ROUND TOP, Texas (AP) — With the Saturday lunch rush coming to a close, Bud Royer sidled up to what can only be described as a wooden throne — emblazoned “King Bud the Pieman” — on the front porch of his Round Top CafΘ.
Royer, who held court with patrons as they came and went, is an institution in this quaint country town after three decades of serving pie and other fare. But these days, it’s not too uncommon to see him out front with a newer addition to the local royalty: former Gov. Rick Perry.
“He drinks a Shiner beer and smokes a cigar with me,” Royer said with a chuckle.
The Dallas Morning News (http://bit.ly/1TSkTIe ) reports that since bowing out of the 2016 presidential race in September, Perry has road-tripped across the country in a classic Chevy Chevelle, attended Texas A&M football games and watched from afar as Texas’ highest criminal court considers his fate.
But Perry’s move to private life has also included plenty of time to kick back at his new home in Round Top — 75 miles east of Austin — where he has said he has the “best sunset from our front porch that you could ever imagine.”
And the transition has apparently had an impact.
“It’s taken a little bit of time for him to get used to slowing down,” said Griffin Perry, the ex-governor’s son. “(But) I’ve had multiple people come up to me — who’ve known Dad for a long time — who said that they have never seen him this relaxed.”
Round Top, population 90, has long been an oasis for Houstonians and Austinities looking to get away. With a small-town Texas vibe that supports a renowned arts and antiques scene, the town might be said to resemble Perry himself: a country-hewn persona with hipster glasses.
Perry, by all accounts, is relishing the lifestyle, and the town appears to have reciprocated. And one silver lining to Perry’s early exit from the presidential race might be relief among some locals that Round Top won’t face the intense spotlight of being the next Western White House.
Even neighbor and longtime friend Tommy Orr — who still gets emotional about Perry ending his presidential bid — said he had eyed that kind of international attention with some trepidation. “We’ve got such a quiet and neat area,” said Orr, who’s had a place in Round Top for about 10 years. “Part of me would’ve wanted not to mess it up too much — or at least do what we could to maintain the integrity of the area.”
Perry, a divisive figure after 14 years as governor, is just the latest politician to make the retreat from years in the public eye, though he feels the added sting of not being able to do it on his own terms. The Republican had hoped this election cycle to redeem his stumbling 2012 presidential campaign.
Perry came back as a candidate reinvigorated, telling The Dallas Morning News over the summer that “it’s real different from last time.” But Perry — whose spokesman didn’t respond to requests for an interview — couldn’t gain traction in a crowded GOP field.
Those close to Perry said they hadn’t spent much time rehashing the effort with him. Though a political committee is trying to persuade him to revive his bid, Perry confidants gave no signs of a reboot. Instead, some echoed Perry in blaming the dismal result on looming abuse-of-power charges.
“You can’t plan for things like an outrageous indictment,” said Deirdre Delisi, a longtime Perry aide.
That legal battle, which stems from Perry’s attempt to oust the Travis County district attorney after her DWI arrest, has gotten Perry most of the attention he’s seen in recent weeks.
But Perry has also made occasional cable news appearances. He’s worked on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, a Dallas pipeline company. And he’s been the subject of news reports about his throwing his political weight around both before and after he left the governor’s office.
In Round Top, though, Perry is almost just another guy.
“I don’t see people falling over themselves because he’s walking through,” said Tom Conner, a Houston lawyer who keeps a weekend home there.
That sort of nonchalant embrace — along with the country environs — was surely part of the appeal for Perry. Another big draw was the chance to live next door to two A&M classmates — Orr and Joe Weber, the retiring Texas Department of Transportation chief.
Perry’s move to Round Top began in 2013, when he purchased from Weber 10 acres just outside the city limits. Perry and his wife, Anita, then built an expansive house overlooking rolling pastures and Orr’s pond stocked with catfish.
They joined a community that’s really two towns, depending on the day.
Early in the week, Round Top lives up to its claim of being the “smallest incorporated town in Texas.” It has one stoplight, whose upgrade last month was the talk of the town. One of the few stores open all week is the Round Top Mercantile Company — part gas station, part general store, part gathering place.
“All the guys come in the morning and drink coffee and BS and everything,” said Eugene Hall, an employee there.
Round Top comes to life later in the week — more resembling the bustling home of its famous antique festivals.
Tourists and weekenders arrive. There’s the world-class concert hall at Festival Hill and a thriving arts scene. Stores around the square sell all manner of goods: vintage barware at Lark, authentic French antiques at Maison Miral, handcrafted pottery at Copper Shade Tree.
One measure of the town’s ongoing evolution is evident on Royer’s menu: grilled salmon and 50 kinds of wine are elbowing out burgers and chicken-fried steak. And as Round Top’s popularity grows — and development with it — many want to preserve the town’s inherent charm.
“That’s what brings people here,” said Barbara Samuelson, co-owner of Lark. “And I like to think that the leaders here are conscious of that.”
A Perry presidency could’ve thrown a wild card into that dynamic. But now the Perrys can assimilate in a more low-key way.
One local recalled seeing Perry at a nonprofit fundraiser in town soon after he dropped his White House bid. Another said Perry frequents the Mercantile and the Monday night hamburger gatherings at the local rifle hall. Store owners said it wasn’t unusual to have Anita Perry stop by. And Rick Perry’s affinity for Royer’s butterscotch chip pie has earned his name a place on the menu.
The 65-year-old likes to fiddle in his yard and work with his dogs. He splurged on a trip to California to pick up his dream car, the ’70s-era Chevelle, and then road-tripped back. An ideal weekend might include some fishing or an Aggie football game or visiting with the grandkids.
In other words, “he’s just like us,” said longtime Mayor Barnell Albers, who was born and raised in Round Top.
“He doesn’t want to be treated any differently.”