Off the Beaten Track - Dave's Top Ten Cities in America

Since coming off the road about 1000 people have asked me what my favorite city was. It is impossible to say. America is just too big and too filled with stuff to narrow it down to one favorite. What I have done here is to pick my Top 10.

The criteria was rather fluid, but what they all have in common is A) they all taught me something about America you just can’t learn in school; B) with a couple exceptions, they are not "tourist" towns, and C) one of them isnt a place at all..

You can read about Chicago and San Diego and Wash D.C. from a million sources, but who’s gonna tell you what to do in Amarillo?

And, in all seriousness, if you are truly looking for something a little different, I would recommend any of these for your next vacation:

1 - Amarillo, TX
2 - Lafayette, LA
3 - Memphis, TN
4 - Sandusky, OH
5 - Panama City Beach, FL
6 - Greenville, NC
7 - Rutland, VT
8 -Indianapolis, IN
9 - Nashville, TN
10 - The Sunset Limited (Amtraks southern Trans-continental route)

What more needs to be said? Also home to the Cadillac Ranch and the Dynamite Museum.
First off, you gotta know Texans aren’t like the rest of us. And Amarillians aren’t like the rest of the Texans. The first thing you will see as you cruise in from the West, on I-40, is the Cadillac Ranch. A bunch of painted up Cadillacs, buried nose first and sticking up out of the field like cornstalks in July.

Brainchild of Stanley Marsh III, local legend/millionaire with more artistic vision than all the lofts in Soho. He is also the major funder of the Dynamite Museum. What, you may ask, is the Dynamite Museum? I have to tell you, this is what hooked me on Amarillo. The "museum" is a bunch of mock road-signs, planted in front yards all over the city, with cryptic, humorous, sage and ridiculous messages and/or pictures. From Walt Whitman’s "The fog comes on little cat’s feet", to a picture of a "Scuba Pig", to "Hear the Fat Lady sing, one block over"and "Hey, buddy, got a smoke?", to my personal favorite "I look really dangerous, and people hang on my every word". In and of itself, the Dynamite Museum is probably the greatest work of outdoor art ever, but the really cool part is talking to the locals about it. If you ask your waitress "What’s up with the signs?", she will look you straight in the eye and tell you they just appear in the night, and if you try to remove them, the city will fine you. If you ask someone at City Hall the same question, they might tell you the City wants them out, but Mr. Marsh will remove any Mayor who says so. And the next person will tell you Stanley Marsh doesn’t exist, the Chamber of Commerce is behind the whole thing. So, it is not just a work of art, but an inside joke, shared by the quarter million townsfolk, and a way to have fun at visitors expense. You could honestly spend two days, just driving around sign spotting.

Amarillo is also home to The Big Texan Steak Ranch. If you can eat their 72 oz steak, in under an hour, it is free. Since the 60's, only about 8,000 people have succeeded. On my second trip there, I gave it my best shot, almost made it, and was only sick for two days after. Of course, Harley was thrilled with the pound of meat I brought back to the hotel, and he was sick for two days as well. Of course, he may have been faking, in a bid for sympathy.

By the way, the human record is held by former Red’s pitcher Frank Pastore, who finished his in under 10 minutes, but the all-species record is held by a Bengal Tiger, who managed to snarf it down in 90 seconds, sitting on the front porch.

Also, should you decide to vacation in Amarillo, a drive south to some of the surrounding towns, where cattle generally outnumber people, is more interesting than it sounds. The sheer size of the feed lots is astounding, some with upwards of 100,000 cows milling around, waiting for a train.

Amarillo did embrace the title "Helium Capital of the World", a reference to helium rich gas mines located in the area, until major contracts to build the Osprey aircraft were won by local defense contractors, at which time it was changed, officially to "Rotor City, USA". It is also home to Pantex, the only place in America where nuclear warheads are assembled.

Now, coming from a place where a Wal-Mart causes controversy, can you imagine someone trying to sell the idea of building nukes here? And can you imagine the quarter million residents of our little valley, who generally have a quarter million differing opinions on what time it is, getting together to pull a little gag on visitors?

I would say the lesson of Amarillo is one of Civic pride. The people of Amarillo, Texas love their little town, embrace their eccentrics, and work together for the common good, whether economically or just for fun.

Stay Tuned

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