Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. —Mary Ritter Beard
While summertime presents a vast array of invigorating opportunities to create grandiose memories by traveling with those you love, some of the best travel traditions I have experienced were created on simple road trips. Time to do nothing but talk, listen, and read can serve as a valuable tool to bring us back home to ourselves in an otherwise chaotic world.
One of my favorite traditions involves my near decade old obsession with a travel center known to East Texas locals as “Texas Best “just off I-20 in Tyler, Texas. This place has been woven through my writings and social media experiences for years.
If you have ever spent any time on I-20 near Tyler, Texas, you will know that “Texas Best” means “Texas Best Smokehouse”. This BBQ done right will set you free, but it’s not just the BBQ that makes the heart sing; it’s the whole experience of the weary road traveler finding a sweet and smoky oasis in the East Texas interstate wilderness that causes travelers far and wide to set the GPS for this culinary crossroads.
Texas Best Smokehouse is just that. One of the best-tasting BBQ flavors you will find is infused nightly into choice cuts of meat long before travelers’ alarm clocks have crooned and crowed. Sounds of are we there yet no longer have ANYTHING to do with Grandma’s house.
Striving for customer service and cleanliness, President Tambi Idris started the original location on December 28, 2007 (his birthday). He now operates two locations that also include truck stops and he has developed four franchises. Though many locals flock to the popular destination for anything from fuel-ups to a quick healthy lunch, Texas Best has emerged as a place for those who are in the crossroads of life for anything from one day of travel to major life transitions. People everywhere are snapping photos with loved ones, headed home to weddings, funerals, 4th of July or Christmas celebrations, and as one local Judge put it – it is the number one weekend custody exchange location for blended households. There are huge freight trucks at the truck stop, tour vans with loads of senior citizens, and moving vans with nearby pet owners taking time out to walk the dog.
Whenever I have personally visited the travel center, a simple post from Texas Best was all my Mama needed to see to know that her girl was just this many hours from home; thus, the tradition of taking a photo on the signature wagon wheel bench became a smoke signal of my exact whereabouts. I have hundreds of photos on that bench over the years. There are skinny pictures, chunky pictures, pictures on the way home for Christmas, pictures on the 4th of July, fair skin pictures, sun-tanned pictures and even pictures of me on the way to my Dad’s funeral. I’ve got pictures with my son, my dog, and my husband and in no particular order. There is black hair, brown hair, red hair, blonde hair, short hair, long hair, straight hair, and crazy hair.
The traditions of eating a BBQ sandwich and taking the bench photo at Texas Best aren’t the only traditions visitors hold dear. There is the magical moment of ringing the Texas Best Dinner Bell. Dear Reader, this promise I can double doggone guarantee you: one ring of the dinner bell and THE ENTIRE Texas Best staff stops what they’re doing to shout out a hearty Welcome to Texas Best!! That usually happens seconds before someone offers a sample of jalapeño turkey jerky. I am here to tell you that NOTHING should surprise you where Texas Best jerky is concerned—you may find something as eclectic as pineapple habanero deer jerky. Follow it up with your favorite Sonic Cherry Limeade (easy ice) or a piece of fruit! Give me one good reason why you shouldn’t buy your kid a customized license plate that will hang on the wall of his room until he moves away to college or invest in the magnetic moon rocks he tells you he cannot live without any longer. Everything seems like a necessity when you’re taking a ceremonial road break at Texas Best.
For all the time I have spent traveling, especially on I-20, the magical Texas Best traditions aren’t the only meaningful travel traditions of a simple origin. Mama always knows that when she sees a post like Feelin’ Mighty Fine, I’m on the ground in Shreveport—more specifically, I’m likely sitting in front of a bowl of tortilla soup at Superior Grill. Or when I get very close to my home in the country, I’ll stop by T-Jim’s Grocery in Cottonport, Louisiana and talk to my old friend Jacques Moreau. He’ll usually sell me some hog head cheese (Don’t Google That) molded in the shape of an L, an S, and then a U for some reason.
The point is, when we travel, I believe the mind has time to unplug and see the sights that are at times nothing other than the tall pine trees, the elderly relative across from a piece of pecan pie, or a sleeping child in the back seat of the car. Taking the time to log in those kinds of miles is far more important than buying the next cool gadget or taking every work phone call. They are simple memories in the making, but ones that are the riches of a lifetime.
Send a shout out with your travel traditions @BrandiChambless.
Read Brandi’s column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper.