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By Roger W. Reini
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Back to Travels
©2001 R. W. Reini.
All rights reserved.
Written by Roger Reini
Revised April 19, 2008