So yesterday the family takes a two hour road trip northwest of Austin near the town of Lampasas, Texas, which itself is northwesterly of Austin. Our purpose was to get a piece of gear for the rv that we saw on craigslist.
Our seller lived out in the country and is a somewhat well known, at least to folks like us, songwriter for several popular Texas artists who have worldwide fans. The smaller artists from Texas, some who have been popular for the past 30 years.
We made our deal and since we were near the town of Lampasas, where fellow blogger Wild Ed recently relocated to the vicinity of from about 40 or 50 miles east of there. I read that on his blog. It's a good one. Wild Ed knows his outdoors stuff. Fishing, hunting, shooting, affordable stuff.
Anyway, after dealing with an honest and friendly guy who had moved back to the family place after living several decades in Nashville. The wife looked him up on the internet and he is quite well known in country circles, also as a performer and sideman to various country acts.
But he wasn't the interesting fellow of the day. Cole was the interesting fellow I met in Lampasas. I asked our craigslist seller where the best place to eat in Lampasas was, since I haven't spent much time there since the early 90's. He told me to go to Storm's drive-in that had been there for 30 or 40 years. I'd never heard of it in all my ramblin' around that area as a kid or as a young man, but figured we could find it without much trouble and didn't even ask where it was.
Lampasas was about 20 miles from the seller's place, which I'd driven by on the highway many a time. I also used to make regular runs through this country when attended a small private college to the east of Lampasas by about 30 or 40 miles. My college roommates hailed from Llano, Mason and the Highland lakes area, a beautiful part of Texas called The Hill Country and filled with elevation and all sorts of fishing and hunting opportunities.
This area of the Hill Country is famous for it's deer hunting. World famous. Towns survive, and have survived quite well year round primarily off the revenue received during deer hunting season.
But as I often do, I digress.
So I convinced the family to take a detour out of our way home to hit Storm's which featured, according to our new songwriting friend, those thin, old-time kind of hamburgers that are sorta burnt on the edge.
I knew indeed what he meant, and the burgers were legendary at Storms. Big chains would do well to switch to their meat supplier and cooking method.
So while we were at Storms, I decided to have a rare smoke and stepped out of the no smoking allowed truck while El Fisho Jr. and his mom waited on our order. Which order, by the way, included Mrs. El Fisho having some fried mushrooms along with her burger.
Storm's is an old style drive-inn, with a nice outdoor patio eating area but with most business being done this cold day in a drive inn, order from the kiosk and carhop brings food manner.
I stepped behind our truck and two trucks over was an older gentleman about 20 to 25 years older than I. About my late father's age. He and I instantly nodded in acknowledgement that we were both banished from our vehicles with our bad habit. We met halfway and I said hello. It's one of the most interesting conversations I've had in years, and it lasted mere minutes.
Cole was in good physical shape, and like a lot of Texas lawmen and cattlemen from the past, he was once a real big fellow. Age had taken some toll on his physique, but he was in great shape with big old shoulders. He had a good deep voice that sounded healthy and full of life after a life of really arduous and just plain hard physical labor.
-Hey, I'm El Fisho, I began.
_Hey, I'm Cole. I'm from here. I was born here. This ain't the same place I grew up.
_Well, I said, nowhere is anymore, I suppose.
-Cole then says, You from Houston? You sound like you're from Houston, and you stand like a lawman.
-I told him I was from Houston, but we now live in So and So, Texas. I told him I used to be a lawman in Houston 30 years ago, but now was a prosecutor.
-I was a lawman here for many years, sir, Cole said. Back then, we all ran cattle and being a lawman was our regular job. I still run cattle, but you can't make money like you used to if you're honest about it. I spent a lot of time in Houston, brother, running cattle down there for sales, before I became a lawman here. Spent some time, you might say, down at 61 Reisner Street (El Fisho note: That's the old address/location of the Houston Police Station and city jail). I learned that if you smarted off to them coppers in Houston, it might take you a while to get up to the 9th floor, you know what I mean. They'd keep you downstairs and slap you around a bit. I still became a cop though...
Cole went on about something I didn't know. Cole told me that Lampasas was a major drug smuggling route back in the old days. He said that US 281 ran from the border to Canada and that they used to run all the dope up north through Lampasas. US 281 is one of several major highways that intersect in Lampasas.
Cole mused that the current Meth epidemic gripping much of Texas, particularly the central parts of the state, wasn't the problem. Nor was the crack cocaine that came before it in the mid-80's, or the powder cocaine in the 70's nor the Mexican heroin from the 50's and 60's.
It's a social problem, not a law enforcement problem.
-I replied that I guessed the smugglers went that way to avoid the police interdiction efforts on Interstate 35, which is roughly 50 miles east of Lampasas. Cole looked at me like I was a real dumbass. Cole then said that this was in the OLD DAYS, before I-35 existed. Now, I'm over 50, and I'm pretty sure that I-35 has been around as long as I have, so he's talking about OLD DAYS here. Maybe Cole was older than I thought.
I told him that Lampasas wasn't so bad, that I had friends whose kids lived there and worked there and that it was a better place to live than 99% of the rest of the world. I told him I'd like to have a little place in that area to go to, and that the wife liked that area as well. I told him I'd done a lot of fishing in Sulpher Creek and West Rocky Creek and Mills Creek and other area creeks and rivers over the years, and was somewhat familiar with the area.
-Cole started talking about drugs again. He said I would be surprised to know that some of the stinkiest sensimillia used to grow wild "It's a weed!" where Sulpher Creek met with the Lampasas River. Small fact I didn't know. He kind of smirked sheepishly and indicated that he wasn't supposed to know about that with a wink for added emphasis.
We were both finishing up. Cole told me he now lived in Round Rock, near his wife in the home she was in, but visited Lampasas weekly to visit kinfolk and eat at Storm's. He told me despite the fact that I thought Lampasas was 99% better than the rest of the world, he was still carrying his Colt SA Army in .45 Colt as his CHL. I conceded the fact that John Browning's 1911 creation rode in my holster at that moment as well, with the admission that you still can't be too careful these days.
With that, he bade me to "Keep So and So County a safe place, El Fisho" and we shook hands and parted ways.
Back in the truck, the food still had not come. Mrs. El Fisho wanted to know what in the world I was going on about with that old man out there. I began telling her what Cole had to say, and after a few of his nuggets of wisdom, she began saying "He told you all that while smoking a cigarette?".
He did. He did indeed.
I felt like Sheriff Bell, the Tommy Lee Jones character in No Country for Old Men, when Bell was having the conversation with his shot-and-retired-in-the-line-of-duty relative about the lawmen in his family and about his family history as Texas sheriffs and about how Bell was feeling "overmatched" by the criminal element nowadays and was considering retirement.
Special thanks to Wild Ed for letting me know in a gentlemanly way that I misspelled Lampasas, so I could correct it and not look like a moron on the internets. So be it. What a great Texas guy, that Wild Ed!