Sunday, October 31, 2010

Snippets of a Short Vacation

February, 2009

Well I started out on a short vacation today so my time may be slightly limited for the next couple of days. I’ll try and provide updates off and on where possible, given the limited internet connectivity.

It started out simple enough. Up rather early and start packing. I never do anything in advance. I feel that if you pack in advance and your plans change then all you did was cause yourself more work. Unpacking. Therefore, my life goal is to never do anything in advance and you will never cause yourself extra work.

So I get on the road about 11 am and within the hour I am rewarded by my first pleasantry. I come across an ice cream factory. So I said, OK, I’m a little hungry. Let’s stop in for a snack. Well this ice cream company is not just any other ice cream company. It’s Blue Bell. Their motto is “We eat all we can, then sell the rest.” Well they must been close to shift change and expecting a large work crowd because they only let me have a small taste of a couple of those many flavors. Oh well, on with the trip…

I remember driving down the road deep in thought and coming to this bridge over a river. I peeked down into the river like most do when crossing a bridge, and thinking that the river sure is low. But, we have been in a bit of a drought. But not less than a mile later there is another bridge, another river. I thought, that is some bend in the river. But as I drew near I could see a different name on sign for the river. And crossing this bridge I noticed that the river was flowing full and with vigor. I wonder why God would send so much water down this river while starving the one just a mile back. But I suppose that it works the same in life too. I wonder if there was a way to cut a canal from one to the other to help balance things out. No, better mind my own business. Besides, I didn’t want to be gone later than the weekend, and it sounded like extra work.

A couple of hours later while almost dreaming as I was driving, I realize there was a sign pointing in the direction of a small town that I remember from somewhere. A town that a certain someone was bragging about being the nicest place in the world to live. So I thought, side trip. Ok, there is no real purpose for this trip anyway. I turned toward…. More tomorrow.

It was maybe a half hour later, no matter the exact time as I seldom pay attention to the minor details, when I came across a sign pointing towards what seemed to be a gravel road which simply stated “The Inn above Onion Creek.” I remember thinking, I’m thirsty, I like onions…Martini. I seemed to forget about my side destination and started wondering if the gravel hitting the underside of my truck would loosen the caked on mud so it would be easier to wash later this week. Well as it turned out, no liquor is served at The Inn Above Onion Creek and I didn’t see anything that resembled onions anywhere near the water. I don’t know how they can call it onion creek if there ain’t no onions.

For whatever reason when I left I turned the wrong way on the highway (I use that term lightly) and spent the better part of the next hour exploring roadside icehouses in an attempt to determine just where I was. As it happened, I was traveling along some road numbered 3237 or something, which came to an abrupt halt, and suddenly I found myself on 12. Why couldn’t they have numbered them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc instead of jumping around so much. Just seems like it would have been easier to find your way around if you were looking for a road numbered 3726 and when you saw 3750 then 3751 you knew you were going the wrong way. But no, some fool just gave out numbers however he wanted to. I think it was an act of revenge or something.

I soon found myself in an area call The Devils Backbone. I wondered why for only a few moments. The road seemed to go up, then down, then up, then down, although it seemed to be doing a bit more up than down. This particular road did a lot of winding around and around too. It wasn’t long before I found myself at the top of a rather large hill, and the road ended at this little cottage at the apex. As I turned around and approached the road to begin my descent I found that I could barely see over the dash to the roadway ahead. Inching slowly the truck finally tipped over to a degree that reminded me of something a little more than the bunny run at Lake Tahoe. Downhill, I thought. Okay…

Upon reaching the bottom I discovered that the road now seemed level, but often had a major dip to upset the fore and aft balance of the vehicle. At each of these dips I noticed a white post on one side with what appeared to be markings each foot or so. As curiosity got the best of me I stopped my truck right there in the middle of the dip to scope out that post (I felt safe enough as I hadn’t passed another vehicle for some time now.) Examining the post I was now certain that the markings were indeed at one foot intervals, except that the numbers started at the bottom instead of the top. At the top were the simple words Flood Gauge. I remember thinking, those words should be larger. I’ll add more later. I have to move my truck.

I spent the night on one of the highest peaks around so as to not be the butt end of flood gauge jokes from my friends. Never mind the fact that I still didn’t know exactly where I was, and reasonable sleeping accommodations were not locally available. The seat of the truck was fairly comfortable going to sleep but I think the steering wheel was up against a bad spot all night because I woke up with a crick in my neck. I went to relieve myself in the edge of the woods. I just couldn’t wait any longer. I was having to go a lot more lately. This recycling thing just isn’t all that profitable. Do you know how many beer cans there are to a pound? Anyway, as I was shaking the dew off the lily I began hearing some strange rustling sounds in the nearby scrub bushes so I beat it back to my truck. Just about the time I got the truck started I see maybe 30 or so small dogs coming out of the woods at me.. They all must have been from the same family because all them dogs looked exactly alike. Same light brown color, same bushy tail, long noses. I thought that maybe I didn’t want to be here. It took me some 10 minutes to outrun those critters. As I rounded the corner onto the next highway I see the sign in my rearview mirror pointing into that road. Purgatory Road. Now things are beginning to make sense and that $267 a night at that onion place doesn’t seem so bad.

As I remember thinking that I was headed for something before all this I see yet another feature that makes me forget about my side destination. Another bridge, Rock Creek. I needed to wash my face anyway, and this ought to be interesting enough. Little things like rocks seem to be more and more interesting to me in my old age. Anyway, I steered my truck onto the shoulder and down the embankment toward the water’s edge. Nearing the creek I realized how this one got its name. It literally was a creek of rocks. No water. Just rocks. Thinking about the previous nights sign in the dip I quickly looked around and decided that maybe I didn’t really want to be here either. What was the name of that town I was headed for?

Back on the road I see a rabbit run across the road. Breakfast. I was getting a little hungry so I started looking for someplace to grab a bite. It wasn’t long before I see a sign zip by quickly on the side of the road. Now what did it say. There went another….and another. Good Eats. HBO. Picturesque Views. Rooms. I hate those little signs. Why can’t they put all the information all on one big sign? It must be a budget thing. I really don’t want my eyes off this road so often. I have a hard enough of a time as it is. Finally, a sign big enough to read. “The Inn Above Onion Creek.” Damn.

Given my past experience with this Inn I decided to press on. Hunger is a relative thing anyway. I think of my relatives and their body mass and my hunger seems to vanish, for a while at least. So I head off past the Inn and on towards the unknown. Much to my surprise however, I soon happen upon this little village. I didn’t pass a sign though and have no idea of the name of this settlement. So I decided to locate the center of town in hopes of finding the police department, chamber of commerce, or anything that would have the towns name. Much to my chagrin though I could find none of the above. I did find a fire station which had the city name on it. Turns out I was in the city of Miller-Whitaker. Never hear of a town with two names. Well, there is a first for everything. My hunger returned however when I came across what was likely the city diner. You know the place. Every town has one. That central coffee shop with Sheriff Andy sitting at the counter with a healthy portion of bacon, eggs, and grits. What is a grit anyway? I think I heard that line once in a movie. Can’t remember which. Doesn’t matter though, the diner was still closed as it was only a quarter of nine. I guess the town doesn’t wake up till noon. I ended up finding what Texans call a grocery store and gas station on the edge of town that had a loaf of bread, sausage and a tub of that watered down butter. You know, the ones that are about 85 percent water and the rest vegetable by products? Only after I left the store did I realized I had no way of cooking the sausage. I seen a movie once where a trucker just tossed his meat on the top of the engine for a hundred miles and had a feast when he got to his next rest stop, so I decided to give it a try. Cold buttered bread didn’t really seem so bad for the moment. The bread I picked out was one of those loaves that has raisons and cinnamon mixed in. I needed some variety. As I opened the bread I wondered who decides which direction the little twist ties go when the bread is packaged. Clockwise or counter clockwise? I really wanted to eat at that diner too. It had a hugh piece of cherry pie on display. I pressed on to eat my grub. Instead of risking life and limb for this meal I decided to stop at the next available wide spot in the road. When that came it was in the form of an entrance to a residential area that caught my eye. There was not one tree to be found and the houses were so close to each other it would severely put a damper on my sex life. Not only that, but the houses seemed to have no architecture at all. Every house was identical. Thirty feet across the front. Thirty feet across the sides. And thirty feet tall. They looked like alphabet blocks without the letters. The only thing that distinguished them from alphabet blocks were that they did have pitched roofs. I suppose that is so the builder knew which side was up. As I was leaving I thought I should have remembered to get pictures. You guys might never believe me. Although I didn’t get one of the houses I did manage to get one of the entrance as I was speeding by. I found myself on Center street so I must be heading back into town. Not so bad I thought since I could now see a puff of smoke coming from under my hood every now and then. I realized that I had forgotten all about that sausage. I'll get back to you in a little while. I gotta go back and find that fire station.

On the way back to that fire station I was escorted through town by those men in blue. Wasn’t a bad thing. They invited me over to their place once I was finished at the fire station. They have a nice little place, I just missed it my first time through town.  The town police department...  They said that I owed the town for the cost of water or something. I don’t know why. They have a pretty big supply and I didn’t use that much. I mean, most of the plastic was burned away and the sausage was about gone by the time I reached the station. I took a picture of the truck they used too. My insurance company suggested I take pictures of everything but I kind of forgot. I got back on the road after a 24 hour stay in town.

As I started out this morning I put a little thought into my directions and put the rising sun to my back. I was a little more cognizant about reading signs and specifically avoided areas with things with the words devil, purgatory, Inn, onion, creek, and the like. Texas is full of wildlife and this trip had already yielded a variety of things to believe and disbelieve at your will. Although I didn’t see any horns on that rabbit the other day I still hoped to see a jackalope somewhere in my travels this week. With only a day longer to go (I would have been on the road sooner but the chief said something about good behavior) I was desperate to see something I hadn’t yet seen in my lifetime. As luck would have it I came across a road sign (I gotta remember to stop reading signs) that offered exotic hunts. Even though I wasn’t up for hunting for things I decided that curiosity had to be quelled, so I pulled in. Upon arriving at this interim destination I saw what appeared to be a small calf licking on a dog. Not the way other dog lick on each other mind you, but close enough to warrant a better look. On second thought I decided to just look around for a barking cow or mooing dog.

I was interrupted by the guide thank goodness, I don’t know what would have transpired otherwise. After explaining my desire to see some strange Texas wildlife I was politely informed that I could only see the game if I was a party to a hunt. So I thought, why not? I have nowhere else to go. So we loaded up and headed out. (Or should that be head ‘em up, move ‘em out!) Within minutes we were deep into the woods surrounding his ranch and I could see native Texas wildlife in its natural habitat. The first thing I saw was a flock (or is it a herd) of wild hogs. There must have been a hundred of them critters, but they were all on the move away from us at the speed that would make Jeff Gordon envious. I mentioned that to the guide and he said he would find something a little more on the lazy side for me to see. It wasn’t long before I was rewarded with something that was less than a blur in the woods. As we approached these animal they seemed to be just cows. However, the horns on these critters seemed a little off. I listened in disbelief as the guide told me that one was a water buffalo, another a regular North American buffalo, and the other a beefalo. Yeah, ok, what the hell is a beefalo I asked. Well, you remember that dog and calf back there at the house? There ya go he said. A cow and a buffalo had decided to breach the boundaries of species solely on the basis that both were lonely or something. Okay, we can go I said. Well, this is where I was informed that my end of the agreement has not yet been fulfilled. The hunting part he said. Well I thought hunting ended with finding, not with killing, but he disagreed. And besides, he had me out in the woods somewhere that I know not where, and I remember the dog and the calf and the cow and the buffalo and didn’t want no part of guide and hunter so I did my part. I now have 600 pounds of beefalo in the back of my truck accompaning those 200 pounds of beer cans. Of course I also found out about what exotic game hunts cost in Texas. My next stop is going to be something European. Like an internet cafe'. Not because I want to abandon my Texas trip mind you, but because I need to transfer some money.

Well it seemed like an hour passed before I finally found a bank to transfer the funds necessary. I may have to cut my vacation a little short. Once the transaction was complete I decided to recommence my trip in an entirely different direction, so I headed off towards the south. I soon came across a new sign (you forgot to warn me about reading signs, didn’t you,) Igloo it said. Now what do you think Texans would need an Igloo factory for? That’s why I had to stop in and see for myself. I hadn’t really noticed any Texans in this area living in igloos, but I wasn’t really looking either. You would think something like that would just catch your eye. Once inside I realized the err of my ways. This factory was not manufacturing igloos, it was packaging ice in ice chests to send up north. I guess that whole global warming thing really has some merit.

Having my newfound information I went to call a friend and discovered that my cell phone was not working as expected. I had seen a Verizon place a couple of miles back so I swung the truck around and headed back to Verizon to check my phone. When I arrived I noticed that this wasn’t your typical Verizon store. It had a nine foot high chain link fence around it with security cameras and one of those boxes like in that clowns mouth at the fast food drive in. When the person answered I explained my problem as best I could but the person answered in the same dialect as the clown. I simply didn’t understand it at all. Excuse me, I said, and I explained again. Once again I asked for entrance to get my phone worked on. No, was about all I could make out, but I was not sure if no problem followed or go away was what followed. Anyway, I asked again a little louder and asked if someone would come out and let me in. This time I got results. Finally. NO! CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? Maybe I’ll stop by on the way home. Someone else may be at the reception desk tomorrow.

Back on the road I am almost asleep because I have been ignoring signs as much as I can. No distractions generally mean boring which equates to sleepy. In any event my boredom was suddenly interrupted by the sound of gravel again. This time though it was not hitting the underside of my truck, but the side. I screeched to an abrupt halt. Coming out of my stupor I realize that the road I am on is literally carved out of a mountainside and I’d swear that the wall of rock actually hung over the road some. Fully awake now I remember thinking, I really don’t want to be here. My suspicions were confirmed just minutes later when the road sign ahead read Watch out for falling rocks. I guess I’ll have to go back to reading signs again.

Still heading south with the sun nearing the horizon I feel like I should start looking for some place to crash for the night. South Texas has become quite flat now and long stretches of road with little to see. As the sun sets for good I’m in the far left lane doing just a little over the speed limit when I see a flash of white zoom past the window. Whitetail deer. Gosh I hope they all stay on the median and don’t jump out in front of me. I really don't need yet another story to tell my insurance company. As I was recovering from the slight fright of deer so close to my door doing 75 miles an hour I get a quick glimpse of yet another road sign. Next service station 65 miles. You gotta be kidding me. Sixty five miles? I look down at the gas gauge, then looked for a suitable place to turn around. This is one sign I think I’ll believe.

The remainder of the trip to south Texas was uneventful. You probably didn't expect that. Neither did I. I found a simple place at the tip of Texas in the heart of Brownsville to bunk for the night. Nothing could go wrong I thought, and settled in for a long nights sleep not knowing at the time that the place I was staying was an old battlefield where hundreds died stealing defending this part of Texas from the Mexicans. I sure hope all those souls are resting peacefully somewhere else.

I was in a real sound sleep this morning when all of a sudden I was awakened by gunfire. I rolled out the side of the bed closest to the wall (I really don’t know how I knew which side was closest to the wall, instincts maybe) and fell to the floor to protect myself from what was surely a home invasion. Realizing it was just the TV coming on automatically I struggled to get up without further harming myself or my surroundings. I felt of my head which had apparently struck the nightstand on the way down and could already feel a quarter sized bump arising from the area just over my temple. Just who sets the television as an alarm anyway? And on the military channel at that?

Well I was up already so I decided to have a look around. I had checked in late last night, maybe around midnight and didn’t really get a look at my accommodations. This facility (I’ll not call it an Inn for obvious reasons) was not your typical hotel or bed and breakfast. It was some converted apartment project. One could live in this place full time. It was a full one bedroom unit with king sized bed, two closets in the bedroom, full bath, kitchen, living room (with a huge big screen TV which, by the way, was the perpetrator of my morning wake up call) and dining room. It did have the typical hotel information book complete with things to do in the area, map of the property, and phone numbers to call in an emergency. I think I’ll leave the book open to that page while I am here.

It also had a complete historical account of the area. As it turns out this is a famous fort (originally named Fort Texas) that was used during the Mexican-American war. Zachary Taylor renamed the fort after Major Jacob Brown who was killed during battle. Five years later a settlement nearby was formed that was called Brownsville. Go figure. Anyway, the area where I am staying is actually part of the fort that fell during the battle. Following the battle they constructed a morgue right here on the spot and buried the dead all around just so they wouldn’t have to move them so far. Hmmm, maybe I don’t want to be here.

I did think to stop and pick up some more sausage, Eggo’s and syrup last night so I thought I just light some of the incense provided and have some breakfast. Sausage cooked on an actual stove seemed quite appealing to me right now. The unit had a gas stove, which I am really not accustomed to using, but I could not find any matches at all. Well, I guess I’ll have to venture out in the world after all. Having retrieved some matches from the local convenience store I returned and lit the stove, added my links to the pan waiting for that savory aroma of sizzling sausage. The room had this aroma, but somehow it didn’t resemble the sweet aroma of frying pork. I actually coughed a little. Looking up I could see a slight layer of smoke near the ceiling. *cough cough* I didn’t think I had the stove on that high, and the sausage was not even nearing brown. Then I saw it. The incense in the corner was putting out much more smoke than I thought it should, and it didn’t have the aroma that I thought it should. Note to self: Incense does not come in green coils with a wire stand.

I put on a pot of water to boil so that I could have some hot tea with breakfast, but the stove started making this strange ticking sound. Although I didn’t suspect I was a target of some breakfast bomber I was a little concerned and called the emergency number in the open book on the coffee table. Maintenance came right down and explained the workings of new gas stoves and electronic igniters. Talk about feeling stupid…

After breakfast, which tasted strangely of insect repellent, I decided to go out and buy some clothes. I usually make at least one trip into old Mexico and pick up various items. This trip it was jeans, a new leather belt, a few gift items to bring home, and some new Air Jordan boxer briefs. You know those shorts that Cuba Gooding Jr. yells out across the room “I’m wearing your underwear” and the little old lady in the hover around spins around with this odd look on her face? That’s them…

On the way back I find out that you now have to have a passport or birth certificate in your possession to get back into the US. It would have been nice to have seen a sign before I crossed the bridge into Mexico. After I left the consulate’s office I stopped by the pharmacy. Do you realize the things you can get at a pharmacy in Mexico without a prescription? And do you know how hard it is to find an ATM in Mexico? Anyway I started walking back across the bridge, not many people drive in Mexico, and learned that you don’t want to pet the dogs at the border. Well, I wanted to but the dog wasn’t too enthused.

My luck just hasn’t been on my side this trip. I decided to spend the rest of the day in my room and tried on my new wears. The jeans were a little loose for now but I expect them to shrink up a little. For $9.00 I can deal with a little shrinkage. The belt was okay, of course, but I may have to take the Jordans back and exchange them. Michael Jordan must have a bad case of “noassatall” because they just don’t have enough room in the posterior for me. I’ll have to try and find some O’Neals or something designed after someone bigger.

I’m going home tomorrow. Straight home. No signs. No rest stops. No Inns. I’m going to try and avoid anything that even remotely seems like it will ruin my day. Going to try and get an early start too. Nine or ten perhaps.

Well I made it back home, none too worse for the wear. It was a six and a half hour drive from Brownsville to home. Along the way I saw rain, shine, wet roads, dry roads, wet roads with accidents, dry roads with accidents, twelve cops, eight ambulances, fourteen car loads of winter Texans, twenty two car loads of teenagers, two pest control trucks, one cattle truck, one horse trailer, three INS Agents, one case of road rage, and one good samaritan helping someone change a tire.

I didn’t go back through Kyle on the way back. I remember what the Sheriff said about hell freezing over so I made a detour around Kyle. I really didn’t want to be there anyway.

The roads had these little rumble strips, you know, those pesky little carvings in the side of the road that wakes you up if you wander outside your lane, and some roads actually had them in the middle of the road. What a novel ideal. Another had the strips in patterns that sounded like Mary Had a Little Lamb when you ran over them. I think the man, excuse me; woman, that invented those things ought to receive the presidential medal for humanitarianism or something.

Although I tried my best to not look at signs on the way home I just couldn’t help but noticing the one that identified Screaming Woman Creek. Given the name and my past luck with places I decided to pass on this one rather than stopping to see what all the screaming was about.

I went through Refugio on the way back. Know what Refugio is famous for? Nolan Ryan was born there. How do you pronounce Refugio anyway? I’ve seen other towns that I had reservations about the pronunciation. Iola. Not like it looks. Ola is how the natives there say it. Not that the town is full of native Indians or anything…I just meant the people that live there. Yturria, now there’s another.

About Sarita I past through a check point. Yeah, a real federale, show your passport checkpoint. Are you a US citizen? Where ya going? Where ya been? Let my dog sniff your vehicle. Turn your cell phone off. Dim your lights. Don’t pass go, don’t collect two hundred dollars…. I mean, they must have a real job to do there I’m just not real sure what it is. I did see them searching some little car from Iowa or somewhere with a couple of old folks waiting. I guess they thought the old people were smuggling Geritol or something.

Well, I’m back, and glad to be back. This trip, despite my occasional excitement, has not completely broken me of taking vacations. But, I think I’ll start planning vacations from now on. Maybe even use a travel agent.

Copyright, 2009. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without advanced written authorization from both the author and Google.