TEXAS DEATH ROW MEMORIES June 27, 2020
“To truly understand the « good old days » you need to have lived them, if only for an afternoon.” Will Brantley
This morning I began my day with the usual here in this 60 foot square cage that I have lived the last 22 years in, confined in solitary confinement on Texas death row. I managed to get about 8 hours of sleep and was not woken up 4-5 times during that period. I think it was just 1-2 times so I feel good. The routine is get up, wash up, have some coffee, clean my cell, exercise, spiritual practice and the day is up and running. While having coffee, I picked up a magazine that came in the mail last night called “D Magazine”. It’s a magazine about Dallas, Texas, where I call home.
While having coffee and flipping through the pages I came to an article titled “Memories of the Grill”. In the article, there were 4 people, featured with their memories of grilling food over coals, what we call in Texas Barbecue (bbq).
For a Texas boy little me, bbq is connected to so many of my memories and good times. It was bbq, beer and music. As I read this article, I had a tidal wave of memories of the good old days, when I was young and thought I would live forever. When living was working all week to get into the weekend and meet up with friends and have a good time. It did not include life and death situations.
When I was 16 years old, me and my family moved from West Texas to the Dallas area – a suburb called Irving, Tx. The move was not easy for me and I had problems adjusting and for the first 2 years of living in Irving, I really did not make any friends. Instead, I hung around my dope head elder brothers, which was about the last thing I needed to do because all I learned how to do is be a dope head like them!
Anyway, when I was 18 years old, I met my first true friend in Irving. He lived across the street to a new house we had moved to and his name was Cody. He was a “skater/stoner”, meaning he had long hair and liked to party and rode a skate board. Cody was 16 years old when we met. We immediately became best friends, he was cool and we got along well.
I was the new guy in town and Cody had grown up in Irving. He knew everybody and we always had something to do, some party to attend, some place to go: concerts, fairs you name it. And I had the ride.
When I was 18 my Dad bought me a 1972 El Camino hot rod. He didn’t know about the hot rod part he had no clue what he put in my hands but I did and it was our ride. And El Camino is made by Chevrolet and it its half Car/Chevelle and half pick-up truck! It had a bed in the back and in a word it was cool! Not to mention it had a hot rod 350 c.i. V-8 motor that was more to less indestructible. And when we did break it we could fix it.
Our big thing was to go cruising on Friday nights in Irving. There was a specific street all the young kids drove around in a big circle going slow checking out the girls (or guys!) talking to friends and having a good time. At midnight we’d hit the free way and drive down to Loop12 and Northwest Highway which was one spot where the young people would street-race their cars. Me and Cody were notorious in that El Camino, it was fast, I was tough, he knew everybody and you couldn’t tell us nothing! We thought we’d live forever, you know?
And in the early 1990’s, the street races were an event where several hundreds, sometimes a thousand plus people would come together at and have a big party centered around cars racing in a straight line. It was like what you have seen in the movies and it was a young person’s dream!
Me and Cody would stay out there until 4-5 am when people would start leaving because we’d been partying all night and we would reluctantly get in the El Camino, hit the freeway again and drive back to Irving and somehow some way we’d made it back home in one piece. We did this every week-end Friday night and Saturday nights; you wanted to know where we were – it was the street races. Along with everybody else that we knew.
Now, I’m not saying it was right or glorifying it, I’m telling you that was what we did back in the gap.
Sunday morning would come and we’d sleep till maybe 11am and then we’d be back up again. He’d be in his house and I’d be at my house where I lived with my parents and it was already understood what we did on Sundays. We were loading up my American Pitbull terriers in the El Camino, grabbing the cooler and heading to Lake Grapevine to bbq! This involved going into Mom’s pantry and taking a can of corn, a can of ranch style beans and 4-5 large potatoes.
When I came out of the house Cody would usually be sitting on the porch of his house smoking a cigarette and he’d walk over to the drive way because he knew what we were going to do. Get the large cooler, the plastic milk crate that had the bbq stuff out the garage and throw it in the back of the ride and get the dogs.
When we moved from Midland to Irving, we brought Kelly with us. She was a yellow/blonde rednosed Pitbull dog that was large for the breed, a little taller than my knee and weighed about 60 lbs – all muscle. We bred Kelly with a friend’s Pitbull and I ended up keeping one of the puppies and his name was Spike.
Kelly was a great dog, but Spike was special. He was a buckskin – the color of a deer and 4 black socks on his feet and he had a dark purple nose, he weighed 50 lbs, every ounce muscle. He was very beautiful and could have been a model for the breed. And super smart! Both dogs were obedience trained, me and Cody were always working with these dogs.
He’d go into the backyard of our house and it was like they knew what day it was, they would be ready to go. I’d open the gate and tell them go on! Get in the truck and both would run and leap into the back of the bed ready to go. Dogs love riding in cars and trucks, they live for it! I’d grab their spike collars and leather leashes and we were ready to go.
We’d fire up the El Camino and hit the road. This excursion required us to stop at the supermarket before we left Irving. We’d stop at the closest supermarket and Cody would stay in the truck with the dogs while I would go in and walk straight into the meat department of the store. I would usually buy a large brisket, but sometimes I’d grab some pork chops, or chicken leg/thigh quarters. I’d grab some fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, a bag of charcoal and off we’d go.
The next stop would be back up on Northwest Highway at the Racetrack where we’d gas up the El Camino and get beer. Usually a case of Budweiser and 2 bags of ice which would go into the cooler with the meat and other food items.
Then we’d hit the freeway again and take the ride to Grapevine, Texas, where Grapevine Lake is at. Now the El Camino always has a stereo in it and we’re talking 30 years ago so it was cassette tapes and Cody always had 2-3 in his pocket, heavy metal stuff. Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax. We’d rock down the road, hauling ass in a hurry to get to the lake.
The drive would take maybe 30 minutes and when we’d finally make it to the lake, we had a specific spot we went to where all the bikers would congregate. On a good day, when you’d driven into the sate park area of the lake, you’d see maybe 50-75 chromed out Harley Davidsons parked all in a line. We’d be in a hurry because we wanted one of the covered tables which had a bbq grill built into the cement slab. You’d get there after noon and you’d be out of luck! All the tables/grills would be taken. But we’d always have one and we’d pull the truck into the little area and unload the stuff we’d brought with us. We’d get the dogs out but keep them on their long 8-foot leashes because other dogs and people would be running around and we did not want any static from someone if one of their dogs got bitten by ours.
Cody was always the DJ, he’d open the doors of the El Camino and crank the stereo up rocking out, he really loved Metallica’s “Ride the Lightning” and to this day every time I hear a song off that album I think of these times and my old friend. We’d be 3 beers in by now and he’d usually roll one and we’d smoke it and I’d throw the charcoal on the grill, spray it with lighter fluid that was part of our lake bbq supplies and after 10 minutes of soaking, light it up. The fire would be big and bright and the flames would get the grill clean and as the coals burned down, I would ready the food – I was the cook. I’ve always been a cook! Haha! It would usually go like this – I’d take the aluminum foil and lay out 2 pieces about 2 ft long and about 2 foot square and open the brisket and lay it on the foil. I’d sprinkle season salt on it, chop up the green bell pepper, onions into slices along with the tomatoes and lay them all over the large slab of meat. I’d then warp the brisket back up and make sure it was sealed real good and have it ready to go. I’d get the potatoes and wrap them in foil as well and throw them in the coals which would end up being baked potatoes! Then throw the foil wrapped brisket on the grill and let it cook.
While the food cooked itself, we’d drink about 6 beers each, smoke a few more sticks maybe and sit on the tailgate of the El Camino and watch the people go by. All sorts would be out, older couples that were probably hippies back in their heyday, bikers, and chicks galore! Haha! We we’d of course have the dogs up there with us and this is where Spike would shine. He was gorgeous and I have yet to see a pretty girl walk by him and not want to pet him and get to know him – a perfect conversation starter! Haha! Of course the friends we’d see at the street races would show up and we’d have a bunch of friends out there too. Maybe my brothers would show up, or some weeks we’d all go out to the lake together. Those were the days. So we’d have good music going, cold beer to drink and great friends to chat with, it would be great. In 4-5 hours that food would be more than ready. And after you drink 6-8 cold beers, you are hungry! Haha!
We’d take the cans of beans and corn and put a dent in the side and set them on the grill maybe 30 minutes before it was time to eat along with a long loaf of butter French garlic bread that was in a foil-like bag I’d get at the supermarket too. By the time the beans and corn were hot and the dent in the side had popped out, the bread would be hot and ready to eat. And we’d pull everything off and dig in. The brisket would be perfect soft and tender with the veggies on top to eat it with. The potatoes were perfect, crunchy peel and soft hot inside that would melt the butter and the bread! It was perfect no doubt. We’d eat until we could eat no more, as would the dogs. And for me that was the good old days… And in a flash all of that came back to me as I read the article in this magazine, for me nothing could be better!
Charles D. FLORES #999299
Polunsky Unit, Texas death row
June 27, 2020