It’s early and I am still enjoying my coffee.
While the rest of the house enjoys the last few hours of darkness, I am up looking at my website and my notes from the day before.
Typically, I will drink my coffee and read before I have to be at work, but today is Saturday.
So I sit, planning the coming week in my head.
Finally, the rest of the family wakes up. And after a short discussion, we dress and are out the door for Saturday breakfast at Red Zone Cafe, Lubbock TX. The Marsha Sharp freeway gets us there so quickly that the car hardly has time to heat up from the cold night.
As usual, the parking lot is already full and we have to park at the very end of the row in front of the SAS shoe store. By the time we walk the 50 yards back to the front door it is just after 8 AM.
A wall of warm air, with the smell of breakfast hanging heavy in it, hits us in the face as we open the door. Thankfully, it is still relatively early and we stand, waiting to be seated, for less than 30 seconds.
The familiar face of the host shows us to our table just in front of the center coffee station. Adjacent us is a wall mounted TV. I don’t even notice what is playing on it as the menus are handed out and we shuffle our seats.
Faded sports memorabilia covers the wall under the TV where Texas Tech football players are eulogized along with former Lubbock Coronado teams. One of the frames announces the notorious Lubbock Coronado mascot, the “Mustangs.”
As we get our drink orders, one of the wall pictures catches my eye. It highlights the former Texas Tech football player “Elmer Tarbox.”
I make a note of his name and later learn that Tarbox – a native of Bishop, Oklahoma – graduated from Texas Tech in 1939 after playing basketball, football, and running for the track team. He played in the 1939 Cotton Bowl and was even drafted 18th overall by the Cleveland Rams in the 1939 NFL draft.
Typical of that time period, he chose not to play.
It is nearly incomprehensible how the pay in the NFL has changed since then. For comparison, the 18th pick of the 2017 NFL draft Adoree’ Jackson signed a 4 year $11.3 million contract, with a $6.3 million signing bonus.
I recall a passage on NFL pay in Rich Cohen’s book about the 1985 Chicago Bears, Monsters.
When I get home I find it:
“By 1920, there were a handful of independents that operated in a near professional way. Chief among them was the Canton Bulldogs, which featured Jim Thorpe, the first star of American football. Halas was recruited by his former navy teammate Paddy Driscoll, who had been playing for the Hammond Pros, an Indiana team that competed in the factory belt. He was paid $ 100 a game, nearly double his weekly railroad salary.”
If you don’t know, Jim Thorpe was the first major pro-football star.
Going up against Jim Thorpe on a football field sounds almost as awful as playing against him for $100 a game – $1,270 in 2017 value.
Like most men of that era, however, Elmer Tarbox went off to fight in World War II – where he was awarded an Air Medal, Silver Star, and Purple Heart. After the war, Tarbox returned to Lubbock and later became a state senator where he was instrumental in the creation of both the Texas Tech Law School and the Texas Tech Health Science Center.
He died in November of 1987 and is buried in Lubbock.
Our food arrives and we shift plates while passing back and forth silverware, butter, and the small pitcher of warm syrup. I eat and try to keep the kids happy while still taking notes here and there on my phone when I can.
My french toast, scrambled eggs with cheese, and bacon is fantastic. For a moment, I wish I was still drinking Coke regularly, as I feel my sweet tooth kick back in. The fact that I can see the small refrigerator full of pies does not help either. A man at the table beside me is reading the paper but my face is buried in my plate, and I can barely acknowledge him.
In front of me, just to my right, is a giant ice maker trying to make enough crushed and freezing water to keep everyone from rioting against their waitress. And above the ice maker, a sign declares “TTU Parking Only.”
My wife admonishes me for looking at my phone too much during breakfast.
I tell her I am taking notes for something I want to write – but she will not hear it.
By the time we finish, it is nearly 9 AM and a short wait has formed at the door. Our kind waitress asks if we need any drinks to-go as she drops our check off on the table.
She has braided red hair and a warm smile, with a tired look in her eyes. Maybe she has children – or – like the rest of the people around me gulping at their coffee, her caffeine has just not kicked in yet.
We gather our things and talk about what we are going to do for the rest of the day.
On the way to the front counter to payout, we pass the red lamps that keep the food warm, although I am not sure why they are there. I don’t think I have ever seen food wait longer than 60 seconds before being taken out to a customer.
We leave, but a few days later I go back to Red Zone for lunch.
I get there at 11:00 AM and there is already a wait.
As I pace back and forth for less than a minute or two waiting, I nearly laugh out loud when I see a picture of Jim Thorpe by the door, displayed alongside a number of other NFL legends.
The hostess sits me at booth “A.”
Fittingly, a large picture of former Texas Tech star Michael Crabtree looks on as I order a cheeseburger, curly fries, and a Coke. Just to bring it full-circle I look up Crabtree’s rookie contract too. $17 million guaranteed on a 6-year contract.
I think I should have played in the NFL.
Four elderly people sit beside me at a table, leaning across it to hear each other. They are dressed like they came from a church service even though it’s Wednesday, and not yet noon. When they talk, they smile at each other like it is Christmas morning.
To top it all off, I order a slice of chocolate cake.
In front of me, there are two old farmers talking about working on irrigation pivots. They wear their plaid shirts, Wrangler jeans, and trucker caps like uniforms. Of course, they can’t help but mention their grandchildren.
A man eating alone, about the age my dad is now, heads for the door. A waitress stops him and they sing the chorus of “You Are My Sunshine” together. They both laugh at their impromptu rendition. The waitress smiles and says: “See you tomorrow!”
I love eating at twenty other places in this town.
And I may live in other towns in the future.
But for now, I live in Lubbock, TX.
And Red Zone is my cafe.