Texas (mostly), April 2004

Great Britain

Great Britain
and Finland



Travelogue: Texas (mostly)
April 2004

By Roger W. Reini


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16th | 17th | April 18 to 27 (Part 2) 

Introduction: Sunday April 4

My vacation was not scheduled to begin until Friday. However, I wanted to drive a portion of the route I planned to take on Friday, for this portion would be out of my way and would have added some undesired time to my time on the road. Also, with today being Sunday, it would not have been as busy as it might have been during the week.

As with my previous travels down Route 66, I wanted to spend part of my vacation driving a historic roadway – in this case, the Dixie Highway. It ran from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to Miami. It's been replaced by I-75, for the most part, but the road still exists for much of its length. The portion I was interested in went from downtown Detroit to northern Kentucky. The closest place for me to pick up the highway route was in Monroe, and I planned to do that on Friday. Today, I would travel downtown, then take the highway to Monroe.

It was a nice day for traveling today, a bit cool but partly sunny. I went downtown via Ford Road and Michigan Avenue. While traveling on Ford Road near Evergreen, I noticed that my odometer had hit a milestone – 5 1's, meaning I had 11,111 miles on my wagon. When I arrived downtown, I turned down Griswold Street to Fort Street, then took that out of downtown. I drove through at least one cloud of steam upwelling from underground steam tubes. That confirmed what I already knew, that it was rather cool outside. I passed the main post office, where all of the mail entering or leaving Detroit and Wayne County passes before moving to its ultimate destination. I went underneath the Ambassador Bridge – no delays going to Canada or returning to America that I could see. Then I took Clark Street to Jefferson Avenue and drove that for several miles. I had never been on this portion of Jefferson in Detroit before; I saw several factories and passed by Historic Fort Wayne. Naturally, I took some video, too. I drove through Detroit, River Rouge, Wyandotte, Riverview, Trenton, Rockwood and Monroe, and probably a few other towns that I've forgotten. I was listening to various programming on the radio – several channels on XM, and a call-in program on the Tigers on WXYT. The host thought there would be some improvement over last year's debacle of 119 losses, perhaps 20 to 25 games.

There is a Dix Highway in Detroit, which becomes Dix-Toledo Highway, but this version of the Dixie Highway didn't use that highway at all. The directions I had retrieved via the Net were pretty good, but I encountered some difficulties when certain roads I needed to turn on didn't have any signs. Fortunately, I didn't get lost. Eventually, I made my way to I-75 and Dixie, where I decided to stop for lunch at Wendy's. Then I drove into town until I came to M-125. If I turned left, I would be continuing down Dixie towards Toledo. But I didn't want to do that today. Well, actually, I did, for that would have meant my vacation had started, but it hadn't, so I couldn't. Instead, I turned right, which took me back towards Detroit and back home. This drive had taken 90 minutes; heading directly to Monroe from my house normally took 25 to 30 minutes, so I would have spent at least an hour longer on the road Friday had I traveled downtown.


Friday April 9

At last, it was time for my vacation! I had just wrapped up a major assignment at work, and I felt worn out by it. I was in dire need of a vacation. When I woke up at 5:40 this morning, it would have normally meant I'd really have to hurry to get to work on time. But not this morning! I could check my e-mail and prepare for my trip with ease. I took my medicine, brushed my teeth, made sure I'd packed my medicine, then put my carry-on bag into the car, along with my XM SkyFi boombox. Then I packed up the laptop, took out what garbage I had, and locked up the house. It was a sunny morning but a cool morning, so I wore my Red Wings suede jacket that I'd bought in 2002, the most recent year they won the Stanley Cup. I also made sure to bring a light windbreaker; I wouldn't need the heavier jacket for most of the trip. I set up the laptop on the passenger seat, hooked up the GPS sensor and told it to start guiding me down the routes I'd defined for the Dixie Highway.

At 7:25, I backed out of the driveway and started my trip. The first portion had me taking I-275 down to Monroe, where I picked up M-125 and drove that through downtown, past the statue of General Custer, and on to Toledo. In Toledo, the roadway became Detroit Avenue and US-24, and I took that across town. The route was mainly industrial in the northern part, though it became nicer farther south. Then I picked up Highway 25 in Maumee and followed that down south. I passed a Waffle House near I-475; to the best of my knowledge, that's the farthest-north Waffle House. The road was 4-lane divided south of Toledo; it reminded me of similar stretches of Route 66 south of Joliet, Illinois. Unlike 66, there were no Historic Route markers for the Dixie Highway. But I did have voice commands coming from my laptop, and they made sure I took the right (and left) turns. I went through downtown Bowling Green and Findlay for the first time in memory; the same was true with other cities such as Lima, Wapokaneta (hometown of Neil Armstrong), Sidney, Troy and Dayton. There was one stretch north of Findlay where the roads were very narrow; I doubt that it was officially part of the highway for any substantial length of time. Between Findlay and Lima, the road was closed; a bridge was out. There weren't any official detours identified, but my laptop's mapping program helped me find a detour. It wasn't too long before I was back on the highway and back on track.

As I said, there were no historic markers saying that this was the Dixie Highway. There should be. I did, though, encounter a historic marker for the Lincoln Highway between Findlay and Lima. The Lincoln Highway ran east-to-west from New York City to San Francisco. That would be a worthy road trip someday.

For quite some time, I felt like I had to go to the bathroom. But I didn't see any suitable stopping locations until I found a Wendy's in Troy. That was one disadvantage of using the older roadways: no freeway rest areas. I pulled into the parking lot, put away the laptop, and got out of the car. This was after 5 hours of driving without a break. Did my right leg hurt! I think I limped a bit when I went into the restaurant. While I ate my chicken sandwich, the leg cramps subsided somewhat. After lunch, I decided that it would be best if I resumed driving on the freeway so that I could use speed control, take my foot off the gas pedal, move my leg around and work out the kinks. It would also help if I took more frequent breaks. Now I had gone some 200 miles down the highway before I got onto the freeway. But when I traveled through Dayton on I-75, there was a traffic jam, and I was able to avoid it by picking up the highway again downtown. That was a nice diversion, driving through Dayton; I got to see their minor league ballpark and got to drive through some nice parkway regions. South of town, I got back on I-75. It was getting later in the day, and I feared being stuck in Cincinnati rush hour if I stayed with the Dixie Highway plan. Traffic was heavier in Cincinnati, as expected. There was a warning about heavy backups starting at Exit 7 and continuing all the way to Kentucky; thru traffic was advised to take a detour that would use I-71 into downtown and then Kentucky. I took the detour and had no problems. I got to see the Reds' new ballpark and the Bengal's new stadium before crossing the Ohio River into Kentucky.

Down south I went, past the hotel where I stayed in 1997 when meeting my sister and her family during an airport layover (they were flying from Bulgaria to Houston and were making connections in Cincinnati), past the mall and restaurant where we ate supper that day (the Morrison's Cafeteria). Then I had to determine which way to go: take I-75 to Lexington or I-71 to Louisville? I chose I-71. I stopped for gas at a station across the street from the Kentucky Speedway. But several minutes later, as I neared Louisville, "speedway" was a completely inaccurate description of what I faced. I had hit Louisville's rush hour, and it was compounded by several accidents that slowed my travel significantly. I avoided one by taking the inner loop I-264, but I ran into a humdinger of an accident that closed the freeway completely. My frustration level was rising – what to do? Exit the freeway and compute a new route from where I was to where I needed to go, that's what! And that's what I did. The laptop saved me several minutes of being stalled in traffic, I'm sure. And I didn't encounter any other problems.

Tonight, I would be staying at the Microtel in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Oddly enough, I'd driven through Bowling Green, Ohio, earlier today. Both cities have large universities. The one in Kentucky has the Corvette plant. But I digress.... I had attempted to stay at this Microtel in 2001, but it was full. That was not a problem today; besides, I had a confirmed reservation. Microtel rooms are identical no matter where you go; they also tend to be small. For a short stay, that would not be a problem. The room faced north, so there was no point in bringing in the SkyFi boombox. It wouldn't be able to see the satellites, and there were no terrestrial repeaters in the area. But the hotel offered free wireless Internet access, which was a plus. It worked, though it was somewhat slow and prone to disconnects. But I could retrieve my e-mail, after a fashion. For supper, I walked to the Denny's across and slightly down the street and had a sirloin steak and shrimp scampi dinner which was pretty good.

While driving today, I was listening to satellite radio. I hardly listen to regular radio any more. It had been nearly two years since I'd first gotten satellite radio in preparation for a cross-country trip. This year, two things were different. First, I'd replaced my original XM radio with a newer model, the XM Roady. Second, I had bought a Sirius satellite radio (the Kenwood PNP), so I was a subscriber to both services. Each has services the other doesn't, so they complement each other quite well. Sirius has NBA and NHL play-by-play; XM has CNN and MSNBC news in addition to Fox News, which both share. I started out listening to Sirius, then switched to XM at midday.

Later in the day, I started thinking about what I would talk about when I visited Webster Intermediate School next week. One of the current mini-courses offered to students in the gifted and talented program was on the internal combustion engine and the automobile. Now my background is electrical and wiring, not engine engineering, although I used to design engine wiring. Still, I could certainly contribute something worthwhile. It's not every day that an engineer from one of the Big Three would visit a school outside of Detroit. Then again, I went to this school in the mid-'70s (from 1974 to 1977, to be exact), so it would make perfect sense for me to give something back to the school.


Saturday April 10

I had an OK sleep; I woke up around 5 AM, which would have been 6 AM by my body clock, which was still on Eastern time. Breakfast was available after 6, so I waited until then to have some. Many hotels offer a breakfast bar these days; Microtel's was a decent one, with cereal, bagels and danish, along with coffee and juices to drink. After breakfast, I checked e-mail again. The wireless connection was behaving much better this morning than yesterday evening, so I had few problems. Then it was time to pack up and check out. I stopped at the Shell station next door for a gas tank top-off, and then at 6:50, I hit the road.

I would not take the scenic route today; I had to travel over 600 miles to reach that night's stop, Baton Rouge. I knew I could do it; I'd done it many times before. But it would be a long day of driving, no way around it. I encountered rain in Tennessee and Alabama, but it didn't slow me that much. Nashville was my first major city today. Here, I could take I-40 west towards Memphis and Arkansas, or I could stay on I-65 and head to Birmingham. The last time I went this way, I took the Memphis route; today, I took the Birmingham route. I saw signs for Opryland but didn't see Opryland itself. I saw road signs for Charlotte Street and Church street, which struck me as funny because that reminded me of Charlotte Church, the singer. South of Nashville, I passed a shopping mall that had a Hecht's department store; Hecht's home base is Washington DC, so that store has gone pretty far from its base.

I didn't have any repeats of my leg cramps, though my rear end got pretty sore today. The GPS sensor acted up several times today, frequently losing the signals. Whether that was due to the rain or the inherent problems with Windows computers, I don't know. The only way to consistently get the sensor to behave was to reboot the laptop. Perhaps I should have gotten a handheld GPS unit. I stopped for gas once in Alabama then stopped for lunch in Meridian, Mississippi. I could have gone to Krystal burger (the South's answer to White Castle), but I chose to go to Applebee's instead, where I had a decent salad and some French onion soup. I needed to take an extended break from the road. Then it was time for more hard driving through Mississippi and Louisiana. I could have taken the I-12 bypass of New Orleans, but I thought that taking I-10 through town would put me in better position to get to the hotel in Baton Rouge. The last hour or two got to be very long. It would have been better to take the I-12 bypass. My satellite radios kept me company – XM in the morning, and Sirius in the afternoon. With Sirius, I was able to listen to the Detroit Red Wings beat the Nashville Predators to take a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series.

After 11 ˝ hours on the road, I arrived at the Microtel in Baton Rouge on I-10 (as opposed to the one on I-12). I had a confirmed reservation, but the desk clerk had no record of it. I was not happy. They did have rooms available, and they were for the same rate I would have been paying. But I was concerned that I would be double-billed, once for the room and once for a no-show somewhere. I'll have to check my statement closely when it arrives.

Now I wanted to go to a grocery store tonight, for I didn't know if any would be open when I got in tomorrow, and I didn't want to be caught without anything to eat in the house (or the hotel room). I had noticed a Wal-Mart supercenter (the kind with a full-line grocery store) across the freeway, so I drove there later on. But first, I wanted some supper. Where to eat? There was a Joe's Crab Shack there, but it looked busy. Then there was Sicily's, an Italian buffet restaurant, on the order of a Golden Corral but specializing in Italian food instead of steak. It didn't look too busy, so I went there. The food was OK but not top-line. Then again, the cost wasn't top-line.

Then it was down the street to the Wal-Mart. It was a bit busy with people doing their last-minute Saturday night shopping. I couldn't get any perishable items, so I concentrated on non-perishables. I also tried to get some Louisiana food items, too. Why not? When in Rome, blah blah blah. I was impressed with Elmer's Chee-Wees, said to have been the first of their kind in the US. And they were baked, too, so they were lower in fat than others that weren't baked. After I left the store, I drove over to the nearby Books-A-Million store, but I didn't get anything there.

When I got back to the hotel, I had to ask at the front desk for a TV remote control that worked. I had to try 3 or 4 different ones before I got one that worked. Then when I put the TV on, I could see that it was in dire need of adjustment. "Leave It To Beaver" was in blue and white, that's how bad it was. I didn't watch much TV except for the news and weather radar channels. I could see bad thunderstorms in southeast Texas, which didn't bode well for tomorrow's trip.


Sunday April 11

Today was Easter Sunday. I woke up around 5 again, but then I was jarred awake by the alarm clock going off at 5:30, the alarm clock that I didn't set. I didn't sleep anymore after that. I didn't have far to travel today – only 300 miles or so, so I took my time getting started. I spent some time reading Holy Scripture – the New Testament and Bahá'u'lláh's "Prayers and Meditations." I took a shower, then went down the hall for breakfast. I think I disrupted the mopping plans of the cleaning lady on duty by eating when I did.

I didn't set off on the final leg of my trip until 8:50 AM. I did set up the laptop again to track my progress, but I had several problems today with dropouts and forced reboots. The drive down I-10 through Louisiana was uneventful, though there were two tall (Baton Rouge and Lake Charles) and one very long (the Atchafalaya swamp) bridge to contend with. I listened to KLVI out of Beaumont for some Cajun music for a while (it was more talk and commercials than music, one reason why I generally listen to satellite radio now), then put on the XM radio again.

By 11:30, I was back in Texas. I stopped for gas and lunch in Orange – gas at Shell, lunch at Jack In The Box. Then I decided to take a different route into town: Highway 73, which would take me through Port Arthur, a city I'd never visited before. The same road was also Highway 87, which I could have taken all the way to Galveston via Bolivar if the road hadn't been washed out 20 years ago east of High Island. As I drove down the road, I could see two huge bridges in the distance, the Rainbow Bridge and the Veteran's Memorial Bridge. These bridges were among the highest I'd ever seen. I have a 1938 map of Texas that calls the older bridge, the Rainbow Bridge, the tallest in the South at that time, a distinction it still holds. And I had to go up it. Frankly, this one gave me the willies. Two lanes, a rather steep grade – I wanted to straddle the lane divider, but traffic would not permit it. Neither would the law, for that matter. I made it, though I was getting really tense at the top. Going down was better, though I wasn't completely happy until I was completely off of it. I'm not too thrilled about the Mackinac Bridge either, but I never got as nervous going over that bridge as I had going over this one. If that had had a third lane, I might have been less agitated. If this had been one lane each way, like in the old days, it would have been worse. Still, I made it. Then came twenty-five miles of very straight, boring coastal plains.

The road ran into I-10 at Winnie. I'd taken this before back in 2001. By this time, I was listening to the Astros play the Brewers on KTRH radio. I'd heard that a severe thunderstorm was dead ahead, and I'd heard correctly, for I ran into a downpour that was so hard, I considered pulling over to the side of the road. Several cars did pull off, but I stuck it out. Eventually, I reached Highway 146 and turned to head off toward home. The "new" (1995-6) Baytown Bridge was also pretty high, but it was much wider, so I wasn't affected by it like the one in Port Arthur. Baytown hadn't changed that much; neither had La Porte or Seabrook, though I noticed that the Chevrolet dealership in La Porte no longer was in the Marks family (first Jay Marks, then Les Marks, now Champion). I also noticed several more hotels in Seabrook – first a Holiday Inn Express, now a Best Western and a Hampton Inn, and soon a La Quinta. At last, I arrived at Nassau Bay and the Extended Stay America. This would be the fourth time I'd stayed there. My room this time was room 212, which faced north-northwest. I could see the main entrance, the parking lot, and Nasa Road 1 from my window. Unfortunately, this made XM radio reception rather difficult, as the satellites were blocked by the building, and repeater reception was a bit iffy, although it would come in fine if I oriented the antenna to the north. Sirius performed better, though, which allowed me to listen to the Wings play the Predators in game 3 of their series. The Wings lost, unfortunately.

I went to Kroger's for perishables and some other items; they were open today, fortunately. But the old Kroger at Nasa 1 and El Camino had closed within the last year. I called relatives in Michigan to let them know I'd arrived safely. My aunt Marie said they'd seen weather reports and knew I'd be going through rough weather, so they were gratified to know I'd arrived safely. Then I checked e-mail and had supper. The hot topic on e-mail came from the 1981CCHS mailing list: it seems an unofficial time capsule hidden in the rafters of the auditorium had disappeared sometime in the last 23 years.


Monday April 12

I woke up before 6 o'clock and watched the morning news on three channels. Channel 13 still had Doug Brown doing weather and Don Nelson doing traffic; they've been there at least 30 years. Some things are still right with the world. I had breakfast; the cereal I had brought from home (Trader Joe's Honey Nut O's) because it was not available in Texas.

I needed to firm up my plans for visiting WIS, so I called and spoke to Candy Silcott, head of the gifted program, as well as my English teacher during portions of 6th, 7th and 8th grades. We agreed that Wednesday would be best for me to visit and give my talk.

It was a cold and wet day today. I had to go out and get some things I needed during my stay, such as laundry detergent and adapter plugs. I decided to go to Target on Bay Area Boulevard; when I was here last year, I saw signs announcing the building of a new Super Target down the street, and I figured the store would be open by now. Sure enough, it was. I found the detergent, and I got a power strip instead of a 3-to-1 adapter plug. Now I could plug in my radio and the Sirius radio at the same time. My trip had not been in vain. When I left, I saw that the old Marie Callender's restaurant had become Rico's Mexican Restaurant. I also noticed that the original Dillard's at Baybrook, which had originally been a Joske's store, was all torn up and being renovated for some unknown purpose. The Dillard's store had moved to the old Macy's location. Actually, it had been there for some time; there had in fact been two Dillard's stores, but no longer. I crossed the freeway and visited the Barnes & Noble bookstore. I didn't get anything there, but I got several ideas for things to get. Then I went back to the hotel, passing by the drugstores on the corner of Bay Area and El Camino. One was a CVS, and the other was an Eckerd store under construction. But I don't think that store will ever be finished, for the Eckerd stores in Texas were just sold to CVS.

Back at the hotel, I called Stacie Barnett Bemis, a former classmate of mine, and we had a nice talk. I told her that several classmates would be meeting at Tookie's this Saturday, and she said she'd try to be there, although she would be late. She told me more about the plans I'd heard to abolish Webster Intermediate, send its students elsewhere and use the building for the alternative high school for at-risk students. The regular attendance zone for Webster has shrunk over the years, and it now consists mainly of poorer families with at-risk children. Would sending them to schools farther away help their attendance? It seems doubtful. Moving the WAVE program (the gifted program) to a newer facility would seem to be a good move, however. That would depend on where the facility was, though.

It was nearly noon. It was time for me to go to the Kemah Boardwalk to meet the Coneys. And the weather was absolutely lousy! I parked in the parking garage and went towards the shops – specifically, the toy store, for we had agreed to meet there. But as I approached the Boardwalk Inn, I saw them coming up the stairs. We had to select which restaurant to visit – would it be the Cadillac Bar, or perhaps the Flying Dutchman? Landry's or Joe's Crab Shack? Perhaps one of the newer restaurants? In fact, we decided on the Saltgrass Steakhouse, one of the newer restaurants? They drove over there, while I decided to tough it out and walk over. I could have used the exercise, and I was used to the cooler weather. I ended up beating them over there. There weren't many people at the restaurant, no doubt due to the weather. We had a nice conversation and meal. Because of their late schedules, they would have been eating dinner after 8 PM, which is too late for my liking, so we agreed on lunch. Steve was serving as chairman of a city development corporation that was overseeing key developments such as the Big League Dreams facility and a new swimming pool. I mentioned reading about Wal-Mart's plans to put a store in southern League City, and that prompted some strong stories about Wal-Mart's business practices. Suffice it to say that they have a low opinion of the chain. I learned that son David will soon be a father for the second time. I also learned the proper ways to pronounce "Baton Rouge" (it's "Ba-TON", not "Batten") and LSU ("Ellis Shoe"). Steve knew these things because daughter Diana went to LSU. My lunch was nearly identical to Friday's dinner: a sirloin steak and shrimp scampi plate. Today's was better, though. Certainly, the view was better, even with the gray mist.

After lunch, I decided to drive through League City and Newport. I wanted to see how the hometown and home had changed in the last year. Not much had changed, though some things had. MaximBank was now Southwest Bank of Texas (the name reminded me of the long-departed Bank of the Southwest), and the big sign out front was gone. The Perkins Station development near the railroad tracks had its first tenant, a steakhouse. The Texaco station at Highway 3 and 518 was gone; a new CVS drugstore stood in its place. I remember when there were four gas stations on that corner – Texaco, Sinclair/Arco/Shell, Enco/Exxon, and Gulf – but now there are none. The Exxon station at the freeway was now a Chevron station; that had been an Exxon station, and before that an Enco station and probably a Humble station before that, for as long as I could remember, and probably longer than that. I bet it was there in some form ever since the freeway opened in 1952. I turned down Hobbs Road and drove past our old house; there was some serious remodeling taking place there. I would undoubtedly learn more about it whenever I saw George Mallios, our former next-door-neighbor. Then it was back to the hotel for a short break.

I had been considering vacationing in Florida this spring. One of the reasons why I didn't was the Central Market and its wasabi-coated peas, the best I've ever had. They were the first I ever had, and I've never found any that can top them. Whenever I've come to town, I've bought as many peas as I could and brought them back to Michigan. When my uncle went to Texas on a business trip, I asked him to visit the closest Central Market and get some peas for me; unfortunately, he couldn't find the store while here. I wanted some peas, and tonight was my first opportunity to get some. It was time to go on a quest. Destination: the Central Market on Westheimer. Goal: wasabi peas. Even though it was the height of rush hour, I set off on my quest. I wasn't too concerned, for I was going against the traffic trend. I took the freeway up to the South Loop and took that over to Kirby. Nothing was going on at Reliant Park (formerly Astrodomain). I passed by Goode Company Barbecue, but I wasn't hungry, so I didn't stop. I passed by the Borders on Alabama, and I did stop, for I was looking for some things. I wasn't specifically looking for Analog and Asimov's science fiction magazines, but I found the latest issues, so I got them. I was specifically looking for Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss, and I found it. That was a book on proper punctuation that had become a best-seller in England. Then it was off to Central Market. I didn't get any perishable goods, for I didn't know my plans and didn't want to risk the goods perishing on the way back to the hotel. I was there mainly for peas, and peas were what I got. Some of them, I packed myself; some had already been packed. They must certainly be popular if they're selling them pre-packaged now. I looked for St. Arnold root beer but didn't see any; that was another Texas product that I wanted to bring back with me, and this was the only retail store where it was sold. I also saw wasabi-coated soy nuts and decided to get a small container, just to try it out. Then it was time to head back home. The Southwest Freeway was under construction, so I took Westheimer east to Elgin and the UH campus, where I picked up I-45. I got to see one of Metro's new light rail trains in operation on Main Street.

By this time, I was hungry for supper. Where to go? How about Laredo's in Seabrook? I made my annual visit and got my usual dinner. I noticed that this combination plate did not fill me up as much as a similar plate at a Mexican restaurant in Westland. This was not a complaint, for the other combination plate was too large. Laredo's dinner didn't set in your stomach as heavily as the other one. Then it was back to the hotel, where I listened to the ballgame, read for a while, and called it a night.


Tuesday April 13

I got up around 6:30 this morning, had breakfast and took a shower. I had to pay two bills and mail them today to make sure they'd arrive on time. As I was low on stamps, I decided to go to the post office, mail the letters and get some more stamps. The weather had cleared out overnight, so I decided to get some exercise and walk to the Nassau Bay post office. It was one major street over from the hotel. There were no sidewalks along Space Park Boulevard, so I walked in the road close to the curb. It was a bit farther away than I thought it would be; still, I got there in 15 minutes. Then back to the hotel I went, stopping for a Chronicle en route.

I didn't have any definite plans for today, at least not until I called George Mallios. I was going to ask if it would be convenient for me to visit, and not only did he say yes, he said that his son Jeff would be coming over later, that they'd be going to Waffle House, and would I like to come along. I couldn't turn that down, so over I went. George showed me the work that he'd had done on the house, getting it in tip-top shape no matter what his future plans, whether he continued to live there or he sold the place. Later, Jeff drove up. I hadn't seen him for several years. He'd been laid off from Compaq in the wake of the merger with Hewlett-Packard and was doing consulting jobs. Before we went to the Waffle House, some contractors drove up. They were the contractors who had done some previous work on the house and wanted to inspect their handiwork to see how it was holding up. It may also have been part of a plan to obtain more business, for they were now suggesting that some roof work needed to be done. The outer roof was in good shape, but the original wood shingle roof was still in place, and it was beginning to rot away in places. Before the house could be sold, the roof would need to be replaced, said Jeff, who ought to know, for he used to be on the city council. No commitments were made at that time. With the wind blowing like it was, I got chilled standing around. I actually went and got my Wings jacket out of the car and put that on.

After that, we all went to the Waffle House on 518, which used to be a Toddle House. They must have been regulars there, for they knew some of the waitresses. When we got back home, we talked about what was going on over at my former house. The oak trees in the back yard were still going strong; many of the lower branches had been cut off because they were encroaching on the house. The trees in front were doing quite well, too; I couldn't remember if Dad had planted those or not. Our pecan trees were gone; apparently, they'd succumbed to some disease. I believe the pine trees were also gone; they may have been removed in preparation for an add-on to the house. Jeff remembered the neighbors telling him the add-ons would take the house to 2400 square feet; as I recall, our house had 1600 square feet, so that would be a major addition – one-third additional space.

I didn't do much the rest of the day. I had an early supper: a chicken and turkey sandwich. I walked over to The Space Store, looked around briefly and then came home. I did some work on this travelogue. Then I watched Detroit play Nashville in game 4 of their playoff series. Nashville easily beat Detroit, 3-0. The playoff series was tied at 2 games each. Was Detroit looking at another first-round fiasco? I hoped not. If it were to happen, though, then perhaps I should consider not visiting Texas in April in the future. Perhaps I was cursing the Red Wings in some way. In their most recent Stanley Cup year of 2002, I took my vacation in May. In their prior cup years of 1997 and 1998, I vacationed in May and June, respectively.


Wednesday April 14

When I awoke at 5:30 this morning, I wanted to check e-mail, but I couldn't. The phone was not working. It didn't start working until 7 o'clock, after the front office opened for the day. Now was this a one-time failure or something more regular? If the latter, then that would be a safety or security hazard, for how could emergencies be reported? I would have to remember to check the next morning, if I got up early enough. I was interested in finding out information about a recall announced yesterday on Ford Escapes. It seems that under certain conditions, cars were stalling out while decelerating below 40 mph. The cause was faulty software, and the fix was to load new software into the powertrain control module. I wanted this information for my talk at Webster this morning.

When I gave my first talk here in 1997, I was suffering from a cold. It was not a pleasant experience. This time, the cold viruses kept their distance. I arrived at the school around 8, beating Candy Silcott there, as it turned out. Fortunately, the secretary (whom, I would learn later, was originally from Mt. Clemens, MI) told me where the classroom I was to visit was located. It was in the shop area, an area I'd never visited while I was a student there. The teacher, Tony Garcia, thought I'd be speaking on Friday, but he adapted his plans and introduced me to the students. They were studying the operation of the internal combustion engine, but my background was electrical, so I gave them a crash course in automotive wiring – how and where you package modules, how you design harnesses, where you locate grounds, etc. The students asked some interesting questions – one asked if the individual parts of the harnesses were replaceable like engine parts were (in theory, yes, but not really in practice), how much does it cost to design a car, what was a recall, is the frame wiring installed before or after a body gets decked to the frame. I even talked about terminal crimps. During the early part of my talk, Candy arrived in the classroom; I was on a roll at that point, so I briefly turned to her, said hello, then continued with the point I was making. After saying a few things to the students and to Mr. Garcia, she gave me a hug, then headed back to her office or who knows where. I continued with my talk for most of the rest of the hour. I did well enough to be invited back sometime in the future. Then it was back to the office to meet with Candy for a while. This proved to be very difficult, for while I had no time or work pressures, she did. We could hardly get started talking about things when there would be another interruption.

We did get to have some uninterrupted time when we we went to lunch at La Madeleine on Bay Area. I drove and got to expose Candy to '60s on 6 on XM. She was quite impressed. She was telling me of an upcoming mini-course on the '60s, which would include a Vietnam veteran coming in and telling of his experiences, some of the relevant music, etc. I even suggested a few songs to include. We talked about the DVD set of The Concert For George. After lunch, we visited the jeweler's next door (Candy was looking for a charm for her daughter) and a cake shop in Friendswood (the cake was for a birthday party that afternoon)

Back at the office, the interruptions were fewer. We worked on a proposal nominating Richard Garriott for a CCISD Outstanding Alumnus award, based on his successful career in the computer gaming world. But would he want such an award? We needed contact information for him, but that was difficult to find. I thought my friend Keith Zabalaoui would know, so we sent an e-mail off to him; he promised to do what he could. I met the school's assistant principal, Jammie Fricke Ridenour, who also had had Candy as a teacher. I didn't know her that well in school, for she was a year behind me.

The only thing that would have made this better – other than the many interruptions, of course – would have been to have more of my classmates show up. But that reunion would have to wait for another time.

As I left the school, who should drive up but Stacie Barnett Bemis? She was indeed doing carpool duty this afternoon. We talked as best we could for a few minutes – we confirmed the Tookie's get-together this Saturday; she introduced me to her son, who was a WAVE student, and who had apparently heard a few things about me courtesy of his mother; and we talked of Carl Guderian and Chris Kemmerer and wondered what they were doing now. Then it was time to stop holding up traffic and leave. I took the back streets to the Cinemark theaters, where I saw The Alamo. Reviews had been mixed for the film; I thought it was decent but a bit long. This film had Davy Crockett surviving the battle and being brought before Santa Anna to beg for mercy. But he didn't beg, so Santa Anna had him run through, so he still met with an honorable death.

I had planned to eat lunch at Fuddrucker's today. This was because, were I back in Detroit, I would have eaten at the Fuddrucker's in Taylor with co-workers and retired co-workers, including one of my former bosses. Because I didn't have lunch there, I thought I'd go there for dinner and try one of their turkey burgers. It wasn't bad. I heartily recommend turkey burgers topped with shredded lettuce, pico de gallo and relish – or any kind of burgers topped with those toppings, for that matter. Then it was back to the hotel via back roads. When passing by the fire station, I noticed that it had been named for Michie Coldwell. Was he the father of classmates Cory and Kim Coldwell, whom I knew were from Nassau Bay? I suspected so.


Thursday April 15

I got up, showered, and had a couple of cookies for breakfast this morning. The phone was working, so yesterday's problems must have been out of the ordinary. I logged into my credit union account to verify that today's payday deposit had been made; it had. Now I could write out some bills. One bill posed a problem, though: the phone bill had not arrived before I left, but I knew it would come due before I returned home. Not only did I need to know the amount I owed, I also needed to know where to send the check. The World Wide Web to the rescue! The phone company's Website told me what I needed to know, so off the check went to its destination. I also got a paper this morning and was reading the local section that came every Thursday. It seems that Foley's is planning to move into the old Dillard's/Joske's location (they are in the old Wards store now) and is renovating it as a flagship store. While I was writing out the bills, the maid came by for the weekly towel exchange (as distinguished from full housekeeping and cleaning). With that done, I could head off on my adventures for the day.

My first stop: the post office, this time by car rather than by foot. The weather was nice enough for another walk, but I had other places to go. Unfortunately, I had left off a stamp on one bill, so my plans to use the drive-up mailbox were foiled. I went in, got a stamp, and sent all the bills on their merry way. Then I went over to Taylor Lake Village for some gas and a chance to visit the Seaside Gallery, operated by a photographer who's taken many photos of the area over the years. Of special interest to me were the pictures of Kemah and Seabrook before and after the Boardwalk went in and before and after the new bridge went in. I even saw a picture of the bridge that preceded the old drawbridge. I found three prints that I liked and bought them.

My next destination: Fry's Electronics on the north side of town. There will eventually be a Fry's in Webster, but construction has yet to be begin. I traveled there via Red Bluff, passing the Fieldstone Apartments where I lived for the first 2 years of my life – the apartments have seen better days – and the remains of the Red Bluff Drive-In Theater, notorious for showing X-rated movies at one time (at a drive-in?!). Then it was down and up the Washburn Tunnel under the ship channel, then up to the East Freeway and the East and North Loops and the North Freeway. Before going to Fry's, I visited a Bank of America branch near Greenspoint for some money. I wanted to find a Washington Mutual branch, for their ATM's were surcharge-free. Other than one in a Fiesta store, one where I couldn't return to it easily, I saw none. So I made a large withdrawal, which blunted the surcharge somewhat; the amount is the same whether you take $20 or $200 out. Then I went to a Best Buy up the feeder a ways, but I didn't get anything there. I yielded at an exit ramp because several cars were exiting; a truck behind me honked his horn in protest, but I did nothing. I was perfectly in the right to have stopped. I didn't want to get rear-ended by freeway exiters. Finally, I arrived at Fry's. I found my goal: the season-5 set of Babylon 5 for $70. I spent a good bit of time checking out what else was there at Geek Central, but the only additional thing I got was a DVD with two classic versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Now where would I go, and what would I do? I had yet to eat lunch, but I wasn't desperately hungry for anything. Candy had recommended I visit the traveling exhibit on chocolate at the Museum of Natural Science; as I was in the area, I decided to go. I found a parking spot and went inside the museum, which I don't believe I'd visited since 1973. The chocolate exhibit took up the entire second floor and showed its history from the cacao trees and beans, to the tools used by the Mayans and Aztecs, to its use as money by the Aztecs, to the processing methods of today, to samples of cocoa products from the 1900's to the 1950's (the 1958 can of Quik is very recognizable, though smaller than today's version). I think my sister Sharon and my nieces and nephews would have liked the exhibit. Then I went through the exhibits on the other floors before heading off. As I proceeded towards my next destination, I think I might have traveled past the apartments where Mom and Dad used to live before I was born – I know I was in the right part of town, and the apartments were of the right vintage. I drove up Cullen Boulevard through the UH campus, past the old facilities for channel 8, Robertson Stadium and Hofheinz Pavilion before stopping at Finger's. I wasn't shopping for furniture; I wanted to visit the Houston Baseball Museum. I had a hard time finding it, but I eventually did. Now why would a baseball museum be in a furniture store? Because the store was built on the site of Buff Stadium, the original home for baseball in town. The Houston Buffs Texas League team played there from 1928 until 1961, after which the team became the major-league Colt .45's and eventually the Astros.

Now I was getting hungry, and I knew where I wanted to go: Joe's BBQ in Alvin. A BBQ baked potato with my name on it was waiting for me (figuratively speaking; I didn't call in my order). I drove down Highway 35 to Alvin and enjoyed half of the potato. The other half went into a take-home box; either the potatoes are getting bigger, or my stomach is getting smaller. As I put the potato into the box, I couldn't help but think of the time that Helen Vandervort had accidentally eaten my leftover potato several years ago when I was staying with them. This was a poignant memory, though, for she had passed away several months ago. Then it was back to the hotel for a rest and an e-mail check.

Among my e-mails was a note from my sister: expect to hear news that non-essential personnel were being sent out of Saudi Arabia. As they were scheduled to leave Arabia in a week anyway, she didn't expect the order to have any practical impact. But if they were leaving, then I might have had some unexpected company when I returned home (unlikely, she said later; they would have gone to DC). As I did some PC work, I turned on the hockey game on ESPN. Detroit needed to win this game, and they had turned up the heat and beat Nashville soundly, 4-1. They can wrap up the series Saturday afternoon in Nashville.


Friday April 16

Today's breakfast was yesterday's lunch, or what was left of it. I finished off more of the potato this morning, but I still had some left over. Back into the refrigerator it went for more possible eating. I was listening to Sirius's Outlaw Country stream this morning. It had recently changed format from The Border, which tended to play out-of-the-mainstream acts like Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, etc. Now this stream went all over the place – the Mavericks to Willie Nelson to Ernest Tubb to the Beatles (!) and Moby Grape (?!) and David Allen Coe. An interesting mix of artists there.

I decided to visit the Barnes and Noble again today. Although I spent a lot of time there, the only thing I got was a book on cheap eats in Houston, second edition. I may find it useful in the future. I stopped in the CompUSA for a bit, then went over to Baybrook. Due to the construction at the old Joske's, I could not park in my usual location (which also happened to be the normal location Dad would park when we all went there), so I parked closer to Sears. As it was lunchtime, I decided to eat at Luby's, where I got a chicken fried steak. It was HUGE! It started off tasting OK, but finally I decided that I had just had enough. The portion was way too large to begin with. So I ate what I felt like and left the rest. The same went for the rest of the meal. After I left, I visited the Franklin Covey store and got some more blank paper for my planner, as well as a new divider, for the old one had broken. There was a special on paper, buy 3 and get one free, but I only needed the one package. Then it was off on my next trip of the day.

I had always wondered where FM 2004 went south of the city. I knew from maps that it went from Texas City to Brazosport (Freeport, Lake Jackson, etc.), but I'd never traveled it before – until today. I got on the freeway and headed towards Texas City, fighting an urge to exit at 518 and head to what used to be home. I noticed that the Pancho's restaurant in League City had closed (the one by Almeda was still open, to my knowledge). An HEB store was under construction at FM 646. Then I arrived in Texas City and took FM 2004 to the south and southwest. I saw the greyhound race track up close; nothing was happening there today. I passed by Hitchcock High School, which struck me as being quite small compared to Creek or Lake or Brook. Since Hitchcock was a much smaller community, that was to be expected, I guess. Then came several miles of barely broken coastal prairies. The only major sights were the BP Amoco plant, the Equistar chemical plant and a bridge over a canal. Then I arrived in the Brazosport area, which is composed of several small towns. I passed through Richwood, which I'd never heard of before, and I passed through Lake Jackson, which I had. In fact, I'd been through the area once before, in 1995.

I wandered through the Brazos Mall, which looked as though its last renovation was 20 or more years ago. It was of a decent size for its surrounding area, but it would be small compared to other ones in Houston. I noticed a Hasting's and a Rex, both of which were geared to mid-sized communities not big enough for a Borders, Barnes and Noble, Circuit City or Best Buy. The Waldenbooks store had former Astro pitcher/manager/broadcaster Larry Dierker's book, so I picked up a copy. I also bought the latest issue of Texas Monthly, even though I already had the electronic version of it. This one, I could send over to Sharon and family, for this issue had a story on Beyonce Knowles, and my nieces are fans of hers. After I left the mall, I got slightly disoriented and began to head west out of town. However, I quickly caught my mistake and headed into town (thank you, compass in the rearview mirror). My goal: to find the intersection of This Way and That Way. Yes, there were two streets in Lake Jackson named This Way and That Way! It took me a few minutes, but I found them and took two pictures. Then it was time to head back home, but not before stopping for some more money. I went to the Washington Mutual branch across from Baybrook.

Back at the hotel, I looked at the books I had bought today and checked e-mail. I even checked e-mail at work and attempted to purge some of the junk e-mail that had piled up. Unfortunately, it was painful to do so over a dial-up connection. I saw nothing that appeared to be of dire emergency status, so I gave up. Now suppertime was approaching, and what would I do? I flipped through the Cheap Eats book for ideas, but few of the restaurants mentioned were in this area. Then I suddenly got the idea to return to Laredo's. With its location in jeopardy due to possible Highway 146 expansion, I hoped this wouldn't be the last time I'd ever eat there. But they were doing a well-enough business that I'm sure they'd build in a new location. The place was crowded tonight. I had no problem finding a table, but those who came after me did have to wait. There were several small signs stuck next to their parking lot advertising their fare; this was something I hadn't seen before. They were aimed at the 146 traffic, and they did their job tonight. I had the Deluxe Dinner again; the tostada shell was a bit soggier than last time, but it was still good. Then I drove back to the hotel listening to the Astros battle and eventually beat the Brewers, 2-0, with ace Roy Oswalt pitching a 3-hitter.


Saturday April 17

Well, today was the day for what could be called Un-reunion 2004. Who would be showing up today? I'd learn later on. But first, I had a morning to get through. After waking around 6, I read for a while, then turned on XM '60s on 6 to listen to Dave The Rave's Relics and Rarities show, in which he plays the songs from the '60s that never made it to the top of the charts but were good enough to have done so. I checked e-mail a few times that morning, but nothing was appearing. I thought that very odd, for I knew my mailbox would be guaranteed to at least have some junk mail in it every time I checked. But this morning, there was absolutely nothing. I later learned that my provider was dealing with a massive spam attack and that e-mail deliveries were suffering as a result. I hoped that nothing important was being delayed. I also showered and read the paper, and I played guitar for a while.

By that time, it was 11:45. It was time for me to head to Tookie's in Seabrook, a favorite gathering spot for many, although this would only have been my second visit there. It was also the site for Un-reunion 2004. I arrived shortly after noon, found a parking spot in the overflow lot, and went inside. Not seeing anyone else there (anyone from our group, that is; the place was fairly full already), I went out front to wait. A few minutes later, Rob Wohrer arrived with his girlfriend Sara (not a classmate of ours; in fact, she appeared to be somewhat younger than us). We decided to wait for at least one more classmate to show up; that turned out to be Skip Hartley, who was delayed by baseball practice. There were four of us at that point, so we decided to get a table. Stacie would likely be joining us later after her son's soccer practice, and that's exactly what happened. We all ordered #99 burgers – well, I was a bit hungrier, so I ordered a #198, which was a double #99 – and got caught up on things. Skip told me he wanted zero-percent auto financing to end soon, for that would mean people would keep their old cars longer and his engine rebuilding business would get more business.

When we left, I asked Sara to take a picture of us four classmates, which she did. Then we planned to meet at Skip's boat for a cruise on the lake. Stacie had prior commitments and could not join us, so we said our goodbyes. When I'd mentioned that I was going up to Austin tomorrow, she said she wanted to join me there. But what would your husband say to that, I replied ("Go ahead!" Sure....). I went back to my car and pulled up behind Skip and waved to say "I'm here." Unfortunately, Skip took my wave to mean "We're all here, lead us on", and he took off. It was difficult turning onto south 146 from Tookie's, but we eventually made it. Skip's boat was berthed at South Shore Harbour, right next to the hotel. When we arrived, we looked around in vain for Rob and Sara. Would they know where to go? Skip left a message for Rob, and then we waited some more. Finally, we agreed that we should return to Tookie's in the hopes that they'd waited there. As Skip had the more distinctive vehicle (a 1962 dune buggy), I got into his buggy and we set off. Now this dune buggy had seat belts, but they didn't adjust very well. In fact, this belt was too small for me. So I positioned the ends as best I could, slouched down so that my head was below the windshield top edge, took off my Hard Rock Cafe – Detroit hat to keep it from blowing away, and held onto the side. What an experience – natural air conditioning! Back at Tookie's, there were no signs of Rob and Sara. The girl at the counter had no messages for us, so back to the marina we went. Were we glad to see Rob and Sara waiting for us there!

After that delay, it was sure nice to board Skip's boat and set off on a short lake cruise. No Gilligan's Island-type "three-hour tour" for us, no sir! The winds were up, and the bay was rather choppy, so we decided to stay in the lake. I was taking a lot of video and some still photos as we cruised down to the channel to enter the bay. We passed by a Coast Guard vessel but did not see another of our classmates, Brian Moore. At the Kemah Boardwalk, Skip turned around, and we headed back up the lake. Then we took a tour of the waters of Nassau Bay, where both Skip and Rob had lived. They were remembering who used to live where, where they used to play, where they took the canal to get to the high school on time on at least one occasion, etc. I missed out on the Nassau Bay experiences, for I grew up in Newport. Then again, they missed out on the Newport experiences, such as our baseball field on the street, our back trails for bikes or motorcycles, etc. Then it was time to head back to the marina, where Rob and I helped Skip berth and button up his craft. We must do this again at future reunions and un-reunions, I said.

When we pulled in and berthed, it was after 4. I still had plenty of time to go back to the hotel for a water and/or bathroom break and an e-mail check before Chris Mallios arrived to take me to the ballgame downtown. E-mail was finally working, and the vast majority of the messages were junk. I left for the lobby at 4:45, and Chris was waiting for me. We set off for the game, which was starting an hour earlier than normal. As we drove there, he was telling me about League City politics and the latest controversies – the mayor losing a vote of confidence by the city council, cost overruns affecting the Big League Dreams project, etc. Such fun! We didn't have much problem getting downtown, and we found a parking spot at Incarnate Word Academy, located next to the park. The security screening lines for those bringing bags into the facility were long, but for those who had nothing (like us), there were no problems. Once inside, we obtained our free calendars and took our seats. I got dinner (a hot dog and a pop – I was still fairly full from Tookie's, so I didn't want anything more) and settled in to enjoy the game. And an enjoyable game it was, too! It started off on a dubious note when Milwaukee's leadoff hitter blasted the second pitch out of the park (he'd hit another homer later on), but the Astros got that run back and more in the bottom of the inning. From our vantage point behind home plate, roughly in line with third base, we had a good view of the action, although it would have been nice to have been closer. I heard someone says they saw former president Bush (the elder) there; while I looked for him, I never saw him. We did see Craig Biggio achieve two hitting milestones, his 525th double, tying him with Ted Williams on the all-time list, and his 944th RBI, passing Jose Cruz for 2nd place on the Astro's all-time list; only Jeff Bagwell has more.

It seemed as if the Astros could do no wrong and Milwaukee no right. They made four errors and two wild pitches. They even brought in the third baseman to pitch to a batter! The final score: Astros 14, Brewers 5. It's always more fun to see your team win. Even though I no longer live in Houston, the Astros will always be my team in some form. On the way back to the hotel, Chris told me that one of his nephews is getting involved with debate. He (Chris) helps the Channelview program out and judges rounds for them. The mass quantities of evidence files that teams used to have to intimidate the other teams have been replaced with laptops and CD's, but the techniques are still the same.

Back at the hotel, I couldn't get to sleep. My body was tired, but my mind was racing with thoughts about what a good week I'd had, what a good day I'd had, and what tomorrow would bring.


Move on to Part 2... 

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©2003 R. W. Reini.    All rights reserved.

Written by Roger Reini
Revised April 20, 2008