As you already know, Sarah came to join me in Texas on Saturday the 9th of December till her departure on the 1st of January. Her arrival was scheduled for 6:25pm that evening, so it was 5pm when I took to the interstate in my little hybrid car, with 2 diet cokes on board. I have made the trip out to the airport a number of times so made the 1 hour journey through Dallas from memory only.
I picked up a visibly bedraggled Sarah at around 6:15 that evening. She was too tired to do anything exciting, so I took her on a tour of that all-American icon: Wal-Mart and we had Mexican food (On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina). This was Sarah’s first taste of America’s pathologically large portion sizes: predictably, neither of us managed to finish our meals.
The next day (Sunday) involved a tour of the hunting store Bass Pro (near to where I live). Sarah loved the long-barrelled revolvers. See also my treatise on Bass Pro for more details. We then traveled about an hour to the north of Dallas to see the Galleria shopping centre. Then it was back South, into the heart of Dallas city, through the gay strip (Cedar Springs road) and into the Arts district. I then took her to the Nasher sculpture centre, the day culminating in dinner at my favourite Chinese takeaway: Panda Express.
We had planned Monday to be the start of our grand adventure throughout the state of Texas. The plan was to drive down to Houston for two nights, then San Antonio for two nights, up to Austin for a night and finally back up to Dallas.
That morning we packed our bags and I took Sarah half an hour out to Greenville to see where I work. It was about lunch time when we eventually set our sights on Houston. The drive down to Houston is about 6 hours, our trip took longer because there was a bit of a traffic jam.
Now, at this point it’s probably a good time to discuss Texas traffic on the Interstate. Invariably, the interstate is two to three lanes wide both ways and is filled with large cars traveling very fast. In New Zealand, someone driving a large range rover or equivalent “off road” vehicle is most likely not going to use it for pulling anything more than a boat trailer. Texans are serious about their muscle cars and will use them for pulling anything from a horse trailer to a tractor to a bunch of other cars. Another thing you’re likely to see on Texas roads you won’t see elsewhere is a stack of four trucks, stacked one on top of the other: a brilliant and dramatic way to transport trucks across country.
The traffic jam we experienced was 3 lanes wide and stretched as far as the eye could see behind and before us. Imagine if you will three lanes of these enormous Texas vehicles, dotted with large 18 wheeler trucks. Imagine also, the drivers of these large off-road vehicles getting thoroughly impatient half-way through the ordeal. Texans are well known to go off-road at a moment’s notice and take off over the median to join traffic in the opposite direction or cut across the grassy verge, over a fence and onto the service lane that runs parallel to all interstates.
Once past the bottleneck, it was clear sailing down to the city of Houston. Now, I think it’s fair to say that I love driving, especially on the freeway. American Interstates are probably the nicest roads to drive on. They are straight, wide, flat and very well designed. They are so well designed, in fact, people nominally exceed the speed limit by about 10 mph. So in an area where the speed limit it 75 mph speed, it’s not uncommon to find yourself cruising along at 85 mph. I must confess that my little hybrid is quite capable of those speeds. Because of the traffic, it was 6pm by the time we arrived at our hotel in Seabrook. Our next course of action would be to find some place to eat for the night.
We checked into the hotel and cast about on the Internet for an appropriately American place to have dinner. Now, the city of Seabrook is about half-way between Houston and Galveston. We chose our hotel carefully so that we were handy to both cities. Our hotel was also located conveniently on the same road as the NASA space centre. Our close proximity to the Galveston coast line meant the area was literally littered with seafood restaurants.
One iconic name stuck out like a neon red thumb poking out of the Texas countryside: Hooters. Hooters is a family restaurant that involves being served by scantily clad women, the menu (as shown on the left) is probably a good indication as to the dÃ©cor inside.
We were served by a leggy blonde in very short hot pants. One of the strangest things about Hooters is it actually is a family restaurant. We had chicken wings, fried pickles and curly fries with cheese jalapeno dipping sauce. After serving us, the waitresses walked around attending to the other patrons’ needs, these patrons included single men intent on the football game playing on the TV screens overhead, the family in the corner (with little kids in tow) and a number of couples such as ourselves, out for a quiet night.
It really was a surreal experience for me. I have been to strip clubs and I have been to family restaurants, this place seemed like the bastard son of both. The girls kept their clothes firmly on but, as evidenced by the hooters calendar, this place most definitely uses sex to sell food. I am not too sure how I feel about that. I had a brief run-in with Hooters once in the past and it left me feeling slightly uneasy about the exploitative nature of the business.
Well, part of our reason for being in Houston was to see the place where the moon landings were carefully orchestrated. I should immediately point out that the NASA headquarters in Houston is not where the shuttles launch from, they launch from the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral in Florida. That said, there is still plenty of exciting stuff to be seen at the space centre in Houston, almost a stone’s throw from our hotel.
I took too many pictures to weave an interesting story around them, perhaps it’s best if I just link to a slideshow of them and you can view them at your leisure.
The balance of the day was spent on the island of Galveston which, as it turns out, has a wonderful beach among other things. We also got a chance to see the Bishop’s palace and the Catholic cathedral which were both very beautiful. I hadn’t expected the beach in Galveston to be this nice. I mean, when you think Texas do you think crystal clear blue waves breaking serenely across miles of snowy white sand?
No? Well, neither did I. Still, Texas continues to surprise me.
Dinner that night was in a lovely little restaurant called the Aquarium. Like most American restaurants it was heavily themed, with a great deal of attention to detail. The theme for this particular restaurant had us literally surrounded by enormous aquariums filled with colourful fish.
We returned to our hotel room tired but looking forward to tomorrow, which would be our trip into San Antonio.