HAVING OUR STEAK AND EATING IT TOO

The last few days of our trip have seen a fairly monumental change in scenery (not to be confused with Monument Valley, coming up tomorrow). We’ve gone from gumbo to steak, from Saints territory to Cowboys territory, from Mardi Gras to rodeos and from billboards advertising drive-through daiquiris to billboards advertising the Catholic Superstore. Welcome to Texas.

For those of you that have not memorised our itinerary by heart (tut tut), Dallas marks the start of our journey across the American southwest via car. But before we hit the road, we had a few sights to check out in Dallas first.

First, the 6th Floor Museum. A quick history lesson: on 22 November 1963 US President John F Kennedy was shot from a 6th floor book depository window in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald. These days, the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository has been converted into a museum covering the Presidency, life and death of JFK, and it was here that we visited first. It’s an interesting albeit sad experience, but one that I would recommend. The people of Dallas have done a fabulous job commemorating the man himself but also in giving a frank and detailed explanation of what happened that day and what has happened since. It is very eerie to stand at that 6th floor window and look out to the road below, even more so to drive over the X that still marks the spot.

History lesson complete, our next stop was Cowboy Stadium in Arlington and oh. my. goodness. Hoff and I were talking about it and between us we’ve been to a few sports stadia around the world. Hoff could probably count around a dozen each in Australia and the UK, including the iconic Wembley stadium, plus the odd handful in NZ, France and Papua New Guinea. For my part being Melbourne born-and-bred (Mexicans represent) I can add a few AFL venues as well. But neither of us has ever seen anything that even nearly compares to Cowboy Stadium. It fits 104,000 people. You can remove the armrests between the seats and slide the seats along to fit more seats. 60% of the loos are women’s and can be changed to a higher proportion, as they were when the Jonas Brothers played the stadium. There are 3200 television screens around the concourses and throughout the suites. And the crowning glory is the HD scoreboard, hanging from the (retractable) roof of the stadium measuring 22m wide by 49m high. For those of you out there that are as spatially challenged as me, to put it in perspective that’s 11 of Ryan stacked high by half the length of a footy field. Indescribable.

And probably the best thing about the stadium is the willingness of the management to give fans and dorky tourists such as ourselves great access. Hoff and I saw the suites, the change rooms (players and cheer girls), the press conference room and finally got to have a bit of a play on the field. It was a good day.

Then finally the day arrived – time to hit the road. As we tentatively pulled out of the rental car parking lot in our Dodge Challenger (Ryan just had to have a macho muscle car), we commenced the first leg: 6 hours from Dallas to Amarillo, all the while chanting to ourselves “left turn wide, right turn tight”, and I’m please to report we haven’t strayed onto the left hand side of the road as yet.

I chose Amarillo because on Google maps it seemed to be a logical choice to stop for the night being about a third of the way between Dallas and Monument Valley. Then I started researching Amarillo and was frankly a little surprised that I hadn’t added it to our itinerary sooner. Amarillo’s claim to fame (apart from being a stop of the historic Route 66) is a hotel/restaurant called the Big Texan Steak Ranch and at the Big Texan Steak Ranch, if you can eat a 72oz steak (plus all the sides) in under an hour, it’s yours for free. If you don’t finish it, it’s $72. Yikes. Unfortunately I was unable to convince Hoff to give it a go and sadder still, nobody attempted it on the night we dined there, but it was still great to be in a place which is so iconic in the history of the extreme sport of speedy steak consumption. And I enjoyed my (vastly more sensible) 8oz steak all the same.

The other interesting thing about Amarillo is that someone decided to nose-plant 10 Cadillacs in a paddock a couple of miles outside of the city limits. Apparently the angle of them corresponds with that of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Now tourists visit them and graffiti them – which is encouraged. If I wasn’t already sold on Amarillo by the 72oz steak, Cadillac Ranch sealed the deal.

So this morning we bid a sad farewell to the Big Texan Ranch (actually, Hoff wasn’t that sad, it’s really just me that has a penchant for kitsch in the extreme) and hit the road again.

I should mention that Hoff and I are participating in a very serious round of ‘the licence plate game’ on our travels. We’ve seen around 34 states so far (including Alaska – score) which we think is pretty bloody impressive for two days driving. We’re not holding our breath for Hawaii, but you never know. I promise updates as we go – I’m sure you’ll all be glued to your computer screens in anticipation…

This evening finds us in Albuquerque, a little weary from two days driving but very pleased with our progress so far. Ryan’s watching USC v Colorado and I’m also watching, wondering idly if college cheerleaders are actually clones of just the one girl. We’re very excited about setting our sights on Monument Valley tomorrow which is a 6 hour drive so off to bed for us, probably to dream about those elusive Hawaii and Wyoming license plates.

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