A Very Texan New Year: Part 2

On New Year’s Eve we drove down to see the remains of Galveston, devastated last September by Hurricane Ike. Charlie’s mom suggested the visit, as Katie needed a ride to meet some old friends for lunch (Chili’s and their blessed never-ending salsa bowl). We drove forty-five minutes through Houston, down the coast and across the bridge into the city. Mounds of debris littering the roadside as we passed: broken doors, shattered glass, and torn shingles, piled like a barrow next to crippled buildings and empty lots where gulf-side resorts once stood. Not having visited the city before, the absence of houses shocked us less than the damage to standing structure. McDonald signs stripped of its marquee, now reads ‘over 1 served.’ Gas stations, boarded up and fenced with police tape like a crime scene. Battered shops, abandoned and broken, empty of all merchandise and the occasional window. Near the ocean, construction equipment dig deep into the sand and ocean, clearing away debris and toxic waste, rebuilding the beach. Skeletons of what was once beach-front resorts and restaurants wave and falter in the ocean breeze; tattered signs glide like kites on cobwebs of string and rope tangled among the broken beams and aluminum rooftops. We passed a tottering pier, where a lone hotel still stood. Pieces of concrete appeared cut from the sides, as if bitten by some ancient sea monster.

Nevertheless several shops and restaurants appeared repaired and refurnished; sea side eateries and bars adorned with faded – but upright – plaster casts of shrimp and crabs welcomed full crowds dining outside in the breeze. The Denny’s looked practically new. We chose a Chili’s near the beach to stop and eat; the freshly painted façade suggested renovation. The redundantly named “Cancun Ranch: Mexican Bar and Grill and Bar” behind appeared abandoned. Like the arrival of spring after a long winter, the town was coming alive again.

Later that evening, we drove home and barely welcomed the New Year without falling asleep. The boys, intent on staying awake, alternated jumping into the hot tube and the freezing swimming pool, a Texas-style polar plunge. The face on Ryan as he emerged – quickly like sparks in a griddle – woke us all from our New Year’s stupor. *sigh* It’s another year, full of adventure, intrigue, and foolishness. Anything less and I would not be able to handle it all.

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A Very Texan New Year: Part 1

Of all the places that I hoped to see before I leave this great blue marble, Texas never ranked high on my list. In my mind, the Lone Star state occupied nothing more than a great span of desert connecting the South to the Southwest, Florida to California, the terrain between Disney World and Disney Land. Of course much of my knowledge stems mostly from John Wayne movies and that film last year with that air-gun wielding French guy.  Clearly my own knowledge is limited to some extent.

However, consider the national landmarks on your own list: the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Niagra Falls.  Consider the states themselves: Oregon endows itself with great forests of pine and spruce; Montana crowns its borders with snow-tipped peaks; Maine dines upon lobster and adorns its landscape with snow packed forests. Hawaii. For the love of all that is holy, consider Hawaii.

Yet the herds of long-horned cattle, rodeos, and dry plains did little to encourage my interest: the stench of cattle cause me to retch, the excitement of rodeos cause me to yawn, and the dry plains give me sunstroke. The very thought makes my face perspire and my mouth dry and sandy. Ugh . . . hold on while I go grab some chocolate milk . . .

Ah much better! Nectar of the gods. Now in all fairness, my own state of Maryland has little to recommend it. Baltimore possesses the highest murder rate in the nation; in 1998 Baltimore led the nation in cases of gonorrhea. Years ago the park benches proudly displayed the city’s motto: Baltimore the City that Reads. It took nearly a day for that slogan to transform into something a little more accurate: Baltimore the City that Breeds. Our own sea-side tourist trap, Ocean City, is the fifth most dangerous city in the States.  Clint Eastwood and John Wayne never had to contend with college teenagers during Senior Week.

However despite the stats, rankings, and bucket lists, we flew down to Texas two days after Christmas. Charlie’s parents lived in a heavily wooded community of sandy-stone Mcmansion-eque homes – which quite surprised me seeing as I had no idea Texas possessed woodlands of any kind. Apparently many of the neighbors were also transients: uprooted residents, who having relocated for work-related reasons created this cross-road for migrant corporate workers. Therefore many of our neighbors were not native-born Texans. Throughout the entire week, I encountered a single solitary Texan accent: at Walmart. Scouring the shelves for DVDs, Mom sought the aid of a three-dimensional Boomhauer, who – to Mom’s horror – had never heard of Hilary Swank’s “PS I Love You.”

“Donnever‘eardovdat,” he muttered barely opening his mouth.

On the second day of our trip, I encountered the Taco Man. Much like the ice cream truck of the Eastern suburbs with its ringing bells, playing pied-piper to neighborhood children, the Texan counterpart circled our suburban maze, bringing tacos and other meals to workmen who were building new homes in the adjacent cul-de-sac.

The truck arrived one morning flying around the corner to the tune of “La Cucharacha,” which we could hear from inside the house. However, for our own part, no one in the house pleaded for money and rushed outside. Somehow the prospect of grabbing greasy Mexican food from the back of a truck did little to incite our appetites – with or without the lively song.