Saturday, July 22, 2017

Matchbook Memories: Big Texan Steak Ranch


If you're reading a blog about Texas Pop Culture then you're probably already aware of the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo. What you may not be aware of is the 2002 film Waking Up in Reno.  In it, a quarter of fairly obnoxious couples go on a road trip and like the best road trips, they make a stop at the legendary restaurant.

This wasn't just some quickie lip service about a famous roadside Route 66 attraction that was actually shot in some Hollywood sound stage.  The production filmed scenes at the actual legendary destination.

Billy Bob Thornton is one of the stars of the film and the Big Texan scene is pretty much what you'd expect.  But before we get to the inevitable "full belly" situation, a true Amarillo legend makes a cameo in the film.  If you've been to the restaurant, you've no doubt met Hodie Portfield.  He appears in the film in his trademark animal skin outfit:

Well, as you can imagine, Billy Bob takes on the Big 72 Ounce Steak challenge and succeeds!  And while he didn't do it in real life, fictionally eating the 72 Ouncer can go on his Texas Resume alongside fictionally fighting in the Alamo.

As often happens in real life, four and a half pounds of beef was a little too much for Billy Bob's character and things get a little out of hand.  As you can see, Hodie steps in to help out, which I assume would also happen in real life:

So the next time you head up to Amarillo, let Billy Bob's story be a cautionary tale:  there's no need to try to eat that much food in one sitting.  But it you can do's free!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Nolan Ryan: The Comic Book

The comic book medium has never been shy about branching out from superheroes to other genres.  That frequently includes biographies and as we saw with the Tom Landry comic, Texas sports heroes tend to have interesting lives.  So with that, we take a look at the Personality Comics issue from 1991 that chronicled the life of baseball legend Nolan Ryan.

As biographies tend to do, this one starts with Ryan's birth in Refugio, TX and his childhood in Alvin, TX as well as his time as a student athlete playing basketball and his love of baseball.  As a young man his talent was clear and the book covers his recruitment by the Met's farm team:

I couldn't tell you why that scout looks so sinister.  Maybe because he's from New York?  Like all ball players, Ryan had to pay his dues in the minor leagues.  The comic chronicles his struggles working his way up to get to the Mets.

The struggle was only beginning once he made it to the majors.  He had to work through injuries to survive and attempt to thrive in the big leagues.  But the book also features personal highlights during the time.

Once he got to California his career really started to thrive.  Batters started to fear facing him on the mound and he got his famous nickname:

The no hitters started and Ryan's reputation as an incredible talent was solidified.  It was time for his triumphant return to the Lone Star State with a position with the Houston Astros (which apparently came with large, cartoonish bags of cash!).

Soon came his 3,000th strikeout and then his 4,000th strikeout.  Records were breaking and stats were racking up.  Nolan's next move was closer to home as he joined the Texas Rangers, which he apparently celebrated by standing atop a mountain and posing:

A quick mention is made of the Nolan Ryan Foundation Museum in Alvin but since the comic was published in the early 90's it was unable to include Ryan's time as the Ranger's CEO or as a beef pitchman.  Let's hope someone picks up where the now defunct comics company left off and we get a sequel!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Texas Marvels


As you can see above, it's not uncommon for this blog to highlight comic book issues that take place in, or feature, the great state of Texas.  But sometimes there's not enough in the issue to warrant a full blown blog entry.  So here's a couple of quick hits from our pals at Marvel:

We start with Frank Castle, the Punisher.  He visited the Lone Star state awhile back with his pal Spider-Man but this time he's going to have to eat his barbecue by himself.  But that's okay, that's the way he likes it.  There's a reason they call it a "One Man War on Crime."   And this's gonna be a massacre:

When he hears about a bad hombre in Houston who's pulling the old S & L scam in Houston, Frank decides it's time to head south to dish out some punishment.  Unfortunately. he and his sidekick have a fairly limited understanding of Texas geography:

Well, as you can imagine, with the Punisher there's always plenty of bang bang punch punch.  Suffice it to say, the bad guys were thoroughly punished.   Our next stop takes us to Big D for less violence and more moodiness.

This issue of X-Men took a break from the usual action packed melodrama for some non-action packed melodrama.  The main story primarily takes place while Storm (from the movies) convalesces in home/offices of Forge (not from the movies).  And where might that be?  The fictional Eagle Plaza in the non-fictional city of Dallas:

Most of the story takes place indoors but occasionally you get a peak at the skyline.  Most comic book artists skimp on skylines and just add one or two recognizable buildings in.  So when you see a comic story taking place in Dallas, you can be sure that, at the very least, you'll get a few shots of Reunion Tower:

And sometimes that can be enough.  We head east for our next stop but there's a little bit of a set up.  You remember the movie Logan's Run, right?  Well, as happens from time to time, it got a comic book adaption from Marvel.

You may remember that we covered how the film was shot in the North Texas area and it made use of unique settings like the Fort Worth Water Gardens.  Here's what they normally look like:

And here's what it looks like in the movie:

And, you guessed it, here's what it looked like in the comic:

So there's a quick trip around Texas via the funny book pages.  You never know when your town will be the backdrop for a vigilante dispensing justice or a sci-fi struggle.  So be careful out there.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Check Your Local Listings

Years ago, when people actually watched television shows on their television, it was necessary to know what was coming on when.  And the primary way to do that was to check your local listings.  That meant actual newspapers.

It was the 80's and without DVRs, the internet or program guides, the shows on the handful of available channels were difficult to keep up with.  So on an evening in a year like 1982, here's what your viewing options might look like in the DFW metroplex:

This was back when networks would show actual movies.  It used to be a thing.  You could have also seen actual TV shows like Square Pegs, M*A*S*H and Cagney & Lacey.  This was also the heyday of independent local channels.  In the 80's they were your go-to channel for for programming like Abbott and Costello movies, Godzilla films and a ton of arbitrary older content that you just don't find that much any more.

The programming of stations like these also consisted of a ton of classic TV reruns.  You'll notice that KXTX was airing the original Star Trek at 10:30.  In addition to shows like Hogan's Heroes and Little House on the Prairie (which were both also airing that night), Star Trek was a mainstay on Channel 39 for years and I spent a lot of my childhood staring at the space opera on that very channel.

That childhood was also spent watching quite a bit of Saturday morning cartoons.  So here's a look at what a Dallas area youngster had to choose from in 1982:

Again, this is the kind of thing that just isn't done anymore.  While we have entire networks devoted to showing cartoons 24/7 today, it wasn't always like that.  There was a time when cartoons were relegated to weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings.

In addition to a mega-block of the Smurfs, you also had old friends like Popeye, Spider-Man and Bugs Bunny.  If you want to see Bugs today you have to go to Six Flags.  That guy has practically disappeared.  At the time there was also a trend for live action shows to have animated counterparts.  That's why you had cartoon versions of The Dukes of Hazzard, Lavern & Shirley and Gilligan's Island in the form of Gilligan's Planet.

Saturday mornings were the best but cartoons were around the rest of the week too.  Let's turn over to Channel 21:

It's easy to forget how popular the Jetsons used to be.  It looks like the show was on 7 days a week.  KTXA also showed old favorites like The Little Rascals, a.k.a."Our Gang," He-Man and Inspector Gadget.  That's more than enough to prevent healthy, able bodied kids from going outside and playing.

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that there was TV before the 80's so as a bonus here's an ad for American's most trusted newsman, Walter Cronkite, in the 1960's on Channel 4 back when it was known as KRLD (it's now KDFW):

And that's the way it was...

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Review: Dairy Palace


 Years ago, as I kid, I showed Black Angus cattle at a variety of livestock shows across Texas.  Every summer brought us to the Van Zandt County Fair in Canton, TX and one of the definite highlights was getting burgers and ice cream at the Dairy Palace.  So it was with the high expectations of nostalgia that I return there for lunch.

The place has been in business since 1984 and has a reputation of serving real food with real ingredients.  And it's not just the livestock show crowd that fills the booths.  Every First Monday this is the place to be.  And of course, the Canton regulars and I-20 travelers keep the place hopping in between.

The menu is surprisingly extensive for a burger joint.  Sandwiches, salads, tacos and breakfast items are all in the mix as well as a daily special but, for me, the main event are the hamburgers.

But even then, there's a lot going on.  They grind their own beef in house but there's several more options.  They've got a big selection of wild game burgers including wild boar, elk, venison and duck.  On my latest trip I went with the Bison Burger:

Too bad it doesn't photograph anywhere near as good as it tastes because this thing was phenomenal.   The huge patty (it dwarfed the bun...not that I minded) was perfectly seasoned and clearly fresh off the grill.

One of their mantras is that they begin preparing your food after your order and "The little bit of wait will be worth it!"  But I thought the order was turned around fairly quickly...and I was there with a six year old!  And after the burgers, she was ready for dessert.

 The "Dairy" in Dairy Place means ice cream.  And in Texas, "ice cream" means Blue Bell.  You can get an assortment of frozen treats like banana splits, sundaes and shakes but sometimes you just want a scoop or two on top of a cone.  They also offer Plano based Henry's Homemade Ice Cream and Chef's Line Ice Cream if you want to try something different.

As you can probably guess, we left satisfied.  So if you're traveling along I-20 with an empty belly, make your way to Canton for some old fashioned refreshment.  And if the timing is right, pick up some antique "junk" at First Monday or stop by the Livestock Show to support youngsters like this little punk from the 80's:

Monday, May 29, 2017

Tour of Duty

Sad Sack was a wartime comic strip about the misadventures of a well meaning goofball in the U.S. Army.  The strip was originally published in the military magazine Yank before becoming a comic book published by Harvey Comics.  I don't have a lot of info but at some point in the 70's Harvey published "Sad Sack U.S.A." featuring issues that focused on individual U.S. states...including Texas!

Again, I don't have a ton of info on the series.  I'm not sure how long it ran or how many states were featured.  Texas was issue #4 and other states like New York, Illinois, Washington and Michigan got their own issues.  I'd like to think they got around to all 50 states but for today we're just focused on their Lone Star State road trip:

Their isn't much of a story.  The premise seems to be that Sack, Sarge and Sadie have car trouble in the middle of Texas and need to walk to Dallas.  They weren't sticklers for geography in this book since they seem to start in the dessert and after a brisk hike end up in Big D:

I guess they showed up in October because Big Tex is out to welcome them.  No mention of the rest of the State Fair but from this point the locations are fast and furious, many of them only getting one panel.  After a quick stop to ride a nondescript roller coaster at Six Flags, the gang takes in the Fort Worth Convention Center and then decides it would be a good idea to head to Denison:

If you've never visited, you should.  Mainly because it's an important piece of Texas history but also so you can decide for yourself how good the likeness from this issue is.  Or you can just check out the pic from my last visit:

Not too shabby.  For some reason the crew heads right back to Fort Worth to see the Log Cabin village and then off to the panhandle for some Palo Duro Canyon sightseeing.   While they're up there they stop by Lubbock, Muleshoe and Happy, TX before heading south to San Antonio:

Like many of us do, Sack and his pals took some time to relax on the River Walk.  Now did this 1972 comic book inspire the filmmakers of the 1984 Dabney Coleman/Henry Thomas film Cloak & Dagger to set a scene on the River Walk?

Probably not, but I'd like to think so.  After a few drinks and some mariachi music, our intrepid explorers were finally willing to brave the humidity of Houston.  Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker who lets them know that Houston has a few surprises in store for them:

After a quick stop at the Battleship Texas it was beach time!  Sun, surf and sand greeting our weary travelers.

These guys just can't seem to sit still though because after a few beach shenanigans they began the long trek towards West Texas.  Anyone who's done that trip knows what a long haul it is.  Luckily, the gang found some interesting stuff along the way:

Just like Big Tex, the World's Largest Jackrabbit is colored all white in the comic.  I assume it's some weird publishing thing or a cost cutting measure or maybe they just mistakenly thought it was white.  For the record, here's what it looked like on my last trip:

Galveston, El Paso, Glen Rose and on and on.  Our trio or sightseers weren't slowing down and the cities, landmarks and attractions were piling up.  What could possibly bring this trip to its conclusion, you ask?

Yep, apparently Texas is so big that they ran out of pages before the gang could see it all.  I guarantee you don't see that kid of thing happen in New Hampshire comics.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Jake and Elwood Tour Texas

If you've traveled around any, you may have noticed that your old pals the Blues Brothers tend too hang out from place to place.  For some reason (don't ask me), tons of Jake and Elwood statues were commissioned and distributed across the country.  They pop up in bars, restaurants and places that can only be described as "miscellaneous." 

You can even still buy a pair if you've got an extra two grand lying around or try to get a better deal on eBay.  But for the thrifty sight seer that just wants to catch a glimpse of the boys, you're in luck.  They're no strangers to the Lone Star State.

Stroker's Ice House is biker bar in Dallas housed at the custom bike shop of Rick Fairless.  You might have seen it on TruTV's "Ma's Roadhouse."  It's got a ton of bizarre statues on top including dinosaurs, a hot dog man guessed it:

There they are crooning to the bikers in some custom polka dotted threads.  The boys hold their own among other celebrity statues like Frankenstein, Dracula and Betty Boop.  It's getting crowded up there so let's head to the next stop.

I'm not exactly sure what "America's Vice Stop" is.  I had assumed that it's one of those places that sells vaping stuff to horrible people but their Facebook page seems to indicate that they sell fresh fruit and vegetables.  I don't know why that would be considered a "vice" though.  Regardless, though, our pals make an appearance:

The guys are atop a great big storage container (which is apparently for sale) from time to time but recently they've been M.I.A.  I don't know if it got too windy to be safe or maybe the store owners are just temporarily storing the boys while they come up with a better way to display them.  The Blues Brothers come and go at their own discretion and they're missing from our next stop:

A few years back there was a restaurant housed in the historic Collin County prison in downtown McKinney.  In keeping with the theme, the outside was decorated with our friendly felons.  The "Prison Bars & Grill" closed down and afterward the statues left for parts unknown.  But while they were there we shot video of the place:

I wouldn't be surprised to come across the guys again at some point in the future.  So keep your eyes out and maybe you'll see the them too.