30 July 2015

Forget the Alamo

The next leg of our odyssey took us from New Orleans to San Antonio, some 543.1 miles, a long-enough day, needless to say, without having to repair a cracked windshield and endure a three-hour traffic jam in Houston.

As a child, I lived for three years in a small town near Beaumont, TX, some 45 minutes off I-10. We had thought of making a quick pass through town, possibly for lunch, but after a rock flew up and cracked the windshield on one of our cars we had to stop in rural Louisiana bayou country (think first season "True Detectives") to get some resin to prevent the crack from spreading until we could get to San Antonio and get the entire glass replaced, we had to ditch that plan. Doesn't matter. How lucky were we that there were not one, not two, but three(!) windshield repair places at the very next exit? Or, how creepy was it that there were not one, not two, but three(!) windshield repair places at the very next exit? Out in the middle of nowhere. Miles and miles of bayou between exits. Gives one pause. Good-bye Louisiana.

First thing you need to know: Texas is enormous. If you flipped the state (on a map) to the right, it would reach the Atlantic Ocean. If you flipped it to the left, it would touch the Pacific. Gigantic. You can't really drive across it in a single day. Thus, San Antonio which sits right in the middle of the state is a good stopping place.

A friend of mine from grad school lives there, works at Trinity University. Unfortunately, he was out of town the night we were scheduled to be there, but he recommended a primo Tex-Mex restaurant near our hotel on the River Walk: Mi Tierra. It's open 24 hours a day, he told me. Good thing, too! San Antonio is the home of U.S. Tex-Mex, and Mi Tierra is one of its long-time practitioners: the epicenter of this unique American fusion cuisine. We got there about 10:30 at night. The place was hopping on a Monday night. Strolling musicians. Maybe the best Tex-Mex I've ever eaten. In a fabulously festive ambience. With cold, cold beer on tap. You've been told.

Next morning we ate breakfast and strolled along the River Walk. It used to be a smelly old canal. The city revitalized it and made it a little oasis in the middle of the state. Every municipality seeking to attract tourism ought to study what they've done here. If you follow me on Twitter, you will recognize my #HowIsThisTexas astonishment hashtag. We stopped by the Alamo on the way out of town, literally ten minutes to take a picture from the outside. It's not much, really. You've been told.

Stopping for resin in 'True Detective' Season 1 territory
Yes, 857 miles across Texas to El Paso in the West
Navigating around Houston at bloody rush hour, I-10 closed
San Antonio, TX, Municipal Architecture
Si, si! Mi Tierra. Muy bueno! 
Num! Num! Enchilada, Tamale, Taco, Guacamole, Queso, Rice & Beans + Beer
The River Walk in San Antonio
Every bridge has a different design
Lovely, cool, breezy
A veritable oasis
Seriously, unless you're a Republic of Texas fanatic, Forget the Alamo

26 July 2015

The Smell of Decadence

The one thing you can't avoid in the Quarters in New Orleans is the smell. It is the smell of four centuries of stale tobacco, beer, wine, & spirits, plus pot, piss, puke, & perspiration. The heat bakes the smell into the pavement and brick and mortar, and it rots in the humidity. Wisdoc asked me what I thought it smelled like. "It smells like decadence," I said, before breaking it down into its constituent elements. The smell stays with you for days after you leave, lingering on your clothes, in your hair, in your car.

Notwithstanding, New Orleans is a grand old American city, and its French Quarter is one of the most picturesque and interesting places I've ever visited. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a great restaurant, each with its own take on the region's unique cuisine. Remarkable colonial and antebellum architecture, often looking rundown on the outside but elegant on the inside. Courtyards full of gorgeous tilework and wrought-iron balustrades and semi-tropical plants. It almost feels like a different country. This was my fourth time there.

(As always, click pics to embiggen a slideshow.)
An Omen? An interloper who wanted to come with
Former slave quarters where we stayed 2 nights
Shrimp Creole at Galatoire's: The Best Anywhere!
Yes, Please
Typical Quarters House
Typical Quarters Structure
Spare Not the Wrought Iron
Apparently a Selling Point in the Big Easy
Around Jackson Square
Four Styles of Architecture
Trouble Makers 
French Market Goods
Maybe the Most Picturesque Square in America—Reputedly the inspiration for the Disney Castle
More Typical Local Architecture
Are Your Oysters This Large?
Since New Orleans is below Sea Level, burials are above ground
More Architecture
Sunset on the Mississippi
Night Scene
Mummer and Street Musician
More Oysters & Beer, Please
Bourbon Street at Night
Spooky Jesus Shadow off Bourbon Street

24 July 2015

No Country for Old Bugs: The Indexicle

Behold the grille of my car at the end of my cross-country Road Trip from Atlanta to Los Angeles:

No Country for Old Bugs
Total miles driven:  2914.7 miles

Number of days it took:  8

Number of cars taken:  2

Number of persons:  4

Number of bugs smashed on grilles and windshields:  Uncountably many

Distances between stations:
  • Atlanta to New Orleans:  469.4 miles
  • New Orleans to San Antonio:  543.1 miles
  • San Antonio to Carlsbad, NM:  450.9 miles
  • Carlsbad to Williams, AZ:  635.9 miles
  • Williams to Las Vegas:  216.4 miles
  • Las Vegas to Los Angeles:  270.3 miles
Major routes taken:  I-85 to I-65 to I-10 to US-285 to I-40 to US-93 to I-15

Length of time on Historic Rte. 66:  Approximately 30 minutes

Two-night stops en route:  New Orleans; Williams, AZ; Las Vegas

Notable intermediate cities/towns driven through or around:  Montgomery, AL; Biloxi, MS; Houston, TX; Roswell, NM; Albuquerque, NM

Best intermediate stop (by far):  Old Albuquerque for dinner (Hello, Frances!)

Major sites seen:
  • The French Quarter
  • The Mississippi River
  • The River Walk (San Antonio) (#HowIsThisTexas)
  • Carlsbad Caverns
  • Old Albuquerque
  • The Grand Canyon (and yes, it most assuredly is)
  • Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, AZ
  • The Hoover Dam
  • The Strip
  • The Mojave Desert
  • USC
Best meals eaten and where:
  • Shrimp Creole at Galatoire's in New Orleans
  • Gumbo and Raw Oysters on the half-shell in New Orleans
  • Tex-Mex at Mi Tierra in San Antonio
  • Mexican at Hacienda del Rio with Frances Madeson in Old Albuquerque
  • French at Mon Ami Gabi on the Strip in Las Vegas
  • Japanese at Izakaya Honda-Ya in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles
Worst incident:  A pebble flying up and cracking one windshield

Worst traffic (in descending order of worstness):  Houston, the Mojave Desert, the French Quarter, Atlanta, Los Angeles

Places where all lanes of an interstate highway were closed:  (1) I-10 in Houston, (2) I-15 between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, i.e., the Mojave Desert

Respective causes of interstate closures:  (1) Jack-knifed 18-wheeler in Houston, (2) Wildfire in the Mojave

Place where the only rain was seen:  The Mojave Desert

Amount of rainfall in the Mojave Desert:  Most ever recorded in a single day there, shattering records for entire month of July in a few hours

Cause of rainfall in the Mojave Desert:  Remnants of Hurricane Delores

Result of rainfall in the Mojave Desert (besides limited vision and major traffic snarls):  Extinguishment of the wildfire that had closed it the day before

What the Angelenos we spoke to said they were when we told them we had brought the rain from Georgia:  Very grateful

Most desolate place:  West Texas/Eastern New Mexico

How I returned home after leaving Wisdaughter, her partner, and her car in Los Angeles:  Flying. Sad.

Things that will follow in this series:  Pictures

09 July 2015

"They've all gone to look for America..."

Things are going to be a bit quiet around here for the next couple weeks. I might not be able to post here at WoW or even read your blogs, much less comment.

I'm going on a cross-country road trip! Heading right into the teeth of Jade Helm 15.

Wisdaughter is starting grad school at USC in the Fall, and we're moving her out to the left coast next week.

Rest assured, however, after all is settled (assuming we survive the Federal gub'mint's invasion of the sovereign nation of Tejas), there will be pictures!

Our route takes us from ATL to the Big Easy (yum!) to Houston to San Antonio (Tex-Mex, yo) to Carlsbad, NM (caverns!), to Roswell (aliens! better yet, alien kitsch) to Albuquerque (Breaking Bad roof pizza toss!) to Sonoma to the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas to LA. Lots of interesting stuff to see I should think.

For entertainment, I have the ~45 hour unabridged CD set of William H. Gass reading his novel The Tunnel.

If you're on the twittering machine, I'll probably post a few of the more insistent shots at @140xLangame (with some snark) when I get the chance. Pop over.

And, needless to say, there's likely to be some serious Drivin' 'n' Cryin'.

08 July 2015

Life Is Strange—And Sometimes Even in a Good Way

An unusual thing happened to me today. And by 'unusual' I mean that in my entire life nothing quite like it has ever happened to me before.

Because my kitchen at home is unusable (if you follow me on the twittering machine, you know it is undergoing remodeling), I took my youngest, Wesdom, out to lunch this morning. He is home from college for the summer. A BLT for me and a Philly cheesesteak with fries for him, if you're interested.

As we were preparing to leave, the waitress came over. I asked her for the check and an unsweetened ice tea (my drink of choice) to go. She said, "You're good. Your check has been taken care of."

Huh? "I didn't pay it yet," I said. "We're not trying to dip out." ('In the parlance of our time,' I didn't say.)

She told me a couple of gentlemen in a far corner had asked for our check and then paid it.

"Where?" I said. "Who?"

"Oh, they left," she said. She was overweight, leaning on the table for a little support, maybe a little out of breath. Very nice, friendly. Prompt.

"Who were they?"

"No idea," she said.

Both Wesdom and I had walked past that booth on the way to the restroom earlier. (We couldn't use ours at home because the plumber was installing a sink.) I didn't recognize anyone else in the restaurant at the time.

Weird, huh?

So, bottom line: Somebody I don't know randomly picked up my check for lunch today. Anonymously.

Needless to say, I was dumbstruck. Wesdom said it was one of those 'pay it forward' moments. Karma had smiled on us.

"I suppose," I said. "But doesn't that put some sort of reciprocal obligation on us to keep it going? You know, pay it further forward."


We looked around the diner to find a likely prospect. The place has been here for like 75 years and every table was occupied. Everyone seemed reasonably prosperous, satisfied. "You know what we should do?" I said. "Let's leave the waitress a big tip."

"That's def the move," he said.

"She's the one in here who's really having to work hard. Everybody else can afford to take a lunch break and go out to eat. She's busting ass to keep everybody happy."

So that's what we did: we left her the price of the meal plus tip and walked out still shaking our heads with bewilderment.

02 July 2015

This Week in Water

The BIG news this week has to do with Groundwater Crises around the world: The World is running out of water!

Let's focus on that:

According to satellite data compiled by NASA, more than half of the world's 37 largest aquifers are losing water. That is to say, they are being depleted faster than they are being replenished. Population and climate stresses are frontline causes for the planet's water tables to be dropping so precipitously.

Border wells are seen to be drying up in the Juarez Valley, Mexico, and the historic California drought is beginning to kill the ancient Redwoods.

Where does all this aquifer water go? Scientists have, for the first time, traced water from several aquifers and determined that it is not being used sustainably.

Some see this crisis as an opportunity—and not just to exploit the powerless and poor.

The Guardian has a terrific and important article mapping world-wide access to clean water and sanitation. According to longitudinal data from the WHO and UNICEF, not everyone has clean water and indoor sanitation. Cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid result.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced new rules clarifying the types of water bodies the federal government can protect from pollution. Or, as The Hill spins it, "President Obama Asserts Power Over Small Waterways." And, right on cue, conservative-led States have filed suit to prevent the Federal government from stripping them of their jurisdiction over waterways and riverine systems that happen to pass through  or lie within their boundaries. So far, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kansas, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, Utah, Wisconsin, Ohio, and West Virginia are challenging these standards.