Texas March 2001

Great Britain

Great Britain
and Finland



Travelogue: Texas
March 2001

By Roger W. Reini

By date:

24th | 25th | 26th | 27th | 28th | 29th | 30th | 31st | 1st

By event:

Saturday March 24

As I type this, I am on the Amtrak Twilight Limited going from Dearborn to Chicago.  This is the start of a weeklong trip to Texas.  I am writing this on my Pocket PC using a new keyboard called Fitaly.  It's supposed to be much more efficient at entering information via a pen-based keyboard.  Perhaps it is, but right now it's very slow for me.  I've changed over to the regular keyboard now, and I know where the keys are.  Well, I have been typing for over 20 years.  Perhaps I just need to practice with it.

Anyway, I am on the train about an hour out of Chicago.  I left the house around 10 this morning, taking around a half-hour to get to the Dearborn station.  It was partly sunny outside, but it was cold and the wind was blowing.  After the nice weather we've been having in Detroit, it was a bit of a shock to find this.  I parked my car at the station, as I've done many times before.  There weren't many people waiting to board the train, which was the second one of the day.  A few more got on at Ann Arbor, Jackson, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo and so on.  Right now, we've come to a stop outside of Hammond; why, I don't know.  The Indiana Toll Road is beside the track; I briefly saw an officer waiting in the median, looking for speeders.  We are back under way; the delay was for an oncoming train.  It was only a short delay, not enough to put me in danger of missing my connection.

Back to the Fitaly keyboard.  I had lunch shortly after we left Ann Arbor.  It was a sandwich combo: an Italian sub, some chips, some Sierra Mist, and a brownie.  It was OK, I guess, but I thought it had too much meat.  I wonder what dinner will be tonight on the Texas Eagle?  Once again, I will be in a sleeping car, meaning that meals are included.  For the price of the sleeping car, they better be included!  As I look off to the right, I catch my first glance of downtown Chicago.  It seems to arise out of nowhere off the lakeshore.  There won't be any time for me to leave the station and see anything -- not that I need to see anything, since I've been to Chicago many times before.  Besides, my duffle bag is rather heavy, and I'm also carrying my laptop backpack.  I'll likely just visit a newsstand and get a paper or two, then go to the lounge for first class passengers.

Originally, I was supposed to be in Israel right now, in the middle of a pilgrimage to the Bahá'í World Center.  However, I cancelled due to the unsettled political situation there.  I was to have gone to London afterwards, but the foot-and-mouth outbreak is in full swing over there now.  Fortunately, I was able to keep my place on the waiting list for pilgrimage.  Indeed, I just received another survey form from the Pilgrimage Office, asking me to rank potential dates for a future pilgrimage.  I will complete it after this trip.  But I still wanted to go somewhere, so I decided on a train trip home.

The train arrived in Chicago about ten minutes late, which was not a problem.  After I got off the train, I went upstairs in the station in search of a newsstand.  Actually, I didn't need to search for one; I knew of a good one already.  I ended up getting a Pocket PC magazine, an early edition of the Sunday Sun-Times, and a copy of Friday's Daily Telegraph (London).  It turned out that I had accidentally picked up two Telegraphs, Thursday's and Friday's.  Oops!  Well, I certainly won't lack for reading material tonight.

I spent a half-hour in the lounge, enjoying some Hawaiian Punch and typing an e-mail to send to my uncle Bill, who has a birthday coming up soon.  I also wrote down some facts I had just learned about my Grandpa Garrick.  He left his family when Mom was only four years old; the details are sad and are best left unmentioned here.  At 4:30, we got the call to board.  My room was #9 in car 2130, a Standard Bedroom on the upper level of the car.  I'll be on the lower level on the return trip.  There is no change from previous trips; it's a small berth.  While waiting to leave, my room has a view of the Chicago River between Adams & Jackson streets.  The water taxi stands are not operating today, since it's still too cold.

We pull out of Union Station on time.  Along the way, we pass the prison in Joliet.  I attend the first seating for dinner at 6 p.m., deciding to have prime rib, baked potato, carrots and corn for supper, capped off with a slice of turtle pie, which is an ice cream pie.  My dinner companions were a black family from Pittsburgh on their way to Tucson.  Afterwards, I went back to my room, read for a bit, and then had the attendant prepare my bed for me.  It was around 9 pm when I called it a night.


Sunday March 25

My sleep was somewhat sound, though there was a time when I couldn't get back to sleep.  I awoke for good around 6, put on some clothes, and went to the bathroom.  I had to go!  I then went for breakfast in the dining car; I had French toast, sausage, and grits.  When I returned to the room, the bedding had already been taken up.

Just saw downtown Little Rock from the window; I also saw the dome of the state capitol.  The delay should not be a problem for me, as I will still be able to get to Love Field for my car.  But if the delays continue, then I may not make it “home” in time for the Academy Awards.  I am facing a 5-hour drive tonight.

During the trip, I read the Sunday paper out of Little Rock, as well as the other Daily Telegraph.  We pass through Arkadelphia and Hope, but I miss our stop in Texarkana.  It's not until we pass through Atlanta that I realize we're now in Texas.  We end up being 2 1/2 hours late arriving in Dallas.  I get off the train and look for the taxi stand.  I find it and ask the driver to take me to Love Field.  It's a flat rate of $18 for the trip.  At the Hertz counter, I end up upgrading my rental car to a Taurus that had a navigation system installed.  I used it to direct me out of the airport and onto I-45.  It worked; before long, I'm rolling down I-45 headed for home.

I put on a sports radio station, trying to learn the score from the Michigan State game.  They won, so they're back in the Final Four.  Now I'm listening to Arizona play Illinois for the last spot in the Final Four.  It's a close game, but Arizona holds on to win.  I stop for supper at Jack In The Box, and then continue on my way.  Due to the delay in arriving, I won't make it to the hotel in time for the start of the Oscars.  Indeed, I would arrive at 9:30.

The area around the Woodlands has really taken off; one would be hard-pressed to distinguish it from Houston proper.  For a while, I thought the navigation system would direct me to use the Hardy Toll Road, but it didn’t.  It kept me on I-45 into town and out.  The sights became more and more familiar to me, even though there was a lot that was new.  Finally, I made it to the Nasa 1 exit and turned off to go to the Microtel Inn.  The inn was located in Nassau Bay on the site of the old Nassau Bay hotel.  I could remember when NBC News had a big studio on top of the hotel; it overlooked the space center.


Monday March 26

I woke up around 7 this morning, then went downstairs for a paper and breakfast.  I had to go next door to the Luby's Cafeteria for the paper, as the paper rack at the hotel was empty.  Breakfast consisted of some cereal, some toast and some apple juice.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was included in the room rate.  I then read the paper in my room while also watching the Today show.  In hour number two, Tracey Ullman and Chris Isaak gave their opinions of the Oscars.

Shortly after 9, I headed out for the day.  I drove past the Nassau Bay Shopping Center; where Eckerd's used to be, there is now a Dollar General store.  I doive down Upper Bay Road to visit the Nassau Bay park.  I can remember going there with my 7th grade English class during the summer and enjoying the experience.  I turned around and headed back to Nasa 1.  While on Nasa 1, I realized that I had left my rental car agreement in my hotel room.  I figured I better have it in case I was pulled over for any reason.  What other evidence would I have that I was legitimately in possession of the car?  So it was back to the hotel to get the rental agreement.  Then it was back on Nasa 1 to the intersection with El Camino and 270.  I turned left on 270 and headed to the east side of League City.  The road and the bridge were under construction, so it was a slower drive than usual.  There wasn’t any construction on 518 in League City, though.  I drove through town, noting what was unchanged and what was new since my last trip some two years before.  The biggest change for me was at the intersection with I-45.  Previously, the road had dipped at the intersection with the freeway.  Now, the road was level, and the overpass had been raised to compensate.  It was done to prevent the flooding of the underpass, a very noble goal.  Still, it was unusual, for I had been used to the dip.  Before long, I was on the other side of the freeway turning down Hobbs Road.  This used to be the way home, and I turned onto our old street.  There was somebody home at our old house.  I noticed the landscaping in the front yard, the wider driveway, and the brick that surrounded the base of the mailbox.  Our former next door neighbor George was home, but he wasn’t outside.  I wanted to see him, but I was going to wait until he was outside.  I continued to drive through Newport, our old subdivision.  Before long, I felt like heading to the nearby Barnes and Noble for a newspaper and a TV Guide, so I went.  It wasn’t terribly far away; it was at the southeast corner of the freeway and Bay Area Blvd.  I did get the TV Guide and the paper (a Wall Street Journal).  The restaurant next door to the bookstore, a Fresh Choice salad buffet restaurant, was no longer there.  But I knew where I wanted to go for lunch: Laredo's Mexican Restaurant in Seabrook.  I started going there some twenty years ago while I was working summers, and it became one of my favorite restaurants.  Every time I return home, I make plans to go there.

Laredo’s is located on the west side of Highway 146 in Seabrook, across the street from a McDonald’s and not too far from the Miramar shopping center.  That shopping center used to have a Henke’s grocery store, which became Kroger’s a few years later.  It was the first one in the area I could remember.  But I digress…. The restaurant isn’t particularly fancy, but it is good.  It can draw a good crowd for lunch, but I was eating rather early, and it was sparsely attended.  That didn’t prevent the food from being any good, though.  I had my usual meal, the Special Dinner – cheese enchiladas, rice, refried beans, a taco, a tostada, and some chili con queso spread on a tortilla.  It was good, as always.  After lunch, I went across town via Nasa 1 and went back to the Baybrook area, stopping at the local Best Buy to see what they had.  I walked my meal off at the shopping mall, and when I was done, I went back to my hotel for a break.

The hotel was next door to Luby's Cafeteria, another place I enjoy.  So when dinnertime came, I walked across the parking lot and got a chopped steak meal. It, too, was good.  But it was still fairly early, and I didn’t feel like staying in for the night just yet, so I drove up to Pasadena via Red Bluff Road.  Our family used to live in Pasadena when I was a baby, but we moved out before I turned 2, so I don’t remember living there.  But I do remember where we used to live, for my mom and dad would point it out whenever we passed by: the Fieldstone Apartments on Red Bluff.  They were a bit run down now; I don’t think I’d want to live there now.  I stopped at the Pasadena Town Square shopping center to see how it had changed.  One big change: there was now a Sears store there, replacing the old Sears store on Southmore and Shaver.  That old store is gone now; in its place is a Wal-Mart Supercenter. I headed down Southmore to Richey, then turned on Richey to reach the freeway (this used to be the way we would drive home from Sears).  By the time I got home, it was time for Boston Public and Ally McBeal.  It was a little unusual not watching them in digital widescreen format, as I would usually do at home.  But I managed.  Later on, I turned on KRTS-FM, one of the classical music stations in town.  I fell asleep to it.


Tuesday March 27

By this point, I’d given up on the Fitaly keyboard on the Pocket PC and went back to recording my thoughts in longhand in my Franklin Planner, notes which I would later type up and transform into this travelogue.

I woke up and showered.  I went down to the lobby for breakfast (cereal, bagel) and a paper (Chronicle).  Back in my room, I read the paper and checked my e-mail.  Went out, stopped by to see George.  We had a nice long visit; after all, it had been two years since we’d last seen each other.  Neighbor Clint stopped by for a bit.  Rose was in the hospital again; for the last couple of years, she’s been going back and forth between a nursing home and the hospital.  I had Krispy Kreme donut and some juice with George as he took his vitamins.  Afterwards, I went to Dairy Queen in League City for a steak finger basket.  I hadn’t had one of those in a while; it was good.  Then I went to visit Space Center Houston for the third time.  I took a tram tour, which took you onto the JSC proper; it was cold and wet!  This was definitely not your standard Texas weather! We went to building 30 and saw the mission control centers for the shuttle and the space station (not the historic one), then went to the building with the mockups used in training.  We did not stop at the Rocket Park, due to the poor weather.  I then attended the final mission status briefing of the day and spent some money at the gift shop – Gordon Cooper’s book, an inflatable astronaut, a DVD, a reprint of front pages from the Chronicle.  I also bought a membership, as I plan on visiting again in the summer.  After this, it was suppertime, so I braved rush-hour Nasa 1 traffic and went out to Alvin and to Joe’s.  Of course, I had my baked potato.

Wednesday March 28

I went to Target first to get some new blades for my razor.  Then went to see Linda Coney, at home recuperating from surgery.  We had lunch while I was there – a friend stopped by to drop off healthy sandwich fixin’s.  I ended up doing a favor for her: I drove down to the outlet stores in La Marque and went to the West Point Pepperell store, where I got some stuff for her.  I then went Went to MOM (Mall of the Mainland) in Texas City but didn’t get anything there.  I went back with the stuff, then went for supper at the Kemah Boardwalk.

Since lunch was on the light side, I decided to go for a larger supper.  I went to Kemah and the Kemah Boardwalk.  This time, I would eat a meal there.  I did not want to wait for the Aquarium restaurant to open (it did not open until 5); I had been to Joe’s Crab Shack restaurants back in Michigan and Ohio; I didn’t feel like Mexican, so the Cadillac Bar and Grill was out.  That left the Flying Dutchman, Landry’s and Willie G.’s.  I decided to go to Landry’s, which used to be Jimmie Walker’s, a longtime Kemah landmark.  I decided to start with some seafood gumbo, then have some mahi-mahi as the main course.  My seat overlooked the entrance to Galveston Bay, so I could see the boats pass by; I don’t think any did while I was there, though.  Dinner was excellent; I was stuffed, too full for dessert.  So I paid my bill and went back to the hotel.  Later on, I went to the nearby Office Depot for a shipping box and packing tape so that I could send some stuff home, mainly stuff I had bought at Space Center Houston.


Thursday March 29

After getting a good night’s sleep, I showered and had breakfast in the lobby.  I went to the post office to mail myself the package; I had it sent Priority Mail so that it would be waiting for me when I got home.  Then I set off for Houston.  I had no set agenda for the day, so I did what I felt like doing.  My first excursion was the South Sam Houston Tollway, a.k.a. the South Belt.  I’d never been on this portion of it before, so I wanted to see what it was like.  It wasn’t busy at all as it took me across town; the only delays were at the toll plazas.  I left the South Belt (or had it become the West Belt by then?) at the Southwest Freeway and headed north, or northeast to be precise.  That area had developed; what hadn’t?  I stopped for gas at a Shell station on Fondren, then got back on the freeway, heading in the general direction of the Galleria.  I got off at Chimney Rock to approach the shopping center from the west side, figuring that would be an easier time then fighting traffic at the West Loop and Westheimer.  It was.  I spent around an hour or so there, having lunch at Ninfa’s (their El Henry combination platter: enchilada, taco, tamale, rice and beans).  I then went across the street to visit the Comp USA, the FAO Schwarz and the Barnes & Noble stores.  I didn’t get anything there.  Next, I went west on Westheimer to visit Evans Music City, a guitar store from which I’d bought two Rickenbacker guitars.  I wanted to see what Ricks they had in stock.  When I left, they had one less in stock.  I bought my third guitar from them; this one was a 370/12 in Fireglo, a reddish-orange sunburst color.  I arranged for them to ship the guitar to my uncle, as I could not carry it with me.  If I had driven down to Texas, I would have taken it with me, but having taken the train, it was out of the question.  I had them send it to my uncle because he’s retired and would be home most of the time.

As I left, I got stuck in some traffic.  I began to ponder how I would pay for the guitar I’d just bought.  I decided I would sell one of my current guitars.  My next stop was to be Fry’s Electronics, a new Houston branch of the West Coast chain.  I figured my best way to get there was to take Westheimer out to the West Belt, then take that around to the North Freeway and head down from there.  It gave me a chance to see more of the belt.  The Fry’s store was about a mile or so south of the North Belt.  It was huge!  I’m sure it was larger than the California stores I’d visited in the past, but the selection was comparable.  There was a very large area for electronic parts and test equipment, equally large areas for computer hardware and software, and large areas devoted to audio and video (including some HDTV’s), CD’s, DVD’s and videotapes, and even room for appliances.  As you left the store and headed to the checkouts, you passed by a long aisle of snack foods and drink and other last minute purchases; anything a tech geek would need, I guess. I spent quite a bit of time there – and a bit of money, too; I got several DVD’s, such as the Speed Racer movie, Apollo 13, and the three seasons of Absolutely Fabulous.

It was getting late, and I needed to be in Alvin to see some more old family friends, the Vandervorts.  I knew several ways to get to their place, but I decided to enter it into the rental car’s navigation system and see what route it would take.  It started off by having me take the freeway downtown.  But when I came upon the intersection with 288, it kept me on I-45.  I would have thought it would have had me take 288, the South Freeway.  I continued.  Would it tell me to take Highway 35?  No; it had me stay on the freeway.  The South Belt?  No.  It took me all the way back to Nasa Road 1 and FM 528 and had me take that to Alvin.  I was rather surprised by its decision, but I was never lost.  I knew where I was going the whole time.

When I arrived at their house out in the country, it was unclear if anybody was home.  A car and truck were there, but nobody was answering the door.  The cats came out of the garage to see me – well, one of them did – but that was all.  I pondered my options for a while, then decided to go on a 10-minute drive around town. When I returned, so had they.


Friday March 30

It was time for me to leave and head back towards Dallas.  But what did I want to do?  Did I want to visit Gallery Furniture, or did I want to visit the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.  I chose the museum because 1) it would have allowed me to take a different route to Dallas, and 2) rush hour in Houston would make it hard for me to get to Gallery Furniture.  So I decided to postpone Gallery to another time.  I took the South and West Belts (the Sam Houston Tollway) over to the Northwest Freeway.  The only delays I had were at the toll plazas; I had no problems with traffic at all (though I did pass by a bad accident on the other side of the tollway near Westheimer).  It had been some 20 years since I’d gone out that direction – up 290 and Highway 6 to Hempstead, Navasota, College Station/Bryan and Waco.  Yes, there had been quite a bit of development out that way.  Eventually, I made it to College Station and the Bush Museum.  The signs leading to the museum were a bit spotty, so I got sidetracked once, but I found my way there eventually.

When I left, it was raining very hard.  I was glad I’d brought my umbrella inside with me.  As it was lunchtime, I drove through town looking for a place to eat. A few miles up Business Highway 6, I saw a Cici’s Pizza, known for their buffets.  But as I pulled in there, I saw a Souper Salad across the parking lot.  There used to be a Souper Salad on Bay Area in Webster, and Mom & Dad went there occasionally, as did I.  That restaurant is now independent, but the chain is still in business.  I went inside and enjoyed their buffet.  Afterwards, I drove through College Station and Bryan, skirting the A&M campus, stopping to fill up with gas, listening to Rush Limbaugh on WBAP, and seeing the sights.  At Waco, I got on I-35 and headed north.  When I-35 split into east and west portions, I stayed on the east part, as I would be staying in Irving that night.  I began to think about places to visit for supper, but I didn’t stop until I arrived in Irving.

I stayed at a Microtel inn in Irving, located near the Irving Mall.  This time, I had a mini-suite.  It had a small refrigerator and microwave.  I couldn’t cook in there, but I could heat TV dinners and make sandwiches.  It would definitely have been a nicer room for a longer stay.  Once I got settled in, I went for dinner.  My first stop: the Golden Corral.  I got their buffet, which included some seafood dishes.  Unfortunately, they were all fried, and I didn’t feel like fried seafood that night.  So I walked out.  I ended up going to the Fuddrucker’s at the Irving Mall.  Man, that burger I had was excellent!  The fries and the baked beans were pretty good, too.  Yummy!  Should have gone there right off!  After my excellent meal, I walked around the mall for a bit, trying to settle my stomach down.  I visited a small store geared towards tourists and bought some hot peanuts for the trip back.


Saturday March 31

This Microtel didn’t appear to have a breakfast area, unlike the one in Nassau Bay.  Perhaps it was tucked out of the way or something.  Anyway, I decided to visit the IHOP on nearby Belt Line Road.  I had their steak strip omelette.  That may have been a mistake, as that omelette was huge, and it came with pancakes on the side.  I didn’t think it was going to be that big.  I think I ate about half of it.  Then I went back to the hotel room to pack up.  I left around 10 or so, and then I proceeded to drive around town.  I went to Arlington, home of Six Flags and the Texas Rangers.  20 years ago, it was also the location of the TFA state forensics tournament, where I’d competed in Lincoln-Douglas debate and student congress.  I drove past the hotel I stayed at on at least one of those trips.  It was a Quality Inn back then; now, it’s rather run down.  I drove past UT-Arlington, site of the tournament.  I then headed towards I-20, stopping in at a Home Theater Store to check on their HDTV tuners (few were available).  I then visited the big Fry’s along I-20.  It was very similar to the one in Houston and the ones out West.  Since I’d just been on Thursday, I didn’t get anything today.  After I left, I got back on I-20 and headed towards Dallas, listening to the stock car races on WBAP (they were being held at Texas Motor Speedway, just north of Fort Worth).  When I got to I-45, I decided to take a ride on the old Central Expressway, perhaps the oldest freeway in Texas.  Big chunks of it south of town were just regular road.  It took me through downtown, past the Farmer’s Market and some new condos.  Then it turned back into a freeway and took me out of town.  When I got to I-635, I turned around and looked for a place to eat.  I’d noticed a Luby’s along the road, and I ended up going there for lunch.  Afterwards, I visited the North Town shopping center at Central Expressway and Northwest Highway and walked off my lunch there.

By this time, I was thinking I should be getting back to the airport to return my rental car.  After I left the shopping center, I got back on the freeway and went to Mockingbird Lane.  I drove past SMU’s stadium.  Unfortunately, Mockingbird Lane was a rather narrow and busy roadway, and it took me some time to get out to Love Field.  But I made it in plenty of time to return the car, after which the van took me to the terminal so that I could catch a taxi to the train station.  I got to the train station at 3, in plenty of time for a 6:10 departure.

Unfortunately, there was no place for me to drop off my coat (rather heavy) or my luggage (also rather heavy), so for the most part, I was stuck at the train station.  I did visit the Reunion Tower and go up to its observation deck to see the sights.  I thought I could see downtown Fort Worth; I did see the Cotton Bowl and Texas Stadium.  I also saw where President Kennedy was assassinated.  After I left the tower and returned to ground level, I walked the few blocks to Dealey Plaza and the site of the assassination.  When I got back, my shirt was drenched with sweat.  I listened to Michigan State play Arizona in the Final Four; unfortunately, State lost.  And then the train was late.  It ended up being 90 minutes late, a time we wouldn’t really make up for the rest of the journey.  My compartment this time was not as comfortable as before; one of the seat cushions was rock-hard, plus it didn’t want to lock into position as a bed.  Still, I managed to get some sleep.


Sunday April 1

While I was having breakfast, the train passed through Poplar Bluff, Missouri.  I remembered stopping at the Hickory House restaurant in Poplar Bluff some 30 years ago for breakfast while on vacation.  

As we pulled into Chicago, I was watching the clock and ready to sprint to the Detroit train.  Would I make it in time?  I would not; we pulled in some 5-10 minutes too late.  So I went to the passenger services counter, and the desk clerk advised me that alternate transportation would be arranged, and if I’d have a seat just outside.  Four other people missed the last train to Michigan; we would be taken back in a van chartered just for us.  After nearly a two-hour delay, we got into the van, which was more like a small bus, and hit the road for Michigan.  We stopped for gas in Indiana, then continued onward.  By 1:15 AM, we were at the Dearborn train station, and I was home about a half-hour later.  I was tired, but I checked my e-mail and listened to the phone messages.



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©2001 R. W. Reini.    All rights reserved.

Written by Roger Reini
Revised April 19, 2008