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News From the Flatlands

So after six months in Texas, last week I officially had my strangest experience yet. Dallas Observer business took me to the Panhandle, where I got to stay in the lovely little highway town of Dumas. Like nearby Sunray, home to the world's largest grain elevator (holds 7 million bushels, locals proudly told me), Dumas has its own claim fame: According to the Chamber of Commerce, it's the "Home of the Ding Dong Daddy!"

Ring a bell? It didn't for me, but luckily the brochure went on to tell how musician Phil Baxter drove through town in the '20s and later penned a song called, "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas." Phil Harris, band leader for the Jack Benny Radio Show, made it famous. And if that doesn't have you booking your next vacation to Dumas, listen to this: According to Mayor Rowdy Rhoades, "the citizens of Dumas are among the finest in the world!"

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If Baxter visited Dumas today, it's safe to say the late songwriter wouldn't recognize it. It's home to McDonald's, Burger King and KFC, as well as father and son cowboys in matching hats and spurs and troops of Halliburton employees in red work suits. But it's also a magnet for immigrants who flock to the prairie town for jobs in oil refineries and meat-packing plants. One morning at the illustrious Best Western, I noticed three crock pots boiling away on the sidewalk outside one of the motel rooms. When a small man emerged and squatted in front of one, then began stirring some sort of beef stew, I approached him Spanish. He stared back at me blankly. Turns out he and his friends are from the Philippines, and they work for Conoco Phillips and live at the Best Western. I should have known.

The next day I went on a reporting trip to a small town nearby -- a collection of trailers, really -- and talked to the chief of the 3-man police force. I asked if there was a restaurant or bar that might be a good place to interview local folks. He stared at me long and hard, as if I were Paris Hilton looking for a nail salon in the middle of prairie nowhere.

"Last person went to a bar and tried to interview people got a bunch of beer bottles thrown at her," he said, eyes narrowed. I wound up at the Laundromat. You'll find out what I was doing in a coming feature, but it involved charades. --Megan Feldman

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