Just what kind of weird stuff from the Lone Star state can be packed into a little Honda?
"Don’t forget this load included a La-Z-Boy armchair, an antique Underwood typewriter and an 1980s vintage cash register along with this plastic replica of an ancient Greek clock.”
I tried to keep a straight face as I displayed the flimsy fake-gold timepiece.
A healthy applause ricocheted around the room full of journalists and Honda Motor Company executives. We were in the final stages of judging to determine the most unusual, awkward or bizarre $20 object participants could pack into their new Honda Element vehicles. It was a little fun we had planned to add to the typical media test-drive event.
“Now what about this?” I held it high by the left leg. A roar came from the audience. Then cat calls, whistles and applause that sounded like frenzied country music fans seeking an encore at a Shania Twain concert.
There was no doubt, the lower half of the plaster mannequin was a hands-down winner. I invited the buyers to the front of the class to explain the circumstances of their purchase.
“Without the top half, the antique shop thought they would never sell it,” one of them said.
More cheers from the crowd that was spread out in the comfortable dining room of the Rough Creek Lodge near the town of Glen Rose in central Texas.
On the table behind me, items representing other competitors’ purchases were on display. An intriguing fossil, a tacky Texas wall hanging and a tuft of hay from the four bales one team had stuffed into their Element had already undergone scrutiny from the audience.
The little contest was comprised of four scoring elements in which two-person crews road-tripped over remote Texas country roads in an effort to rack up points for a variety of tasks.
Participants were provided maps to 23 scoring sites between Rough Creek Lodge, a two-hour drive southwest of Dallas, and Linda’s Café, an unpretentious, homey restaurant in tiny Gustine. At the scoring sites, teams completed assignments ranging from identifying sale items in a store window to classifying dinosaurs tangling in a mural at the Visitor’s Center in Dinosaur Valley State Park. They checked out the stars on Stephenville’s Cowboy Capital Walk of Fame. They visited a place called Fairy.
After repeating “Pretty Peggy Pepper” quickly three times to the staff at the Dr Pepper Bottling Plant in Dublin, Tex., they were told that only Dublin Dr Pepper still uses pure cane sugar, rather than corn syrup, in its recipe. They wandered through the Billy the Kid Museum, learned that Everybody is a Somebody in Hico and discovered that nine drops of the secret ingredient goes into the phosphate drinks at the soda fountain in Hamilton’s Jordan Pharmacy.
A section of the Rally called The Bridges of Hamilton County took participants over a maze of dusty backroads in search of five rickety, and in some cases non-existent, bridges.
Teams received disposable cameras to snap items en route that began with the letters E-LE-M-E-N-T. Points were awarded for finding enough friendly Texans to fill the seats of their Elements. Two Texans on the tailgate captured on film and photographing barbershops through the side cargo doors beefed up their scores as well.
While the road game was in progress, the participants vied for the “Egghead Award” by attempting to answer 20 Texas trivia questions. After all, every visitor to the Lone Star State should know that it is illegal to shoot buffalo from the second story of a hotel.
At the end of the day, scoring the rally and the trivia test was straightforward. My partner Lisa, a former school teacher, was in her element with a red corrector pen. Peter Schlay, our medic, whose only emergency was treating himself for what turned out to be a broken foot, added scores. Meanwhile, the film was taken from the cameras and whisked to nearby Stephenville for processing so we could score the photo contest.
We settled on a shot of two hefty fellows sitting and smiling on the tailgate of the Element, evidently weighing well over the 440-pound load limit of their chair. The construction workers who were cajoled into posing on the tailgate symbolized the good-natured way just about all the rural Texans had reacted to their visitors’ quest.
The next morning, the journalists were transported to the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport for their flights home. I wandered around the Lodge. It truly was an impressive work of architecture filled with tasteful Texan artifacts. I looked across the dining room where the awards banquet had been held. Most of the items from the $20-load display were gone, taken as souvenirs, perhaps.
But the half-mannequin was still there, sprawled across a table. I wasn’t surprised since that might be a little tough to explain to airline security, not to mention the family back home.
“What does THAT have to do with driving a car?”
Nothing. . . it just fit with the day and proved that the Element has a “leg up."