Thursday, 15 March 2012

Texas Rain (and Texas Heat)

Although Texas has been suffering from the worst drought in its history, our first few days in the Lone Star State could not have been wetter.

After leaving Cajun country, we entered the state of Texas, with Houston as our first stop. Our plan was to take another stab at couchsurfing. This time, the suspect was Josue, a thirty-something Mexican-American with two kids, who one couchsurfer dubbed “the couchsurfing king of Houston.” Grateful to be staying with the couchsurfing king of Houston, we were willing to bide our time until 9 pm, when he would be returning with the kids from soccer practice.

The only problem was that it was pouring rain. We took a brief walking tour of historic Houston, but after deciding that we were too wet and Houston wasn’t interesting enough, we moved on to a cafĂ©, where we waited out the rest of the day. There were unfortunately no awake kids to play with by the time we finally got to Josue’s, but he turned out to be extremely nice and welcoming as he gave us not simply a couch, but an entire room.

Me in Allen's Landing Park in Houston. As you can see, it wasn't very exciting.

The next day was a bit of a doozy. Although we planned to spend at least three days in Austin, we discovered that our timing was not so fortuitous as the upcoming weekend was South by Southwest (SXSW), one of the largest music/film festivals in North America. Desperate to find a place to stay, we tried our hand at a new informal sleeping arrangement for travelers called airbnb. It’s kind of like couchsurfing, except that you pay the person to stay at their house instead of staying there for free.

After arriving at Mo’s, our airbnb host in Austin (we took a short interlude at the Lyndon Baines Johnson library and museum right outside the city), we determined that a much-needed catnap was preferable to venturing into the pouring rain once again.

But as we were forced to whittle our stay in Austin down to one night—it was utterly impossible to find a place to stay over the weekend (even America’s Best Value Inn was charging 200$ a night!!) —we determined that we wouldn’t let the rain bog us down. We were going to go out and that was the end of it.

At first, we ventured onto 6th street, the more commercial downtown thoroughfare, known for its many live music venues. But after facing too many college students in proper nightlife attire, we determined that we needed a greater incentive to fight off the rain and our increasing exhaustion.

And find it we did at the Broken Spoke, a good ol’ Texas Honky-tonk, recommended to us by our hostess. Suddenly, we entered a room with cheap beer, an awesome country-western band, and several couples two-stepping along the dance floor. Far from the world of college kids who looked like they could have been from anywhere, we found ourselves amid veritable cowboys—hats, belts, and all. (I took an awesome video of this event, but unfortunately, the internet is not allowing me to upload it, so I'll have to resort to a youtube clip of a different band playing at the Broken Spoke.)

Riding the high of the Broken Spoke, the next morning we decided  that we would continue to do Austin as best as we could, despite the continual downpour. We began at the Alamo Drafthouse, an ingenious movie house that offers wait service in the theatre. In lieu of having no other choices, we ended up seeing The Artist, which may have recently won an Oscar, but I found to be so-so. The novelty really lay in the eating of a large salad served to me in the theater. 

That night, we booked it, in the rain of course, to any motel we could find in San Antonio—our next destination. We fell upon the Sands Motel, which seemed to fit our general criteria of cheap and dingy just fine.

But we didn’t know just how cheap and dingy it was until the next morning. About forty minutes after arriving in downtown San Antonio, Ricky realized that he didn’t have his wallet. Full disclosure to the reader: Ricky is a chronic forgetter and loser-of-things, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of his assertion.

He said that he was sure he left in his jacket, which was still hanging in the motel room closet.
When we got back to the motel, we went promptly to the hotel manager, a soft-spoken Indian man (the actual kind), and asked him if we could go back into the hotel room to look for the jacket. He told us that the room had been cleaned already, so we would have to ask Angie, the hotel maid. As Ricky approached Angie, a heavy-set Native American woman, I went back to the car to furiously check for the wallet in the hopes that we would not have to face what seemed liked the inevitable.

“Angie said that she found the jacket, but there was no wallet in it,” Ricky quickly told me. We looked at each other knowingly: it was the maid. But how do we get her to confess? Ricky found the only route to do so; by telling her that we were going to have to call the police if she didn’t “find” it. She promptly said that she would keep “looking.” Meanwhile, the hotel manager was begging us not to take any action, since it would reflect poorly on his hotel. And all the while, my cultural studies background was giving me a difficult time of making sense of this situation. A white guy asking for his wallet. A recent immigrant begging him not to compromise his business. And a native woman who, likely not of an enviable monetary situation, took it.

But regardless of whose fault it was—Ricky’s for leaving the wallet, the maid’s for stealing it, or the manager’s for looking the other way—the future of our trip was hanging on the retrieval of that wallet, which contained a lot of cash, credit cards, and his driver’s license. A few heart-thumping minutes later, Angie emerged from the storeroom suddenly victorious in her search.

A bit frazzled, we finally returned to the downtown area in the hardest rain yet, where we walked the San Antonio River Walk, visited The Alamo, and saw some of the surviving missions, where Spanish settlers attempted to convert the native population.

Me on the River Walk. 

Ricky in front of The Alamo.
While I knew about Texas and its complicated legacy of the Wild West, East Texas, particularly in the pouring rain, failed to bring the state’s unique story to life. But on that drive from San Antonio to the Amistad Recreation Area—where we would be camping that night en route to Big Bend National Park—I suddenly noticed a horizontal line in the sky where the dark clouds ended and the clear sky began. .

The line in the sky dividing the rain from the sun. 
Our drive into the Amistad National Recreation Area.
It was as if we had reached a gateway, and when we finally drove through it, we had emerged in the arid, desolate landscape of the desert. After a month of venturing through the South, we had officially entered the West.

Last week’s adventures in Amistad and Big Bend did not provide us with any internet access, so next up, Ricky will debrief our adventures in the South Texan desert.  

1 comment:

  1. Clearly Brahna needs to be the CFO for this adventure!