It's The Norm
October 4-10, 2001 ARCHIVES
"It's The Norm" - Recent Entertainment Events in Las Vegas

Small Town USA

by Norm Johnson
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Took a mini vacation the other week. The disaster in New York and Washington occurred just prior to my planned trip. I was determined not to let the events of the day deter my drive to Texas to visit a couple of friends. Little did I realize I was going to visit Small Town USA!

My first stop was a town called Van Horn, Texas. At one time I would venture to say this town had a thriving tourist business. As I drove through its Main Street the stark reality of the drying up of these quaint little towns was quite evident. There were more boarded up, dilapidated buildings than there was an open business. The biggest claim to fame today is its Mexican restaurant "Choy's." You may wonder why? Simple. John Madden, the former NFL coach and football guru who travels the highways of our land in a bus every football season, stopped in Van Horn once. He told the world about his stop and the little restaurant suddenly was famous. Oh, yes, the town still has two working signals one block apart.

My next and last stop was a town called Alpine, Texas, about 120 miles south of Van Horn. Alpine is really a very tiny dot on the big map of Texas. It's actually, I discovered, "Small Town USA" if there is such a town, and is a major stop for the railroads as they cross the land. What is so wonderful about this you may ask and what would possess a guy from the city, like me, to want to visit Alpine? A very good friend of mine had moved there a couple years ago, after a lengthy career in Hollywood where he became burned out. He was also an excellent racecar driver and a great instructor and had met a lady who lived there. She just happened to own the Holland Hotel, the only three-story hotel in town.

The Holland Hotel is a legend in Texas as is Alpine. A certain culture shock hits you as you arrive at the hotel. There is no front desk, but instead an envelope taped to the front glass door with your name on it. Inside is your key and a welcome message. This was shock number one. Shock number two came quickly thereafter when my buddy John greeted me. As we prepared to leave my third floor room I turned to lock the door. Wrong! I was informed that they do not lock doors in Alpine. Can you remember the last time when you never locked a door to anything? I certainly can't. Why the key? Just for show I was informed. The first train blasted its horn and rumbled right past the hotel. John told me that I had earplugs in the room so I could sleep without interruption during the night. It seems Alpine is a crossroad where crew changes take place. The blasting of the horn goes on all day and night. But I was able to sleep. I had my pills!

What really got to me was an event that took place on Saturday evening, Sept. 22nd. The gathering place for the town, whenever anything of significance occurs, seems to be a beautiful white Gazebo located in the town square. On this evening John, Carla McFarland (a graduate of Rice by the way) and her two children, and about 100 of the folks showed up to honor the events that had taken place elsewhere. There was an Honor Guard composed of uniformed veterans proudly displaying the American and Texas flag. The evening started out with a young lady from the local school singing a patriotic song. The Honor Guard then shot a volley, which was supposed to be a 21-gun salute to mark the occasion. However, I later learned they only had 15 blank bullets. But who was counting? After a series of speeches along with more patriotic songs everyone stood and lit a candle or a sparkler. The town Sheriff, I think, went to the roof of City Hall (next door) and shot off a single fireworks rocket. It was truly wonderful to be part of such a celebration in "Small Town USA."

As long as there are towns such as Alpine, be it in Texas, Indiana, New Mexico or Nevada the United States is in good hands. "Small Town USA" is well and alive!

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