“Vicky’s in great shape and we’re ready for some 2019 road trip fun 1950s style—with a little sunshine.” – Leon Aldridge, April 6, 2019
Those words of optimism sounded great when I penned them three months ago after the “Highway 271 Cruise” classic car touring event in Northeast Texas was rained out. Sunshine was still scarce last Saturday when the rescheduled version got underway, but it was soon to come in the form of crossing paths with old friends along the East Texas pine tree route, and making new ones as well.
That morning back in April, I savored hot coffee from my sunshine-less breakfast room window while violent thunderstorms raged outside and Vicky snoozed in the garage. By the way, Vicky is my 1955 Ford—one of Henry’s finest produced 64 years ago.
Rain, lightning and thunder were still in the offering last Saturday, but this time I was sipping coffee from a travel mug and viewing the weather through Vicky’s windshield. The rescheduled touring cruise was a “go” this time based on forecasts of only light scattered rain along the U.S. 271 route. True to the weather prognosticator’s predictions, we were greeted in Mount Pleasant by rainless but cloudy skies. However, that did not include the 103 miles of rain and thunderstorms we weathered from Center to Daingerfield before reaching the starting point for the day’s activities.
In addition to cloudy skies, we were also greeted in Mount Pleasant by an MPHS school mate of 58-years ago. Vicky was just six years old when Kenny Thompson and I occupied school desks on the same Titus County campus, which was also the last time we had seen each other. Light rain would come and go for the rest of the day, but the wonderful time spent catching up on names from years past and the cars associated with each one was non-stop.
We were still working on those “remember that ’57 Chevy he had” memories at the third tour stop in Gladewater. As the 35 or so cars and their owners who took a chance on the wet weather were directed toward parking at “The Antique Capital of Texas,” I recognized the photographer capturing photos. My journalism journey crossed paths with Jim Bardwell’s some 30-plus years ago and we were quickly good friends. I was entrusted with the care of the Center Light and Champion at the time while Jim was guiding the Lindale Times and News in that city over north of Tyler. Jim and his wife Susanne are owners of the Gladewater Mirror these days along with newspapers at Big Sandy and also Lindale.
Jim and I followed suit in the day’s game of catchup conversations swapping information on the ever-changing business of publishing the local newspaper. It was Suzanne who some years ago during a similar group exchange of “who was where” and “what had they done,” declared that my connections were sufficient to merit a bumper sticker proclaiming, “Honk if You Know Leon Aldridge.” She vowed that night to produce a batch, but I have yet to see one.
Visits with Jim, Kenny and other friends made during the day’s activities ended in Gladewater and the “Highway 271 Progressive Car Cruise” for 2019 was officially in the books. However, our day was not over. Vicky carried on flawlessly getting us on down to Panola County to join the Shelby County Cruisers car club “date night” supper that included a guided tour of G.W. “Dub” Ayres’ outstanding car collection. The gracious host provided narratives on every pristine car in his collection adding one more friend and many memories to my long list.
To end the evening, the Cruisers met for dinner at a restaurant on the north side of Lake Murvaul discussing what else—old cars and good friends. After that, Vicky purred back into Center where our adventure had started a little more than 12 hours and 285 miles earlier. It also ended just as we had started it; in a downpour of rain. But even on rainy days, there is always sunshine in reconnecting with old friends, making new ones and spending time with all of them.
Oh, if you happen to see one of Suzanne’s bumper stickers in your travels, please don’t forget to honk.
(Photo at top of the page: The Highway 271 Cruise caravan of cars line up along Jefferson Street in downtown Pittsburg, Texas.)
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