Texas, June/July 2013



Travelogue: Texas, June and July 2013

By Roger W. Reini

This is the story of my trip to Texas in June and July 2013. It could have been the story of a cruise to Mexico, as well. Therein lies a story.

Navigation: Amarillo | Fort Davis | San Antonio | Webster | Spring | Galveston | Austin | Return to Michigan

: The Trip That Could Have Been

In 2012, the members of my high school graduating class (Clear Creek HS, class of 1981) decided to do something special for the year in which many of its members would turn 50. A cruise out of Galveston looked like a suitable special event. We decided it should be in June, when school had let out and the most people would be available.  We decided on a 5-night cruise to the Yucatan Peninsula (Progreso and Cozumel) on Carnival.  Actually, there was no choice when it came to Carnival; they were the only line sailing from Galveston in June. We who were going put down our deposits and awaited mid-June for our voyage on the Carnival Triumph.

Then came February 10, the day a fire in the engine room on the Triumph put the ship out of commission -- no electricity, no refrigeration, no air conditioning, and no water pressure.  There were horror stories of toilets that no longer worked, of sewage pooling in some decks, of people forced to use bags for relieving themselves.  Some on the cruise reported that conditions weren’t anywhere as bad as that; perhaps not, but maybe those passengers were in a better location on the ship.  My cabin was to have been on the interior of deck 1, which I suspect would have been one of the worse locations. Once the vessel was towed to Mobile, Alabama, cruises for at least the next two months were canceled while the ship was repaired, cleaned and refitted.  If that timetable were kept, our cruise would be safe.  But if that timetable slipped by two months or more, our cruise would be canceled. For the next several weeks, we waited.  Some didn’t want to wait and were thinking about canceling anyway.  As for me, I stayed with my original decision, for a while at least.  There was another cruise taking place a week later that was very appealing to me, a cruise devoted to old-time radio that would sail from New York to Bermuda and back. Under different circumstances, I would really want to go on that cruise, but I ruled it out for this year.

In March, our cruise had not been cancelled, but Carnival had three more vessels undergo problems at sea or in port. None were of the severity of the problems on the Triumph, but taken together, they were either a streak of very bad luck or symptomatic of serious problems at Carnival. Many who planned to go were having second thoughts. So was I, frankly. And then, on March 19, came word that the Triumph would now be out of service until June 3. That was too close for comfort for me. And so, I made the somewhat reluctant decision to cancel my reservation on the cruise. I made it official on April 5, a few days after the Triumph had suffered another mishap by breaking free of its moorings during a storm. What would I do now? For a time, I didn’t feel like driving to Texas at all; it seemed too long behind the wheel to me. I had planned to visit my sister in Virginia and possibly go whale watching in Cape May, New Jersey; however, she said that it would not be a good time to visit. Later in the summer might be better.

What would I do now? By this time, several weeks had passed, and I was no longer averse to driving to Texas. I heard from my friend Keith: when would I be coming back down for a visit, he asked. He gave me a range of dates to avoid, as he and his family would be out of town then. They didn’t coincide with the dates I was planning to be on vacation. And then I was inspired to visit parts of Texas I’d never visited that much, if at all. I’d never been to the Panhandle, and I’d only been to west Texas one time, possibly two. The one definite time was a business trip to El Paso and Cd. Juárez in 1995. If Del Rio qualifies as west Texas, then a business trip to Del Rio and Cd. Acuña in 1992 was the other time. And so, I made my plans.

The overall plan: spend three days in Amarillo, seeing the sites around there. Then drive to Fort Davis and see some of the west Texas sites around there. Next, take two days to reach Webster, near my hometown, where I’d be staying for a week. After that, head to Austin and spend several days with Keith and his family before heading back to Detroit.


Thursday June 13

I had done a little bit of packing earlier in the week. On Wednesday, I lowered the rear seats to maximize the packing area, and tonight, I started loading in a few items. Most of the packing would take place tomorrow after I got home from work. It had been a long day today, one made longer by the monthly meeting of the Ford Amateur Radio League, a.k.a. the Tin Lizzy Club, and I didn’t feel like packing that much this evening. But I started to review the course materials for the two Wilmette Institute courses I had signed up for earlier that evening. Those courses wouldn’t begin for another month.

Friday June 14

Miles today: 201.6
Miles total: 201.6

As I had done for the past several years, I had bought a 6-game mini-season ticket package for the Lansing Lugnuts. One of those games was tonight. It was also the date I would leave town and start heading for Texas. Now Lansing was a little bit out of the way on a direct trip to Texas; it wasn’t ridiculously out of the way, though. Would I forego the opportunity to see the game and instead take the opportunity to get a few hours’ worth of driving done? Or would I see the game as planned? Part of me wanted to see the game, yet I knew that if I did, I’d be looking at a very long drive on Saturday, some 700 miles. So I decided to pass on the game and drive to Fort Wayne instead. I made a reservation for the Hilton Garden Inn in Fort Wayne, and I was all set for my first night’s stop.

The day started as an ordinary work day. On the way in to work, I did my usual channel flipping, but I stopped for a while when I heard “Chestnut Mare” by the Byrds on The Loft. I hadn’t heard that for a while, and I enjoyed hearing it. I also had the ham radio on, but I didn’t hear anybody on the air, not on our club’s repeater. Work wasn’t terribly busy today; I spent most of the day wrapping up open assignments as best I could, passing information about ones I couldn’t wrap up to my boss. At 11:30, one of our tape suppliers came in for a lunch meeting, which went well. In the afternoon, things had slowed down for me to the point where I wrapped up a little early and went home to finish packing.

I needed to finish packing my laptop, my suitcase and carry-on, and then I needed to load everything into the car. After all that, I needed to install the bike rack and load my trike. This went fairly quickly, and I was done with this by 2:50 or so. There was one bill that needed to be mailed right away; I took care of that. And so, at 2:55 PM, I hit the road.

The weather was sunny with scattered clouds as I drove west on Ford Road. I was heading toward US 23, which I would take into Ohio, home of cheaper gas than Michigan. Ford Road wasn’t very busy, and neither was US 23. I was doing some flipping around the satellite channels. Milan and Dundee passed by without incident. Once I entered Ohio, I started looking for gas stations in earnest, but none were super convenient to my path. Now I wasn’t completely sure how I was going to head to Fort Wayne, but I was inspired to give my EZ-Pass a workout and take the Ohio Turnpike, and then the Indiana Toll Road, to I-69. I knew the EZ-Pass worked on the Ohio Turnpike; my account is with Ohio, in fact. In theory, it should work in Indiana, but I wouldn’t know for sure until I tried. It had worked in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

As I drove westward on the turnpike, I passed what looked to have been the former site of a service plaza. I knew one was ahead but not how far ahead, and my bladder was beginning to complain. So I exited at the town of Delta and filled up the Mariner before emptying my own tank, as it were.  With that settled, I got back under way and listened to “It’s Higgins, Sir” on the RadioClassics channel.  At the border with Indiana, I learned that the EZ-Pass worked just fine there. At the first service plaza in Indiana, I received some sticker shock: gas was much higher on the Indiana Toll Road than it had been in Ohio. It was higher than in Michigan, too. Since I’d just filled up, this wasn’t a problem.  Shortly thereafter, I turned onto I-69 and started for Fort Wayne.

As I was driving down I-69, I saw a police car parked on the right shoulder. I made sure I wasn’t speeding as I passed him. Then I saw police cars with lights flashing on both shoulders; that was unusual. Then traffic slowed to a near-halt. Something was definitely going on! Cars moved in fits and starts; eventually, everyone had to get into the right lane. Just past mile marker 340, I saw what the problem was: an 18-wheeler was partially jackknifed in the left lane and median, and a badly smashed car was on a flatbed tow truck. Fire and police were in both lanes, forcing traffic to creep by on the shoulder. I didn’t see any ambulances there; I didn’t see any sheets on the ground, either. If there were anyone injured, they’d already been taken to the hospital.

Once I got past the accident, the remainder of the drive to Fort Wayne went smoothly and quickly. Well, it did after I found some place to use the restroom.  By 7:35, I was in the parking lot of the Hilton Garden Inn. The desk clerk welcomed me as a repeat visitor, although I couldn’t remember the details at the time (it turned out I’d been here in October 2006, again on the way to Texas; I had to review my travelogues to remind myself). I received the keys to room 212, an upgraded room over what I’d reserved (nice). Now what would I do for supper? The hotel restaurant was open for breakfast only; I thought it was open for dinner, as well, but no. However, there was a place called Naked Tchopstix across the parking lot. I was in no mood for further driving, so I walked over there and enjoyed some crab rangoon and General Tso’s chicken.  Well, my enjoyment was flagging at the end of the meal; the plate may have been a bit too large for my liking.  Then it was back to the room to read e-mail and Facebook, to record a few facts for the travelogue, etc. I plugged in the iPad to charge, but the plug was across the room, so I couldn’t read from the iPad in bed.  Instead, I turned on the TV and fell asleep to the sights and sounds of NASCAR qualifying from Michigan International Speedway.


Saturday June 15

I didn’t get the world’s greatest sleep last night. I was up for good around 5:15 in the morning. I spent time checking e-mail and working on the travelogue. Later, I took a shower, but for a while, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to. I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the water, as turning the temperature lever didn’t work. I eventually figured out that pulling on the lever turned the water on, while turning it adjusted the temperature; armed with that significant knowledge, I took a well-needed shower.

Around 6:45, I went down to the lobby for the hotel’s breakfast buffet. It wasn’t complimentary, unfortunately, but the food was quite good. After heading back to my room to complete my packing, I checked out and was under way at 7:35. I’d spent exactly 12 hours at the hotel. Now I figured I’d spend 12 more hours on the road today. Destination: Springfield, Missouri.

As I drove down I-69 and over I-465 and then I-70, I listened to satellite radio exclusively. In the morning, I listened to Radio Classics and their tribute to Bob Bailey, star of “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar” and “Let George Do It”, who would have turned 100 this week. He’s regarded as the most popular star on the channel, and with good reason.

When I stopped at a rest area west of Indianapolis, I noticed something unusual as I walked to the facilities: a kitty cat was hanging around. Dishes underneath a bench indicated that staff were feeding him or her and that he/she was likely a stray.  After I concluded my business, I went to my car and brought my iPad over to take some pictures.  The cat didn’t run away, but neither did it approach me. It rubbed against the bench, not me.  I didn’t attempt to pet it.

As I drove westward, I debated about where to stop for lunch. Should I wait until I reach St. Louis to eat? Or should I stop wherever I feel like stopping? I eventually stopped at an Arby’s near Vandalia, Illinois and had a King’s Hawaiian sandwich combo while I checked my e-mail and reported my position to my relatives. Then it was back onto I-70 toward St. Louis. During this part of the trip, I listened to an American Top 40 from June 1975; most of the songs were very familiar to me, including that week’s number 1, “Sister Golden Hair” from America.

As I approached St. Louis, I had a decision to make: should I take I-270 and loop around town, or should I pick up I-55 and go through town? A sign warning of construction delays on I-270 made the decision easy: I would go through town. I drove past the exit for Granite City, wondering if the town had a Granite City Food & Brewery (it didn’t). I could see the Gateway Arch in the distance as I crossed the Mississippi River into St. Louis and into Missouri; I’d never visited the Arch before, nor would I do so today. Busch Stadium loomed ahead as I made the exit for I-55 and I-44; I-44 was what I would take to the southwest as I aimed for this evening’s destination, Springfield.

Since I had a long way to go and some time pressure, I mainly stayed on the freeway. But there were a few places where I took old Route 66, including an old 4-lane divided portion near Fort Leonard Wood that always impressed me. It impressed me enough that I stopped to take two pictures there. Someday, I would like to drive all of Route 66 properly. I’d like to drive several of the old auto trails their entire lengths, such as the Dixie Highway, Lincoln Highway, Old Spanish Trail, but I digress.  I stayed with the freeway today, in general, for speed was more important.

As I continued southwestward, I started seeing signs for the attractions in Branson. I’d been there one time before, in October 2006, and saw Jim Stafford’s show. I also saw billboards advertising two radio stations that carried nothing but promos for Branson. I listened to those radio stations for a while, for there were some comedy acts among the promos. One of the acts ripped off Jack Paar’s infamous WC joke, except that he made it the BC joke (BC was Baptist Church). Fifty-three years earlier, that joke was censored by NBC; now, it’s playing in family-friendly Branson!

The weather grew slightly ominous as I headed toward Springfield; it rained off and on, and I saw lightning in the distance. Finally, around 6:30, I arrived at the Microtel in Springfield, no thanks to the highway direction signs; they had me a mile north of town before I turned around and was able to see that the hotel was on a side street. The room at the Microtel was much smaller than the one at the Hilton Garden Inn, but that was OK; I didn’t need a big room for one night on the road. For supper, I could have walked across the street to a Waffle House, but I didn’t want to eat at Waffle House. I ended up going to a Steak & Shake a mile or so away. Then it was back to the hotel for the evening.


Sunday June 16

Miles today: 546.6
Miles total: 1332.4

I had a little better sleep overnight, but that didn’t keep me from getting up at 4 (5 Eastern) for a bathroom break and then being unable to fall back asleep. So I gave up at 4:40 and did my regular e-mail checks and Web surfing; the hotel’s connection was slow, so I switched to my MiFi. Soon, I received an alert from Verizon: I had just used 50% of that month’s data allotment (5 GB, with the end of the month being the 20th or 21st). Big whoop! I turned on the Weather Channel to see what weather awaited me today; it didn’t look very bad. I packed quickly, and I was on the road by 6:30.

The Microtel did have a small breakfast bar, but I passed on that today. Instead, I got a good hour of driving in, after which I stopped for breakfast at Denny’s in Joplin. They have good breakfast skillets, and that’s what I ordered today. I also noticed that they have a good discount for dinner for AARP members (of which I am now one); I’d have to keep that in mind for the future. After breakfast, I fueled up at the next-door gas station, then hit the road once again.

I had to travel over 500 miles, so speed was of the essence; there would be little time to follow Route 66 through most of Oklahoma, so I stuck to I-44 and its turnpikes. Traffic moved well, even through the occasional construction zones and through Tulsa. I stopped at a service plaza between Tulsa and Oklahoma City and tried to eat at McDonald’s, but the line was too long. Instead, I got something from the convenience store and continued onward.  Once I got to Oklahoma City, I stayed on I-44 to keep out of the downtown area. If I’d had more time, I might have stopped at the memorial to the victims of the 1995 bombing of the Federal building. But that would have to wait for another time.  I drove westward on I-40 to the sounds of the Quicken Loans 400 from Michigan International Speedway. At a Pilot travel center west of town, I stopped for a proper lunch at McDonald’s. Now you could argue whether McDonald’s can ever provide a proper lunch; at least it was more proper than nibbling on whatever I happened to have handy in the car.

Continuing westward on I-40, I started seeing signs for the Cherokee Trading Post in El Reno or Calumet (that’s Calumet, Oklahoma, not to be confused with Calumet, Michigan). They reminded me slightly of the signs for Wall Drug in South Dakota. They also reminded me of “Indian Reservation” by the Raiders (“Cherokee People!”). As I approached mile marker 108, I debated whether or not to stop. An emptying gas tank and a filling bladder convinced me that I should. So I stopped to fill the gas tank and use the restroom, but then I parked in back to take a look at the trading post. I spent quite a while there, an hour or so, I would imagine. I left there with a new wallet and a new cowboy hat from the Golden Gate Hat Company of -- no, not San Francisco, but Los Angeles. Although since I bought it from an ostensibly Indian trading post, it might be more of an Indian hat. I don’t know if was actually owned by Indians, though. There were some exhibits on the grounds (a tepee, a mural, painted buffalo statues, a pen with real buffalo), which made for good photo opportunities. I walked over with my iPad to take those pictures.

The drive was uneventful until I neared the Texas border. I got off of the freeway around exit 7 and went through Erick, the boyhood home of Roger Miller.  There was a museum devoted to him in the middle of town, but I didn’t stop.  I did stop for a picture of a monument to Will Rogers; after all, Route 66 IS the Will Rogers Highway. I also stopped right at the border to get a picture of the road and the sign saying “Texas State Line”. That picture got a lot of likes on Facebook.  Then I stayed on old 66 (the feeder road on the south side of the freeway) and went through the town of Shamrock.  There wasn’t a Shamrock gas station there that I could see, but I did stop at one for a restroom break before doubling back to take some pictures of the restored U-Drop-Inn.

The rest of the drive to Amarillo was on I-40; I felt the need for speed and wanted to reach the hotel as quickly as I could. I finally arrived at the Holiday Inn shortly after 6. I’d spent close to 12 hours on the road today, and I was a bit tired. Interestingly enough, my room number was 212 again; this room had a balcony that opened onto the interior court of the hotel; at the far end of the court was the swimming pool and a game room.

Now what would I do for supper? I’d passed the Big Texan Steak Ranch a few miles back; the parking lot looked full, but that was a place I wanted to visit while I was here, so I went back there after unpacking. Unfortunately, the full parking lot meant a wait of 25 to 30 minutes, far too long for my liking, so I headed back to the hotel. I ended up having spaghetti and meatballs in the hotel restaurant, which was a Route 66/50’s themed diner. Not very many people were there; that seems to be the case with hotel restaurants. When I left, I left my new hat at my table, but the wait staff alerted me before I’d left the restaurant. I wouldn’t want to lose that new hat! Then it was back to the room for the evening to rest and to think about what I would do tomorrow.


Monday June 17

The Internet access from the hotel was spotty; I found myself switching over to the MiFi on more than one occasion. I’m glad I wasn’t paying $9.95 a day for it! I’d have demanded a refund. After my e-mail and web checks, I took a shower and watched the Weather Channel as I got ready for breakfast.

The hotel restaurant had a complimentary breakfast buffet that included a number of hot items; I thought it was pretty good. Fifties music played in the background; unfortunately, near the end of the meal, “That’s All Right Mama” played over and over. Now that is a good song, but I thought that hearing it four or five times in a row was a bit much. But that didn’t affect the quality of the meal; I was good and full for today’s travels. And what would I do today? For starters, I would head to the Texas welcome center at exit 76. Yes, the welcome center was in the middle of the Panhandle, not at either border. I guess it was less expensive to put one center in the middle of the Panhandle (a little less than 180 miles wide) so that it could catch traffic going east and west. But the center was just as well stocked as the ones in Texarkana and Orange, the ones I’d visited before. There was plenty of local information; there was plenty of information for the other areas of Texas, as well.

Once I had collected my fill of travel literature (which made for a heavy bag), I got gas at a nearby Shell station. But I couldn’t use their regular gas, as it was 86 octane, and the lowest recommended octane for my vehicle was 87. I had to use the midgrade 88 octane gas instead. Once that was complete, I got onto I-40 heading westbound. My destination: the Cadillac Ranch, the famous artwork of vintage Cadillacs buried hood-first in the ground at the same angle as the sides of the Great Pyramid of Giza. I knew more or less where it was but wasn’t sure of the proper exit to use, but once I drove past it and the crowd of vehicles parked nearby, I knew to use the next exit down, exit 60. I exited there, went to the south side of the freeway, and took the feeder road there. The ground was muddy, thanks to the overnight rains. The artwork is on farmland, but visitors are more or less welcome; there is a gate for admittance.  I brought my camera with me and took some pictures farther away and some more once I got closer. Some people brought spray paint to leave their mark, as graffiti is encouraged there. People were taking off their shoes to get close to the cars, as they were in a pool of water.  I did not remove my shoes, nor did I bring any spray paint. As the saying goes, I took only photos and left only footprints.

After trying to remove the mud from the soles of my shoes, I got into the car and headed westbound for Adrian, the exact midpoint of Route 66. I had been advised to visit the MidPoint Cafe there by a former classmate of mine, Kathy Matchette Douglas. It wasn’t quite 10 AM yet, and I wasn’t very hungry, so I didn’t want to get there particularly quickly. So I stayed on the feeder on the north side of the freeway, which was actually a good thing, for that was old Route 66, for the most part. After passing through the town of Vega, I arrived in Adrian and the MidPoint Cafe. There was a group of German-speaking tourists out front as I arrived. I quickly got to work taking pictures of the building and of the markers across the street, both of which proclaimed this to be the midpoint of Route 66.  There was a man there with a baby and a camera; he took a picture of me at the marker, and I took one of him, his wife and baby.

Inside, the cafe was a fairly small cafe that had a small gift shop devoted to Route 66. I wasn’t yet hungry for lunch, so I took a look at the gift shop. It may have been small, but it carried a lot of Route 66 merchandise. Something I did not expect to see was a new version of the EZ66 guidebook. I owned the original and was using it on this trip; I had no idea that a new version had just come out. In fact, it was the third edition. There was no doubt, I was going to get this version. In fact, I bought a second copy for my friend Keith, who was planning to take Route 66 to LA in the near future. I recommended he get this guidebook; now, I was hoping he hadn’t bought it yet. The owner said I could return it if he had (turned out he hadn’t). After buying the guidebooks and a long-sleeve shirt celebrating Route 66 and the cafe, I sat down for lunch. That grilled cheese and ham sandwich I ordered was pretty good.

Now here I was at exit 22 of I-40. New Mexico was 22 miles away, and I had yet to drive Route 66 in that state. I’d driven it in every state but that one. Now I had walked along 66 a few years back; that was in Albuquerque during a lengthy stop on the Southwest Chief. But the opportunity to drive it was tempting, and it was here, and it was now. Who knew when I would get another opportunity? And so I took the feeder road to its end some four miles away, and then I got onto I-40 for the drive to the border. But I wouldn’t cross right away. No, first I would travel into Glenrio, a town that straddled the state line. There was hardly anything left in Glenrio except ruins, the most prominent being a hotel that had the distinction of being either the first or last hotel in Texas, depending on which way you were going. I wasn’t alone; two other groups were taking pictures, too.

Old 66 ran for a mile into New Mexico before becoming a dirt road. I drove that paved section but turned around shortly after entering the dirt section. After taking a few more pictures, I got back onto the freeway and entered New Mexico again, stopping at the rest area to pick up some literature and use the restroom.  There was a TV tuned to CBS inside the welcome center; it was carrying The Price Is Right at what I thought was an odd time until I remembered that it was 11 AM Mountain time, and 11 AM wasn’t an odd time at all.  I didn’t stay in New Mexico very long; I turned around at the first chance I got and then headed back to Texas and to Amarillo as two episodes of the Jack Benny program played on the Radio Classics channel. I didn’t head directly back to the hotel, though; I stopped at a Barnes & Noble and an Academy on the west side of town first.

Back at the hotel, I had to have my room keys re-programmed because they wouldn’t open my door anymore. Once that was done, I went back to the room and downloaded my pictures. I also took a look at the tourist literature I’d picked up today, and there was a lot to review. Some of it would be useful in the next few days; I payed very close attention to those. And now, as it got closer to 5 o’clock, I decided to make another attempt to have dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch.  As I got into my SUV, I saw a man in the parking lot who was managing a dog AND cat on leashes. They were well-behaved, but I wondered if they’d stay that way.

Unlike yesterday, the Big Texan wasn’t very busy at all, and I was able to be seated right away. No, I did not tackle the famous 72 ounce steak, although one man started the challenge as I was finishing my meal. He was seated at a table on a stage in the middle of the dining room, and a clock counted down from 60 minutes as he ate. As for me, I contented myself with a 12 ounce ribeye with baked potato, sauteed mushrooms and Caesar salad.  The meal was quite good, I must admit. Afterwards, I went through the gift shop and bought a book about how cowboys wear their hats and a book on Route 66 through Texas.  After a brief trip to Walmart, it was time to go back to the hotel for the night.


Tuesday June 18

Today, I woke up a bit later than I had been. Maybe I was finally getting into the vacation swing of things.  When I turned on the Weather Channel, the forecast was less favorable than in recent days, with a 40% chance of thunderstorms. But it was mostly sunny outside as I went to the hotel restaurant for the breakfast buffet. It was more crowded than yesterday; I had to sit at the restaurant bar.

I had planned on visiting Palo Duro Canyon State Park today; the forecast did not change that decision.  I was planning to go early in the morning anyway in order to beat the heat, and that’s what I did. It was some 10 to 15 miles south of Amarillo via I-27. Unfortunately, I had to pull off into a Walmart parking lot in Canyon because I wasn’t sure of the proper exit; it turned out I was near the right one already.  I drove past West Texas A&M University in order to get to the highway to the park, and once on that highway, it was a straight shot to the park. 

I don’t recall what the single-admission price was, for I had decided that I would get an annual pass. I knew I’d be visiting a number of state parks on this trip, maybe not enough for the pass to fully pay for itself, but it would remain good for a year. And so I paid $70 for an annual pass and drove off into the park. First stop: the visitor center. Actually, it was the parking lot for the scenic outlook above the visitor center, and I had to walk down to reach the center. I didn’t have to do that; I could have driven and parked down there, but no matter. It took me a little time to find the restroom inside, but once that business was concluded, I walked back up to the overlook level.  Here I could see the upper canyon in its glory. It struck me as a greener version of the Grand Canyon, although not as deep and not as extensive. It was definitely an impressive sight, though. Signs labeled some of the peaks and features, including the famous Lighthouse rock formation. I’d seen pictures of it; unfortunately, the view from here did not do the Lighthouse justice. I’d have to hike closer to it in order to get those views, and I wasn’t prepared for hiking.

As I drove onward, the road made a steep dip into the canyon. I downshifted, and my engine labored in first gear, and the brakes got a good workout to keep me from going too fast. There was so much to see, but I didn’t dare look at it while descending a narrow road with no guardrails.  The group pavilion ahead was a good place to stop, and stop here I did. I brought my camera and my tripod to the back of the building for a chance to do some good HDR photography. I’d done some handheld HDR photography in recent days; however, I couldn’t hold the camera perfectly steady between shots. Software could compensate for that, but far better to get the alignment right to begin with.

The canyon was created by the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River, and the park road followed that river. It crossed the river six times in the park, and each crossing was potentially a spot of flash flooding.  Most of them had depth gauges to tell drivers how deep the water was.  Anything above six inches could sweep a car away.  Some of the crossings were dry; some were wet but didn’t have much water flowing through them; and one of them was high enough to close the road completely (an alternate road through the park, fortunately).

Photographic opportunities were plentiful, and I turned off several times to take advantage.  Opportunities to see wildlife were not plentiful, though; I only saw what appeared to be two raccoons considering whether or not to fight (I don’t think they actually were raccoons). One turned in a threatening way towards my SUV as I braked to look at them. To think that he could scare off my big Mariner, when I could easily crush him (not that I wanted to).... Another photographic opportunity came when I stopped at one of the campground restrooms, as the campground was in a very scenic area. Now I was considering taking the alternate road back to the park entrance, but the road was closed due to flooding. So I went back the way I came, stopping for more pictures and stopping briefly at the Palo Duro Trading Post and the Visitor Center again. But the only thing I got was a bottle of Diet Coke from the vending machine outside the Visitor Center.  And with that, I left the park after spending a few hours there.  It was starting to get warm, so I didn’t want to spend any more time there.

By now, it was lunchtime. What did I want to do? I drove into Canyon for ideas, and then I received an idea from a billboard: go to Feldman’s Wrong-Way Cafe. That was an interesting place close to the university. I had a chicken fried steak for lunch; I hadn’t had one of those for quite a while, probably with good reason, but it tasted good. Afterwards, I walked over to the Hastings Video/Music/Book store and picked up the latest issues of Texas Highways and Texas Monthly and stopped at the United Supermarket for a few items.

What would I do in the afternoon? Take the opportunity to drive some more of Route 66; it would be my last opportunity on this trip. After fueling up south of town, I drove on I-40 to exit 105 to pick up the old roadway. I wanted to exit at exit 98, but it turned out that the exit was for westbound traffic only. At exit 96, I saw the Bug Ranch, a parody of the Cadillac Ranch; here, VW’s of unknown vintage were buried in the ground much like the Cadillacs were.  A roadside business owner had arranged for this, but it didn’t help the business, which was turning into ruins nearby.

There was a nice stretch of old 66 that was well separated from the freeway; I enjoyed that drive. Eventually, one could keep going straight onto a dirt road or keep on the paved version; I stuck to the pavement.  Soon, I was passing by an interesting roadside artwork that I’d noticed heading eastbound. A man named Richard Baker had created an exhibit devoted to peace and to religion. Several key dates were featured: The Day the Music Died (Feb. 3, 1959), the first manned Moon landing, Woodstock, John Lennon’s murder, Martin Luther King’s and President Kennedy’s assassinations, the Battle of the Alamo, the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Japan, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Kent State shootings, 9/11, the losses of space shuttles Columbia and Challenger. The centerpieces of the artwork were a peace symbol and a cross.

I continued on old 66 for a while, but I never made it to downtown, for I felt like I had to use the restroom very badly, and so I turned onto a street that would take me to the hotel. It did, and I was relieved. And afterwards, I downloaded and identified the pictures I had taken today, of which there had been many. I also looked up amateur radio Field Day sites near San Antonio and Houston. Field Day was an annual event sponsored by the American Radio Relay League in which ham radio operators, either on their own or with others, operated from portable setups in non-standard locations. For example, the Ford Amateur Radio League (of which I was the current president) would combine with the Livonia Amateur Radio Club and operate from a location in Livonia, Michigan (the fire station until last year, the former site of a school this year). But since I was traveling, I wouldn’t be able to operate with them this year. However, I could visit another site and see how their setup compared to ours.

For dinner, I didn’t feel like going anywhere; I wanted to rest up, and I needed to pack up. That made the decision very easy: eat at the hotel restaurant. I had a cheeseburger, which was pretty good. The same could not be said of the men’s room near the restaurant, which smelled like someone had forgotten to flush.  It was worse than that: some dum-dum looked to have wiped the outside of one of the toilet bowls with that which is supposed to go INTO the toilet bowls.

Back in the room, I packed up most of my clothing and transferred everything from my old main wallet to my new main wallet, the one I bought in Oklahoma on Sunday. I made doubly, triply, multiply sure that everything was out of the old wallet, and then I consigned it to the trash. Farewell, old wallet; you served me very well. My MiFi also served me well when it came to Internet access; it served me much better than the hotel’s Wi-Fi, that’s for sure. And then I called it a night.


Wednesday June 19

Miles in and around Amarillo: 342.3
Miles to Fort Davis: 439.1
Miles total: 2113.8

Today, I would leave Amarillo for Fort Davis, the Panhandle for West Texas. I woke up around 6, took a shower, and checked the e-mail. I took advantage of the breakfast buffet for the final time on this stay, deciding to go a bit lighter today (no eggs or potatoes). The sky was very dark outside; it looked like bad thunderstorms were about to move in.  But there was no rain as I left Amarillo at 8:10, nor was there as I drove down I-27. It seemed like I was outrunning the nasty stuff, which was very visible to the east.  Once I made it to Lubbock, skies were blue. I gassed up at a truck stop on I-27 and continued southward on US 87.

There weren’t many water clouds in the sky, but there sure were a lot of dust clouds on the ground as I drove past the parched, plowed fields. They needed rain out here. As I drove, I listened to the trucker’s channel for a while as well as Radio Classics. During the time that I listened, they played the debut of Henry Morgan’s ABC radio show from 1946. For lunch, I ate at a McDonald’s in Lamesa and then continued on to Big Spring. Here, I’d pick up I-20 for the next few hours. It was a long drive from Big Spring to Pecos; speed limits of 75 and eventually 80 miles an hour made the drive somewhat shorter.  While I was still north of Big Spring, the trucker’s channel carried an interview with Linda Cardellini, who had a major role on Mad Men this season.  I missed this past Sunday’s episode, as I was too tired to watch it after the long day’s drive; fortunately, I had recorded it at home for later watching.

As I drove southwestward, I saw the occasional signs for Monahans Sandhills State Park, home to extensive sand dunes. Did I want to stop there? Part of me wanted to continue onward, but I decided to stop there. When would I get the chance to do so again, I figured.  Mid-June in the afternoon wasn’t the best time to visit, but having an air-conditioned vehicle helped. I took the short nature hike on the trail near the visitor center, and then I drove into the park until I saw the dunes.  There was a LOT of sand here; some of those dunes looked like they could have come from the Sahara. Sand-skiing or -boarding was popular here, but not at this time of day! It made for a great photo opportunity, though.

Back in the car, I continued onward. The rest area west of the park had a plumbing problem; the men’s room in the main building only had one toilet of any sort open. Fortunately, the secondary building had more facilities available. Finally came the exit for Pecos, where I gassed up and took Highway 17 to my ultimate destination, Fort Davis.  It was a long and empty drive between I-20 and I-10; not too far past that, though, was the town of Balmorhea, a literal oasis in the desert. There were plenty of trees in town, thanks to Lake Balmorhea and the nearby San Solomon Springs. The springs themselves were located in Balmorhea State Park 4 miles west of town; I hoped to visit the park in the next few days. Then came the final 32 miles of driving past rugged terrain.  The road itself stayed out of the mountains, but it gave some wonderful views of the mountains in the distance, and sometimes, those mountains were very close. It reminded me of the drive to Lake Havasu City from I-40 in Arizona, although there was more green here.

Finally, I had reached my destination: the Fort Davis Inn, which looked like an old motor court. I checked in, paid for my stay in advance, and got the key to room 7 on the southwest side of the inn. There were some great views of the mountains from the parking lot. The room was decent enough, with air conditioning, TV, microwave and mini-refrigerator.

What would I do for supper tonight? I took a drive into town to see what appealed to me.  Fort Davis was a small town with no traffic light, but it did have a few places to eat. There was a Mexican place just down the street from the inn, but it was only open for lunch.  There was another Mexican place in town, Cueva de Leon, that appealed to me, and so I stopped there. I had a combo plate of two enchiladas, one taco, one chalupa (I wonder what the difference is between a chalupa and a tostada?), rice and beans. It was good Tex-Mex; it wouldn’t make me forget Laredo’s or Chuy’s (both of which I planned to visit in the next two weeks), but it was good enough.  I had my iPad with me during dinner, and I checked to see if my MiFi worked here. It did! I only got a 3G signal, but I was glad to get anything at all. And when I checked Twitter, I learned of the sudden death of James Gandolfini of “Sopranos” fame. He was only 51, a year older than me (closer to two years, I’d later learn). The word was that he’d had a heart attack. Unfortunate, too young, and too close to home!

Before going to the restaurant, I’d stopped at what could be called a Whole Foods Convenience Store and picked up a bottle of Topo Chico mineral water. It was refrigerated when I left the store; when I left the restaurant, it had warmed significantly.  On the way back to the inn, I stopped at the local market to get some pop and a few snacks, as the vending machine at the inn was out of service. Back at the inn, I identified the pictures I’d taken today and posted one or two of them to Facebook. I turned on the TV for the weather; skies were cloudy tonight, meaning no star-gazing for me. Later, I turned on CNN, where Piers Morgan’s program was devoted to tributes to James Gandolfini.

Now I forget the day when this happened, but I’m sure that it was somewhere in west Texas or on the way there. As I drove, I saw a white Volkswagen Beetle pass me by. This was a modern Beetle, and it was painted in the colored stripes and the number 53 of Herbie the Love Bug. Too bad I was in no position to take a picture of it.


Thursday June 20

Today, I would visit three of the places I wanted to visit during this part of the trip: Davis Mountains State Park, Historic Fort Davis, and McDonald Observatory. The day started around 6:30 for me; it was mostly cloudy, but the sun was poking out on occasion. I went to the office to have their continental breakfast, which for me consisted of Cheerios and muffins. It was much smaller than the breakfast bar at the hotel in Amarillo, but it was still good food.

I left for Davis Mountains State Park shortly after 8. The park entrance was around 4 miles away via the rather scenic Highway 118. After I got my day pass, I studied the park map and drove into the park. Several photo opportunities of the mountains presented themselves, and I took them (the opportunities and the photos). There appeared to be an area for wildlife viewing marked on the map, but when I drove past it, it was under renovation. In the distance, I could see a road going up a mountain. This was Skyline Drive, which I eventually took. That was a bit of a nerve-wracking drive, for the road was steep and had no guardrails. Those are the roads where I tend to drive as far from the edge as I can (and maybe past it) and hope that no one is coming in the other direction. But at the top of the mountain was a scenic overlook that made it all worthwhile.  For a half-hour, with one exception, I was the only person up there, taking lots of pictures.  Another car did come up but turned around immediately.  Did they not want to stay, or did they think they would be disturbing me, thinking I was a professional photographer on assignment? I’ll never know. But I had great views of the surrounding area.  I could see Fort Davis the fort and Fort Davis the city below. I could see the park laid out below me, and I could see Highway 118 heading off to the northwest.  And way off in the distance, I could see the three largest domes of the McDonald Observatory, which was where I would be heading in the afternoon.

When I left the overlook, I continued on Skyline Drive, which partially descended the mountain before rising again to its end. From here, one could take a trail down to historic Fort Davis or the rest of the park. I walked one of those trails a short distance for some photo opportunities, passing what looked like a grill built by the CCC, but I soon turned around, got back in the car, and drove down to the main park level.  Right where Skyline Drive ended was the park interpretive center as well as a spot for viewing bird activity. I saw a few birds hanging around the feeders, including some hummingbirds, which I don’t think I’d ever seen before in person. I got some pictures of a hummingbird in flight; in some of them, I could see a bee flying around. Hm, the bird and the bee (singular), and nothing happened.  Then I drove over to the Indian Lodge and its gift shop, where I got a book about the geology of the area around Fort Davis, Marfa and Balmorhea as well as a towel. Was I expecting to be a galactic hitchhiker or something?

When I got back to the inn, I wanted a cold can of Diet Coke. But where was my key card? It must have fallen out of my pocket somewhere. I got a new one from the front desk and was able to get that can of Diet Coke; it tasted very good, and it got me ready for my next destination, Historic Fort Davis.  The fort in its current form existed from 1867 to 1891 and protected the main highway between El Paso and San Antonio. Some of that highway still existed as a dirt path through the fort. Imagine that, the predecessor of US 90 or I-10. The post frequently saw African-American units posted there, the famous Buffalo Soldiers; they experienced difficulty with the local community, as you might expect given the times. The first African-American graduate from West Point, Lt. Henry O. Flipper, was posted here but was unjustly court-martialed and expelled from the service (Congress corrected that injustice a century later). As for the fort itself, many of the buildings had been restored to their appearance in the 1880’s; others were left as ruins or foundations. As I walked the grounds, audio of a military parade was playing. At one point, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played, but the arrangement was off. The notes weren’t played in the expected ways, and for a while, I wasn’t sure if I was hearing the future national anthem. That may actually have been a vintage arrangement.

By this time, the noontime heat was beginning to get to me, or should I say the sun was. After walking over the grounds, including the hospital buildings at the back, I returned to the visitor center and watched the introductory video about the fort. It provided a good opportunity to get off of my feet for a while, but it was still a worthwhile program to watch.  Then I went back to my room at the inn for lunch of sorts (the snacks from yesterday, as it turned out) and the chance to download pictures.  Then shortly after 1 PM, I set off on my third destination of the day, the McDonald Observatory.  That drive was a bit more winding than the road to the park (same road, just farther out).  I arrived at the observatory visitor center around 1:40, announced that I was there for the afternoon program and tour, and proceeded to wait for the next 20 minutes.  And after 20 minutes, we participants were ushered into the theater for a talk about the sun and a solar observation session. There were clouds in the sky, and they did interfere somewhat with the observing, but we saw several sunspot groups and several solar prominences.

Then we set off up the mountains (Locke and Folkes) for tours of the two largest telescopes, the 107 inch reflector and the  9 meter Hobby-Eberly Telescope (the Hobby is former Lt. Governor Bill Hobby). The highway going up to Mount Locke is the highest roadway in Texas that is part of the state highway system. There were tremendous views from the summit.  Off in the distance was the only telescope that could actually be seen from the mountain: a radio telescope that was part of the VLBA (Very Long Baseline Array), ten identical radio telescopes (big dish antennas) from Mauna Kea in Hawaii to St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Why was it the only telescope that could be seen from atop the mountain, when we were within several yards of some of the largest ‘scopes in the world? Well, those telescopes were in domes; we couldn’t actually SEE them without going inside.  And we did go inside. We didn’t visit the 82-inch scope, but we could actually get close to the 107 inch scope, after either going up the elevator or climbing some 70 steps.  I took the steps, figuring I could use the exercise. We saw where the instruments for taking measurements could be mounted (no eyepieces here), and we saw the telescope being moved.  We couldn’t get so close to the HET; the closest we got was an observation deck that was too small to let everyone see it at once.

Back at the inn, I attached a solar filter to my telephoto zoom lens and took some pictures of the sun, to see if I could capture the same sunspots that we saw earlier at the observatory. Most of the pictures were highly overexposed, but on one of them, I did see a few of those sunspots.  The quality was nowhere near as good, though. After downloading the pictures, it was time to figure out what to do for supper. I decided to try Murphy’s, which specialized in pizza and pasta.  Before going there, though, I searched out Woodward Avenue, which turned out to be close to Murphy’s. This Woodward Avenue was nothing like Detroit’s. The road was shorter, narrower, and unpaved.

At Murphy’s, I had spaghetti and meatballs, which was pretty good. While I was there, a Boy Scout troop from the San Antonio area came in. I overheard one of the scoutmasters talking to a group at another table; they would be visiting the observatory while out here. I’d be visiting the observatory again on Friday night for a star party. But the skies started clouding up, making me wonder if we would get to see anything at the star party, which would be held rain or (moon)shine. Back at the hotel, I started to read the books I had bought at the observatory gift shop, among them a collection of questions from viewers of The Sky at Night, the very long running British astronomy program hosted by Sir Patrick Moore from its beginning in 1957 until his death earlier this year.


Friday June 21

At one point, I awoke in the middle of the night to use the restroom. When I was done, I took a glance outside the window.  Moonlight! This might be my chance to see a brilliant night sky. I hurriedly pulled on some clothes and opened the door. There was moonlight, all right, but it was heavily obscured by clouds.  Off came the clothes, and back to bed I went.

I got up for good around 6:30 and went for breakfast around 7:15. The skies were clearing to the west. Had Nature cursed me to suffer through clouds at night and not experience a truly dark night sky? I wanted to try to take pictures of the Milky Way with my Canon DSLR. But the only way it looked as though I’d be able to was to go to the store and get the candy bar and take a picture of that.

This morning, I drove the 32 miles to Balmorhea State Park, which I’d passed by on my way to Fort Davis. It was my intention to swim in the spring-fed pool, which I had read about from various sources.  The drive there was very scenic, as I knew it would be from Wednesday’s drive in. But this time, I saw everything from the other direction, and I knew it was a great drive, passing through the mountains but not being on a treacherous roadway where one bad move meant flying over the edge.

About two-thirds of the way to the park, I suddenly remembered I’d forgotten something: my swimming mask and goggles were in a bag back in the hotel room.  It was too late to turn back now, so I continued onward until I reached the park. I wasn’t sure if I was going to swim at all, but I signed the waiver form anyway (that confirmed that I knew no lifeguards were on duty). I parked in the day parking area in a shady parking spot. What to do? Well, on Thursday afternoon, I had mounted an amateur radio antenna mount for high frequency, attaching it to my liftgate. What I didn’t do was connect it to the radio. That was what I was going to do right now.  But in order to do that, I had to take my trike off of its rack, for the handlebars were blocking the tailgate from being fully lifted. Removing it wasn’t difficult at all, for I was very accustomed to the procedure, and now I could open the liftgate and connect the antenna mount to the radio.

Since the trike was off the rack, almost ready to be ridden, and since I was in a park, why not ride the trike?  All I needed to do was pump up the tires and put on my helmet, and I was in business.  I rode three or four laps around a loop that took me through the campground area, the cabins, and the wildlife viewing area. It wasn’t a long distance or a long period of time, but it felt good to be on the trike again. And after putting the trike back on the rack, I was inspired to visit the wetland or ciénega that supported the wildlife viewing area.

The wetland was a recreation of the natural wetland that was destroyed in the creation of the park back in the 1930’s. Water flowing out of the spring supported it, and that water was very clear as I looked down on it at the covered viewing area.  It was easy to see the small little fish swimming around, as well as a catfish laying on the bottom. I also saw three turtles swimming at the surface. Of course, I had my camera in hand, for these were great photo opportunities.  In one, it looked like the little fish were following one of the turtles. Then I walked over to the main swimming area. The pool was divided into three main sections. The central circular section was the home of the spring and was 25 feet deep. One rectangular pool was 5 feet deep, while the other one was 20 feet deep and had two diving boards. All three sections had fish. They were all in use, as well, by park visitors. Some of the visitors were scuba divers or trainees.

Now was I going to swim here? I wasn’t sure. Where would I put my wallet and my car keys? Lock them in the car? That wasn’t as stupid as it might sound, for my Mariner had a keypad keyless entry system; I wouldn’t be locked out. But I wasn’t sure.  I did stick my feet in the main pool for a brief time, until I noticed the little fish starting to congregate. I also heard one of the kids saying the fish were biting, meaning they were biting him. That’s when I got cold feet (figuratively AND literally; the water temperature was in the 70’s, which is rather chilly). No, I wasn’t going to swim today.

After I’d been at the park a couple of hours, I decided to leave. I went into Balmorhea town to get gas and to have lunch at Ellie’s Burgers (located in the same building as the gas station).  The green chile burger was pretty good, and so were the tater tots and the Diet Dr Pepper fountain drink, which I enhanced with squirts of cherry and vanilla flavor. Then I went back to the hotel, but my key cards no longer worked. I had to get a new one at the front office.  Once there, I took it easy the rest of the afternoon. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t too tired tonight for the star party at the observatory. I also wanted to catch up on the travelogue, and I needed to make a reservation for where I would stay tomorrow night near San Antonio. I did all of these things, and I also read from the Sky At Night book I’d bought yesterday. At times, I found myself trying to fall asleep in the easy chair, so I knew that resting was the right thing to do.

At last it was dinner time. What to do for supper? There were a few other restaurants in town; I took a look at the menu for the Fort Davis Drugstore, and while they had some good items on the menu, I wasn’t in the mood for any of them. I went back to Cueva de Leon to try something else on the menu: their fajitas.  They were pretty good, I must say. If I came back to Fort Davis, I’d definitely want to visit this restaurant again. It had been reviewed in Texas Monthly at least twice, as I could see from the reviews that were posted behind the counter. They were good reviews, and I agreed with them.

What was not looking good was the weather. The sky was very dark in places, and it rained very hard and very briefly on the way to the restaurant. As I returned to the hotel, I saw a bright rainbow to the northeast. Thanks to having my iPad along, I was able to take a picture of it, but not before a sharp bolt of lightning came down right in the middle of the rainbow. What would this mean for the star party? It wouldn’t mean cancellation, which would never happen except when the weather was too dangerous for travel. There would be indoor activities in case skies didn’t permit telescopic viewing.

As the time for the star party approached, I put on a long-sleeve shirt, as we’d been warned that it could be chilly at night up on the mountain, even in mid-summer.  I put on the Route 66 MidPoint Cafe shirt I’d bought on Monday, and then shortly before 9, I drove to the observatory.  There seemed to be some breaks in the clouds on the way there; perhaps we’d be able to see some stars at the star party after all. The parking lot was crowded when I arrived; many other people were hoping for clear skies.  Of course, the professional astronomers were hoping for clear skies!  They never cleared completely; there were lightning bolts toward the horizon all evening.  But I eventually saw Venus in the distance, and I saw another star that I didn’t recognize before the program began (it may have been Vega, I determined later), and so I could say that I saw stars at the star party.

When the program began at 9:45, the host pointed out a few more stars that had become visible, such as Arcturus and the stars of the handle of the Big Dipper, as well as Spica and the planet Saturn.  We didn’t head for the telescope park right away, though; there were going to be two indoor programs, a virtual star party and a demonstration of spectroscopy. I went to the spectroscopy demonstration, for it seemed that everyone else was heading for the virtual star party. We were all given diffraction gratings, which functioned similarly to a prism and separated light into its component colors and wavelengths. Our host then put up several types of lights filled with different gases, allowing us to see how their spectra varied. It was clear from comparing the spectra that different elements emitted at different wavelengths. At one point, we were given a test: describe what was in a fluorescent bulb. The characteristic emissions of mercury were definitely present, but there was also a continuous spectrum. That came from an internal coating to give a more natural light.

After the program ended, the skies had cleared enough to allow for telescopic viewing, so we went to the back of the visitor center and saw several telescopes set up for use. Some were the observatory’s, while others belonged to local amateurs. I saw Saturn, Titan and some other Saturnian moons through one of the observatory’s telescopes (large eyepieces), and I saw the moon very clearly through two other telescopes, including a 23-inch homemade Dobsonian. Very impressive! The clouds played some havoc with viewing, but we saw what we were going to see. Well, the clouds and the nearly-full moon were going to prevent me from seeing the Milky Way. Guess I have something to hope for on future trips to this or other observatories.  By 11, I’d viewed through all of the telescopes but one, and that one had a long line of prospective viewers, so I figured I’d received my money’s worth and headed back to the hotel, listening to Goldie’s Garage on the Underground Garage.


Saturday June 22

Miles in and around Fort Davis: 151.7
Miles today: 398.2
Miles total: 2673.7

If I had went on the originally scheduled cruise, the ship would be pulling into Galveston this morning.  A few friends of mine went on that cruise, and they appeared to have a good time. But I had a pretty good time with the activities that I did in lieu of the cruise. I’d been to parts of Texas that I’d never visited before, and now that I had visited them, I’d want to visit again. I would like to stay at either the San Solomon Courts at Balmorhea State Park or the Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park.

Today, the West Texas portion of my vacation came to an end. After I awoke around 6, I checked my e-mail and did my regular web surfing. I went up to the office for breakfast, but they weren’t really set up for it yet. All I ate was a blueberry muffin that I took back to the room. I loaded up the car and made sure I didn’t forget anything.  The parking lot was more full than it had been the last two days; they must do more business on the weekends.  By 8, I was on the road.

The sun was out this morning, and it bothered me a bit as I drove up Highway 17 to Balmorhea. The drive was still as scenic as ever; capturing a drive like this would be a good justification to get a GoPro camera, I thought. As I drove past Balmorhea State Park for the last time this trip, I saw some people already swimming in the pool as well as a group of scuba divers or trainees suiting up. If I ever visit again, I’d like to gain the courage to swim in the pool and the ability to confidently secure my stuff. But that was for the future; for now, I drove through Balmorhea and onto I-10, where I would spend the next several hours.

As I had finally connected my HF antenna cable yesterday, I decided to listen to the 20 meter amateur band. And there definitely was some activity once I got onto I-10. I was listening to a ham from Mexico City talk about the rain from tropical storm Barry, and later, I heard a ham from Japan. I didn’t try contacting either of them, for I was sure my antenna was not properly set up for transmitting.  But later, I experienced problems with the antenna mount. The force of the wind was pushing the antenna out of my desired position. I tried tightening the bolts that would control this, but the bolts would not stay tight.  I would eventually find a position that worked and where the bolts stayed tight. The antenna protruded rearward, but not past the trike on its rack.

Eventually, the terrain of west Texas gave way to the terrain of the Hill Country. I continued eastward. Soon, 11 o’clock rolled around; time for the repeat of American Top 40 on SiriusXM. This week, it was June 1971, a pretty good broadcast. I missed some of it while I was having lunch in Ozona at the Dairy Queen, but the steak finger basket was worth it. At 1, the 60’s Satellite Survey started; this week’s was June 1965, another good countdown.  And by 3, I was nearing San Antonio.

If I had wanted to, I could have pressed all the way to the Houston area. However, I was going to stop for a few hours at a park where a local amateur radio club was operating for Field Day. Field Day is an event sponsored by the American Radio Relay League, the main organization for radio amateurs in the US. The intent is for amateurs, clubs and organizations to demonstrate their ability to set up and operate a radio station under adverse conditions. If I had not been traveling this weekend, I would be helping with the Field Day operations of the Ford Amateur Radio League and the Livonia Amateur Radio Club back in Michigan. Instead, I visited the Field Day site of the Alamo Area Radio Organization, operating as AA5RO. They had set up in Raymond Russell Park in the northwest part of San Antonio. Due to the location, they could not operate for the full extent of Field Day (2 PM Eastern on Saturday to 2 PM Eastern on Sunday); they had to vacate the park by midnight. It was very interesting comparing their setup and their operating approaches to the ones our clubs use. I won’t give the details here, since they would be of interest mainly to radio amateurs (I did give the details to our club, though).

While I was there, I enjoyed the club’s dinner of grilled chicken, sausage (regular and jalapeño), and pinto beans.  One of the local TV stations came out to do a report on the operation. Later, there was an incident involving two dogs. Dog 1 belonged to one of the hams, was on a leash and was acting very cool -- although since he had black fur, he probably wasn’t feeling that cool. Dog 2 belonged to someone from another group in the park, was not on a leash and was wandering around.  He was also a pit bull. That dog passed me earlier near the restroom; I wondered whose he was, since he wasn’t wearing a collar. Then the two dogs encountered each other, and they started snapping at each other. One of the hams there (not the owner of Dog 1) went over to the owners of Dog 2 and complained. He was concerned that the pit bull might turn vicious. Were his concerns justified? I didn’t know.

Around 6, I figured I should continue to my destination for the evening, and so I left, thanking the club president for a good time and complimenting his club’s operation. I got back onto I-10 and then onto Loop 1604, the outer loop for San Antonio. The Hampton Inn was a few miles east, near Highway 281. This time, the room number was 211, just shy of the 212 I’d had twice on the trip. It was comfortable enough; in fact, when I decided to lie down to do some reading, I felt very sleepy and didn’t do much reading. In fact, the next thing I knew, it was 10:30 at night. Time to turn off the lights and go to bed for real.


Sunday June 23

I woke up around 6:45 and noticed that the floor felt rather damp and clammy.  So did my computer bag when I picked it up from the floor. What was going on? I had a vague recollection of this happening in another hotel several years earlier. No matter; it didn’t keep me from taking a shower and starting to watch the episode of Mad Men I’d recorded at home and retrieved overnight; it was the next-to-last episode of the season. Later on, I went downstairs for breakfast at the breakfast bar, which was the typical Hampton Inn breakfast bar. It was much larger than the Fort Davis Inn’s breakfast bar; then again, it was a larger hotel.

Around 9, I was all packed up and checked out of the hotel. I wasn’t going to stop at any more Field Day locations; I was going straight on to Webster. I hopped onto Loop 1604 and took that around town to where it intersected I-10, and then it was a straight shot east to Houston. I stopped for gas and a bit of shopping at Buc-ee’s, a famous gas station and convenience store chain in Texas. There was a Buc-ee’s in League City that I’d visited before, but it was small compared to one of the flagship stores in Luling. This Buc-ee’s was very busy; I had to wait for a bit to fill my tank, and then it was very busy inside with customers.  Half of the store was typical gas station convenience store, while the other half had Buc-ee’s beaver merchandise and other Texas-related items.  I bought a couple of items for myself and something to give to my sister: a plaque that said “One spoiled rotten cat lives here”. It would have been more appropriate if it had said “Three spoiled rotten cats live here”!

As I drove, I listened to the last few hours of Field Day. Would I hear K8UNS (the callsign for the joint LARC and FARL operation) on the radio? As it turned out, no I wouldn’t. I heard many other stations, though.  That changed at 1 PM, when most stations ended their Field Day operations.  There were still a few that operated, as any station that did not begin to set up until the start of the event could operate for three more hours.  But most stations started setting up before then, so they had to cease at 1 PM Central (1800 UTC).

The towns went by: Schulenburg, Weimar, Columbus, Sealy.  Then I neared Katy. I knew there was a Fuddrucker’s near Katy Mills, and I thought there was a Chuy’s nearby as well. It was time for lunch, and I felt like eating at either one of those establishments.  It turned out that I didn’t see a Chuy’s, but I did find the Fuddrucker’s, so that was where I had lunch. I had a burger topped with sautéed mushrooms (and then I topped it with pico de gallo); it was good but messy. The drink dispensers were rather fancy, with many more options than the traditional fountain dispenser. There was an option for Caffeine-Free Diet Coke, not something you see in most dispensers, and there were sub-options for cherry, vanilla, cherry AND vanilla, as well as others I can’t recall.

After lunch, I continued eastward, listening to the NASCAR race off and on. I had several choices for driving to Webster, my ultimate destination; I ended up going all the way to downtown, at which time I got caught in a backup on southbound I-45 around downtown. The backup came from folks wanting to get onto the Southwest Freeway, so once I got past that intersection, traffic rolled smoothly until outside of Beltway 8. That’s when I headed over to Highway 3 for the last few miles to the Extended Stay America on Bay Area Boulevard.

I had stayed at this hotel at least once in the past; I thought it a bit nicer than the ESA on Nasa 1 in Nassau Bay. Now I’d be spending another week here, this time in room 108.  I unloaded the car with the help of the luggage cart and then made plans to go to the store to get a week’s worth of supplies. The closest grocery store may have been a Super Target, but I chose to go to a Kroger on El Camino in Clear Lake City. There, I picked up cups, paper towels, some snack food, a jar opener and a local magazine. The jar opener was for opening a pop bottle that would not open.  When I made it back to the room, I discovered that I didn’t get the jar opener or the magazine. I had to go back and get another jar opener. The trip proved to be for nothing, though, as the bottle still would not open.

I finished watching the episode of Mad Men from last week; now I was set for tonight’s finale.  Bad news: the hotel’s TV did not include AMC in its lineup. I’d have to rely on my home recording and transfer that to my laptop. There was nothing else I could do, so I then contemplated where to go for supper. Joe’s BBQ in Alvin came to mind, along with some closer restaurants. The closer restaurants won out, because they were close enough for me to walk to them; I didn’t feel like any more driving today. So would it be Genghis Grill or Carrabba’s? It would be Carrabba’s. I would have my usual meal of lentil and sausage soup, Caesar salad, and grilled chicken with mashed potatoes and the vegetable of the day. I’d never eaten at the Webster location before, but the food was just as good as the Canton (Michigan) location or any of the other locations I’d visited. Then it was back to the hotel to settle in for the night.


Monday June 24

I was awake around 4:30. I didn’t want to be awake, but my left big toe cramped up on me, wanting to point vertically. I managed to correct that, but then I had to go to the bathroom. I’m not sure if I went back to sleep or not; I suspect that I did. Once I got up for good, I downloaded the e-edition of the Houston Chronicle (a PDF file of the paper) and retrieved the Mad Men recording from home. I’d seen some reviews of the finale already and had some idea what to expect.

Since this was early morning, I figured it wouldn’t be too hot if I went on a trike ride around the area. So I got dressed for riding and prepared the trike. I rode down Texas Avenue, one of the minor major streets in Webster, its entire length. This put me down near the Academy sporting goods store and Fry’s. After going through the Academy and Rudy’s BBQ parking lots, I was on the feeder road for the Gulf Freeway and kept up a good pace there in order to get to another roadway -- past the clump of restaurants I went: Cheddar’s, Chuy’s, Steak & Shake. Now I was on Magnolia, crossing under the high-voltage lines following the old Interurban railroad route, then turning up Walnut to go past the schools. One of them, I had attended: the old Webster Intermediate School, now the Clear View alternative high school. Two, I hadn’t: Webster Primary and McWhirter Elementary. As I stopped at the intersection with old Nasa 1 (new Nasa 1 was the bypass), I could see Webster Bicycle still in the same building it’s been in for nearly 40 years. My mom and dad got me a Raleigh 3-speed bike there, and I used that for many years in my teen years.  Then I was pedaling through neighborhoods I’d never been in before as I made my way back to the hotel.

After a ride like that, and on a day that started out sunny and ended with a few clouds, I needed to take a shower.  That felt good, to clean off and cool off like that. And then it was lunchtime. I drove to Gina’s Italian Kitchen on Clear Lake City Boulevard (also known as FM 2351) to meet my former teacher and nearly-lifelong friend Candy Silcott. On her recommendation, I got the Mike & Jen meal of bow-tie pasta with chicken and mushrooms and the Chicken Gianni soup. While we waited for our meals to arrive, I showed her a selection of the pictures I’d taken on my trip so far. She recognized the pictures from Monahans Sandhills State Park, having visited there a few times (cousins lived in nearby Kermit). Her son had just gotten engaged last week (congratulations to him) and was in the market for a truck; I offered to give him one of my Friends & Family discounts from Ford. I would later learn that he’d already bought a Ford pickup (good for him). The lunch was great and so was the conversation.

After lunch, I watched the Mad Men finale that I had retrieved from home. There were a few glitches in the recording; I couldn’t tell if they came from the original recording or from this downsized copy. None of the glitches wiped out valuable information, as far as I could tell. Later on, when it was time for supper, there was only one place I wanted to go: Laredo’s.  I took Bay Area over to Red Bluff Boulevard down to 146.  That intersection had changed dramatically; 146 now was a freeway over Red Bluff. But the traffic through Seabrook hadn’t changed; it was as heavy as ever. As I got nearer to Laredo’s, something didn’t look right. There didn’t seem to be anyone in the parking lot. I stopped, got out, and found the explanation on the front door. They were on vacation, too, and wouldn’t be back until July 5. Oh no! I’d miss out on eating here this trip! Wait - I’d still be in Texas on July 5, though I’d be leaving that day. Would it be possible to come down here? Possible, yes, but I didn’t think I could spare the time.  And so I got back into the car, disappointed. But there was another Mexican restaurant I could visit: Chuy’s in Webster.  It was part of the new clump of restaurants in Webster, along with Rudy’s, Cheddar’s, and the newest of all, Steak ‘n’ Shake. I knew the food would be good at Chuy’s, and I wasn’t disappointed.

As I was driving to supper tonight, I was listening to a rebroadcast of the SiriusXM town hall meeting for Not Fade Away, a movie that had starred James Gandolfini and featured the involvement of Little Steven in selecting the soundtrack music. It was being replayed in memory of the recently-deceased Gandolfini. I had wanted to see this movie when it came out last December, but it wasn’t in Detroit for very long. It may have been there for only a week, and I remember not feeling well that week and waiting until I felt better to see it, only to find it was no longer playing. This had me wanting to look for the DVD, which I did after leaving Chuy’s.  The Best Buy on Bay Area had the Blu-Ray but not the DVD. I specifically wanted the DVD because my hotel room had a DVD player (although my MacBook Pro could also play DVD’s).  There were other places I could look in the area. One of those was the Barnes & Noble across the street, but they didn’t have it in any form.  I didn’t leave empty-handed, though; I found a book on hikes in the Houston area. It seemed interesting, and some of the described hikes might also work for bike or trike rides. Then it was back to the hotel for the evening.


Tuesday June 25

I woke up off and on, and then I woke up for good around 8 in the morning. I must have needed some more rest than usual. I took my time getting ready for the day, for I wasn’t definitely sure what I was going to do. I was pretty sure I was going to drive to the north side of town to pedal the Spring Creek Greenway Trail, and in fact that’s what I did. I had my breakfast in the room and did my usual e-mail and web checks.

Traffic wasn’t bad getting out to the Jones Nature Center in Humble, the eastern end of the Greenway Trail. I took the Gulf Freeway into downtown, then took Highway 59 north, passing by three of the four pro sports facilities in town: the Toyota Center for basketball, Minute Maid Park for baseball, and BBVA Compass Stadium for soccer (my first time to see that facility). I could also see several buildings of loft housing that had appeared over the years. As I drove onward, Highway 59 picked up a new identity: I-69. In the future, it will be possible to drive from Michigan to Texas on one numbered freeway. Today, though, I only needed to take it to the town of Humble, original home of Humble Oil (now part of ExxonMobil). To be a bit different, I took Old Humble Road into town, hoping to see some of the older parts of town (I’d seen pictures on one of the history blogs I read).  I didn’t see too many of those sights, although I did see an artesian well (Lambrecht’s Artesian Well) free-flowing at the corner of what was now Houston Road and Business FM 1960. The sign said it wasn’t drinkable.

Before I went to the nature center, I wanted to get some cold drink and to use the restroom.  The Walgreens looked to be a good candidate, but their restrooms were not open to the public.  The Shell station across the street was too busy, with no place to fill up or to easily park. Now I had to go rather badly, so I drove down the street to look for another station. The Texaco had outrageous pricing for its gas: competitive with nearby stations if you used their gas cash card, but 50 cents a gallon higher for regular cash or credit. It wasn’t illegal; it was marked on their signs, but that’s a terrible practice that I’m glad is not common in Michigan. The Exxon across the street did not engage in that practice, and so they got my business.  When I went inside to use the facilities, there was a problem: the guy using the single-person men’s room didn’t lock the door, so I was surprised when I opened the door (he was just washing his hands; otherwise, it would have been a nasty surprise).  I waited impatiently for him to finish; just as I was about to ask him to hurry up, he was finished. I went in and made sure the door was locked! I did not want to give a rude surprise to the next guy. After that necessary business was concluded, I bought a bottle of Ozarka water and a caffeine-free Diet Coke, and then I drove off to the Nature Center.

By this time, it was close to 11:30 in the morning. I should have known I was asking for trouble from the noonday sun, but I was figuring the trail would be shady. Well, parts of the trail were shady, but not nearly enough of them. The extremes of the trail were not paved, but the bulk of it was. There were also regular variations in the altitude; going west, I got the impression it was mostly downhill, although that would be against the flow of the creek.  The cold drinks didn’t stay cold in that sun! The water was in my insulated bike water bottle, but even still, it started to get warm.  The fountain water at Pundt Park at the other end of the trail was downright hot! At one point during the ride, I saw a deer eating alongside the trail. I stopped and got my camera out. As I got ready to take the picture, the deer bolted and ran for the trees. I did get a picture of it in mid-stride, but I wished I had had the longer focus lens with me. The ride back to the nature center was difficult, thanks to the heat, the unpaved sections and the altitude variations going the other way. There was one short incline where I couldn’t pedal up it; I had to walk the trike up the small hill, which wasn’t that easy because low-riding trikes aren’t easy to walk

It was after 2 PM by the time I returned to the nature center. Was I ever glad to put the bike back on the rack and put everything away!  I made sure to put the lock and cable back on (this locked the trike to the rack). When I filled the bike water bottle with the Ozarka water, a quarter of the bottle contents was left behind; sitting in the shaded vehicle, it was cooler than what was in the water bottle, although not by much. Still, it was good.  I was on the verge of being wiped out, and I enjoyed every bit of it. As I drove off, I had plans to visit a Best Buy I knew was nearby.  As I waited at a traffic light on FM 1960, pondering where I would have lunch, there was a knock at my window. It was a constable’s deputy telling me something was dragging from my trike rack. I thanked him for the information and pulled into the Sam’s Club parking lot that was conveniently nearby.  It turned out to be one end of the bike lock cable; the insulation had been eroded completely through, and bare metal was visible. I didn’t do a good job securing it at the nature center, it seems.  This time, I made sure that both loops of the cable were on the lock, and then I drove onward.

Where would I have lunch? I saw a Genghis Grill, but it was on the wrong side of the road. I saw a Souper Salad, and I figured, yes, that’s where I will eat.  Before I went in, I changed shirts in the parking lot: off went the sweaty bike jersey, on went a Hawaiian shirt. Now in the past, I did receive an unasked-for senior discount at another Souper Salad, but that didn’t happen here. I paid regular price and went to enjoy the salad bar and blueberry muffins (those were very good).  Afterwards, I visited that Best Buy but did not find the DVD of Not Fade Away that I was looking for.  By this time, it was after 3:30, so it was time to head back to the hotel to avoid rush hour.  In this, I was not successful; traffic was very slow just outside of Loop 610 and then outside the South Belt. Time to get over to Highway 3 and take that the rest of the way.

Back at the hotel, I downloaded and identified today’s pictures. I also swore to do my bike riding earlier or later in the day; that heat was just too much! I thought about riding on Seabrook’s Pine Gully Trail tomorrow, but that idea fell through when I discovered that major construction would close significant parts of the trail for eight weeks beginning tomorrow. That disappointed me. Later on, when suppertime neared, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Then suddenly, I was sure: Joe’s Barbecue in Alvin, a long-time favorite of mine. The parking lot was very full; it was shrimp night.  But there wasn’t a long wait to place my order. No, I did not order shrimp; I’m sure their shrimp is good, but I don’t go there for shrimp, I go there for the barbecue, most often when it’s atop a baked potato.  And that’s what I ordered last night, a baked potato topped with chopped beef. They also offered the potato with pulled pork, which seemed sacrilegious since this was west of the Mississippi.  I had to find a seat in the upper level, the first time I’d ever gone up there, I believe. The waitresses didn’t come through very often for refills, though; I ended up going downstairs and refilling my cup myself with water. The food was still good, though.  When I went to pay, I was momentarily confused, for I didn’t see the cashier’s area where it had been for several years. It turned out it had been moved into the other room, and after paying, you exited from the side and went back out front to the parking lot.  On the way back to the hotel, I stopped for some bottled water at the HEB store in Friendswood.

Later that evening, I discovered that my I hadn’t put enough sunscreen around my knees that morning. They were sunburned, and they were hurting. I had put some sunscreen on them, but clearly it wasn’t enough.  I didn’t notice sunburn anywhere else on my body, fortunately. That would have really screwed up my sleep; as it was, it hurt to have sheets touch my knees.


Wednesday June 26

Today was going to be a slow day for me. I popped awake around 6 o’clock, but I didn’t really want to get up, so I went back to sleep. I woke up for good around 7:30. My sunburned knees were still hurting. I would have seriously considered pedaling the bike trails in Seabrook this morning, but major portions of the trail to Pine Gully Park had just closed this morning.  Frankly, I didn’t feel like doing much of anything today.

As I ate my breakfast, there was major news: the Supreme Court voided the Defense of Marriage Act, meaning that the federal government could no longer discriminate against  gay marriages. ESPN was also covering the arrest and arraignment of now-former Patriot Aaron Hernandez on murder charges (they cut him as soon as the charges were announced).

For lunch, I had the leftovers from Monday’s lunch at Gina’s, and then I did some reading lying on the bed. I’m not sure, but I may have fallen asleep. When I possibly awoke and definitely got up, I had some dishes to do from lunch, which I did.

Now why did I not feel like doing much today? I had been doing a lot over the last week and a half, and I was probably due for a breather. Hearing the reports of temperatures in the high 90’s dissuaded me from mid-day bike rides, for sure -- and, at least for today, mid-day anything. And then later in the day, I started to get a pain in the neck. That convinced me not to go to the Sugar Land Skeeters game tonight. I wasn’t really in the mood, anyway.

When suppertime rolled around, I walked over to Genghis Grill. Now I WAS in the mood for that; I felt hungry enough for two bowls.  It turned out I was hungry enough for three. Perhaps it was GG’s approach of supplying the starch in the same bowl as the meal in a defined serving versus the BD’s approach of serving the rice separately (rice AND tortillas, usually). Whatever it was, it was good. Then again, since I selected the ingredients in the serving line, I couldn’t blame anyone but myself if it wasn’t. Now if the meats had been horribly scorched or burned, I could properly blame the grillers, but that wasn’t the case. The meal was ideal! With a to-go cup of Coke Zero in hand, I walked back to the hotel, thinking about what I might want to do tomorrow.  Galveston loomed large in my mind. So was getting some cash and looking for a TV antenna. Why the antenna? I carry around a digital TV tuner that works with my MacBook Pro, and I can watch off-the-air digital TV wherever I am. And there was a program on Saturday night I wanted to record: Channel 11 would broadcast a special on 60 years of news stories it had covered (this was its 60th year of operation).


Thursday June 27

Earlier in the vacation, I was waking up very early; that wasn’t happening now. I guess I was finally settling into my vacation. I got up around 7 and did my regular e-mail and web checks and pondered what I would be doing today.  I didn’t have very many definite plans for the day when I woke up. I had breakfast around 8:30 and was reading the Chronicle on my iPad. The iPad works rather well for reading PDF versions of newspapers; I regularly read the Detroit papers that way in addition to the Chronicle.  After 9, I was out and about.  The first stop was the Kroger gas station in League City near Clear Creek High School. I was in need of gas, and I could obtain a 30 cent per gallon discount by filling up here, thanks to my purchases at Kroger over the last two months.  Next up, Walmart.

As I rode down 270, I saw a man on a recumbent trike turning onto Highway 96. His trike was configured in the tadpole style, with two wheels up front and one in the rear.  This was the opposite of my trike, which was configured in the delta style of one wheel up front and two in back. It wasn’t a very low-riding trike; he sat at close to the same height that I did in my trike. He didn’t see me, as I was always behind him.  He turned, and I kept going straight. I wonder what he would have thought had he seen my trike on its rack on my SUV.  There was construction on FM 646 as I approached the Walmart; the roadway was being widened. Good for the long haul, I imagine, but it did make getting into and out of the Walmart shopping center somewhat difficult in places.  But there were other places where it wasn’t a problem at all, and soon I was inside Walmart getting some aspirin (the supply I’d brought with me had started to smell of vinegar), sunscreen (I was running low), insect repellent (I didn’t have any), an antenna (I needed that for recording the show on Saturday), and lastly, cash.

Next stop, Fry’s. Their video collection was extensive as ever, but it didn’t extend to Not Fade Away in any format. I resisted the temptation that is always present there and left Fry’s empty-handed.  By now, it was lunchtime, and I drove back to FM 518 and visited Kelley’s Country Cooking. I would be meeting former next-door neighbor Chris Mallios here for lunch. Pulling into the parking lot, I saw a Ford Ranger pickup with Obama-Biden stickers. That was probably him, I figured; he and his family were longtime Democrats.  And it indeed was him. We had a pretty good talk as we waited for and ate our omelets. When I got mine, the choices for side dish were hash browns or grits. Both good choices, but I was in more of a mood for hash browns; Chris got the grits. He spoke of wanting to buy our old house next door and have his daughter live there; the current owner lived in Tennessee and was renting the house out, and the current tenant might have been moving soon due to a transfer.  I hoped it worked out well for him.  As for the omelet, it was good, but I couldn’t finish it all; I took what was left over in a box and brought it back to the hotel to put in the refrigerator. No way would it keep in the car for hours, not at this time of year!

When I was planning to visit the east coast, I wanted to take a whale-watching cruise. That would have involved seeing dolphins, as well. Now whales were nowhere around Galveston, but dolphins sure were, and I wanted to see some on this trip. I could have taken a free cruise on the Bolivar Ferry and seen them, but I chose to take a channel cruise on a smaller vessel. As I drove down the freeway to the island, things looked more or less the same as when I’d last been there. One thing was new: the Tanger Outlet Center in Texas City. I made a note to visit there later. As for Galveston, it looked about the same. I made my way over to the Strand and looked for a place to park; the parking lots at 21st and Harborside seemed convenient enough.  I could not help but notice the cruise ship docked in the harbor. It turned out that this was the Carnival Triumph, the ship I would have sailed last week had plans worked out as they were originally supposed to.  It looked to be in good outer condition, and since it was now two weeks back in service, it had better have been in great inner condition. I did see a few families walking around the Strand who were planning to board the ship later on. That was different from my previous cruising experience about Disney, as its port terminal was nowhere near a downtown. Cocoa Beach didn’t count; it wasn’t much of a downtown, and it was beyond walking distance from the cruise terminal.

When driving to the harborside, I saw some signs on the Strand for public restrooms. I was now in need of a visit to those restrooms after lunch, so I walked up and down the Strand trying to find them. But I couldn’t find them, not right away. Paying closer attention to the signs led me to the location of the restroom, which was closer to Harborside than to the Strand. It wasn’t just a porta-potty, either (well, for wheelchair users, it was); it was air conditioned. And on a hot day like this, air conditioning was fantastic! But one can’t stay in there forever, nor would one want to. When I was finished, I walked over to the booth for Baywatch Dolphin Tours, purveyors of a 45-minute harbor and dolphin-watching cruise. Tickets were $10; I bought my ticket and went over to the berth at the pier. Actually, I went over to the shaded area at Willie G.’s first, staying out of the sun until the boat came back to the dock.  There was a TV crew on the restaurant patio doing an interview with someone; I didn’t recognize the program.  At last the boat returned to the dock, and we boarded. We had a pretty full boat as we set sail. My camera was at the ready, and the bag with my lenses was close by. There were drinks for sale onboard, but I didn’t partake.

When I took my first dolphin-watching cruise in 2005, I wasn’t happy with the pictures I took of the dolphins. I would frequently find that what I captured was the disturbances in the water after the dolphins had gone back under. By 2010, I’d learned how to set my camera to take continuous pictures, which helped me to get great pictures of dolphins on a trip to Santa Catalina Island. And today?  Well, I got a few good shots of a pod or two of dolphins as they swam around the Galveston Channel. Some were near the cruise ship, while others were closer to Pelican Island. I only saw one dolphin leap completely out of the water, but I wasn’t able to capture it with the camera. We didn’t leave the channel; we got close to the Bolivar ferry dock and Seawolf Park, but that was it. The shade and the breeze made for a very comfortable cruise, but after 45 minutes it was over. I walked around the Strand some more, popping into a few stores, but then I was feeling awfully warm, and so I got into my SUV and hit the road. I drove down the Seawall, past the Pleasure Pier and past the San Luis Resort. A turn onto 61st Street, a stop at a McDonald’s for a milkshake, and I was heading back to Webster. As I drove past the Gay Buick/GMC dealership in Dickinson, the thermometer on their sign read 212 degrees F.  That wasn’t true, of course, but it sure felt like it!

Back at the hotel, I cooled off for a while, downloaded the pictures and checked e-mail, not necessarily in that order. The coolness of the hotel room was a welcome relief to the heat of the street.  The pictures from today turned out very well, I thought, and I posted one of the dolphin pictures to Facebook. The e-mail brought some disturbing news for me and for all Bahá’ís: the House of Bahá’u’lláh in Baghdad, where He lived during the first years of His exile from Iran, had been destroyed under circumstances that were not immediately clear.  It was to have been a place of pilgrimage for Bahá’ís in the future; once rebuilt, God willing, it still will be.

That evening, I went over to Kemah to meet with school classmate Shawn Merrell for an evening of jamming. We were supposed to have shared a cabin on that cruise last week, but he was still recovering from a broken leg suffered earlier in the year. He was still wearing a protective boot around the leg, but he could still get around reasonably well. But a protective boot on a leg does not interfere with playing the guitar, which he did very well. I listened to a song that he’d been recording on his iMac; in this stripped-down form, it was sounding pretty good.  We jammed on a couple of Beatle songs and a few licks and patterns. He told me of his hopes to get back into a band, of using cover versions of songs as a way to keep the classic rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s alive for future generations.

Around 8, after stopping for a necessary refueling, we headed to Stomp’s in Bacliff for a late dinner. Being late, there weren’t many people around; I’ve been there when there’s been a wait for a seat.  I got sautéed mushrooms on my burger, and I ordered tater tots on the side. Yum! It was too much for me to finish, so I boxed it up and took it with me (but I ended up discarding it when I checked out). Our table talk was rather heavy and serious: religion. He wanted to know more about my being a Bahá’í, for I was the only one he knew, and I told him.  Back at the house came more jamming and some exchanging of messages on Facebook with mutual friend and classmate Dale Fortenberry. Then it was time to leave. I was getting a bit tired, and he had to go to work in the morning.

When I was driving back to the hotel, I thought the sound of the flasher for the right turn signal was off; it was clicking too quickly.  I’d heard that once before a year or so earlier, only for the left turn signal.  That time, the left rear flasher bulb had burned out. And now I suspected that another bulb had burned out. I’d have to go look for a new bulb the next day, I feared.


Friday June 28

Recall from June 14 that I was a season ticket holder for the Lansing Lugnuts (a 6-pack mini-season ticket holder, in fact). Another game in my package was tonight, but there was no way I would be attending that game; I’d have to fly from Houston to Lansing to do so. As it turned out, the game was rained out, so my flight would have been in vain. Then again, it would have been 33 degrees cooler up there than down here in Texas (63 versus 96). I would exchange that ticket for another one later in the season.

I woke up around 7:30 in the morning. What would I do? Since the forecast called for temperatures to near or exceed 100, I was not going to do any trike riding today. I had the leftover omelet of yesterday for breakfast, and then I showered. While I dried off, I hooked up the antenna and TV tuner to my laptop and scanned for local channels.  There was quite a bit out there, more so than in Detroit! A number of channels had Spanish or Asian fare. Some of the subchannels were carried in Detroit, such as This and Antenna TV, but the Spanish and Asian ones weren’t.  One channel, Immigrante TV, seemed to be nothing but an infomercial for an immigration attorney (although the hostess was very pleasing to the eye). Another subchannel carried CCTV News (news from China’s state-run network, in English).

After configuring the TV setup to record tomorrow night’s 60th anniversary program on channel 11, I set off for today’s adventures, starting with a drive into town.  First stop: the Houston Arboretum, home to a number of nature trails.  I intended to walk on the Outer Loop trail, and I did for perhaps two-thirds of its length.  It was alternately sunny and shady on the trail, and at 10:30 in the morning, it was a bit warm, but not outrageously so.  Then again, when I got into the car, my shirt was a bit damp.  Next stop: the Micro Center on the West Loop north of San Felipe. I was looking for ideas about improving my media storage at home, making it more robust. There wasn’t anything I needed to get today, and I didn’t get anything.

The next stop was actually multiple stops, and goes for that matter: I’m referring to the traffic on San Felipe and Westheimer as I made my way west. I could see that traffic on Westheimer headed towards the West Loop from the west was extremely heavy; that ruled out a visit to Central Market for me. I drove by Evans Music City but didn’t stop there; perhaps I was avoiding the temptation to get a new guitar. I’d bought three guitars there in the past. I stopped at a Barnes & Noble near Voss but didn’t get anything there. I came close to, but I didn’t. I was looking for an auto parts store to get a replacement bulb for my right rear turn signal, but the only one I saw was on the wrong side of the road, and I couldn’t easily get to it. I was listening to UH’s classical radio station in the car (formerly Rice’s public radio station), but this music was not soothing my savage breast. At home, it might have, but in heavy traffic in hot weather, it wasn’t.  I was becoming more and more irritated the longer I drove.

I cut short the drive and took Gessner up past Memorial City and on to the Katy Freeway. Based on my experience from earlier, I didn’t get onto the West Loop, but going to downtown wasn’t that much better. Once again, traffic on I-45 around downtown was lousy, and so was my mood. I was tired of it; I was really tired of it. I wanted nothing more than to get back home, or to my home away from home. I may have needed a vacation from the vacation.  Before returning to the hotel, I stopped at Kroger’s on El Camino and got some more pop and snacks for the next couple of days.

Note that I did not have lunch today. I was out late enough where lunch would be on the verge of turning into an early supper.  And that’s what I ended up doing tonight. After stopping at O’Reilly Auto Parts for a replacement turn signal bulb, I drove down to Jimmy Changa’s in League City.  No need to face the construction on 646; I took Walker Street over from Highway 3. This was very familiar to me from bike rides and trike rides on prior visits, and I could see construction that was taking place or had taken place since my last time here. Part of that construction was Jimmy Changa’s. The last time I was here, there was a sign in front of a vacant lot.  Now, it was a large building with a full parking lot. Even at 4:50 PM on Friday evening, it was full? Was I going to have problems getting a table in a timely manner? As it turned out, no; I was seated right away.  The restaurant was the second in a budding chain; the first and original was in Pasadena, and a third would soon be in Katy. The chips came with a traditional red salsa and a creamy green salsa; that was a good sign.  I ordered a cup of the poblano soup and the Jimmy’s Deluxe dinner. The cup of soup was more like a bowl of soup, and it was very good. The Deluxe dinner reminded me of Laredo’s deluxe dinner, with items spread out over a cold plate and a hot plate. The kitchen was perhaps too efficient with my dinner, as it was served well before I was finished with the soup, well before I was ready to eat it. Better too early than too late, though.  The servers kept my drink filled, and I enjoyed the experience. The sauce for the enchiladas reminded me of a Swanson’s TV dinner, and that’s meant in a good way. Dessert? No way! I was way too full. The dinner was very good, slightly better than Chuy’s, I thought. This meal was good enough to make me not miss Laredo’s too much. And if Laredo’s were ever to fall victim to the widening of Highway 146, I could easily declare Jimmy Changa’s as my new favorite Mexican restaurant in the Clear Lake area.

Next, I went to the Best Buy down the street to make one more attempt to find Not Fade Away on DVD. I failed; all they had was the Blu-Ray version. This time, though, I noticed that it came with an iTunes-compatible digital copy. That would let me watch it now, if I wanted to. My search was over; I bought the Blu-Ray. After that, I drove down to the new Tanger Outlet Center in Texas City to see what that was like. It reminded me of the outlet center in Round Rock where I frequently have obtained Crocs shoes. It turns out that Round Rock is also a Tanger outlet and that Michigan has two, in Howell (which I’ve seen and visited) and West Branch (maybe seen, haven’t visited).  I visited the Columbia store to see if they had the pants that I like: convertible between pants and shorts, with loose front pockets that don’t spill their contents. They did, but not in the sizes that I was looking for.  Next, the Crocs outlet store; there were some interesting items here, but I wasn’t ready to get anything tonight.  Later came a visit to the Disney Outlet and an opportunity to get two water bottles and holders, one with Mickey and one with Grumpy. The one with Grumpy was going to be a present for my uncle.

Back at the hotel, it had cooled off enough for me to consider replacing the burned out turn signal bulb. In order to do that, the liftgate had to be completely open, and that meant removing the trike.  I did that, putting it between my car and another one so that it wasn’t sticking out on the roadway, and then I unscrewed the lamp housing and removed it.  Yes, a bulb had definitely burned out, and after replacing it, I functioned the turn signal to make sure nothing else was wrong.  No, everything seemed fine, so I screwed the housing back in, closed the liftgate, put the trike back onto the rack, and I was done.  I was no longer courting a ticket for a burned out bulb, nor would I be incurring the wrath of drivers behind me who weren’t seeing the turn signal.

For tomorrow’s TV recording, I tried mounting the antenna in the window frame; that was ineffective. I’d have to go with the antenna atop the DVD player in the middle of the room.  Would it work?  I hoped so.  I didn’t fiddle with that any more this evening.


Saturday June 29

Once again, I got up around 7:30.  It was going to be hotter today than yesterday, so the trike would remain on the rack. After having my breakfast, I checked the digital TV reception. Big problem: channel 11 would not come in. Neither would a lot of other stations, but channel 11 was crucial: that was the one I wanted to record tonight. Would I figure out a solution in time?

I did figure out a solution to another problem that had bugged me for the last week. Recall on Sunday that I had a bottle of Diet Dr Pepper Cherry that I absolutely could not open. This morning, I tried freezing it: nope. I tried running hot water over the cap: nope. In desperation, I went outside and brought my toolbox in. There was a box cutter in there. Would that poke through the plastic of the bottle? Yep, it sure would. I made a second cut, and soon I was squeezing the bottle over a cup in the sink. Some of the pop went astray, but most of it ended up in the cup.  At last, I could drink the pop! And the lid on the empty bottle still would not budge, but it didn’t matter anymore.

This morning, I went over to Baybrook Mall for the first and only time on this trip.  I parked in the family’s historic spot, or more accurately its modern equivalent. The vast majority of times we went to Baybrook, we’d park on the south end near one of the doors of Joske’s (later Dillard’s). That building had been replaced by a Foley’s (later Macy’s), but the door was close to the same place, so I continued to park there. Things didn’t seem too different inside as I walked around. I spent some time at Brookstone, eventually getting a wrap for the head that is intended to cool you down. I visited the Apple Store to check out the latest stuff; I wanted to see if they had the latest Airport Extreme router (they did). Suddenly, the guy next to me calls my name; it’s David Coney. longtime friend of the family, former Clear Creek and Trinity University football player and current stockbroker for Edward T. Jones. He was there getting his iPhone repaired after it fell into Galveston Bay the night before. I asked him to say hi to his parents for me.

It was now after 11, and I could consider lunch. Where to go?  How about Tookie’s? I hadn’t been there yet, and I was running out of time to go.  I got there around 11:45, and it was already pretty busy. I ended up sitting at the bar and having a #99 burger and tater tots. Unfortunately, the waitress/bartender got my order slightly wrong and I received onion rings at first; I said I should have received tater tots and sent the rings back. It took a few minutes, but the tots came out, and they were pretty good.  So was the #99 burger, even if it was messy.  Afterwards, I tried to navigate my way to the Seabrook Kroger’s using the back streets of Seabrook. The attempt wasn’t fully successful; I didn’t go east enough to get to the proper streets that would take me there. I did end up in the Bay Elementary parking lot twice and got onto Highway 146, where it was an easy matter to get to the Kroger’s. But I could see southbound traffic starting to build.

The Seabrook Kroger’s was an older store, though it wasn’t the original one in town; that building was across the street, part of the Miramar Shopping Center, and I remember when it used to be called Henke’s (the local predecessors of Kroger).  I was looking for a gift card for my friend Keith’s older daughter Hannah; her birthday was today, and I’d be going up tomorrow.  I found one from Target that would work. Then I navigated more Seabrook back streets, past the fairly new library branch and past two parks in order to get to Todville Road, which would take me down to the bridge and past most of the traffic on 146.  It did, and soon I was in Kemah, passing through Clear Lake Shores and into League City.  I took a short detour through the Glen Cove subdivision; I have memories of visiting a friend of Mom and Dad’s from Michigan who had moved to that subdivision; this was many years ago, when I was a toddler.  I continued through town, made a swing past the old house (no one was home, it seemed), and took Bay Area Boulevard up to the Barnes & Noble. I was looking for a book on the US-Soviet space race that had been mentioned in a recent article on Space.com; I couldn’t remember the title, but I thought I’d recognize the cover. Well, I didn’t find it there, but I did find some magazines. I eventually bought the Kindle edition of the book, though I’m sure B&N would have wanted me to buy the Nook edition.

Back at the hotel, I started packing a few things in the suitcase, for I would be leaving in the morning. I tried to get good digital TV reception for tonight’s recording, but I couldn’t. What was good yesterday was total crap this afternoon. What was I going to do? I was inspired to take the laptop and antenna out to my car, set the antenna on the roof, and see what I could get. What I could get was -- channel 11 in perfect quality.  If I wanted to record that show tonight, I’d have to come outside and set up.  And that’s what I did. For the hour from 7 PM to 8 PM, I was sitting in my SUV with the windows rolled down, my MacBook Pro on the center console, the TV tuner plugged in and an antenna on the roof, watching the 60th anniversary special for channel 11. The station had begun as KGUL in Galveston; the building was still there, and some of it was still used for audio and video production today. Even the old sign for 11 Video Lane was still there at 45th Street and Avenue P 1/2. But the station had moved to Houston and become KHOU before I was born, although I can remember it being referred to as located in both cities. Familiar personalities from the past were interviewed, such as Dan Rather and Linda Ellerbee; others were in the studio, such as Steve Smith and Dr. Neil Frank.  All in all, an interesting hour, one worth the effort I made in recording. And the best thing of all was, the laptop battery held out!

Now I could eat supper. Tonight, I’d head to CiCi’s Pizza in League City down by the Walmart. It wasn’t terribly busy, and I enjoyed the flat, crispy crust pizza they were serving. It wasn’t gourmet pizza by any means, but it was decent enough. It was close to 9:30 when I got back to the hotel room. I stayed up doing some web surfing and some work on the travelogue before I crawled into bed and called it an evening.


Sunday June 30

Today started the next phase of my vacation, as well as the next-to-last phase. I would be leaving Webster and the Houston area and driving up to Austin to spend nearly a week with my friend Keith and his family. My day started around 7:30 when I got up. I had a muffin for breakfast, thereby finishing the muffin package I’d bought yesterday. Then it was time to load the car, time to get the luggage cart and fill it up with everything or nearly everything, time to roll it out the side door and to my SUV, time to stuff everything into the SUV, take it back, get whatever I didn’t get the first time, and check out.  I was finished with that by 9, or a little before 9, and so I hit the road.

This segment of the trip started with a side trip that was out of the way. Last night’s special on channel 11 mentioned the old studios and the old street signs that were at the corner where their old Galveston studios were located. I wanted to see these for myself and take some pictures, and so here I was on Sunday morning, heading to Austin by way of Galveston. I stopped once again at Kroger’s on FM 270 to get gas, but then I went over to the freeway via Highway 96.  The road wasn’t too busy at this time of morning, and soon I was crossing over the causeway and onto the island.  I turned at the traffic light for 45th Street and proceeded beachward. I was looking for Avenue P 1/2 (in between P and Q).  Some of the houses on the way there were rather nice, but the neighborhood deteriorated some the closer to the beach you got. And there it was: the sign for Video Lane and the old studio.  But did I stop right away? No, for I felt the need to use the restroom.  I ended up driving down Seawall Boulevard a short distance to the Kroger’s, where the gas was actually less expensive than in League City.  Also, I felt a little more comfortable preparing the camera in that parking lot than near the old studio. And so, with empty bladder and readied camera, I drove back to the old studio and took some pictures there. This was a part of history I didn’t really know, for channel 11 had moved to Houston before I was born.

There wasn’t anything else I wanted to do in Galveston, so I got back into the car and drove back over the causeway. To be a bit different, I chose to get to I-10 via Highway 6. This took me through Hitchcock, Santa Fe, Alvin, Manvel, Arcola, Iowa Colony, Missouri City and Sugar Land.  Constellation Field, the home of the Sugar Land Skeeters, was right next to Highway 6; it looked to be a nice facility, one I’d like to visit some time, preferably at a cooler time of year. Then I continued northward on Highway 6 up to I-10. Here was where I’d begin the trip to Austin in earnest. Or maybe not: it was getting close to lunchtime.

Where would I eat lunch today? I saw a Cheddar’s and came close to eating there, but they looked to be very busy. I saw a Steak ‘n’ Shake across the street, but I wasn’t really in the mood to eat there.  Near the Steak ‘n’ Shake was a whole strip mall of restaurants, but none of them caught my fancy.  I drove west an exit or two.  Hm, Rudy’s Barbecue sounded good, but it was on the wrong side of the freeway. So what, I figured, and made the turnaround at Mason Road. Then my eyes saw the sign for Carino’s, or Johnny Carino’s as they’ve begun to call themselves again. That’s what I was in the mood for today, I decided, and I pulled into their parking lot.  I got my usual meal of chicken and sausage Skilletini with Caesar salad, one of my versions of comfort food.

It was cloudy when I entered the restaurant, but it had become sunny when I left. It was still a warm day, too warm to visit any parks along the way. Stephen F. Austin State Park near Sealy would have to wait for another time. I continued on I-10 until Columbus and Highway 71, at which point I got onto Highway 71 for the drive to Austin. I stopped at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grange for a loaf of bread, which I knew my hosts would enjoy. A few more miles down the road in Bastrop, I stopped at another Buc-ee’s flagship store for some more gift and souvenir shopping, including a Texas hysterical marker for my condo.  Back on the road, traffic coming from the west was backed up. Farther to the west, I saw a few police and fire vehicles, as well as trucks from two TV stations.  Something had clearly happened here; I would later learn that a fireworks factory had caught fire. I drove onward, and soon I was passing the Austin airport and entering the Austin area.

[Details of my Austin stay have been redacted to protect the honor of Ping the cat, who was not happy about my depiction of him during his illness this week]


Friday July 5

Mileage from Luling to today: 1040.1
Mileage total to date: 3776.5, and reset to zero

Mileage today: 518.9
Mileage total, return trip: 518.9

Today, I would start the return trip to Michigan. The day began with my waking up after 7 and engaging in my normal routine, although today was not normal in that I was packing up and loading the car, taking care not to forget anything. I could have left around 9, but then I would have missed a breakfast of pancakes, bacon and eggs. And so I stayed, and I enjoyed that breakfast I otherwise would have missed.

I said my goodbyes and left Keith’s house shortly after 9:30, but I didn’t immediately hit the road. No, I stopped at the HEB store at the Four Points intersection to pick up some more Whataburger ketchup, mustard and fries. No, I wasn’t going to get a large amount to sell online, although I could see how some would be motivated to do so. I just got enough for me for now, along with a few other items for the road. I remembered to bring my bags in (one Kroger bag, one SAS shoe bag) for the stuff. And now, it was 10 o’clock. Time to hit the road in earnest.

Traffic wasn’t bad on 620 or the 45 tollway or even I-35 in Round Rock. There were a few construction sites on I-35 along the way, but nothing major, and I had an uneventful drive.  At noon, I was in West, site of the recent explosion. I stopped at the Czech Stop to use the restroom, and I might have bought something from there, but the line was so long (wrapping more than halfway around the store) that I passed.  But I was thinking about lunch, and I had a very good idea what I wanted: Genghis Grill. But where was the closest one to my path? It turned out to be in Rockwall on I-30 near Lake Ray Hubbard.  I’d have to get through Dallas first to reach the restaurant.  I-35E up to and into Dallas was a decent enough drive. I-30 out of Dallas started that way, but just as I neared the lake, traffic came to a near halt. I turned on the SXM traffic channel for Dallas, Houston and Phoenix. That told me there was a car file ahead that had blocked a lane.  Fortunately, there was an exit ahead that I took. I could take the feeder road on the north side of the freeway.  Oops, no I couldn’t; that road came to an end. I ended up taking a detour around the north end of the lake to reach the restaurant, and even then I had to circle around once or twice -- not the lake, some roads near the freeway -- to find the Genghis Grill.  I used the iPad as a GPS tracker to take me there. The restaurant was smaller than others I’d been to, but the food was the same, and it was good.

Back on the road I went. My destination was Little Rock -- specifically, the Days Inn near Little Rock airport. That was some 500 miles from Austin, the distance of a good day’s driving. That was a little on the short side, actually; it would be even better if I could have made 600, but with the late start I thought I would get and in fact did get, I should set my target on the low side.  And the late start plus the delays in Rockwall confirmed the wisdom of my choice. And so, here I was in the mid- to late afternoon driving on I-30 through northeast Texas heading toward Texarkana.

I listened to Radio Classics for the vast majority of the trip. They had abandoned most regular programming for 48 hours beginning Thursday night for a special celebrating Jack Benny and the release of a DVD set of 18 of his TV programs once thought lost. Most of the programs on the radio were, naturally, from his radio show, but every few hours, I would hear the audio from one of the TV shows. No doubt its main purpose was to allow Shout Factory to sell more copies of the set, and I was sure it was succeeding at that. I was considering ordering the set myself.

Around 5 o’clock, I was in Texarkana and was leaving Texas. The drive across Arkansas was uneventful, although I did have a mother and her children ask to look at my recumbent trike at a rest area stop. No, I didn’t remove it from the rack; they could see it well enough while it was mounted. I continued driving onward, past the signs for Hot Springs, which made me remember the one time I’d spent a night there. By 7:50, I had reached my destination for the evening and checked into room 225.  One of the things I did right away was to access one of my home systems and login to my financial institution in order to make one payment and arrange for another. I wasn’t sure, but I feared I was late on a payment (I don’t think I was, though). That’s what vacation does to you.

What would I do for supper? I had two alternatives: Boston’s, a short drive away, or Waffle House, a walk across the parking lot. I didn’t feel like driving any more, and so the Waffle House it was.  Crew members outnumbered customers at that time of evening; that certainly would not be true in the morning! I had a waffle with sausage and grits, and the grits were good. The last time I had to choose between hash browns and grits, I chose hash browns, and those were good, too.  Then it was back to the room for the night.


Saturday July 6

Miles today: 411.0
Miles total, part 2: 930.0

I woke up around 6:30 and did my normal morning e-routine (e-mail and web surfing). Then I packed up and went for breakfast in the lobby, where I had 2 muffins, a dish of Frosted Flakes and a cup of orange juice. After my final packing and loading of the car, I checked out and left shortly after 8. I had over 800 miles to go reach Detroit. Could I make it today? I had in the past, but I doubted I would today.

It was getting to the point where I needed to fill up. There was a gas station near the hotel, but I chose to drive onward for a period of time to make some progress. I stopped at a station in the town of Wheatley, the first town beyond Brinkley, and filled up as well as use the restroom.  Later, though, I found that I needed to use the restroom again in short order, although it wasn’t really “again” because this time, it was for “number 2”.  I found a rest area, pulled in and parked a good distance away from the facility (it was busy), walked over and did what I had to do.   As I walked out, I went to pat my pockets as I sometimes do in order to make sure my wallets were still there.  This time, though, the big wallet wasn’t there! Surprise and fear ran through me.  What would I do? I remembered having the wallet out at the last gas station, and so I started to run back to my SUV.  But then I remembered just having used the toilet, so I turned around and ran back to the restroom. I saw my wallet laying on the floor of the stall I had used.  Relief! It hadn’t been more than five minutes, maybe closer to three. But I had the wallet back, and I was very glad. The pocket had a flap that allowed the contents to be kept inside; it looked like I’d have to use that flap more frequently than I had intended.

As I approached Memphis, I had a decision to make: take I-55 north and commit myself to a path through Terre Haute, Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, or stay on I-40 and commit to a path through Memphis, Nashville, Louisville and Cincinnati? For whatever reason, I chose to stay on I-40. At first, the drive through Tennessee was uneventful, but as I neared Jackson, it started to rain -- heavily.  Traffic on the freeway started slowing. I thought it best to exit and get some lunch.  There was a Cracker Barrel nearby, so I exited at the exit for US 45.  It turned out that the street to get to the Cracker Barrel was experiencing some flooding as well, but not so much that the way was blocked.  The Cracker Barrel was very busy, and I put my name in for what I was told would be a 25 to 30 minute wait to be seated.  As I sat in a rocking chair on the store’s front porch (painted in Tennessee Vols colors, I might add), I saw that the rain was slacking off. Would it make sense to hit the road then and forego the meal? Then my name was called, and I was shown to my table. I had a Cracker Barrel Sampler for lunch (meatloaf, country ham, chicken and dumplings), which I enjoyed.

After I’d finished my meal, the sun was out, and the road was no longer flooded. The dirt on the trike and the rack which had been present since Palo Duro Canyon was now gone. Now it was time to get back onto the road. Not much was happening on the drive, though I did have a couple of close encounters with things. As I drove along, I saw a tree fall from the median into the roadway. It was a dead tree with small branches that mostly shattered as it hit the asphalt. Some of the branches got into my lane, but they were mostly twigs by that time. I ran over them without incident. Later, I saw an animal on the right shoulder line. It was upright -- it was a small turtle, still alive and trying to cross the freeway. I did not hit it, but I feared it would not survive the attempt. I’ll never know the fate of that turtle.

I passed through Nashville with little incident; the only thing I had to contend with was construction on I-65. My next refueling stop was a Kroger in the town of White House. But as I stood at the pump, I had a sudden urge to hit the restroom.  The gas station itself had no facilities, but the main store did, and I drove over to it, parked and went inside. It wasn’t too hard to find them. Now I could continue my drive in comfort.

Within 20 minutes or so, I was crossing the Kentucky state line. I stopped at the rest area there, not to use the restroom again but to make a hotel reservation for the night. Where would I stay? It was around 4; the rain in Jackson had delayed me. I looked for hotels between here and Louisville; I didn’t think that I could make the Cincinnati suburbs. Even Louisville seemed a bit of a stretch, as I was starting to feel tired. Based on a comparison of rates and amenities, I chose the Hilton Garden Inn in Bowling Green. My trip started with a night in a Hilton Garden Inn, so why not end it the same way? And it was only 22 miles away.

The hotel turned out to be a good distance from the freeway. Room 442 was comfortable enough, and when dinnertime came rolling around, I decided to stay in and eat. A special deal of 500 HHonors points if you spent $25 or more at the hotel restaurant helped with that decision, as well.  The restaurant wasn’t crowded at all. In fact, no more than 3 people were eating at any one time. The food was definitely good enough, and I was satisfied with eating in. I could rest up for the conclusion of the trip tomorrow.

As I typed up the notes for today’s travels, I saw reports of a plane crash at the San Francisco airport. CNN was on top of it, of course, and I watched their reporting of it. Initial reports suggested that the pilot had come in too low and had clipped a seawall. That got me to thinking -- many big news events had taken place during my vacations. During a trip in 1995, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated; in 1997, Princess Diana and Mother Teresa died; in 2001, while I was on the Bolivar Ferry, Andrea Yates drowned her children; in 2005, during a trip to Chicago, Chief Justice William Rehnquist passed away; in 2007, while I was on pilgrimage in the Holy Land, former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated; and I could go on. I shouldn’t be surprised by this, for momentous events happen during any arbitrary period of time. Ones that happen during a special period of my life, such as a vacation, I’m more likely to remember.


Sunday July 7

Miles today: 475.0
Miles total, part 2: 1405.1
Miles grand total: 5181.6

II woke up at 5:30 in the morning. That hadn’t happened for several weeks, but the daylight streaming through the window made sure it happened today. And I wasn’t too upset by it, for I wanted to get an early start. Breakfast at the hotel restaurant wasn’t served until 7 AM on weekends, so I wouldn’t be eating here.  I finished packing and loading the car, checking out and getting under way at 6:20. During the first few minutes of the drive, I listened to Radio Classics and a Suspense episode featuring Dan Duryea. I think it was new to the channel. And I learned that Peter Duryea, who’d appeared in the first Star Trek pilot, was Dan’s son; I did not know that before.

What did I do for breakfast? I nibbled on what I had in the car -- Whataburger Whatafries and the occasional cookie -- not bothering to stop anywhere.  I crossed into the Eastern time zone, setting the car’s clock right away. The watch would wait until a rest area on the other side of Louisville. And when I drove through Louisville this time, I really drove through it, foregoing the two loops and going all the way into downtown to pick up I-71.  The drive through northern Kentucky was uneventful, and so was most of the drive through Ohio, although I did have to contend with some construction in Cincinnati and Dayton.  I knew about the Dayton construction from my visit there in May for Hamvention.

For lunch, I stopped at the same place where my uncle and I stopped on the way back from Dayton: a Pilot truck stop in Beaverdam, Ohio. It was near the historic intersection of the Dixie and Lincoln Highways, and a mural inside the truck stop’s McDonald’s commemorated that fact. Then it was back to the freeway for some more driving -- up through Findlay and Toledo, crossing the border into Michigan and having my car act up after hitting a bid puddle in the road, stopping at the Michigan Welcome Center for a bathroom break and some bike ride flyers, and then arriving home shortly after 4. There was heavy traffic on Ford Road near my condo, thanks to the Westland Festival. In fact, if I’d arrived too much later, I would have had difficulty getting to my condo. As it was, I wouldn’t have been able to leave due to very heavy traffic, and so I had supper at home. Now it was time to rest up for work tomorrow.




Back to Travels page

©2013 R. W. Reini.    All rights reserved.

Written by Roger Reini
Revised May 13, 2014