beer, fried Frito Pie and most recently, fried Margaritas (can’t wait to try that one).

So it was that when we arrived at GrapeFest, we decided to try out at least one fried food we hadn’t had before. We are, of course, from California and my sole Midway food experiences go back to the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, California. The years I attended had mostly traditional fried vegetables on a stick, corn dogs and funnel cakes so I was excited about trying something different. As we walked Main Street, we did see the more traditional stuff but came upon a lady selling fried cheesecake and fried Oreos. We decided to try the fried Oreos. I watched as she prepared our selection and dunked three into the fryer. Within a couple of minutes she had pulled them out and, after dousing them with powdered sugar and a stern warning to let them cool, we sampled our fried Oreos. Wow…they were good.

I was a bit skeptical about the viability of an Oreo bubbling away below the surface of the frothing oil but was delighted to find the Oreo had sort of coalesced beneath the battered skin into a kind of molten chocolate cake. Very tasty. Obviously we need to attend the State Fair this year and do more research to expand our horizons (and perhaps our waistlines). But, harkening back to an earlier time, we couldn’t leave without each consuming a funnel cake and watching as the powdered sugar lazily fell onto our laps. Talk about your comfort food.

Now something about Grapevine . The Republic of Texas, in the latter half of 1841, entered into the first of several contracts with a land company known as the Peters Colony part of which included the land which became Grape Vine Springs on the Grape Vine Prairie for the wild mustang grapes prevalent in the area. Since then the name has merged to just Grapevine.

James Gibson and John Hallford came from Missouri in 1844 and scouted the Peters Colony area. They returned to Missouri and then came back in 1845 with about a dozen families known as the “Missouri Group,” and they located in the Grapevine area.

By 1860, a second wave of settlers began to arrive. This group was known as the “Jenkins Group”. Both groups still have many of the descendants of these first settlers still live in the Grapevine area and are active community leaders.

Grapevine history also involves the crime spree of Bonnie and Clyde. Both have their roots in the Dallas area. Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born in Rowena, Texas. Her mother, Emma, moved the family to her parents' home in Cement City, an industrial suburb of Dallas, where young Bonnie found work as a garment sewer and later as a waitress at Marco's Café in East Dallas. Clyde Chestnut Barrow was born in Telico, a town just south of Dallas. Clyde used the secluded area north of Denton Creek in Denton County (just to the east of Grapevines Tarrant County) for hiding out and for meeting friends and family. Ok....what did Clyde Barrow and Bill Clinton have in common. They both were accomplished Saxaphone players. A Saxaphone was one of the items found in the back of the Bonnie and Clydes car after they were killed.

They passed through Grapevine, but there is no record of any robberies here by them. The one and only bank holdup here was at the Grapevine Home Bank on December 30, 1932, by Les (Red) Stewart and Odell Chambleson, who were members of the gang. The bank is now a Bermuda Gold jewelry store.

Their real connection to the Grapevine area were the deaths of two Department of Public Safety (DPS) motor officers. On Easter morning, April 1, 1934, State Highway Patrolmen E. D. Wheeler (26), H. D. Murphy, and Polk Ivy were on patrol. On this day Murphy began his first day of official patrol duty. Wheeler and Murphy stopped at Highway 114 and Dove Road to investigate a car parked a few hundred yards east on Dove Road. Patrolman Ivy continued on west and later discovered Wheeler and Murphy were not following. He returned and found Patrolmen Wheeler and Murphy lying dead in the road. A marker now marks this site.

An eyewitness account ( and a really bad Movietone filmed recreation) stated that Barrow and Parker fired the fatal shots and this story got widespread coverage in the press before it was discredited. A new member of the gang, 23 year old Henry Methvin later admitted he fired the first shot, after assuming Barrow wanted the officers killed; he also admitted that Parker approached the dying officers intending to help them, not to administer the cold-blooded point-blank coup de grâce the discredited eyewitness had described. Having little choice, once Methvin had shot Wheeler, Barrow then joined in, firing at Patrolman Murphy. Most likely, Parker was asleep in the back seat when Methvin started shooting and took no part in the assault.

Bonnie and Clyde had committed 200 robberies in twenty states and killed thirteen people, including nine law enforcement officers during their reign of terror. One of the nine was Deputy Sheriff Malcolm Davis, a Grapevine native. Davis had gone to west Dallas on January 6, 1933, to look for gang member Odell Chambles. About midnight a car stopped in front of Lillian McBride’s house; McBride was the sister of Raymond Hamilton who was also a member of Bonnie and Clyde’s gang. Davis went out the back door and came around the side of her house. He met the man who turned out to be Clyde Barrow. W. D. Jones, a part-time companion of Bonnie and Clyde, shot and killed Mr. Davis (not Clyde, as had been reported).

Bonnie and Clyde were tracked down, ultimately ambushed, and killed on May 23, 1934, at Gibsland near Arcadia, Louisiana. Interestingly, both had life insurance policies at the times of their deaths. Though both policies were paid in full by American National of Galveston, Texas, since then, because of those pay-outs, the insurance industry changed their policies to exclude pay-outs in cases of deaths caused by any criminal act by the insured.

Next time you’re in Las Vegas, make sure you check out the Ford sedan they died in at the Primm Valley Resort and Casino in Primm, Nevada, where it is now on display - complete with bullet holes, blood and gore.

No discussion of Grapevine would be complete without talking about wine. Grapevine is in Viticulture Region 2 (North Texas) and has 7 wineries. It is the home of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association  who are the de facto lobbying and advocacy group for the Texas wine industry.

There were several winery taste-testing booths and for 9 coupons (13 with the commemorative glass) you could sample Grapevine’s finest. I am a wine woosie (Dad’s rolling over in his grave as we speak) and usually stay with sweeter dessert wines. Two that really met that criteria were the Summer Rain by  Suvino Winery and the best I tasted was called Ice Wine, from Inniskillin, a Canadian wine  from their side of the Niagara. I highly recommend this one, even if you’re not a wine drinker. It tasted like the sweetest white grape juice you’ve ever had. Really…..I couldn’t discern the alcohol at all.
Wine is important but what really put Grapevine on the map was it’s participation in a little known commercial development originally called the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Airport. Completed in 1974, two-thirds of it’s 18,076 acre landmass (bigger than the island of Manhattan) is within the City of Grapevine. You can imagine the share of baggage fees this gets them. But the land originally belonged to Grapevine resident and Confederate General Richard Montgomery Gano.

General Gano was originally a doctor by training and a veteran of the War of 1812. He settled in the Grapevine area where he became a farmer and rancher. When the Civil War (TWONA) began, he was commissioned by the Confederate States of America and commanded a group of Grapevine Volunteers. They joined forces with the 7th Kentucky Cavalry and waged war in Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. Toward the end of the war, he led part of the Texas Cavalry consisting of mostly of Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole Indians to push back the North throughout Mississippi and Arkansas before surrendering his forces in January, 1865. Having become an ordained preacher, he returned to North Texas to preach and continue farming and ranching. The site of his farm is now the location for DFW Airport. The airport is the second busiest in Texas, third busiest airport in the US, and the eighth in the world.

Because of it’s proximity to DFW Airport, Grapevine also has some 5 star hotels and resorts. Probably the finest is the Gaylord Texan  on the banks of Lake Grapevine. The Gaylord Texan is one of the four Gaylord Resorts in America.

The Gaylord Texan (Dana, you remember dinner there) is unique in that the entire hotel and four acres of center courtyard are under a ginormous glass atrium. The domed courtyard accommodates a huge garden and a full size facade replica of the Alamo. It even has a river walk similar to San Antonio’s without the gondolas. The interior is decorated throughout the year for various holidays culminating in an ornate Christmas display. Every year in their Convention Center, international artisans hand-sculpt two-million pounds of ice, including thrilling ice slides that stand more than 2 stories tall called ICE! This year featuring A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles Schulz - 10 different holiday scenes created entirely of ice. It’s all kept at a chilling 9 degrees. When you buy a ticket they lend you a serious winter coat to keep you warm.

Night was upon us and the following day was a workday for Dianna so we loaded up our booty of purchased wines, dusted of the powered sugar and began the long trek back to the parking lot. Ok, I neglected to check on closer lots and after all, the lot we used was free….and about a mile away, and we had to cross a treacherous open recently mowed field….in the dark. Hey, we needed the walk.