Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dodging Hurricanes in the Gulf

It's been really difficult to get online these past few days. The reason? We started our trip in Houston. Our plan was to go onto San Antonio and finish up in New Orleans.

We were intitially slated to arrive in NOLA the same day Hurricane Gustav was. We'd planned to travel between these places on the Amtrak. First Amtrak cancelled our reservations and then we lost our hotel reservation. We know now that Gustav didn't do anywhere near the devastation we'd been exepecting. But we didn't know that then.

I am going to be posting chunks from my travel journal here. I am not sure the pics will make a lot of sense. The one that opens this blog was "stolen" from inside the Alamo. (You are not allowed to take pictures inside the Alamo...but I did. Heh heh.) The journal starts with me sitting in the Seattle airport.

It is midnight. I am sitting in the Seattle Airport on a five hour layover. I am waiting for a flight to Houston where we will meet another couple. Our plan is to spend a few days in Houston and then move onto San Antonio. After that – the plan is to go to New Orleans and then back to Houston.

There’s a surreal feeling in airports especially at this hour. An African man is yelling into his cell phone. I have no idea why. He doesn’t look angry. I suspect “loud” is his natural state. A child, maybe three or so, is screaming. The parents look at him like he’s an alien they have no control over. It’s amazing to me that these people don’t get taken away by the child police.

It’s delightful in a way, really. Everyone here is going somewhere. We are all travelers. We are all going somewhere. We are all going. I like going. I like that feeling very much.

I am not sure how I feel about traveling with another couple. We’ve never done this before. I am not a social being. Never have been. Never will be. I am lucky to be able to spell the words “social being.”

Still…I have decided that I am going to learn this social skill stuff. Learning how to coexist with other humans on a continuous basis may just be useful one day. And it doesn’t hurt that the people we’re traveling with are pretty cool.

No one can figure out why we are going to Houston.

When we told the customs officer we were going to Houston, he rolled his eyes and asked “Why?”

We told him we were going there as tourists and he looked at us with a surprised look on his face. “Really? Ain’t nothing in Houston.” He shrugs, writing us off as crazy Canadians, I guess. He stamps our passports and we get on the plane.

Houston is hot and humid and there is not much on the surface of this place to do. It seems to be a town devoted to business and, like many other business towns, it is clean, functional…and devoid of interesting people.

We are walking through the downtown core. In most other cities, this would be choked with pedestrians moving quickly and trying desperately to avoid actually touching another person. Not here. I feel like I have walked into a George Romero zombie film, like all of a sudden, these rotting corpses are going to start flowing out of darkened entryways looking for brains to eat.

There are so very few people about. It’s creepy in a way. Where are the tourists? Where are the people?

We locate the Tourist Information building. This is the domain of Mildred. Her name is on a sign behind the counter. She is a sharp birdfaced woman who looks a little like she just swallowed a hairy insect. We stand at the counter and she comes over.

Her greeting smile looks more like a grimace and before she even opens her mouth, I know what she is going to sound like. Sure enough – there’s a reedy complaining sound to her voice.

“Help you?” she asks. Her question carries the same tone you’d expect to hear in the voice of a lifeguard asking you if you’ve just peed in their pool.

My companions and I ask about Houston and for suggestions on what we should consider doing while there.

She purses her lips for a really long time and the idea I am imposing on her valuable time gets much stronger.

“Well I can get you some brochures,” she says.

We smile but she doesn’t move. I smile (again) and kind of nod and she sighs (again) and ambles off. She returns with a pile of papers. She brings out a white map and a red pen and looks peevishly at the map for a long second. I am wondering if she is one of those people who delights in making marks on a map, telling you where all the important stuff is...and makes scrawls all over it that you can’t make head or tale of later. She smiles. Sort of. And I know instantly this is what she has planned for us.

“You’re here,” she says, drawing a small square on a blank part of the map. “If you go down Blather Street past the Quickamonga turnoff, make a right at the Blahblah Boulevard you will wind up in Blahblahblah Park which is open two to five on every other day except Thrusday.”

I look down at the map. Sure enough – there’s a mass of confusing lines drawn all over it. We stand there looking at her.

“Are there any festivals?” my wife asks.


We had sort of expected a little more information. But we nod. We are polite.

She produces brochure after brochure. In a remarkably short period of time, we have amassed pile of brochures and the white map looks like someone in the midst of a seizure was writing on it.

“How do we get to NASA?” I ask.

“You take the 246 or the 249 from here.”

Mildred draws an “x” on a map.

“Could you write ‘Bus’ there?” I ask. She gives me a sharp look. “So we can find it later?”

She sighs and finally acquiesces and writes the three letter word beside the number. But it’s not a total victory. She’s done it so quickly that the word is hardly legible. Mildred does not like having her strategy compromised.

“Can I have a bag for all these brochures?” my wife asks with a tone that usually makes complete strangers do anything for her.

Mildred looks at her. “We don’t usually do that,” she says. Then she pauses to consider the request. “Alright,” she sighs.

She shuffles off to get a map with an air similar to a teenager being forced to take out the garbage.

While she is gone, an old guy walks up to us. He has the words “Walking Tours” on his cap.
“Wondering where the people are, huh?”

I nod and resist asking him if someone has dropped a bomb that vaporized all the people. Texans so far have not appeared to have great senses of humor. And many of them are armed so….

“There’s tunnels,” he says with a sly look.

I am thinking of H G Well’s Time Machine where people live underground like latter day moles as they wait to be eaten by the creatures raising them.

We decline the tour and Mildred grudgingly gives us directions to where the entrance to the tunnels are. She spares one last look at the pile of brochures and the swell plastic bag she has given us. “Hope you are going to be using all them and they don’t just get wasted.”

Sarcasm is a gift and I bite back several remarks in which only I will see the humor. We depart for the tunnels. There’s no need to go into our experiences in the tunnels. It’s basically a large underground mall with offices . Big deal.

So far I am not impressed with Houston. Don’t get me wrong. I do believe it’s possible to have a good time anywhere. (Well, for everyone except Mildred, maybe.) But Houston could test that premise.

1 comment:

Mutant Jedi said...

"There's tunnels"

Mildred on one side, zombies outside, and a guy walks up knowing your situation and says, "There's tunnels." Hilarious!