Sunday, September 4, 2011

Pottsboro, Texas

Dianna and I are amateur wine drinkers and were once again invited to the Landon Winery wine cruise on beautiful (and getting ever lower in this drought) Lake Texoma. You may recall awhile back we had gone to the last trip in May of 2011 when I noted the lakes surface ran between 610 feet to 615 feet above sea level. When we got there this time, the lake, from it’s historic high of 640 feet in 2007, was heading for the all time low of 610 feet and, without any rain in the near term, the crew felt the lake would probably dip below this historic low by the end of September. It is this same drought and historic high temps that caused the most recent stir. The Army Corps of Engineers, who maintain the lake, had just about killed off any business on the lake by announcing a toxic algea plum had invaded the water and ended all swimming and water sports for the duration of the Summer.

Thankfully our prepaid room at the Tangelwood Resort and the cruise were safe because the party boat was exempt so we made our way north on Texas State Highway 289 to bucolic Pottsboro, Texas to find the meaning of life and consume our prepaid dessert wine selections.

Of course, Lake Texoma is a man-made reservoir created by pinching two points of the Red River meandering it’s way, at once bordering and buffering, the placid State of Texas from the recalcitrant alumni of the University of Oklahoma (Go Sooners!) and the citizens of Oklahoma. The area is rich in history, well except for the fact the Army Corps of Engineers put most of it underwater in the late 30s when they halted this Rivière-Rouge.

It was after noon and, well I was hungry, and by chance saw an intreguing sign at the side of the road “Area 51 Café”. I can’t resist a teaser like that so I pulled back around and headed east toward the North Texas Regional Airport. On arrival, we could clearly see this airport had to be a former military base switched to civilian use. Rows of large hangars, oversize runways and the boxy two-story barracks plainly visible.

We found the Area 51 Café but it was closed for a family emergency. We decided to wander around a little to see what the airport had to offer. As we approached an intersection, a set of propeller blades in a planter caused me to look left and saw we were passing the unassuming location of the Perrin Field Museum. It was open and we were met inside by the museum’s tour guide, Charlie Brown. The retired Mr. Brown was a Senior Master Sergeant (SMSgt) for the then, Perrin Air Force Base in the 60s and one of the co-founders of the museum.

We sat down to watch the Museum’s video history of the field which began in 1941 as an Army Air Field training base flying Consolidated Vultee Corporation built  BT-13 “Valiant”  (also referred to as “Vibrators”). The base provided training for WWII, Korea and Vietnam era pilots flying Cessna 137 "Tweetie Bird" trainers until it’s closing in 1971. Some famous folks passed through it’s hallowed halls. In 1951, a young Denison, Texas resident (and future Air Force Captain) Chesley Sullenberger of Hudson River ditching fame, credits his interest in becoming a pilot from watching planes fly in and out of Perrin Field.

Air Force Colonel Frank Borman, Command Pilot of Gemini 7 and Commander of the first orbital flight of the Moon in Apollo 8, got his wings at Perrin. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did their water survival training prior to their Moon landing on Apollo 11 at Perrin’s water survival school on the banks of Lake Texoma. Unfortunately, for the residents of the area, the base became expendable when the Air Force determined it no longer needed Perrin's training function and ultimately shut it’s doors because of it’s proximity to the north landing approaches to the new DFW airport that was being built. Since then, it has been repurposed by Grayson County as a regional airport, campus for Grayson County College and part of Grayson County’s Probation and Juvenile Detention Centers.

The museum is very well layed out and the walking tour follows the history of military history from WWI all the way to the Middle East conflicts but I have to say, the coolest thing I saw was a leather jacket signed by Brigadier General Paul Tibbets (and his radioman, Richard Nelson) the leader of the of the 509th Composite Group who flew the Enola Gay and dropped the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan on August 6th, 1945. The jacket was ceremonial and also signed by several surviving members of the famous “Flying Tigers” as well. But pretty cool for war historians to view. You can have your opinions over the use of such destructive devices but, at some level, you have to recognize that they were patriotic Americans who were just doing their jobs to end a terrible war, which they were instrumental in doing.

The museum is a little gem and typical of so many organizations who pulled up their bootstraps to preserve a slice of history in a very big world that has all too easily forgotten it’s history. Like so many organizations, this is a shrinking alumni of people who were there and have tried to imbue the local youth with the history of the area and what part Perrin Field played. But the Air Base was closed in 1971. My kids were born in the middle 80s and haven’t been taught much about the early wars much less about the Cold War and it’s implications in today’s world. I fear, once these folks leave us, the Perrin Field story will probably die with them. It will become irrevelant like the vibrant Air Force Base it once was.

On the way to the lake, to give the trip a semblance of respectability, I had done a little research and had to check out two little known points of interest which happen to be within the area of Pottsboro along Preston Trail SH 289. The first was the town of Fink, Texas.

Hopefully most of you may recall the use of the word "Fink" or sometimes "Rat-Fink". It became a popular "friendly  insult" in the 1960s. It actually originated from an incident involving Mike Fink a 19th Century Mississippi keelboat operator. Some might remember that Mike was a character featured in the Walt Disney Davy Crockett series of the 1950s. Well he was a real person with a reputation for heavy drinking and a bit of a ladies man.

One of the stories about Fink places him in a shooting match with his best friend. The two were also rivals for the attention of one particular woman and this supposedly non-lethal "duel" had the men shooting targets off of each other's head (oh, those wacky drinking games) - winner would get the girl. When it was Mike's turn he put a round through his friend's forehead, killing him. Debate has raged over the years as to whether Mike's "unfortunate shot" was lucky or premeditated. Fink himself, wasn't talking.

Thus a "Fink" came to mean someone who was capable of betraying one's best friend, although the years have softened it a bit to that of an informer or snitch. As a verb - to "Fink" on someone was a petty betrayal for little reward. The term of "rat" for informer was added in some circles making the term "rat-fink".

So we come to the town, Fink, Texas. Originally named both Reevesville and Georgetown, Fiedrick George Finke and his family decided to settle in this part of North Texas right after the Civil War as part of a mass influx of new settlers in search of the cheap Texas land of that period to encourage migration.

A note on the name "Fink". Seems when the Sixty-sixth Texas Legislature designated every fourth Friday in June as Fink Day in Texas, in recognition of the "National Fink Week" celebration held by people who share the surname "Fink(e)". The rumor is that the Governor of Texas at the time, Dolph Briscoe, thought the spelling with the "e" was too long and shortened it. Who knows.

The second was in a place called Preston, Texas. Originally known as Preston Bend, it was part of the larger Glen Eden township which started out, like many places along the Red River, a crossing point called Holland Coffee’s Trading Post. On, what was then, the border of the Indian Territories, it was a place where frontiersmen, hunters, trappers and Native Americans could come and pick up some things on the way home for the tent or cabin.

Around 1837, Coffee established his trading post on the river and was quite prosperous. He married the beautiful Sophia and built a pretty nice home they turned into a little 19th Century Bed and Breakfast for travelers. Unfortunately, the region was a lawless and violent place (think East L.A.) and Coffee was shot and killed in 1846. Sophia let the business go but kept up the B&B with her new husband James Porter.

Sophia is a kind of local heroine in that, during the War of Northern Aggression (Civil War), she was a closet loyalist of the Confederacy and made it a point of entertaining military officers of both sides like Grant and Lee. Being a good hostess, she would listen in on the Union plans and report back to the Confederacy to help thwart the Union war effort. She is renowned for her late night ride across the Red River to warn Confederate (and Texan) Colonel James Bourland that the Yankees were coming for him. He was able to slip away and preserve his hold on North Texas. The Union forces were never able to invade or hold North Texas for the duration of the war.

The historic marker is situated just outside the Preston Bend Cemetery fence in, what is now, the Pet Cemetery. The cemetery was on a bluff just above the Glen Eden community. When the water rose in the new Lake Texoma, it consumed the Glen Eden town below the cemetery forever. If you peek around the corner of the markers, your eye follows the gravel road to the water’s edge a few hundred yards away.

We made our way to our hotel, the Tanglewood Resort just north of Fink. After disgorging our (Dianna’s) load of luggage, we settled in and caught some PBS television of BBQU TV and it’s host Steven Raichlen. Raichlen is a champion griller who runs a school for grilling on the Greenbriar Hotel resort in West Virginia. You might remember the Greenbriar was the secret site of the end of the world bunker for the US government until uncovered by the Washington Post in 1992. BBQU TV is a bad idea to watch if you’re:

A. Hungry and

B. A Bad Griller (like myself).

This guy makes entire meals on an open grill. Between all the cast iron and farm implements he uses to make his scrumpcious looking delicacies (including desserts) it, at once, mocks and pales my lowly efforts to char anything I put on a grill. He should be locked up.

But the magic time arrived and we made our way to the dock and boarded the SS. Minnow (actually the Oasis Yacht). Captain Tommy was our Skipper again and John Landon and his happy band of vinificators dragged coolers and boxes loaded with grape squeezings on board to join our fellow Wine Club members. The deal included one wine selection a piece, food catered by FastTrac charters and live music by the Tu-Tones. The stage was set.

I want to point out we are closet drinkers, not alcoholics. We got a Chocolate Finale and the Peach Wine. Forget all those foo-foo Cabs and Merlots, these babies tasted like fruit juice and candy. Nobody’s sniffing for aromatics or checking their glasses to gage the “legs” of their selections in this crowd. Just a bunch of adults drinking from plastic cups and eating finger foods while cruising around in the dark. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Like most of our travels, we always run into interesting people to meet. On this trip Emily and Gary asked to join us at our table and began a marathon discussion of everything Texan (Emily’s from Southern California, Gary’s from Minnesota) to comparing travels. The couple has had quite a colorful life together (they're married 16 years, we 36, we win!) unlike our sedate lives. Emily and Gary beat us mightily, Emily has even been to Antarctica with her mom. Emily even gave us her exclusive pick of a hotel with a room veranda that is at gondola level in Venice. We got the distinct impression she REALLY likes Venice, a lot.

The conversation made the three hour cruise zip by. I last recalled squinting at the sunset, leaving the breakwater (where Captain Tommy reminded us all that there was no nudity inside the breakwater during the safety briefing) and the next thing, we were gliding back into the darkened harbor with the occasional sound of a barking dog or the distant Country Music song wafting from the bobbing Condo Docks as we passed.

Dianna had convinced the Landon staff (some of whom had been imbibing as well) to allow us to keep our spent bottles for a future arts and crafts project. So, with tinkling bottles in hand, we debarked back to the 4Runner for the run back to the resort. The food aboard hadn’t satisfied us (well…me) sufficiently. We had the munchies and I insisted on grabbing a half Canadian Bacon and half Pepperoni pizza from the Island Bar and Grill at the Highport Marina before returning to our room and an alcohol induced sleep.

That's Lucy with the horns
The following morning we checked out and, on the way home, took a detour off the 289 to a great little breakfast place, "Lucy's Grill" in the square in Celina, Texas. "Lucy's" is a great place to eat anytime but especially on Sunday. If you get there before church gets out (generally before noon) you have the place and the breakfast buffet to yourself.  I had the eggs and chorizo with a set of pancakes while Dianna got the fresh cut fruit and a big ol' Belgian waffle in the shape of the State of Texas. After a time, we were able to waddle back out to the 4Runner and made it home without incident. Empty wine bottles, a half eaten waffle and leftover pizza put away, we finished out a lazy Sunday and looking forward to a Labor Day holiday Monday.