Thursday, February 14, 2013

Death Valley trip, vol. two: The Big Texan

Authoress and vehicle somewhere outside of the Painted Desert

As previously noted in these pages, an associate and I took a glorious road trip to Death Valley in 1996. On our way out, we drove down to Memphis and picked up Interstate 40. I'm not sure where the signs started, maybe somewhere around Oklahoma City.

Can you do it?

This was almost 17 years ago. I do not remember exactly what the signs said, but there was a slew of them. The started out completely cryptic and became more and more revealing the further we drove.

Take the challenge!

Mandatory majestic rock formation photo
"What the hell are these signs?" I said to my associate. "What's the challenge?"

"How the hell should I know?" she replied.

As soon as we'd forget about the last mysterious sign, another would loom on the horizon.

TAKE THE BIG TEXAS CHALLENGE! Amarillo 1 1/2 hours

By the time we hit the state line, we were crazy to know what the hell was so big in Amarillo. Eventually, the signs told us.

Free 72-ounce STEAK!

As we peeled off the miles, we learned that this free monster could be ours at the one and only Big Texan Steak Ranch. And they were open for breakfast.

"Hey!" I said, "should we go to the Big Texan?" with an inflection that indicated there was really only one answer.

"Yeah!" said my associate. "Let's go to the Big Texan!"

The plan was set. We had a destination and a purpose. As we neared Amarillo, the signs got bigger and bigger. Giant fonts screamed at us about that FREE 72-OUNCER while a smaller font quietly added if eaten in an hour. A friendly Cowboy invited us to sink our teeth into that FREE 72 ounce monster anytime. Free limo rides. World Famous. Live Rattler.

The signs counted down the time and distance between us and salvation.

One hour. Twenty five miles. Just ten more miles.

"The Big Texan?" I said with glee.

"HELL YEAH!" replied my associate.


Finally the moment was upon us. Exit we did, giddy with anticipation. We followed the signs. We pulled beneath a waving, ten-gallon hat wearing wonder--presumably the Big Texan himself--and into the lot. We parked the Prelude and ambled on in.

The joint was dead.

We stepped up to the hostess stand, where a sexless middle aged woman stood scribbling in a reservation book.

"Two please," I said.

Mystery photo
She set down her pencil and looked us over. "We're closed," she said. She was wearing a long sleeved calico dress that went from just beneath her chin clear down to the floor.

"But ... what about the signs?" I said, nonplussed. "On Interstate 40? Breakfast? Twenty-four hours?"

"We won't be open for at least another hour," she said. "Maybe an hour and a half."

My associate and I looked at each other in disbelief. It was about 10 in the morning, give or take.

"Is the gift shop open?" asked my associate.

"It is not," said Mrs. Big Texan.

She didn't apologize for the inconvenience. Or smile. Or offer an explanation. She simply regarded us with disdain one more time and buried her nose back in her book as we turned to leave.

Even though all we wanted was a cuppa and some toast and eggs, we stopped to linger for a moment by the display case that housed the mammoth 72-ouncer just the same, then stumbled back out into the glaring sunlight and did the only thing there was left to do.

We took the obligatory big cow picture.

Associate and Big Cow, photo by humble hostess

We piled back into the Honda. I slammed it into first and tore out of the lot. Goodbye mean hostess lady. Goodbye 72-ounce steak. Goodbye Big Cow.

Humble hostess and Big Cow, photo by associate

Goodbye Big Texan.

*  *  *


dean said...

I cannot help but feel that it was in fact the Big Texan that was the loser that day.

Anonymous said...


72 ounces is a small child.

"We're closed," she said... "We won't be open for at least another hour," she said. "Maybe an hour and a half."

Translation: "These gals ain't from around here. They might even be Canadian."

I can't guarantee success but if you're ever in Texas again try sayin this: "We wuz listenin' to Bob Wills on the way in and talkin' about Great-Granddaddy fightin' alongside ole Sam Houston at San Jacinto and we worked us up one mean ole hungry." Bet it'd at least get you a cuppa.


Barb Ginley said...

Maybe the evil hostess had a beef with y'all from up north. (Perhaps a drawl would have been more persuasive than a drool?)

Anonymous said...

"(H)ad a beef"? You're very naughty, Barb.

I LOVE your circa-1963 (Please, let me know how accurate that guess was?) family portrait. The five-kids-under-ten-or-so reminds me of my own family. Four-in-less-than-six for us, and it's obviously the pre-cable era-nothing on at night, yer gonna grab the entertainment available.

@Erin, my condolences on on that bull situation. Udder frustation when you herd you got a bum steer without so much as a cup of de-calf to hide your sorrow. It always be-hoofs one to plan ahead. Did you give 'em a long horn blast when you mooved out? How long until you were pasture disappointment?

I better go now. Don't want to milk this, that's not my brand.


Contrary Guy said...

It's very easy to pass through Amarillo and not stop for a huge bite of steak; I didn't get any pics of the Big Texan place when I went thru a few years ago. Did visit the half-buried cars on the west side ("Cadillac Ranch"), which I would say is a must-see. No surly attendants, no gift shop, no buildings even, just a gate, and gloriously spray-painted cars. Google it for kicks.