I COULD ALREADY SMELL LILLARD’S hog farm.
At the crest of the hill we would be able to see the roof of Top O’ the Hill Terrace, that mysterious, long abandoned casino with its iron gates, secret tunnels and disappearing decor. That’s where we had our senior class party. On the opposite side of town on the edge of the old Waggoner spread would be the ruin of Arlington Downs, to my knowledge the only thoroughbred horse track in Texas history. Whatever else Arlington had going for it, it had geography.
The three of us were riding crowded in the cab of the pickup truck that actor Cliff Robertson had conned from Ford while he was freewheeling around North Texas scouting locations for the movie J. W. Coop, a film that Robertson would produce, direct, star in, and, finally, claim to have written; it was the story of a cowboy who returns home to Arlington after doing 15 years in the Big Rodeo at Huntsville. Bud Shrake, who co-wrote the script with me, was driving, I was in the middle, and Robertson was on the passenger side, talking a blue streak.
For the moment, however, I was directing, feeling that unique coming-home rush, watching the Cross Timbers flatten into black patches, indulging in a free stream of memories as the institutions of my youth flowed in review.
My plan was this: we’d run Death Crossing, then head out Davis Drive and turn back on South Cooper, past the University of Texas at Arlington (Arlington State, we called it, and before that North Texas Agricultural College and before that Grubbs Vocational. Arlington has been a college town since 1895.) Then we’d drive past the old high school, past the old Cooper mansion, east on Abram along the path of the long-dead Interurban trolley that once connected Fort Worth and Dallas, past the fine old homes deliberately constructed so that the gentry of those easier times could