It’s Time to Take “That” Road Trip Again

If you’ve been reading The Task at Hand for a while, you already know which road trip’s involved. If you don’t know, you’re about to meet one of the best tales to come out of Texas.  It’s said that humor is the best medicine, and there’s little question we all could use a dose or two at this point. Every time I read this, I either laugh, or smile, or both. I hope you do, too.

Floydada, Texas is cotton country. It’s also known for good pumpkins, and likes to advertise itself as the Pumpkin Capital of the US.

It’s a flat, expansive piece of Panhandle real estate, a land marked by impossibly distant horizons and barely distinguishable days. Strangers develop a habit of looking around, as if to orient themselves. Even Texans who’ve grown up with the wind, the dust, and the storms say it aloud now and then, as if to remind themselves: “This place will run you nuts, if you let it.”

By the time things settled down, people wondered if Sammy Rodriguez and his brother Danny hadn’t been run nuts because of those Panhandle circumstances: too much wind; too much work; too little ability to get their bearings while facing the limitless horizons of life.

Whatever the cause, when they disappeared along with eighteen of their relatives, Floydada Police Chief James Hale heard about it as soon as some of the Rodriguez kinfolk tracked him down to report the missing brothers. The family members mentioned to Chief Hale that the men had been saying some strange things. “They made statements like ‘the Devil was after them,’ and ‘Floydada was going to be destroyed’ if they stayed here,” Hale said.

Later, someone remarked that Floydada wouldn’t be much of a loss if it was destroyed, but he said it quietly, and away from the crowds.

After more than twenty years, people in surrounding towns — even the Baptists, Methodists, and Pentecostals, who tend to take their religion pretty seriously — still kept clippings about the story close at hand. When I saw the article tacked onto a refrigerator in Idalou, torn rather than clipped from the newspaper and starting to yellow with age, it still bore witness to the best part of the story: every living word of it is true: excepting perhaps those conversations the preacher had with the Devil. But no one’s sure about that.

The broad outlines of the story were clear. The Rodriguez family fled Floydada in five or six cars, abandoning one in Lubbock and a second in San Angelo. A third was found in Galveston, filled with clothing, purses, wallets, and other personal items. Eventually, all twenty people crammed themselves into one car and headed east toward Florida, only to be stopped short in Vinton, Louisiana.

Main Street ~ Vinton, Louisiana

The troubles in Vinton began after a campground owner called police to say the group had tried to commandeer an RV. When a Calcasieu Parish deputy stopped their car, the driver seemed willing to answer questions, but when he got out of the car, he was clad only in a towel draped around his mid-section. Vinton Police Chief Dennis Drouillard said, “When the officer went to ask what was going on, he jumped back in and took off.”

The group not only took off, they took off down Vinton’s main street at speeds approaching 90 mph, until the car plowed through a fence at the baseball park and hit a tree. At that point, fifteen adults and five children piled out of the 1990 Pontiac Grand Am.

“They were completely nude,” Drouillard said. “All twenty of them. Didn’t have a stitch of clothes on. I mean, no socks, no underwear, no nothin’. Five of them [the children] were in the trunk. The Lord told them to get rid of all their belongings and go to Louisiana. So they got rid of all their clothes and pocketbooks and wallets and identification and the license plate off their car and came to our gorgeous state.”

The car was totaled, but the injuries were minor. Sammy Rodriguez was booked on charges of reckless driving, flight from an officer, property damage and assorted minor traffic violations.

Like the police, city prosecutors found themselves bemused, and tended toward leniency. In exchange for Rodriguez paying a $650 fine and picking up the $975 tab for fixing the fence and a telephone pole, they dismissed charges of criminal damage to property.

In a fit of good sense, no charges were brought for indecent exposure. As Court Clerk Mary Vice said, “The statute states that for indecent exposure you have to be exposing yourself in order to arouse someone. That wasn’t their intent.”

Magistrate Kent Savoie gave Rodriguez 90 days to pay for the fence and 30 days to pay the fine. He was ordered to spend 17 days in jail, but after being given credit for six days served, the balance of the sentence was suspended.

Once the proceedings ended, Savoie asked Rodriguez, pastor of the Templo Getsemani Assembly of God Church, why he and his nineteen relatives left their clothes behind in their flight from Texas. Rodriquez said he had a vision from God on August 17, telling him Judgment Day was at hand, and he and his family were to go to Florida. At some point in the journey, they became convinced the Devil was in the details of their clothing, so off it came.

Whatever Savoie thought of the response, he seemed to accept it. “I don’t know what possessed you to do what you did, but I’m relying on the statement you were told to do so by some higher being.” By that time, Rodriguez had been thinking things over. “It wasn’t God, sir,” Rodriguez answered, his voice nearly inaudible. “I would like to apologize to the people of Vinton and Floydada for everything, and I ask for their forgiveness.”

Rodriguez said he planned to leave immediately for Lubbock and then Floydada. “When I return to Floydada I am pretty certain that I will no longer be the pastor of my church, unless the people there can forgive me,” he said. “I plan to look for a job as soon as I get back.” Rodriguez’s wife’s family sent her a plane ticket, and she returned ahead of him. A relative drove the other 18 people on to Wauchula, Florida.

And that would have been the end of it, had not a fellow named Chris Stuart heard the story ten years later. Deciding he had enough material for a song, he went to work. In the end, he wrote a memorable one — good enough to be included in a collection of Car Talk Car Tunes put together by National Public Radio for their popular Saturday morning show hosted by Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers.

Whenever I listen to the song, I laugh. I wouldn’t be surprised to know God laughs every time he hears the story, and taps his toe to the song. Let’s face it. Humans can be good for a laugh now and then, even when we’re trying to be serious.

Twenty Naked Pentecostals in a Pontiac
I was thumbin’ my way down to Baton Rouge, standin’ on the side of the road,
When a car pulled over and a voice cried out, “We’ll take you where you want to go.”
I jumped inside, but to my surprise, they were naked as a poor man’s toes.
It was a tight situation when the whole congregation said the devil was in my clothes.
Twenty naked Pentecostals in a Pontiac,
Brothers and sisters shoutin’ in the back,
Elders in the front, choir in the trunk,
Twenty naked Pentecostals in a Pontiac.
The sermon that morning was on Adam and Eve and the ways of the dreadful snake,
Everybody was clappin’ when the preacher pointed at me, my body began to shake.
I threw off my shirt, and my shoes and my socks,
My jeans and my BVDs.
We were all in the nude, shoutin’ “Hallelu!”
and singing “Somebody Touched Me.”
Twenty naked Pentecostals in a Pontiac,
Brothers and sisters shoutin’ in the back,
Elders in the front, choir in the trunk,
Twenty naked Pentecostals in a Pontiac.
We had the cruise control set to fifty-five, when a Smokey got on our tail.
He pulled up beside, his eyes got wide, and the siren began to wail.
We ran off the road toward the tree of life, Lord, the future was looking bleak,
We hung on and prayed, everybody was saved,
‘Cause we all knew how to turn the other cheek.
Twenty naked Pentecostals in a Pontiac,
Brothers and sisters shoutin’ in the back,
Elders in the front, choir in the trunk,
Twenty naked Pentecostals in a Pontiac.



Comments always are welcome.

76 thoughts on “It’s Time to Take “That” Road Trip Again

    1. I suspect if I’d made this one up, no one would have believed it. I still find references to the events here and there. There’s a swamp pop group in Louisiana that used the storyline in a song, although this version’s far more memorable — and danceable.

    1. The story’s good enough on its own, but the song is terrific. It’s on my road trip playlist, that’s for sure.
      Happy Independence Day to you and yours, John.

    1. Everyone needs a little fun from time to time, and one of the best things about this story is that the respect given to that group of memorable travelers allowed the fun to endure. I love the response of law enforcement as much as any other part of the tale!

    1. If summer reruns can be a thing on tv, why not on our blogs? Some tales shouldn’t be forgotten, especially if dusting them off and bringing them into the light again can bring a smile.

    1. They do. In addition to this collection of musical selections, there are various complilation CDs from the program. A few of the songs are available online, but I couldn’t find the one called “Driving in Massachusetts” that’s said to be hilarious.

  1. Lol. That’s quite a story. I keep trying to picture 20 people naked in a car running away from the police. Surprised they went back to FLoydada. Seems like nothing there worth going back for.

    1. Well, as is so often true with small towns, there are divided opinions. I’ve been to Floydada, and some of the memories of drought and Depression I’ve written about came from a fellow who was born there. Roots run deep. Some of the people I met have families who’ve farmed the Panhandle for generations — and some of our best music has roots there: think Buddy Holly, Bob Wills, Joe Ely. Even Georgia O’Keefe was influenced by her years there. She left, but kept the influence.

  2. Hear me puffin’. Just sat down after that Pentecostal dance. Somewhat difficult to do now with aching back, weak knees, and pushing my walker, and swinging my cane over my head. Probably could do better is I weren’t hampered by this dress I have on.

    1. I knew you’d enjoy this one rising up again, Oneta. When kindness is combined with humor, it’s a wonderful thing. Besides, if we can’t tap a toe, we always can at least tap a finger, and this song encourages tapping! Happy Independence Day — to you, as well as to the country at large! Your independent spirit’s always an inspiration.

    1. I noticed that for the first time myself when I was editing this. Someone may have remarked on it in the past, but I don’t think so. It’s another of those little details that can be so easy to miss.

    1. We never were able to stuff more than about a dozen fully-clothed teenagers into a car for a trip to the drive-in movies. If the kids were in the trunk, there would be a better shot at it, but it’s still hard to imagine. Motivation is everything, I guess.

    1. Being able to stuff so much story into a relatively short song was nothing short of genius. To be able to give it a catchy tune and a danceable rhythm was even better.

    1. The best part is that it turned into a sort of all’s well that ends well story. I tried a couple of times to get more post-trip, post-return to Floydada details, but never did. No matter. The best stories stand perfectly well on their own.

    1. I’m glad you thought so, Debbie. Despite the problems we have as a country, and despite some other sorts of posts I could have written, I firmly believe that a little human and a little relaxation is necessary if we’re to deal with the other realities of life. Besides — it’s just a flat funny story.

    1. It’s one of my favorites (obviously) and even better because it is true. Your comparison to Prairie Home Companion’s a good one. I rarely missed a broadcast, and loved Garrison Keillor’s stories: partly because I grew up in Iowa and could laugh myself silly at his all-too-accurate portrayals of midwestern life, and partly because he was such a consummate story-teller that everyone could relate, no matter where their home might have been.

    1. I’m with you; I’d rather tell the story than participate in the activity. But that’s just fine. It’s such a great story, and such a good song, that I’m perfectly happy to just sit back and take it in. I’m glad the song got your foot tapping — did you happen to share it with Papa?

    1. Every now and then one of those moments arrives when it does take a few seconds to take in what’s happening, and begin to make at least some sense of it. On the other hand, at least the police could be fairly sure that no one was carrying a concealed weapon!

  3. First thing *I* spotted about the song was, that it is a Cajun-style fiddle tune. Cool story, also.

    1. That’s exactly right — and that Cajun influence is a good part of what makes it a great dance tune as well as an amusing song. Thanks for noticing and pointing it out for other readers.

    1. Some stories deserve to be retold, and this is one. I know that it’s still told around a few kitchen tables and on some front porches. It usually starts when someone says, “Remember when…” or “Speaking of [X], whatever happened to ….?”

  4. LOL This one is always good for a laugh. Your timing is appropriate. I recently found out that July 11 – July 17 is National Nude Recreation Week.

    1. How about that? I had no idea there was a national Nude Recreation Week, but I’ll bet whoever’s behind it doesn’t live in the south. Scorched delicate body parts aren’t my idea of a good time!

      1. Not to mention the skeeters, chiggers and no-see-ums. I hope the participants in that naturist endeavour remember to carry their OFF.

    1. To be honest, of all the varieties of craziness in the world, this one lands on the gentle-and-essentially harmless end of the crazy spectrum. I love that the people they encountered were relatively forgiving, and lenient when it came to punishments. We could do with more of that, for sure.

    1. It’s a memorable story, that’s for sure. There are quite a few online articles about it, and I occasionally scare up an extra detail. The Tampa Bay Times added that while Rodriguez was cooling his heels in jail for those few days, the rest of the crew was taken in by a Baptist church in Sulphur, Louisiana while the family back home was contacted. Eventually, most of them went on to Florida: presumably fully clothed.

    1. I’ve thought so from the first time I heard the tale. To come across a story that’s true, funny, and in its own way very gentle is special these days. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    1. Texas has a tradition of tall tales, but there are true tales, too, and this is one of the best. If I ever get back to the Panhandle, I’m going to poke around a little and see if I can find out how the family fared after things settled down. But if I can’t get “the rest of the story,” no matter. It’s just great as it is.

  5. That is so funny! I do remember you mentioned this once before…it’s sort of hard to forget the mental picture of twenty Pentecostals naked in a car!
    And also thank you again for all your advice on my blog. I do think I’ll figure this all out eventually, and every tip is a step closer to resolution. I’m able to comment on your blog without logging back in, as myself. Go figure! (I can do this on some blog, and others require I sign in, some with my password, and some without giving it again.)

    1. Let’s be honest, here — imagining twenty naked any sort of humans in a car is pretty darned funny. On the other hand, these folks may just have been ahead of their time. Look at this article that I came across in the last day or so. I can’t imagine that, either, but at least the south Texas crew isn’t in any danger of doing damage, or being arrested.

      I’m glad you’re able to keep negotiating the blogs, even if it still requires a little extra effort. There are a couple of work-arounds I’ve had to use in the past; oddly, the issues that made them necessary simply disappeared after a time.

      One thing I didn’t mention is that WordPress often makes changes to the internal structure of the site without any public notice. There have been times when those changes have affected one browser and not the others, or one operating system but not the others. If you need to chit-chat with the Happiness crew in the future, it’s always good to tell them up front what you’re using: for example, Windows 10 with Firefox, or Safari with Chrome. It makes their research easier — and sometimes quicker.

    1. Laughs are what I was hoping for, and by golly, you laughed! Every now and then I feel the need for a little humor, and if others want to come along for the ride (clothed or not), it makes me happy. The song is a toe-tapper. I have it in my road trip playlist, and it never fails to bring a smile all on its own.

      1. I might just need to add this to my road trip playlist! I can imagine how this brings a boost to the car and enriches the whole mood!!

    1. Well, yes: close-knit, if not knit-clothed! I’ll say this — every detail of this story seems perfect to me. I don’t even need to know what happened to all the characters “afterwards” — although it certainly would be interesting.

  6. The story and the song made me laugh. If I remember the prim-and-proper conduct of the German police of 50 years or more correctly, the crazy bunch of naked Pentecostals would not gotten off the hook so lightly. I plan to dance to the cheerful, non-judgmental song with my wife tonight.

    1. The non-judgmental nature of the songs, the response of the authorities, and the people who helped the folks from the Panhandle get to their various destinations is responsible for a good bit of the story’s charm. There’s no question that the story brings a smile to most people, and that song is just made for dancing!

    1. Story-telling as an art has fallen into significant decline, I fear — and good-natured humor has gone right along with it. Even though the facts of this one are true and memorable enough, it’s the story-in-the-song that elevates the whole thing, and makes it worth remembering.

    1. I honestly believe it’s impossible to be depressed or unhappy when listening to Cajun music. Even the waltzes and laments have that ‘little something’ that draws me in and leaves me satisified in a way no other music does. One of the places I’ve not yet visited in Louisiana is the Savoy Music Center in Eunice. They have a jam every Saturday, and I can’t think of a better trip to make when I have the money and the time!

  7. What a great song… not only the foot is tapping, the whole leg is dancing and the second one too… thank you very much.
    greetings to you – Viola

    1. Thank you so much for visiting, and for the delightful comment. I visited your blog, and admired the photographs a great deal. Not only that — I was eating cherries at the time!

    1. It’s one of my favorite true stories: funny, gentle, quirky, and filled with surprises. The fact that it was turned into such a great song is pure lagniappe; I love that song, and will play it quite often when on the road. It always makes me smile.

    1. If I hadn’t been visiting with people in the Panhandle, I probably never would have come across this tale. Like most people, I’d always thought of the area as a good bit of ‘nothing,’ but that was my error.
      Your own trip sounds as though it could have been equally exciting — or nerve-wracking, depending.

    1. That’s why I republish it every few years. It’s one of those stories that seems as though it ought to be false, but isn’t. Not only that, it’s a reminder of a time when people were far more willing to entertain human foibles without snark, ridicule, or judgment. When restitution and forgiveness coexist, it’s a happy ending, for sure.

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