First off, no matter how eloquent I am or how riveting the pictures I may take, nothing can give you the feeling of LBJ ranch without an actual visit. I'd been there once before in the 90's and never forgot that feeling, a sort of a high like you get going to the mountains. It's like a long, cool drink of water for the soul. And I say that as a person who mostly despises LBJ. So when I had the chance to return during my Formula 1 Fantasy Trip, I made a special effort to quench a longstanding thirst.
It came to be known as the "Texas White House" and Johnson spent a great deal of time there, not only to relax but to conduct business. He liked the feeling of having a "home court" advantage when twisting congressional arms. But I also think considering the incredible pressure he felt in Washington, the escalation of the war he both inflicted and was conflicted by drove him to this wonderful paradise in the hill country of central Texas about 50 miles west of Austin.
When I came through before, Lady Bird was still living here and the tour took you only on a trip around the property. With her passing the house is now the tour (rest of the property is self guided). Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in the house but it was like stepping into a time machine. It's an absolute historical treasure. Desks, furnishings, paintings, books, typewriters - the whole nine yards is still there as if Johnson were ready to walk right out of it as President. It's truly a miracle of preservation.
Underneath this 450 year old tree was a favorite spot for LBJ to conduct his meetings. It's become famous for the various world leaders and other notables who came to sit below its arching branches. The tree is a monument in itself now. If only it could speak!
LBJ loved to play mind games on people. Whether it was carrying on a face-to-face conversation while sitting on an open toilet in the White House or playing a favorite trick with his Amphicar. Without telling his victim the car was amphibious he'd head straight for the river pretending the brakes were out while his passengers braced themselves to wreck, only to find the car floating happily on the water.
Pictures and memorabilia fill the tour shop to paint a human portrait of Johnson. Still, it's a painful reminder to think of what brought him to the Presidency. To step back into the Sixties and its time of hope and innocence lost forever filled me with mixed emotions between the serene countryside, the powerful feeling of history and the painful longing of what could have been.
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