Category Archives: Travels

Giving Thanks

One of my friends calls Thanksgiving a no-brainer holiday. She means it in the best sense. The whole premise of the holiday is simple. Gather family, cook rich food, eat food, sleep.

Sometimes you can add a football game in the mix, if you like.

The thing gets a little more complicated the first year you’re married (yay newlyweds!) or the first year a relationship gets serious enough that spending Thanksgiving together becomes a real possibility. All of a sudden, “gather family” becomes tricky. Whose family?

We’re at my in-laws this Thanksgiving, and we’ll be with my family for Christmas. Then next year, we’ll switch. It’s a fairly standard arrangement, pioneered in my family by my older sister. They are with her in-laws for Thanksgiving, so we are too. That way my sister and I don’t keep missing each other by having opposite holiday schedules.

It meant that we both abandoned my parents for the holiday, but they have been most understanding. I was worried that this Thanksgiving would be way too different, with someone else’s family traditions. But it turns out that most people do Thanksgiving in a pretty similar way. Gather family, cook rich food, eat food, sleep.

So that’s what we did. We toasted absent family, ate heartily, and went to sleep early. I gave thanks for no-brainer holidays, for in-laws who are happy to see me, for my new baby family, and for my loving family of origin, far away though they are.

For turkey gravy, roasted squash, nouveau beaujolais, old recipes and new, and learning to appreciate what we have.

Happy Thanksgiving to You All.


Practice: Books for the Journey

What I’m reading during the 20+ hours I’ll be in the car in the next week

  • Bossypants by Tina Fey
  • The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht
  • Not Quite What I Was Planning: And Other Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure
  • A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr

And of course, my ever-riveting Federal Courts Casebook! Hopefully, I will in fact be reading the most out of this last one, but should my eyes glaze over, I will be well-stocked. I am indebted to my wonderful parents for keeping me in Amazon gift cards. As my in-laws subscribe to The New Yorker and let me read it on their couch while visiting, my wealth of literary riches is extensive indeed for this break! (I just read this paragraph over. Please pardon my convoluted wording. I’ve been watching the BBC Pride and Prejudice while packing, and have apparently taken on their convoluted sentence structure. Heavens!)

I do hope to get caught up on reading for class and ready for finals, but a little time to read other things will be welcome as well. I’m a book fiend from way back – I was one of those kids who wouldn’t sleep because whatever I was reading was too riveting and could never get a big enough stack from the library.

Whenever we would go on car trips, my mom would take us on a special trip to the bookstore to stock up, and then I was strictly forbidden from reading our haul until the car pulled out of the driveway. The specter of me running out of reading material was not one my folks wanted to deal with, apparently.

So now that I’m all grown up, I have refrained from sending these books to my Kindle until tonight, the night before we leave. Aren’t you proud, Mom?


Wending Home

In which nothing at all disastrous happens.

So there we were, driving along the highway, just like we’d been doing nearly every day for almost two weeks. It was a long stretch of I-10 that runs from New Orleans all the way through the Florida panhandle, and it would be a while before we drove on any other roads that day. I was in the passenger seat, and traffic was moderately heavy, the kind where it seems like you should be able to move faster than in reality you can. We were stuck behind a truck, waiting for the traffic to clear in the other lane. Then all of a sudden, it happened.

Plink.

A tap, a richochet, a tiny rock flying off into the distance, and we were left with a little shrimp shaped dink in our windshield. I took a picture of it.

Well now what? —┬áthe inevitable next question. We decided it was better to get it fixed sooner rather than later, and figured we should find a body shop in the next large enough town. Which led to the next question.

Where are we?

We were a long way from New Orleans and a long way from where we were going. We were pretty sure that we were still in Alabama, but didn’t know precisely where or, as would turn out to matter, what time zone. Time zones – tricky things.

A sign loomed up. We were nearing Mobile. Excellent. They definitely have body shops there. We used all the gadgets to call one, and a very nice man told me that they didn’t do windshields, but he could direct me somewhere that did. I ended up on the phone with a very nice lady somewhere in the upper midwest in their centralized scheduling center. She didn’t know what time zone we were in either, but had a map of time zones (yes!), set us straight and gave us an appointment in Mobile.

We kept driving as I talked to our insurance company, who said that it would be covered and transferred me back to my nice lady friend in the midwest. I had a slight problem I needed to clear up with her.

By this point, we were waaaaaaaay past Mobile.

She was unfazed, set us up with another location in Pensacola, and we drove on. We got there, they had our paperwork, and fixed us right up while we ate lunch. We were both thrilled and flabbergasted. Because all this bureauacracy worked just like it was supposed to! That shouldn’t really be flabbergasting I know, but come on, it totally is. Everyone was pleasant, everyone did their jobs, no one gave us a hard time, and the windshield looks awesome.

It totally takes the drama out of the story that we didn’t have to contend with more bothersome people, but it restored my faith in humanity just a little.

So thanks, nice lady on the phone at Safelite. And thanks, nice man in Mobile that had us call them. And thanks to you too, giant insurance company, for covering the repair. Sometimes, miraculously, it all works out.

And that’s the story of our very mundane road trip miracle. See you never again, shrimp-shaped dink! Vanquished.


The sights you see

I have to start the road trip recap by backing up a little bit. Before we went to San Antonio, we spent three days in Houston (I mentioned this a bit in “Being There”). I don’t feel like I did it justice. We had a wonderful time.

Visiting my parents for me is always a very satisfying mix of being on vacation and staying at home. Even though I have to travel, it’s to the place where I grew up, so there are no unfamiliar cities to navigate, which is nice. But, vacation-style, it’s not like I have to work while I’m there. And Mama cooks for me. And we go out and eat Tex-Mex. And maybe my dad will grill something and we will sip cocktails on the back porch while he does. Heaven.

Did I mention the adorable dog? There’s also an adorable dog.

 

On this trip though, we also did a little bit of seeing the sights, which is something I almost never do in my own home town. It was a total blast. We went up the tallest building downtown and wandered a funky antique store, and on another day scouted out a hole-in-the-wall Tex-Mex place, just like you do on vacation. We had steak at our favorite steakhouse, which I’m sure shows up in all the guidebooks, and I sighed and said, “This is how steak should be!” I loved being a Fake Houston Tourist. I live in a super-touristy city, so I’m used to being a Fake DC Tourist, when the mood strikes (though I always stand on the right on the escalators — let’s not go crazy here). East-coasters, it’s a little known fact but Houston is a pretty cool town too, and the fun to be had there should not be overlooked.

It’s easy to overlook what’s in your own backyard, Dorothy from Kansas taught us, and I think this trip might have taught me that too. Along the highways we found beautiful vistas around many a bend. When we were lost we stumbled upon an art gallery owner with a fascinating life story. When we needed a place for lunch, more likely than not some perfectly adorable place would pop up. Sure, we were on vacation where everything is more fun. It just made me appreciate all the more that there are cool things to be found where you least expect them.


Hi there

It appears that I abandoned you mid road trip. There we were, all the way out and none of the way home and I just STOPPED telling you anything about what was going on.

Sorry about that.

We are not, rest assured, stuck on the side of the road somewhere between here and western Louisiana. We are home, safe, sound, and with happy memories. This means, of course, that we completed the trip successfully (look, Mom and Dad, we did it!) that there needs to be a road trip recap about, well, the rest of it.

Teaser: At one point DISASTER was averted.

Yeah, you totally want to hear about the rest of it now, right?

Thanks for reading.

A


Halfway Somewhere

We’ve gone as far west as we’re planning to go, and this morning, for the first time, we got on a freeway heading east. We’ve travelled all the way out to the farthest tip of our map, and now we’re making our way home.

Meandering our way home is more like it. If the trip back is as much fun as the trip there, we will have had a wonderful time indeed.

A little bit of that wonderful-ness was the brewery in Shiner where we stopped for a brief tour and samples of their amazing beer. Any place that will fill your cup for free just for driving out there is okay by me, and we got to listen to a proud tour guide go on and about how wonderful their beer is. We learned that this Texas brewery that is two hours from anything (we know, we drove it) won a competition held in Munich for the best Munich-style ale. And we had some.

It feels fitting that San Antonio marked the westward apex of our drive, because the countryside around San Antonio is about as iconically westward expansion as you can get. Open fields, barbed wire fences, cattle, and you really can see the whole sky. It’s almost enough to make you want to be a cowboy. It’s beautiful, and it feels far from where we’ve come.

Even though we’re almost two thousand miles from where we live, anywhere you have family feels like home, and San Antonio treated us well. We had our own personal tour guides in my sister and her husband, and they showed us the sights, both the typical tourist sights (hello, Alamo!) and the personal ones that comprise their daily lives. We walked around downtown and down that walk by the river that San Antonio is famous for, just for as long as we could stand it in the heat. A brief ice cream break helped tremendously. But really, ice cream always does. Especially when you’re in Texas and can eat Bluebell!

While we’re at it, let me tell you some more about the food. We ate breakfast tacos for lunch at one of those great little places that word has gotten out about. It used to be a college hangout and neighborhood place that just happened to serve the best tacos you’ve ever had. Then they were featured in national media all over the place, and now there can be a line out the door. I’m happy to spread the word too,because they deserve every bit of the business AND because we were lucky enough to not have to wait. So here’s your travel tip: if you’re ever in San Antonio, eat at Taco Taco. Bonus tip: stop by Rudy’s for barbeque, too. I never thought turkey could taste that good.

But the best part was sitting around, laughing and talking with family. It’s not just where you go, it’s the people you go with and the people you see when you get there.

The sunset’s in our rearview mirror now, and soon we’ll be on the beach. After, of course, New Orleans round two.


Being There

It’s practically miraculous, the way this road trip works. We mapped out our route, we drive on it, and if we perservere long enough, we make it just where we planned to be. The maps don’t lead us astray. It’s not like the city, where you can look at a map, say that it doesn’t look that far, set out and find yourself waylaid in a traffic snarl more often than not. For the most part, when the map says that it will take 9 hours to get there, just about 9 hours later, we pull in.

Except when there are surprises. Like the medical emergency that required a helicopter to land on a bridge a half mile in front of us, while we stood baking over a swampy river.

The truck driver stopped behind us told us what he knew about both why we were stopped and the kinds of fish in the river. He also let us snap a portrait of his vehicle to pass the time.

There aren’t any shortcuts. 90 miles to our destination means driving every single one of those 90 miles. There aren’t special routes that only we know about. If you want to cross the Achafalaya swamp, there is only one bridge that goes there. So stay on it, keep going, and you’ll find yourself pulling in to your parents driveway.

And that’s the beauty of this whole adventure. Because some things are better in person, and we’ve travelled a lot of miles just for them. A friend’s newborn baby, a sister’s new house, even the new flowers my mom planted just aren’t the same over the phone. It’s just one of those challenges that we have to drive this far to see them, but it’s wonderful to be able to do it.

New homes, babies, friends, family. We drove all this way to see you, and we coudn’t be happier.