How far must I ride to get a win out of my alma mater Texas Tech in the College World Series? In 2014, I rode the new Triumph over from Columbia, Mo., not such a big deal, just 315 miles. This year, I caught the first game of the school’s second ever visit to the College World Series after a 652-mile stretch from Fort Worth. Well … Tech finally got a win over #1 Florida, right AFTER I headed back to Texas. As I write this, both Texas Tech and the purple horde of Texas Christian University have been eliminated from the CWS … but oh my, what a game the two Texas teams put on for my hot sweltering visit to TD Ameritrade Ballpark!
If you have been following the series, you may agree that Texas Tech blew it in two of their losses and likely should have made it to the finals … Oh well … first Tech served up a nice fat juicy pitch over the plate for TCU’s designated hitter, giving up a three-run homer and the lead, rather than walking him and coasting to a win, with a 9th inning lead. Later in the losers bracket, The Red Raiders committed fatal errors and mental mistakes against upstart Coastal Carolina (the guys who beat TCU twice in a row to advance to meet Arizona in the finals).
So about the one game I saw, TTU vs. TCU at 2 p.m. … in temps that reached well over 100 on the field …
Funny start. I asked the attendant at Will Call for my electronic ticket. They instructed me to walk to any gate and show my ID and the computerized system would print a ticket. I looked at one gate up the sweltering stairway, and then I saw a second gate in the shade with an elevator. Aboard the elevator I went. When it opened, I was in the ballpark (camera and all … which they tried to prevent during my last CWS …) … without an actual ticket. “Was that how it was supposed to work?” It didn’t seem right. So I found another ticket person and asked if I could get a paper ticket. Ha … they quizzed me for five minutes before they accepted that I was not a terrorist or a crook, and simply found a glitch in their system. I mean … I was being honest and trying to do the right thing … and they were so skeptical. No one hurt … but interesting.
So about the game …
They say “luck rewards the prepared mind” or something like that. TCU must really, really be prepared. I jest. Hats off to them. The Frogs’ Luken Baker stepped up big time to hit a huge homer, snatching a win from Texas Tech. Why did the Red Raiders pitch to the designated hitter when there was room on base for him? … I don’t know. Hindsight and all that.
How about Luken Baker’s name. I had not heard or seen it before the series … although I am sure he must already be a legend. That name has got to be a play off of “Willie and Waylon and the boys,” does it not (Luchenbach)? And wow … this kid or at least his mugshot on the Jumbotron is a smiling, baby-faced kid … but in stature he is like any any of several menacing characters off of Game Of Thrones. I think one of the sportscasters referred to him as a “man child.” Well … back to the Game of Thrones reference, I admit it …. I tried to get the chant started every time “Luchenbach” went to bat, “Hold The Door!” “Hold The Door!” “Hold The Door!” You do watch GOT, right? Ask someone … its a comical reference:)
Talk about clutch hitting … LB won the game for TCU with a big homer, just a foot or two inside the left field foul pole. I was sitting just left of the plate, when the ball exploded off the bat and I watched it and watched it and watched it … I thought surely it was going to go foul. It did not. My first reaction … stunned, I looked at the flag pole to see the wind direction. The entire game prior to this, the wind had been blowing strong, right to left. During that at bat, the wind had changed slightly … blowing the flag straight toward the field of play.
Maybe God is a Frog fan?
While the competition on the field was incredible, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the less-than-stellar behavior in the stands. First, I think everyone in my section was annoyed by the Texas Tech fan who repeatedly yelled after bad calls made by the umpire. Have you ever seen an umpire change a call or correct his vision after a fan yelled? But what really chapped me was the antics of one of the Frog faithful. After a huge double, Tech Centerfielder re-injured a hamstring as he went in hard to second base. For a minute or two, it looked like the injured player would leave the game, as he lay on the ground. Very gutsy — Tanner Gardner who was pretty much tied with Luken Baker in this game for heroics, limped around and then jogged and stayed in the game. (Have you ever pulled or torn a hammy? … Oh my!)
During the brief hammy stretch, that is when the TCU guy yelled, “Will you get on with it you morons!” … This at a time when most of the crowd was quiet, out of respect to an injured athlete, which is the custom … like everywhere. So it just echoed through the park. Ha … well played Frog. I digress …
Don’t ever tell me Texas Tech has the worse fans.
Before the game, I didn’t get to sample any Wi-Fi, however I was drawn in to an AT&T kiosk on the concourse, near right field. I hoped it was a misting station, but the attendant insisted I stop in to charge my iPhone. “But I have several bars, don’t need a charge.” She insisted and assured me that later, I would need that phone to call my Über driver.
“Oh this chick’s good!” … I thought, as I was reminded of how my sister insists her cell phone reads her mind and gives her ads based on her thoughts … I digress.
How did this AT&T charging station lady — who by the way in her own words was “rocking the Aunt Jemima” look — know that I had just taken my first ever Über ride to the stadium? Well I had because, tragically, after the 10-hour ride to Omaha, the day before, my bike broke down in downtown Omaha … which is another story.
When I got to Omaha, I circled the ball park area, passed The Old Market and rode by the edge of Omaha’s Happy Hollow (which I of course call “Hippie Hollow”) and back to downtown on the side streets, as I got my bearings. I whipped into a sketchy looking convenience store for a bottle of water and a look at my GPS. Hmmm … as I dismounted, I noticed the cable down near the clutch was frayed. “That ain’t good.” I slugged down a bottle of H2Omaha and reproached. I planned to take ‘er easy and ride my bike to the hotel for closer inspection. One pull of the clutch — the very next pull — and the cable snapped. How crazy … or blessed by the good Lord … is that to have ridden 650 miles of often times barren road and not break down until I was at my destination. I felt the protection, for sure.
But … but as I looked around, I felt less safes as I noticed for the first time that the very cool city of Omaha also has an underbelly. And that’s where I was parked, by no choice of my own. Numerous women, wanting crack or money or me … or a combination of the three approached me. I was at their corner and the sun would soon be going down. Did I mention it was Saturday evening and all the motorcycle shops were closed? I contacted a friend with Omaha connections and asked strangers about mechanics and towing services.
I pushed the bike to the other side of the parking lot away from the ladies of the night and was planted there Googling and thinking when a guy came out of the convenience store and offered to help me, after the cashier asked him if he knew of a motorcycle repair. Good fortune.
So this young, maybe somewhat scruffy guy offered to give me a ride anywhere I wanted to go … and added that he knew of an auto shop and a parts store a few blocks away. Against my better judgement, I climbed in his car and we rode away, as I wondered if the “ladies” were now rummaging through the saddlebags of my wounded bike. My trust in humanity was strengthened by my choice to legally conceal, I must confess … but I am all about people trusting people. And what the heck … what blog doesn’t need a little adventure?
Me and the good Samaritan made small talk, and he told me his dad wouldn’t forgive him if he had left a biker stranded. (Thanks for raising this boy properly, I thought …) “What does your dad do? Does he ride?” Ha … The dude told me his dad is in The Hells Angels, and he asked if I was affiliated with a motorcycle club. I thought: “No, but I once rode an elevator with three or four Hells Angels after the funeral of their murdered leader … does that count … it’s in one of the blogs?” … Actually, I said, “No, I just ride,” as I responded, thinking “Did he think I rode with a bunch of unshaven computer nerds?” More small talk, and the young man informed me that he no longer rode, but that he was hooked up with a youth group called The Aryan Nation. Ha … life on the road. Well … I ain’t gonna judge. He drove me to several shops with not luck and even offered to take me to the clubhouse. And most importantly, he and the ladies were not in cahoots. I declined the clubhouse invite, thanked him profusely, and called a tow truck. But stereotypes aside … nice guy.
The next day at the hotel, I was up at sunrise calling and searching for more options. I found a motorcycle parts store that would custom make a clutch cable. I limped the bike the 10 miles to the shop … Shifting on low r.p.m., without a clutch. No big deal except for starting the big heavy bike in gear … Soon I was out of the neighborhoods and the troublesome red lights and on to the freeway … when I encountered yet another Omaha guy wanting to be friends.
This guy rode up beside me in the next lane and started doing all kinds of strange hand gestures and arms motions.
I immediately recognized he was trying to play highway Charades:) I mean … I had just realized one of my saddlebags was open and flapping, so I knew he wasn’t trying to point that out to me. I was already driving with one hand and holding the saddlebag closed with the other … As he pulled along side me and crossed his arms over his chest (as he drove) and grabbed his shoulders. Ah … I see … He was serious about charades! I guessed he was trying to gesture “you’re parachute is open.” No not that, he kept gesturing. Was he saying his parachute would not open??? Very confusing. He pointed back to the highway behind me. “I’m going the wrong way?” Well how could he know where I was going? Finally, he ran out of gestures and I ran out of guesses, so I pulled over. HA! “Your jacket flew out of your saddle bag when you entered the highway.” OH! … It was just a freebie jacket from a college bowl game covered by the PingWi-Fi Blog, but a good one … waterproof. I had carried it for years. But, reluctantly, I needed to get the bike fixed and rode on.
It was when I parked at the motorcycle shop that I first learned they didn’t have a shop or a mechanic … Just a cranky old fart who sold me the cable and reluctantly loaned me a few basic tools … as he offered both some good advice and also some wrong instructions on how to install the cable. I made it work, crawling around the bike in the hot parking lot on the black asphalt, as various bikers smoked cigs nearby. I hopped on the bike … and yes … I backtracked and snatched up my riding jacket from the side of the road … Thanks friendly Omaha guy! I headed back to Texas, my trip cut short by the chance of more motorcycles troubles. It seemed prudent to head on home.
Oh … back to the Jemima phone charger lady and Über. YES! Just as Texas Tech’s luck ran out in game one, and the temperature soared … my phone went dead, just as Jemima predicted. I returned and charged up and called for my second ever Über — and called a new BFF in Omaha — Isidor … an excellent driver AND a walking, talking, driving, baseball statistics encyclopedia … or rather wikipedia. He could recite entire rosters of major league teams throughout the years and knew lots about the College World Series … and he was a gambling man.
When he asked my opinion on the upcoming NBA final game, I predicted that LeBron James would indeed win a world championship for his hometown Cleveland. The driver agreed and placed a bet at a stop light via his phone. I guess sometimes the luck is on my side …
What a trip! The entire ride to Omaha was characterized by decent temperatures, in spite of the heat wave of late. As I rode north on I-35, most of the way, there were clouds to the West, on my left and clear skies to the East, to my right … with a cool breeze between along the long road.
On the ride back to Texas, the weather was overcast as I left Omaha, but then got pretty warm through the “Endless Toll Road” that they call Kansas. The cars behaved for the most part, and as I hit Oklahoma I saw one of the best sunsets ever, with sherbet orange/pink clouds and massive wind turbines in the distance. A few miles later, as I hit the southern border of Oklahoma, the sun had faded and revealed a giant, red, full moon … with lots of scattered fluffy clouds moving around the big red ball … pretty scenic and truly relaxing after some of the more stressful points of the trip. By 1 a.m., I was back in Fort Worth in my own bed … a bed I have missed for two months, as I continue to work in Houston. Yes … what a trip!
A diminutive, yet scrappy kid from Fort Worth moved up north and found himself managing a record store in a place that gets entirely too much snow.
He moved back to Texas and settled down in Austin to be a writer, at a time when the folksy city was little more that the State Capitol. All of that was about to change.
Within a couple of weeks of Joe Nick Patoski’s return to The Lone Star State, another Tex-patriot did the return trip from psychedelic San Francisco, still high on the fame of a hit record.
One of the two men — Doug Sahm — changed Austin and therefore music forever. The other — Joe Nick — jotted down the play-by-play, starting way back before media was social, writing about the exploding Austin scene.
Mix the two together, and you get “Sir Doug and The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove,” freshman director Patoski’s new rockumentary film on one of the founders of Americana/melting-pot rock – Doug Sahm.
At two film festivals in 2016, conflicts in the Ping schedule prevented viewing this film. But, the day the film screened in Brenham, Texas — through the wonders of Facebook — I saw a post a few hours before showtime, and I hit the road from nearby Houston. When I reached the theater, I checked in on Facebook (of course) just before the introduction of the film … and by the time the film was over, the director had seen my post and knew I was in the audience. Pretty cool.
Time well spent. Trust me, I never thought I would be in Brenham for any reason that didn’t involve Blue Bell ice cream. But I was. I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity … for the music history and to rub elbows with Patoski. Joe Nick’s been round. In my PR days, I stayed in contact with him for years, always hoping to have a client featured in Texas Monthly. But it was further back in about 1984 that we first hooked up when JNP was the manager for another Tex-Mex artist, Joe King Carrasco. We have traded notes over the years, forever discussing that elusive sit down over a beer … As of late, I have tried to get the writer/author/filmmaker to try some kava with me over in Austin. But that’s another story:)
You probably know J. Nick’s name from his four decades as a writer, perhaps most visible as a senior editor and writer for Texas Monthly … or his Dallas Cowboys book. But, in my opinion, if you want to see what really makes Joe Nick tick, check out his radio Marfa program, — The Texas Music Hour Of Power. It offers, or could offer, a master’s degree on-line in Texas flavored rhythm & blues, country, TexMex … you name it. Oh … and by the way, Patoski already has a book on Stevie Ray, and has a biography coming out soon … on Willie himself.
But back to the film topic … You know Sahm? (Hey, that’s sort of like “Know what I sayin?” … I digress …) Many don’t, but most have probably heard his music or that of Sahm’s peers and protégés. “She’s About A Mover?” “Mendocino?” “Sheila Tequila?” ““Hey Baby Que Paso?” The Sir Douglas Quintet? Augie Meyers? The Texas Tornadoes? I bet you have … certainly you know Sahm’s boyhood friend and bandmate Freddie Fender … any who …
When I think of Sir Doug, I think of the Vox organ/Farfisa days of songs like Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs’ “Wooly Bully,” or ? And The Mysterians’ “96 Tears” … that subgenre of garage band rock. Heck … watch this video … ring a bell?
“She’s About A Mover … Looking Fine” … ha, dig this groove, daddio:)
But before Sahm sired Tex-Mex, he crooned his earliest records as a solo artist. At the ripe old age of 17, he pressed “Why, Why, Why” on the Harlem label … His first recording though was 1955, when the boy sang “Rollin, Rollin.” (“I ain’t nuthin but a rollin stone …”)
Such history! Get this … Sahm played on stage with Hank Williams Sr., at the prodigious age of 11 … at a show that would prove to be Hank’s very last. “IF that ain’t country, I’ll kiss your ass!,” (to borrow a phrase.)
As I reminisce about this rock history, I am thankful my oldest brother played in a garage band, and helped inform/influence me on music, perhaps ahead of my time. The bro played “Wooly Bully,” … But, I am not sure about “She’s About A Mover” … I digress.
So, young Sahm was playing in bars before he was old enough to push a lawn mower … not that he had one on the wrong side of the tracks in San Antonio. He was performing for people at the age of five, and at 11 he was recording … He was offered a residency at The Grand Ole Opry at 13. Then the young man went West. As Patoski’s film points out, at a time when the Grateful Dead were just starting to gain momentum with the hippies, Sahm already had Haight-Ashbury “cred.”
Always the mover, he then returned to pioneer the Austin music/twang thang. As Patoski points out … Early on, Sahm was more established than Willie Nelson and had more impact on what would become the music capitol of the universe, what we now know as the ATX. It is interesting to note that Sahm & friends were busted in Corpus Christi long before Willie transformed into the long-haired, “country jesus.”
Check out Bob Dylan lauding Sir Doug in this groovy clip:
But about the film …
If you like music — especially Texas homegrown like I do, you should see this film. Perhaps on Netflix … I’m not for sure. I think the film has finished its film festival schedule for a while. However … a big side note … “Sir Doug and The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove” will be screened in Cleveland at The Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame this year, as Patoski continues to promote the film … and as he pushes a grassroots effort to get Sahm inducted into the hall of fame. Pretty cool!
The film has great, great footage from the tv rock classic “Hullabuloo;” concert footage from Austin’s coolest joints; and many “cameos” — Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Marcia Ball, Ray Benson (Asleep At The Wheel), Fender … even Trini Lopez (Hey, I interviewed Trini back at Texas Tech … I digress …) And there’s lots of insight into the crazy world of a musician on a forever road trip … from the family’s perspective, including Shawn Sahm, who bears a striking resemblance to Papa Sahm. By the way, father and son were on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1968. How cool is that?
You had me at cowboy hats and TexMex … I’m thinking love beads are in there too … “Sir Doug/Cosmic Groove” – a genuine 6 pings.
See it, if you can … meanwhile this Sahm Wikipedia should be required reading for any who study the craft –
By the way, also check out the theater in Brenham. I thought it was well worth the trip for the film. And, the historic Barnhill Center, circa 1925, was an added bonus smack dab on Main Street in the ice cream capital of the South. Wi-Fi at the Barnhill? … well, I was pretty focused on Sir Doug, and turned my handheld device off … courtesy and all that. Perhaps Blue Bell and Wi-Fi should be the subject of yet another Brenham visit.
There’s not much worse than hotel laundries for the traveler. Seldom does anything positive come from there. To summarize:
Typically the machines are old and slow
Typically the machines are full, but have stopped spinning sometime … yesterday
Typically the owner of the non-spinning clothes has passed out after gorging on room service
The sky’s the limit on the price for a load. Hotels will charge as much as modern coin insert hardware will allow
The saving grace for hotel laundry? Wi-Fi … the greatest technology for down time … ever.
So the other day, I had been writing a blog and headed to the laundry with my computer when a woman stopped me in the hall.
“The laundry is full right now,” she said … awkward pause. “I know that because the clothes in the machine are mine … and there is only one machine.”
(I gathered that lady … about your involvement with said load in progress … and by the way, I have been here 60 days so I am well aware on the inadequate number of machines …)
OH … but did I mention the lady had the coolest Australian accent? Well, she did.
I waited a while, 30-minutes to be precise, because I had started the stopwatch on my iPhone so that I would know when the Aussie cycle should be coming to an end. (Yes, I have this hotel laundry thing down … Ha … full-time travelers have little choice. The competition for an open washer can get pretty cutthroat.)
So I was loading an empty washer, when the the Aussie came back in. I couldn’t resist and complimented her on her nice accent. Ha … Instant friendship. Soon she was borrowing my computer to look up her “mum’s” flight information. The two Australian ladies were meeting in Houston, and boarding a cruise ship for the Mexican coast, I learned with little effort on my part.
It was just a fun little cultural exchange, albeit brief. I started my load, after retrieving a spare quarter from the washer, and handing it to Karen … the Aussie. “What’s that?”
“We call it a quarter,” I joked.
“What is it good for?,” she asked.
“Nothing … the coin is absolutely obsolete … except for maybe hotel laundries and those machines that kids ride in front of the grocery store.” (Do kids still ride those, or have the lawyers and litigation put an end to that fun?)
She took it after several attempts to get me to take the obsolete coin.
I went back to work on a blog out in the lobby, never giving the meeting a second thought.
Ten minutes later, Karen joined me on the couch and said she had a favor to ask, as she showed me a photo on her phone. The photo featured Karen in the side car of some old scooter. The side car looked like a 1950s sci-fi rocket … pretty nostalgic. The favor? I guess Karen has a thing for taking her selfies on other people’s scooters, so she asked to get a shot on my big-O Triumph Thunderbird. Sure … “knock yourself out.”
We snapped a quick photo, and I went back to work … and later went back to the laundry. Karen was retrieving her dry clothes as I was emptying out my wet ones.
What the heck I thought … Maybe this American should be a nice guy and give the woman a memory of her trip, even better than a selfie on a motorcycle.
“How about a ride?,” I invited. “But … it will cost you a quarter.” (You saw that coming, dint you? … I digress …)
Ha … she didn’t hesitate. Now wouldn’t it be more fun if everyone would be more social with strangers and more spontaneous?
Ha … we rode only for about 15 minutes. Karen had to pick up her “mum.” (Mum would also get a selfie on the bike later …)
Before we road, Karen whipped out some tourist book, featuring “Texisms.” She fired one off about “the kind of guy who would battle a bull with a switch.” Hmmm … That doesn’t sound like anything from the Texas I know. (Hell. We had bulls, but now trees and therefor no switches …) Wonder who compiled this list … I digress.
As we rode, I commented that she is pretty trusting, and should be more careful in a big Metropolitan area … Ha … and it also occurred to me … “What if she is a really, really good professional scam artist, and maybe I am about to be robbed.” It was just a passing thought. I didn’t buy into it.
Hearing my concern, she said … “Yes I should be careful. You could have a gun. You Texas can carry guns now.”
I just smiled.
Bon voyage, mate. Hope your ride made the complete Texas experience.
You just never know about people. Take my friend … my new friend Jack, for example … full of surprises. We became friends after I saw him a few times at Starbucks. I recognized him as a former musician from my church’s orchestra. Ha … I think he was quite flattered that “this stranger” (me) knew him for his prowess on the bassoon. I would wager that bassoonists don’t have that many groupies … I digress.
Anywho, I said “hello,” and we started talking.
It wasn’t long before the topic turned to my motorcycle — parked outside the cafe. Soon I learned that Jack is like the elderly statesman of Harley Davidson. I thought I had done some cool road trips … but … Jack — all “five-foot-nothing” of him, with a child-like gleam in his eyes — told me about the vintage bike he road across most of The United States when he was 16! How cool. Nowawdays you hear about more and more doctors and lawyers and dentists who have become successful and then bought a bike. Jack, the bassoonist and retired dentist cut his teeth on a hawg … many many years ago.
As I headed northeast of Houston on my bike yesterday, I thought of Jack and his great stories, and hoped my new adventure might interest the grandkids … if there are any, one of these days. Yesterday was the perfect combinations of motorcycles, road trips and The Dirty Gig. If not a granpappy story … perhaps worthy of a blog.
For the weekend, most of the personnel from the disaster relief project — a project that started a couple of months ago — were given days off for Sunday and Memorial Day — as more flooding hit. Faster than you can say M-P-H, I was planning a Triumph trip. On the map, I sized up motorcycle routes to Goliad for some great Texas history … perhaps a return trip to Galveston Isle … maybe even a road trip to Beeville, Texas to see the boyhood home of an old, old friend. (Why he is not on Facebook is beyond me …)
Then the phone rang. Well it didn’t ring, it buzzed and made a noise not unlike a microwave when the popcorn’s done, to tell me I had a new text message.
“Do you want to ride your motorcycle for three hours and get paid for it?”
Silly question. Where do I sign? I said yes, and then asked what was needed by the folks from The Dirty Gig. The colleague sent me a brief note with the task and the street address. (Hmmm … small town … I guess this is all the info. I need …)
I was asked to travel northeast, toward the flooding in the area, and to go to one address where the dehumidifiers needed to be checked … inside some business that had some minor flooding. Pretty simple.
So … my resumé already lists newspaper, blog, book publisher, advertising, PR, boyhood farmer and disaster technician … now add professional motorcycle pilot.
“Yes kiddo … I used to get paid for riding my motorcycle.” I digress …
I “flew” south first and then east out of (H)ouston to dodge some of the known wetspots, where flood waters had overcome the freeways … and eventually north. On and near US 90, I learned there are Texas towns called Liberty, Hull, Daisetta, Rye and Dallardsville on my way to Colmsneil. How many of you have ever heard of Colmsneil and/or can pronounce it like the locals do? (I passed by a town called Ray Wood … wishing I had taken a selfie for my friend, who is of course, named Ray Wood … but I figured he probably already had the shot …) I thumbed my nose to the road sign for a town called Big Sandy. (Vega, Texas readers will know why …)
Everything in Colmsneil was pretty much shut down, so I never heard the correct pronunciation. Ha … I had guessed, correctly, the town was small. But I was incorrect in thinking I could find the address of the flooded business with my gps. No dice. In a slight oversight, the person who sent me the information about the project had not included the company name. And guess who was not on the job Sunday … yes, the guy with the needed information. … I rode around in the woods searching for a while … which is not all bad.
So, finally I did what you do in a small town. I pulled into the gas station for info., and nourishment. And like the locals, I eyed the multiple varieties of fried food. That was when I realized just how backwoodsy Colmsneil is … in addition to some delicious looking chicken strips, there were two or three fried items I could not identify. What were they? Didn’t know. So, I had to have them. From now on, whenever I get paid to ride a motorcycle, I will dine on fried chicken strips, fried boudain balls, and fried jambala crawfish pie. Me-oh-my-oh! (“Cajun” for Yum!)
OH … what a stroke of luck. I soon learned that I couldn’t find the address because the name of the street had been changed to a numbered county road. However … However, I was in luck. The lady serving the fried cajun cuisine was also the part-time mail deliverer in the thriving metropolis of Colmsneil and she told me the name of the company, the road conditions to the business and even how many service trucks would be parked out front. She even offered to get in her car and lead me over there … you know … after her shift changed, or after she sold all the crawfish pies … whichever came first.
Got ‘er done. It was a quick in-and-out task. But the ride was the bigger challenge. I had heard the river water in the area — flowing down from Austin and the Texas Hill Country who had their own issues with flooding the day before — was supposed to crest just about the time I was heading back to Houston.
So … was I going to earn my pay this day? Would I be labeled “a fool” for riding the motorcycle into the flood zone. Luck was still with me. I hit one place where my backroad — 770 between Batson and the Daisetta-Hull High School was overtaken by floodwater … but it was just in one lane. No traffic was coming, so I crept into the other lane and stayed dry, two wheels down. I haven’t heard if the flooding became worse later in the day, as more flood waters rushed downstream toward The Gulf of Mexico. I did take note that when I crossed the San Jacinto and the Trinity River bridges near Liberty in the morning, the flood waters were high but still 8-10 feet below the bridge. Six hours later on my return trip, the water was within three or four feet of the bottom side of the bridge. The river water was almost up to the crosswise of a nearby train trestle. I might have puckered just a little riding over the water, hoping the engineers had done the math correctly at the time of bridge construction some 20 years prior.
So, yes it was my lucky day. Hardly any water on the road. A paid motorcycle road trip in and around some bayou country, the beautiful pines and rolling hills of The Big Thicket, and four songs I will never play again (fours songs to be blogged about on another day). The ride through the woods on 265, east of Colmsneil … awesome!
I must admit, the travel life can be pretty interesting … and on the other hand, sometimes it becomes mundane. That’s when I try to find the good in all … or more accurately, just have fun with it.
Take elevators. Pretty mundane, but there’s got to be something interesting about them. Don’t they call an elevator a “lift” in other parts of the world … the UK or wherever? Why do I ask? Do you ever notice the brand names on elevators? My current hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, has an elevator made by Schindler. So … I am wondering if anyone has ever called that a Schindler’s lift? Just sayin’ …
I have had some awkward moments of silence on elevators … and I’ve had those moments when someone wanted to instantly bond, and I couldn’t wait to bust out of the elevator and run to freedom.
Sometimes, I like to shorten the word elevator to just “’vater.” And then accordingly, sometimes when a full elevator is closing too quickly as I approach, I call to the people inside, “Hold that ‘vater, Darth!” Sometimes there is a Star Wars fan on board and they stop and let me on.
There is a blog on this site about one of the most awkward moments ever — at least from my perspective — the day I was sharing an elevator with four members of the Hells Angels motorcycle club, after the funeral for a fallen member in Winston-Salem, NC — the local president, who had been assassinated.
Ha … remember when every entrepreneur or marketing person in the world was advised to have an “elevator spiel” to explain their company and/or its marketing objectives in two minutes or less? Ha! No, I didn’t try my travel blog spiel on the H-Angels … I think they could see that I was a pencil-necked, geek blogger without me explaining that to them … I digress.
Today’s elevator moment at the Hilton Gardens was a bit less stressful. The Hilton Garden Inn — with great Wi-Fi, by the way — is a stone’s throw from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, north of the city. I mean … you can feel the jetliners passing over … more than one red-eye flight has interrupted my quirky dreams. I bet passengers on planes can see our pool … ha … I better cover up then. Just kidding … So … any who … being so close to the airport, there are lots of flight crews lodging here as well.
Today, five uniformed crew persons from United Airlines (I think) hopped on the elevator as I held the door open for them. As is customary, the crew reported their respective destinations (floors) to me, as I punched in the coordinates (floors). As luck would have it, we were all on the same floor.
I seized the opportunity … “cccccccccc – uuuuuuuugh” …(in a nasal, garbled voice) “This is your captain … Today, we will be flying non-stop to your final destination, the third floor. If you’ll direct your attention this way, you will see the elevator exit clearly marked” (as I gestured with two hands, upright and parallel, signaling their eyes to move past me to the door.) Ha … the elevator started to move, and paused, and shook for a second. “The captain has turned on the seatbelt light, as we have encountered a little bit of turbulence.”
Playing off the normal safety precautions mentioned in the pre-flight ritual, I asked that my passengers — in the event that there was any loss of elevator pressure or oxygen — by all means, get me some air first.
Ha! How I wished it had been a longer flight (ride). I wondered just how many cheesy lines I could come up with, for fun, but also for payback for all the times we travelers have heard an airline’s talking points. Come to think of it … I should have made them check some of their oversized bags at the door, on the first floor …
In a matter of a few seconds, we could feel the elevator slowing to a stop. “Turn off all cell phones and electronic devices … Flight crew, prepare for landing,” I added.
As the doors opened, I stood beside the door holding the buttons so they could wheel out their bags. I smiled at each one and told them thanks for “choosing PingWi-Fi and for ‘flying with us.’”
After all of the crew members had “de-elevator-ed” and were wheeling their matching bags down the hall, I finished tidying up the elevator — knowing it was scheduled for a quick turnaround, so to speak … and I climbed off.
That’s when one of the flight attendants turned back, and smiled and said, “You work for Southwest, don’t you?”
Ha … Southwest Airlines is a fun group. I was flattered.
Galveston … right smack dab in the semi-circle of muddy water that is the Gulf of Mexico. But it’s also a wonderful place, memorialized in song by Glen Campbell, and for me it forever will be the place where the locals run to the ocean, not away from the ocean when severe storms roll in. My second trip to the island, my companion and I were ready to hunker down in our hotel room, wondering if the windows should be boarded shut … but the local surfers acted like the circus had come to town … Grabbing their boards and rushing into the seldom-seen swells.
Face it … Technically, The Gulf is ocean … but if a higher power would reach down from heaven and just twist Cuba ever so slightly, the gulf would be totally surrounded by land … one big, landlocked, mud-filled noodling hole. A pond of mud bugs. I am exaggerating of course, but despite the hyperbole, Galveston Island’s beaches are pretty average. As my colleague put it … he won’t swim with sharks, unless he can see them. However … what a great small city, with such a rich history of wealth and influence and monumental storms and casinos and commerce and disasters and slave trade and the Texas Revolution and exploration and what have you.
A mystique … one that prompted Mr. Campbell to pen this immortal line: “I clean my gun, and dream of Galveston.” So true, Mr. Campbell, so true … LOL … I digress.
So. as I was saying, thanks to storms, silt, off-shore oil production and all the various influences on The Gulf of Mexico … I was not compelled to get in. Instead, on a few hours away from the Dirty Gig, I cruised the streets.
What a great little city. The Strand … the activity along the sea wall … the old “painted lady” mansions in the teens of the numbered streets. Great architecture … some vibrant, some faded … amazing that the really old ones are standing, given the history of storms and fires and such.
But, what caught my eye? A cemetery … Typically, that is the last place I’d go (although I have been reading about and tweeting in regards to cemeteries that now offer Wi-Fi … more for the visitors than the residents).
I made a mental note of the Galveston city cemetery, as I first hit town. First … I scoped out East Beach and West Beach and then the restaurants. I hit a great seafood restaurant, Gaidos, a bit of a local institution. At Gaidos, my server Kaela, a hurdler from a small college in Oregon who moved to Galveston with her family to run a diving company, was one of the better wait persons I have met in my travels — personable, professional, attentive and if she didn’t know the answer to my oyster question, she knew someone who did.
Ha … we discussed the rule of thumb for oysters — eat them in months that have an R in the name … winter months … just as I ordered them raw, in the month of May. Not to worry, the maitre D explained the rule applies more to the northeast and regions subject to red tide. Sounded good to me … I let the red sauce and horseradish flow freely and went to work on the mollusca bivalvias. OH … and I was happy to learn Wi-Fi was on the menu too … Actually, the password was printed in the menu … But, the network was “spotty” as Kaela put it. The Wi-Fi signal … not the catch of the day for me.
Gaidos had a coat/tie aesthetic, but the people made me feel right at home in my Ping shirt, camo shorts, flip flops and licensed-piece attire. I ate the oysters and lived to blog another day, and highly recommend the mahimahi and sautéed asparagus spears although the rice pilaf was more like a bland, pristine mound of starch. Needs salt … and Wi-Fi — six pings.
More cruising … I drove through downtown and along Broadway … marveled at the architecture, then turned around and went to the attraction that first caught my eye. Yes … whodathunkit? … I turned away from the ocean waters and went to a cemetery. I know right.
Had there been more time, I am sure the cemetery would have blown me away … just the Confederate tombstones alone would warrant some research. Many markers predating the war, too. More than the historical significance, it was the color that drew me to the cemetery. Millions of wildflowers had overtaken the grounds, covering everything but the sidewalks and the monuments. Beautiful. Forgive me for saying it. I do love Texas. I do love bluebonnets … but I think “they got nothing on the yellow daisies or Indian paintbrushes or black-eyed susans or Indian blankets or whatever was flourishing there. Beautiful, I say.
Ha … forgot to mention I was traveling in an old Ford 350 econovan (not by choice) on this trip. Chicks dig that:) Well, stuffed with raw oysters and my camera memory depleted by shots of flowers and angels and Jesus and cherubs, I turned the van back toward Houston.
One final note … Buc-ees, the mecca of roadside convenience stores and the land of clean restrooms, aplenty. There’s one in League City, Texas, between Houston and Galveston. I think this joint was my third Buc-ees. The first time, my family members were shocked that I did not go in and check out the immaculate bathrooms. Sorry, I didn’t need to go … and if nature is not calling, then I think restrooms are overrated. My second Buc-ees … well, I’ll just say it … “I made water” and saw the light. Amazing how a simple strategy like clean bathrooms can catapult a gas station to legendary status. And now … yes … I have entered full-fledged Buc-eedom, if you know what I’m saying … a most complete appreciation for the clean facilities, shall we say. I won’t get into any more details than that, thank goodness …
… Except for this final note … As I sat there, behind closed doors — of course trying to multi-task and looking for Wi-Fi on my phone — I noticed lots and lots of doors slamming. What’s up with that? Every time someone finished “they b’ness” there would be a loud door slam. Was this some Buc-ees rite of passage. Some ritual … to slam the door as you walked away, triumphantly. “Yeah, I did it!” An exclamation point for the job you have just done so well? … LOL … I swear the first thing that came to mind was the infamous bat flip … the one last year, after Toronto Blue Jay Jose Bautista homered on the Texas Rangers and flipped his bat to tell the world that “he was the man.” Ha … I thought guys were slamming the doors to demonstrate their Buc-ees prowess and then probably went trotting off to shop for beef jerky and kettle corn with their loved ones … after a job well done. “Hooray for me” -esque … What a bizarre thought. I digress … I soon learned that upon exiting the Buc-ees booths, the doors slam behind you automatically … Myth busted.
Well … a few hours later that very day, my old buddy David D. sent to me a message on Facebook about the Texas Rangers game. I had yet to hear the sports news that day … It was a big day, with this particular highlight being aired over and over around the world … the highlight where Jose Bautista got clocked in the jaw by Ranger’s second baseman Roughned Odor … for a hard slide and because of pre-existing tensions dating back to the infamous bat flip. Ha! A bat flip … Ha! The irony … or coinkydink as some of us like to say … or whatever.
Hmmm … as much as PingWi-Fi loves New Mexico and Oklahoma, they don’t seem to be reciprocating:( Been on the Dirty Gig (in Houston) for a while, so not much blogging going on. Just looked on GoogleAnalytics to see who’s reading the blog … you know among the normal readership … regardless. New Mexico, Oklahoma … what gives?
The Dirty Gig takes PingWi-Fi to some unlikely places … some exotic places … some isolated places … and sometimes to the same place. It was only a year ago that The DG — “The Dirty Gig” — the disaster work that funds this road trip — stopped in Houston for flooding. We’re back!
In the aftermath of the most recent Houston flooding, for a week, Ping was spread thin over several jobs, cleaning up muck, cutting out drywall, hauling away mush, boxing books, taking moisture readings in walls, setting drying equipment and such …
Then I was reassigned at a huge computer manufacturing facility (that will remain unnamed). The computer company is a very high quality outfit, and for me, their name brings back great memories. For my first blog — the 18,000-mile trek to 47 major cities in four months, as “The Wi-Fi Guy” — it was one of their laptops that got me 3/4 of the way through the road trip. That laptop took a lickin … but sadly, sustained one drop too many.
Anywho, now a few years later through unlikely circumstances, I find myself behind their security gates. As usual on the Dirty Gig, the hours are long and one must find comic relief, human interest and social stuff wherever possible. Typically, that source of enjoyment for me is the characters I meet among the laborers on the job. They have earned their keep on this one. We’re talking 7 days a week, hot-hot humid conditions. People are falling by the wayside with heat exhaustion, and we are subsisting on Subway sandwiches (and we all know what those did to Jared … I digress).
But there is fun to be had, despite the hard work. Some of the workers said they think I am a clown, because I joke with them when the situation allows levity. LOL … but then after one worker nearly stepped in from of my forklift the other day (threatening their own safety), yelling ensued. Now they are calling me “hombre malo” … 🙂
But any who … in getting to know the workers, one never knows when there might be “a diamond in the rough.” … A story idea … a friend … Like the other day, on one of the first jobs I worked in Houston, before the computer plant … there was this female laborer with a noticeably coarse voice, who I noticed puffed hard on a cigarette at every opportunity. (I ain’t hatin, smokers. It’s just that I’m allergic to the poisons in the stuff smokers are choosing for their slow demise … I digress … )
So … my anti-smoking tendencies sort of wrote her off. But it didn’t take long for her to show me the light and win me over again. The woman was one of the hardest working people on the crew, outperforming most of the men, whether it was chipping up floor tile, or toting bags of debris to the dumpster, or whatever. She was all in. “Kickin butt and taking names” as some coach used to say. I was so impressed, I stopped her to compliment her on her work ethic.
I learned she was from Cuba, and now on American soil by way of Central America … and in broken English, she told me that she was out of work and that was why she was doing this hard physical labor. As I am assuming you are as you read … I too was curious to what profession she might belong. Get this! In Cuba, she was trained as a ballerina. Among the hundreds, if not thousands, of laborers I have met in the last six years on The Dirty Gig, I have met shysters and lawyers (is that redundant?), preachers, carpenters, engineers, salesman, out-of-work computer programmers, mechanics, truck drivers … but no, never any classically trained dancers.
Kind of cool I thought … perhaps even BW — blogworthy.
I am jotting down this dance story on my first, quick day off since hitting Houston three weeks ago. It’s Mothers Day, in fact … OH … Happy Mothers Day! … Tomorrow, we will be back to the computer plant, where I am helping to oversee 150 laborers from Guatemala, Cuba, Texas, Mexico and Lord only knows where. I bet there are some more stories in there somewhere. You know … maybe we should all take the time to peer through the smoke, from time to time, and learn about the person on the other side …
So far, my Wi-Fi consumption has been way below the recommended intake levels … I took a quick sample one night, up northeast of the airport … in (H)umble in the (H)ouston vernacular that is so fond of the phantom “H.” (H)umble beginnings you might say. The Wi-Fi was good, but the Bux was a drive thru … hate those. No soul. No community … BUT the baristas did mention the biggest Starbucks in Texas is located in downtown Houston. (Yes, I said the H to myself as I wrote that … refusing to conform.) This tweet was my first impression of the Starbucks grande, in the Hilton Americas-Houston, super swank hotel (below):
#Hilton Americas Houston – “Biggest Starbucks in Texas” or understaffed bar in hotel lobby, w/ longest line in TX this side of Franklin’s:)
The third Starbucks on my radar, was listed as one of the “Top Five Starbucks” cofeeshops in Houston, by some writer. In his defense, he did mention it “was his” Starbucks in his hood, and that was why he liked it. The shop was okay. But very much a drive thru … and he should have put more emphasis on hood in his review. As he put it, the area is “going through a revitalization.” “From what?,“ I asked as I drove through the area to get to the Bux on West 43rd … the crack apocalypse?
Yes, as he mentioned, the Starbucks had helped to usher in some other nice retailers … and their were lots of nice, redesigned homes and other signs of regentrification … but just a few blocks away .. it was a pretty rough area.
Sadly, I passed some incoherent man at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning, stumbling along in the middle of a busy road, dragging his feet … looking very much like an extra in just about any episode of “The Walking Dead.” Several cars drove around him … pretty much never interrupting whatever oblivion he was still enjoying from the night before. Dang it … ending on such a sad note. More (H)ouston a(H)ead …