Strangest State: Magic in the Drive-Thru and Farewell to Taco Dogs


Patrick Michels

A version of this story ran in the February 2015 issue.

Above: The infamous Socorro ISD taco dog, aka "lunch"

“Strangest State” is a recurring feature on local news you might have missed from around Texas. From profiles of small-town doctors to monstrous swamp creatures found by local kids, they’re stories that don’t fit… anywhere, really, but we want to be sure don’t go unnoticed. Got a local oddity or some small-town news to share? Tips are welcome at [email protected].


Marshall // There’s a glass ceiling behind the bars of the Harrison County Jail, where Sheriff Tom McCool refuses to allow women into the jail’s trustee work program. That’s according to the Marshall News Messenger, which reports that only men are allowed to work odd jobs around the jail, enjoying breaks from their cells and earning credit for good behavior. Eight women locked up in the Harrison County Jail have filed a federal discrimination complaint, but McCool insists he doesn’t have the staff to keep women from “intermingling” with men outside their cells. In any case, McCool explained, it’s mostly men’s work. “Of course, most of our females could not perform the function that some of the males perform,” McCool said, though he has considered one possible solution: “I’ve looked at, ‘Well, maybe we could make a car-washing crew out of the ladies.’”

Terlingua // Brewster County law enforcement officials had been on the lookout for missing 80-year-old Mary Broughton for most of 2014 when Broughton’s daughter, Judith, until recently of the National Psychic Network, helped solve the case. On a tip from Judith, authorities found Mary’s body buried in a bag beneath the kitchen floor of Judith’s home outside Terlingua. Sheriff Ronny Dodson told Midland’s NewsWest 9 his deputies had brought search dogs to the spot before, but the corpse’s scent had apparently been masked by that of dead dogs and cats scattered on top of the shallow grave. “The house is just a total ruin,” Dodson told the station. Judith Broughton had been cashing her late mother’s Social Security checks for months—a grisly situation all around, but not, in fact, all that surprising to local officials. That’s because Judith had just begun serving 10 years in prison for collecting more than $150,000 in Social Security benefits paid to her father since 1997, before his body was found “mummified” in a Kentucky storage locker in April.

“There’s just something about magic.”

Port Lavaca // Thirty-year-old James Dunnell aspired to exceptional customer service at the McDonald’s drive-thru window, but his signature farewell blessing—“Have a lovely day”—just wasn’t having the desired effect. So, as Dunnell explained to The Port Lavaca Wave in a December profile, when a friend returned from Disneyland with stories about being told to “Have a magical day,” Dunnell was inspired to crib the phrase that’s made him a local celebrity. The Wave explains: “Magic as an adjective is defined as something that is ‘wonderful or exciting.’ … The word ‘magic’ brings up images of fairy tales or a man wearing a cape who pulls a rabbit from a hat—the seemingly impossible made possible through some supernatural ability. Who of us could not use a little magic in their day?” The “magical” reputation has begun to precede Dunnell around town. “I go to Walmart and people recognize me as the ‘Have a magical day’ guy,” Dunnell told the paper. “There’s just something about magic.”

Socorro // The scourge of Socorro has been struck from the lunch menu, KVIA-TV reports: “The ‘taco dog’ is no more.” Despite somehow “meeting all the nutritional requirements” for school lunch, according to a Socorro ISD spokesman, the lonely weiner dressed in nothing but a hard taco shell proved so unpopular among elementary school students that the district was forced to cancel its misadventure in fusion cuisine after just one day. “Taco blasphemy,” the El Paso Times called it. If there is a bright side to this sorry episode, it may be found in a school nutrition working group inspired by the affair, which plans to remove sugar-delivery vehicles such as pan dulce, French toast sticks and Pop-Tarts from the menu, too.

El Cenizo // The people of El Cenizo discovered that the arsonists who burned down three abandoned homes were two of the town’s own volunteer firefighters, according to KGNS-TV. Eighteen-year-old Pablo Ernesto Figueroa Osorio told investigators that he and 27-year-old Jeremy Aaron Jones committed the arsons to protest the city’s lack of support for the department. El Cenizo Mayor Raul Reyes called the protest “childish.” The city’s fire chief resigned under pressure from the mayor.