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 Texas : Feature : Columns : "They shoe horses, don't they?"

Flat Tire in Spinachville

by John Troesser
They shoe horse
One July afternoon a few years back, I was driving back from Eagle Pass with Doyle "Prairie Dog" Phillips riding shotgun. This was before Mr.Phillip's voluntary political exile to Mexico. We were headed due east across a bleak terrain. How bleak was it? Is making the dark side of the moon look like Times Square bleak?

It was one of those warm brush-country days when the temperature was so hot nobody would believe it, so they didn't bother to phone it in. The asphalt on FM 191 had the viscosity of Turkish taffy put in a microwave set on high for 20 minutes. We were cruising at 95 mph. Anything below that and the road would pull you to a stop and swallow you. I had checked the air in my tires the previous November so I knew we were in good shape.

We sailed in to Crystal City which is one of those South Texas towns split in half by the railroad. A trully democratic place; there is no "wrong side of the tracks" in Crystal City. After photographing the foundations of former Japanese POW housing and reading the strongly-worded memorial plaque erected by the descendants of internees, we drove to the city hall to see Crystal City's other sight - the famous statue of Popeye.
Spinach Festival Office, Crystal City, Texas
Spinach Festival Office in Crystal City.

TE photo
Doyle didn't want to see it - but I felt a need to prove that there was such a thing - if only to myself. After gazing in awe and then shaking our heads, as we returned to the car Doyle pointed to our right front tire which was flat. Not flat like the proverbial pancake (because of the large mass of rubber and the metal rim), but it was flat nonetheless.

I recalled seeing a spare in the distant past and found it within minutes. On its side it gave all appearances of being inflated, but when I bounced it, it gave a sickening thud. The kind of thud only a tire that you were counting on for your salvation can make. Like 30 pounds of pizza dough hitting a dirty cement floor.

I now regretted having thrown my cell phone into the Brazos River two weeks before, but what did it matter? Whom would I call? The nearest tire shop was in San Antonio or so I thought. Doyle looked at the setting sun and said "It's 4:47." (Don't ask. He's from Big Spring and they can all do that in West Texas.)

Since the Crystal City Hall was about 20 feet behind Popeye, we went in to ask to use their phone and directory. To be funny I would say that there was one yellow page, but that would be lying for a cheap laugh. There were four. We found a tire shop and called. The man who answered asked for an address. We told them city hall and he asked "Where?" The secretary politely took the phone from me and said something like "Bobby? Do you know where the Popeye Statue is?" "Well, we're right behind Popeye." She smiled at us and then waved through the window accross the railroad tracks. "Do you see me waving?" she spoke into the phone. Across the tracks Bobby stepped from his office and waved back.

They arrived in less time than it takes to eat one of those 620-ounce steaks in Amarillo. The crew was pretty cheery considering that it was now after quitting time. As he approached us, the driver smiled and asked "Which tire is it?" The humor was lost on me - since I was worried about the ice that would soon be forming on the road once the sun went down. Frozen mirages are nothing to laugh at.

I said "the flat one" without a smile. Doyle, scout that he, advised me (under his breath) that "that kind of attitude won't help."

Since we had two flats, they took them (and us) the hundred yards or so back to the shop. As they fixed us up with a new tire and a good used spare (one with air), we talked with a lean and muscular senior Crystal Citizen who told us he was 74. He was holding a small cardboard box that was dripping blood. I figured it might be the key to his good health, but I wasn't that curious. Doyle caught my eye, glanced down at the blood (that was now being licked up by a large black dog) and back at me. It was scout language for "this guy is holding a box that is dripping blood."

The box turned out to be some steaks that he had ordered and had picked up on his way home. He told us he was a native of the area and that in his youth he could pick __ boxes of spinach in a single day - a record that remains unbroken. Judging by their lack of interest, the shop helpers had heard the story before - but I bet if I called them right now they could tell me how many boxes the man had picked.

Just don't ask them where city hall is.

After paying and getting all five tires sprayed with asphalt-be-gone, we were on our way with a warm feeling for the friendly and helpful people of Crystal City who took time to help standed strangers - even if it meant working after five o'clock.
John Troesser
"They shoe horses, don't they?" September 1, 2004 Column
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