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John Waelti: Running into a snowstorm in Texas
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It was another drab February day in old St. Paul, but the roads were clear. With daughter Kara's bike in the back of my GMC, old pal Tom and I were headed for Texas and Fort Hood.

South on I-35, across northern Iowa, the sky remained slate gray. Then, through the suburbs of Des Moines - Urbandale, couldn't they come up with a more imaginative name? - then south toward Kansas City.

South of Des Moines - what? Snow flurries. It got worse across the Missouri line. Interstate 35 was graced with the customary winter scene: cars and trucks in ditches, awaiting rescue.

Somehow we kept the GMC on the road. We stopped for gas in Kansas City. Truckers coming from the south assured us that south of KC, we'd be okay. Sure enough, down the eastern edge of Kansas on U.S. 69, passing more unfortunate saps in the ditch, we were finally clear.

We reached northeastern Oklahoma well after dark and found a motel on a desolate stretch between Miami and Vinita. We hit the C-store across the way to catch a bite. A young lass with a strong Oklahoma accent said there was food in the "hot box."

Indeed there was - a half-ton of assorted chicken parts glistening with grease. Neither Tom nor I are health food fanatics, but we have limits.

"Hey, John," Tom said, "There are hot dogs over here."

By comparison, a hot dog on a white bun seemed harmless, and served as our gourmet dinner.

Next day, gray skies and a colorless winter landscape made the hardscrabble northeast Oklahoma country look even more drab. Down through Muskogee, McAlester, Atoka and Durant, we crossed into Texas by early afternoon and stopped at that welcome center near the Red River. Texans staff their impressive welcome centers with friendly folk.

I told the attendant we were headed for Belton, but to avoid Dallas, I would go around through Fort Worth. She had a better idea. Go southeast through Dallas, as if heading for Houston, then take the bypass back to I-35. She was right - I had never got through Dallas so easily.

We arrived in Belton early evening, met Kara at our motel, unloaded her bike and arranged for her to pick us up for dinner.

A fine Japanese restaurant and some hot saki is the way to ward off the Texas chill. During my previous three visits, I had wanted to dine at the Fort Hood Officers' Club, but it was always closed. Kara assured us that tomorrow would be "Beef and Burgundy" night there. She would give us a tour of the base, including a ride down "Tank Destroyer Boulevard," and we would have dinner. At last, that long awaited upgrade from the Slop Chute that was the refuge for low ranking Marines of yore.

Kara observed that snow was forecast.

"Dad, how come every time you come down here we have bad weather?" We dismissed it - maybe some snow in Dallas, but not this far south.

Next morning, I looked out the window - another dreary day, a few snowflakes on the hood of my GMC. "Hey, Tom, looks like we're not buried in snow drifts." We laughed as we sauntered over for the motel's continental breakfast, a few snowflakes drifting down.

Kara soon joined us. She had been to an early-morning staff meeting at the medical complex at Fort Hood. The meeting was canceled due to bad weather. What's more, all non-essential personnel were discouraged from going on base. Tom and I obviously fit into that "nonessential" category.

It also meant no "Beef and Burgundy" at the Officers' Club. It was closed. Rats! Foiled again! It was an Army plot to keep low ranking jarheads out of their posh digs. For revenge I considered calling their public relations office to see if the Army had canceled any field maneuvers due to inclement weather.

The snow was heavier now. The blown-dry clones on the idiot box were babbling about school closings and wintry weather in central Texas. The streets were wet, but surely not slippery. The grassy areas were beginning to get white.

Nothing else happening, so we decided to take in a movie. Kara drove us to Templeton where we had coffee in the deserted mall. Movie time - we walked up to the window - closed, due to "bad weather."

So, back to Belton. Texans were taking advantage of the wet packing snow, putting up some pretty artistic snowmen. We checked out a couple of restaurants to see if they would be open for dinner. We finally found a place, and Tom treated us to Texas barbeque ribs.

Next day dawned bright and clear. Kara bid us adieu, and headed for Fort Hood - all personnel were to report at 1000 hours. Tom and I headed out on U.S. 190, across West Texas toward New Mexico. The Kileen Herald's front page was all about "Snow Daze," and the scoop on government and school closings of yesterday.

That trip down Fort Hood's Tank Destroyer Boulevard and dinner at the Officers' Club would have to wait till another day.

Maybe next time, depending on the vicissitudes of the Army.

- Monroe resident John Waelti can be reached at