Paoli, Oklahoma

Welcome to Paoli, OklahomaThirty-nine years ago today, I had one of the most frightening moments of my childhood. I had not yet turned twelve and was riding the Greyhound bus back to Dallas from Oklahoma City.

It was the day after Elvis Presley’s funeral, and I had the bright idea to get a newspaper. I wasn’t interested in reading the newspaper; I thought the paper detailing Elvis’ funeral would be a collector’s item one day.

Since I was traveling alone I rode in the front seat of the bus, opposite the driver. This was not the direct OKC-Dallas route, which I had taken on other occasions; this was the indirect, stop at countless places along the way to pick up and drop off riders. When we arrived at the Paoli stop, the driver announced that we would be stopping for a short break and asked if anyone wanted to get off. No one responded, and the driver proceeded to exit the bus and enter the mom and pop store, presumably to get a cold drink.

A few minutes after the driver exited the bus, I noticed the paper rack outside the store and it occurred to me to rush out and get a paper. Because he had already left the bus I didn’t tell the driver I was going inside, which turned out to be a big mistake. I jumped down from the steps of the bus and ran over to grab a paper and took it inside to pay. Somewhere along the way, the driver and I passed each other. But, I didn’t notice him and he apparently didn’t notice me.

As I was waiting in line to pay for my future treasure, I noticed the bus slowly pulling away from where I had left it. A feeling of horror washed over me as I realized I was being left behind, and I immediately burst into tears AND ran for the bus. (I don’t remember if I left the paper on the counter, or simply took it without paying.)

Thankfully, the bus was slow to gain speed. As it limped forward, I was able to catch it. And by catch it I mean I was able to run alongside it banging on the luggage doors, hoping the driver would hear me and stop. He did hear me, and he did stop. When he opened the door, I didn’t have a chance to be relieved before he started yelling at me. “Don’t ever get off my bus again without telling me!” he shouted. “Get in that seat and don’t get up again!” he added for good measure. Believe me, those thoughts had already crossed my mind, so he didn’t need to rub it in.

I was terrified that I almost missed the bus and embarrassed that the driver yelled at me in front of all the other passengers, but I was relieved to be on the bus and not left in the store in Paoli, Oklahoma … wherever that was, because I had no idea at the time.

It took me a while to stop crying and get a real sense of being okay, but I finally did. Though, I think I’ve been permanently marked by the event because I can’t pass the Paoli exit on I-35 without reliving that event.

 

 

Sunset Golf Course, Grand Prairie, TX

Sunset Golf Course, Grand Prairie, Texas (April, 2016)

Sunset Golf Course, Grand Prairie, Texas (April 2016)

I learned to play golf at Sunset Golf Course, which sits just inside Grand Prairie’s eastern city limits. It was really convenient for me as a child, as it was (according to mapquest) less than 5 minutes from our mobile home park in west Dallas. I started playing there when I was about 9; my mom would drop me and a friend off for the day and then came back to get us when we were through.

Sunset was (and apparently remains) a simple course. And by simple, I mean “not flashy.” It has been billed as “a poor man’s golf club” or as a place for the “tennis shoe” crowd to play golf. This simplicity, I think, is what gave a kid like me the chance to learn the game. After paying the minimal green fee, I could play all day, repeating the 9-hole course as many times as I desired. It was not uncommon for us to play 36 holes before calling it quits. Interestingly, regardless of how many times we played the course, I never grew bored of it.

Hole number 9 at Sunset Golf Course, Grand Prairie, Texas (April 2016)

Hole number 9 at Sunset Golf Course, Grand Prairie, Texas (April 2016)

My favorite hole was #9, a par 3 over water to an elevated green. My least favorite hole was number 6, which was long and uninteresting. Number 7 was probably next on my least favorite list because the left side was woods into which I hit a lot of balls. I also found a lot of balls there because the casual nature of Sunset allowed me the opportunity to ball hawk. In those days, there was no course marshal to keep golfers moving along, so it wasn’t unusual for me to spend 20-30 minutes looking for balls in the woods, or in the water on numbers 8 and 9. I had no problem letting others play through, particularly if my ball bag was getting filled. On several occasions – long before recycling golf balls became big business – I spent a half hour or longer in the water feeling around for balls in the muck. The delay didn’t do anything for my golf rhythm, but it was fun and kept me from buying golf balls.

Holes 1, 5, and 9 surround the driving range, and I have to admit to grabbing a range ball here and there. I seem to remember actually going into the range to gather balls, too. Playing #3 on Saturdays and Sundays was always interesting because it was side-by-side with Yellow Belly Drag Strip. No amount of “quiet please” signs could mute the blaring music and roaring engines. You simply had to deal with the noise.

When I was about 11, a friend and I played 18 holes during the Thanksgiving holiday; it was 25 degrees. When I was in high school, my dad started to play golf and this is the course we most often played.

It’s been decades since I played at Sunset, but it remains embedded in my happy memories.

Here’s a blurb on the history Sunset Golf Course from the Golf 18 Network:

The original Sunset Golf Club was established in the 1930s. It was a Grand Prairie golf course at the corner of Cockrell Hill and Davis, and it was instantly a popular tee time for nearby Dallas golf lovers. The club moved to its current, picturesque setting in 1953, and it has been owned and operated by three generations of the Mims family, who have a long, rich history with the classic sport of golf. C.B. Mims was the architect and PGA professional at Sunset until he died in 1992 at age 75. C.B. played on the tour in the ‘40s and ‘50s, including in the 1941 U.S. Open and several times in the Dallas Open. His family’s continued dedication to the sport they love shows in the excellent quality of Sunset Golf Club.

I was mugged!

The Plaza Hotel on Akard Street, Dallas, Texas

The Plaza Hotel on Akard Street, Dallas, Texas (Click to enlarge.)

In January 1983, I was a high school senior and I was mugged next to the Plaza Hotel on the edge of downtown Dallas.

Early that morning, I had been taken to the United States Military Entrance Processing Command (MEPS) by my Marine Corps recruiter. The command was a centralized location to process recruits for all branches of the military. At MEPS, the recruits complete aptitude tests, background screening, and a physical. From what I remember, the process was quite streamlined; the recruits arrived early, were put through their paces (mental and physical exams), then sent to lunch at the Plaza Hotel on Akard Street just across I-30.  After returning from lunch, the recruits were inducted by swearing an oath of service to end the day.

Everything went fine until lunch. We were instructed to walk over to the Plaza Hotel, which back then, was only a few minutes walk from the location of the processing center. Since I was the only recruit from the Grand Prairie station, I walked to lunch by myself. As I crossed the Akard Street bridge, I passed a group of guys going the opposite direction. They were about my age and a little older, and there were five or six of them. Ten, fifteen, maybe twenty seconds after I passed them, I had a strange feeling and looked over my shoulder. At that moment, they had turned around and started back my direction. I kept walking toward the hotel, which was located immediately at the end of the bridge. After a few paces, I looked back again. By now, they had started to run my direction. I continued to walk toward the hotel, which was even closer by this point. However, the entrance was around the corner, and before I got there, I was surrounded.

Craig Dunning was mugged under this tree at the Dallas Plaza Hotel on Akard Street in January 1983

Craig Dunning was mugged under this tree at the Dallas Plaza Hotel on Akard Street in January 1983.

One of the most vivid memories of the event was the tree. I had been herded off the sidewalk into the grass, and the tree was right there. Until recently, I hadn’t been back to that location since it happened, which is now 33 years ago. When I arrived at the location, not only was the tree still there the memories were still there, too. It’s amazing how vivid the memories are all these years later considering the encounter was not more than 1 minute long.

The group of guys surrounded me. And as I turned toward the tree to see the guys on that side of me, one of them hit me square on the chin and another grabbed for my wallet in my back pocket. Although I was staggered, I was able to slap his hand away from my pocket with my right hand and gather myself without falling to the ground. As I stood up straight, we all froze in place … the prey surrounded by the hunters. I looked at them. They looked at me. And after a few seconds, I said, “That’s enough!” and proceeded to exit the circle toward the entrance to the hotel. They remained frozen as I walked between them. I have no idea why they let me leave. Perhaps they were stunned that I resisted. Or that I decided to leave. Or that I didn’t fall to the ground from the knockout punch. I don’t know, and it sounds unbelievable as I type it. But, that’s what happened.

As I walked away, they broke full speed in the opposite direction. Once inside the hotel, I found a seat among other recruits and sat down. I was stunned and apparently disheveled enough that one of the guys asked me what was wrong? “I just got mugged,” I said without emotion. Everyone at the table looked at me in disbelief. I explained the details, and one tough young recruit scolded me for not fighting them. He went on to describe what he would have done had he been in the same situation. Everyone at the table laughed at his bravado before describing to him how poor his chances would be against a group of five or six guys. He insisted he would have wiped the floor with those “blankety-blanks.”

Eventually, I was able to eat and when I finished, I walked back to MEPS with a couple of the guys. Immediately upon our arrival, they reported the incident. One of the managers brought me in to find out the details before calling the police. The police showed up pretty quickly and began to scour the area for the gang, but never saw anyone fitting the description I had provided.

My recruiter finally returned to bring me back home. He was shocked at my story and was humored by the machismo of the tough guy at lunch. He assured me I did the right thing by not engaging with the gang, but he also said that once I finished boot camp I would be able to manage five or six guys with no problems.

I never had nightmares nor flashbacks from the event, but I did have sharp jaw and ear pain for a few years. I also began to keep a better watch on my surroundings when I’m out and about. One other thing: I don’t think I would keep walking if such a situation were to occur again. I. Would. Run.

My First Job and First Business

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This is the yard I mowed each week when I was about 10 years old.

I was about 10 when the entrepreneurial spirit hit me. I had the idea to start a lawn mowing business in our mobile home park and went door to door asking for the opportunity to mow their yards. I managed to secure but one yard on a weekly basis, but picked up others here and there.

I didn’t have a formal business because I had no company name, no business license, no tax advisors. I didn’t even have a receipt book. I simply was a kid who wanted to work and earn some money.

Even though I had only one regular customer, I received $5 each time I mowed her yard. That wasn’t bad money for a 10-year-old in 1976. It didn’t take me more than 20 minutes to finish the job because I didn’t trim or edge and the lot was only about 350 sq ft.

Although I don’t remember any specific thing that I did with the money I earned, I appreciate my parents allowing me to do this because I learned personal responsibility, commitment, and the value of working. All of which have been more important to me than the amount of money I earned through my “business.”

Arlington Stadium, The Texas Rangers, and Me

Arlington Stadium was the original home of the Texas Rangers. Although it was never shrouded in baseball lore like Yankee Stadium, it is where stadium nachos were invented and it was the professional ballpark of my childhood.

Arlington-Stadium-500We weren’t season ticket holders but we went fairly regularly, particularly on promotion events. My most vivid memory of a promotion night was bat night. Most of the flooring in the stadium (at least in the outfield) was steel plating, so you might imagine how loud it got when thousands of kids pounded their bats on the floor during a rally. Presumably for safety reasons, bat night was discontinued.

One season, we went frequently enough that I was able to get a pennant for every MLB team, buying one per visit. The walls in my room were covered with team pennants. I also liked to get the miniature bats, which were great for cup ball games in the parking lot while we waited for the traffic to clear after the game.

Craig Dunning and Lenny Randle, Father's Day 1975, Arlington Stadium

Craig Dunning and Lenny Randle, Father’s Day 1975, Arlington Stadium

I loved going to the park, especially when we got there early enough to get autographs and see pre-game batting practice. The sights, sounds, and smells continue to be a thrill for me though I rarely go to games anymore. I’ve been priced out of Major League games.

A few visits to Arlington Stadium from my childhood are seared into my memory. When I was about 10, for some reason I placed my brand new baseball glove on the back bumper of our car before getting into the car. I also forgot that it was there. We drove out the Turnpike (I-30) and just before the 360 exit, the traffic backed up to a crawl and a passenger in another car noticed my glove … still on the bumper almost 10 miles later! As they passed us, he pointed to the back of our car and incredulously said, “There’s a glove on your bumper.” It took a second, but I realized what he meant, and shouted,”My glove! I left it on the bumper!” My dad immediately pulled on to the shoulder and I jumped out and retrieved my glove. My dad was so amazed the glove was still on the bumper, I didn’t even get in trouble for leaving it there.

Craig-Jeff-Burroughs-19740616-500pxa

Craig Dunning and Jeff Burroughs, Father’s Day 1974, Arlington Stadium

In the mid to late 70s, the outfield wall in left and right fields didn’t extend all the way to the bleachers, which left an open area just beyond the railing. Home run balls frequently landed in that area about 8 feet below the front row seats, and fans always went over the rail and jumped down to retrieve those balls. Frequently, several fans went for a ball and sometimes they would even end up wrestling for it, which was always exciting.

Whenever we sat in the outfield, we usually sat in the right field bleachers because the setting sun would not be directly in our eyes. Once, though, when I was 11 or 12, we were sitting in the first few rows of the left field bleachers when a ball fell short of the stands. I immediately scaled the fence and dropped to the ground below. Several others did the same, but I was the first to pounce on the ball. It. Was. Mine. At least for the moment. By the time we all climbed back up into the stands, a few ushers were waiting for me. They demanded the ball because I was not supposed to leave the stands. Of course, they were right, … but everybody jumped down there. I wasn’t even the first that night, and they hadn’t bothered anyone else. Nevertheless, with great disappointment, I surrendered the ball, and the ushers left to a great chorus of boos.

When I was in high school, I and a couple friends had a very unusual experience at Arlington Stadium. The father of one of the kids from my high school made arrangements for the visiting teams, which included seating for the wives/girlfriends, hotel accommodations, and transportation to and from the stadium. One night, the Detroit Tiger’s team bus was slow in leaving the stadium, and a handful of the players were anxious to get out of there. I’m not sure how word got to three high school kids (I was 16, at the time), but we were told that some players were looking for rides to the hotel. We immediately said that we would take them, and as quickly as possible drove our cars around to the visiting team exit. To my absolute surprise, three Detroit Tigers piled into my two-door, 1973 Camaro for the short ride to the hotel. That was in 1982, and now 34 years later, I can’t remember the names of those players. Five minutes after they got into my car, we were at the hotel. I didn’t ask for autographs or tickets or anything else; I barely even talked to them because I didn’t know what to say. I can’t imagine the same scenario happening today, but it did in 1982. I gave three Detroit Tigers a ride from the stadium to their hotel.

I was disappointed when I learned that Arlington Stadium was being replaced by a newer, better stadium. I suppose the Ballpark in Arlington (its original name) is a better and nicer stadium, but it will never replace Arlington Stadium, the park of my youth.

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