Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Tame Lion

When I was a child, I remember going to the zoo in Houston. Now, I have been to a lot of zoos in my day and they all start to run together after a while, so it did not surprise me that the only part of the Houston Zoo that I remember distinctly is the gift shop. It is funny to me that in spite of my love of animals, and the importance that I placed on a trip to the zoo as a child, the only thing that I can remember is the place where you buy things. That, my friends, is good advertising.

I spent much of the morning doing chores, everything from washing cloths to cleaning my truck. It is a challenge to keep my truck clean and organized, but the bigger challenge that I faced today was how to fix the leaky rear window. The solution that I came up with involved some pliers, a pocket knife, and a hammer. For two hours I scraped silicone, applied weather stripping, disassembled and reassembled the window, and pounded on random pieces of metal, in an attempt to make the back window fit properly into its frame. I think I have achieved success, but I am not sure.

Staying with the Greenisens is a vast improvement over the parking lot next to the abandoned building where I slept my first night in Texas. Dr. Greenisen and his wife, Bonnie, make a funny pair. Bonnie is a sweet, red-headed, green eyed lady of Swedish decent and Dr. Greenisen is a shorter, rambunctious gentleman with a narrow beard and a friendly face. They have made my feel welcome by not making a huge deal out of my stay. If I want to do something, that is fine with them. If I want to do nothing, that is fine with them.

I am really impressed with Bonnie’s cooking abilities. Last night she made delicious lasagna, accompanied by key lime pie and cookie cake. At the dinner table, Dr. Greenisen carried the show, with stories about his times in Russia, and what those guys would do with a bottle of Vodka and a coffee mug.

“If you could give one piece of advice to me, or to anybody really, what would it be?”

After a moments thought, Dr. Greenisen responded, “Trust your instincts.”

“And what about you Mrs. Bonnie? What would you say?”

“Be a life long learner, because if you are a life long learner than you will have the ability to change careers or life direction when you need to.”

After tonight’s dinner, I met up with a friend from Tuscaloosa who is working in Houston and we went to Chelsea Wine Bar. I have really been amazed by the different cultural experiences that you can have in bars around the country. I sat there, sipping red wine and talking with my friend about the future of space travel, while in the background a 6ft 2in biker in a leather vest pinched his girlfriends butt, and a bartender wearing pearls and a black and white plaid skirt stopped to listen to the group of people playing Celtic flute music. It was definitely worth buying a glass of wine to get to experience the atmosphere of Chelsea Wine Bar.

I am starting to learn that there are a lot of good people to meet and good experiences to live if you are only willing to pay the cost of inconvenience. It is worth making an unexpected U-turn and pit stop when the result is a gymnasium with trees growing through the floor. It is worth four hours in the hot sun on the beach to be able to talk to some neat surfing instructors.

Not every risk is worth it. That is why they call them risks. On the other hand, nothing ventured, nothing gained. If you never take risks or do hard things, you miss out on a lot of what God is offering us in this part of life.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thoughts From Yesterday

I am feeling somewhat discouraged. Things have been going well on the trip so far, but I am starting understand what I knew in my head before I left. Traveling alone and with little money is both lonely and uncomfortable. Simple concept, I know, but it is a hard one to understand until you are looking for a safe place to sleep at 11:00 at night, or trying to find a cool place to escape from the hot noon sun.

Kasey always says that right after she gets into a relationship, she will get panicky and feel like she has made a mistake for a couple of weeks, and then she is okay. It is always the same pattern for her, so she just expects it, and moves on with her life.

I think that I am experiencing what Kasey felt. I have started something new, and I am afraid because it is uncomfortable and difficult. I realize that these feelings will pass, and that I will have a wonderful trip. I just need to press through it.


I was encouraged this morning. As I drove down the sea wall, I came upon a three day summer camp where kids were learning how to surf. For the next four hours, I watched as children from the ages of 4 to 14 attempted to stand up on surfboards that were, in some cases, twice their size.

Parents stood proudly on the shoreline as their children face planted into the ocean time after time. It was the second day of the camp, and many of the kids were already successfully standing up and riding the waves.

After the camp ended, I spent some time talking with Erin, a first year instructor for the camp. Erin has been surfing since she was 12, so she was excited by the opportunity to make a little summer cash as a surfing teacher.

As we talked, I found out that Erin is on track to finish a fine arts degree in just two and a half years. Like Andrea from Seaside, Erin is a painter. She told me that she likes to paint surrealism, which is not surprising considering the warped and colorful hour-glass tattoo that she has winding from her left hip all the way to the top of her shoulder.

Erin grew up in s town outside Houston, and being the younger than her three brothers and two sisters, she definitely gave off the vibe of someone that is easy to get along with.

I may stop by the surf camp again tomorrow, or I may not, but either way, meeting Erin and some of the other staff has been a helpful way to learn the area, as well as a good way to fight off loneliness.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Welcome to LaPlace, Louisiana, now will you please bend over and allow us to stick our boot…

I am irritated this morning. What a way to start the day. Here I am traveling on a limited budget, and the McDonalds restaurant in LaPlace, Louisiana just charged me four dollars for a sausage biscuit, a hash brown, and a bottle of water. I did not even want a bottle of water. I wanted a cup of water. When I asked the lady about it (after I had paid of course) she said that a cup of water would cost me $1.09 and that a bottle was $1.39. This is just one more reason for me to hate McDonalds. I only ate here because this restaurant is part of the Wal-Mart Supercenter where I spent the night. And to top it all off, no free Wi-Fi.

This town stands in huge contrast to my adventures of yesterday, which began with Mary Katherine’s mother graciously allowing me to take a shower at their house before I set out for Gator Alley. Gator Alley is a board walk in Daphne, across the bay from Mobile, which is free to the public and is known for the many alligators that you can see swimming, or sunning themselves along the shore. I personally saw three.

From Gator Alley, I travelled across the unreasonably long causeway and through a tunnel to Downtown Mobile. Mobile has a very peaceful feel at 9:00 on a Monday morning. I spent a short time cruising around the streets, taking time to stop at a rare book store and a large, well manicured park. The thing that impressed me the most about Mobile was the way people treated each other. These people are true southerners. As I was walking, I saw a table and umbrella blow over outside of a corner restaurant. Almost immediately, a gentleman down the street walked over to the restaurant, notified the wait staff, and offered to help them. This sounds like a small thing, but you do not see this kind of behavior in many other cities.

On my way from Mobile to New Orleans, I decided to stop by Biloxi, Mississippi. Now I had never heard much about Biloxi, so I was amazed when I found that it was a beautiful beach town, with old houses on one side of the road, and unobstructed ocean view on the other. After hurricane Katrina destroyed several of the oak trees that lined the road, people carved the remaining stumps and branches into sculptures.

When I finally arrived in New Orleans, I was immediately struck by the smell of human waste, a smell that I stopped noticing within a few minutes. The Garden District was just as beautiful as everyone claims that it is. I was spoken to by several people as I walked among the old houses and stately oak trees. Without knowing, I parked my truck directly in front of the former home of Ann Rice, one of my favorite authors.

From the Garden District I made my way to the French Quarter, where I spent three hours exploring the old streets and Spanish style buildings. I was uncomfortable with the amount of voodoo and fortune telling that abounded on the streets of this city. I stopped in many small art galleries as I wound my way through the ancient city.

It was almost time for me to leave, and I could already tell that in spite of New Orleans beauty, I was ready to move on to a new place, so I decided that I would take advantage of my one opportunity to have a drink on bourbon street. I changed in the back of my truck and then made my way to the north end of Bourbon Street, away from the strip joints, past the GLBT clubs to a little place called Blacksmith Bar.

The Blacksmith Bar is said to be the oldest building that is currently used as a bar. The structure was built in 1722 and eventually served as a front for the smuggling activities of the pirate Laffite, who would later assisted in the defense of Mobile from the British invaders. In 1782 the structure was converted into a charming, low key bar.

It was here that I met Caroline, the Cubs loving geologist from Chicago. Caroline talked with me for more than an hour about travelling, school, work, and life in general. Caroline works with an organization that does research on super contaminated soils in accident areas. She is serving a five month stint in New Orleans dealing with redevelopment and the creation of green space after Katrina, before she heads off to Texas to be closer to her boyfriend.

It was refreshing to have a long conversation with someone that I did not have to instigate. Years from now, I will not remember the art gallery that I passed or the house that I photographed. I will remember Caroline and the Blacksmith Bar, and the earthy feel of New Orleans.

Before we go, I have one final memory of New Orleans that I would like to share with you. A couple stagger to the left and right as they drunkenly make their way down the street. I smile as I pass them.

“Hey! I remember you!” The man grins as he talks, “ I saw you BEFORE I was drunk!”

Monday, July 6, 2009

Courtesy of the University of Mobile

For the last few days I have been dreading the start of my road trip. I have been plagued with doubt about whether or not it will be a good experience. I have worried over whether or not I am being realistic with my plans and goals. Most of all, I have been afraid of leaving my friends and family.

This struck me for the first time when I was waxing my truck on Wednesday. Two of my friends came over at 8 in the morning to help me get my truck washed and waxed, as well as to take care of a few other chores. After we finished, we went to Hungry Howies and split a pepperoni pizza. Then I told them bye until October.

Saying bye has taken many different forms with my different friends. I told Mary Katherine and Josh bye over the phone. Kasey and I said good bye over lunch at a Mike and Ed’s. I stopped bye Marion’s house on the way out of town. My Mom cried in the driveway as I said goodbye to her and my dad.

Some of these goodbyes were accompanied by tears, and others were made with composure. Kasey told me the other day that it seemed like just about any time she needed to get out of doing something, she could use the excuse of having to see me before I left for a month or two. I have to admit that I do leave town quite a bit. Leaving doesn’t seem to get much easier with repetition.

Keep Off Courts Without Gym Shoes

Small towns always have the best scenery. Cities may have impressive mega-structures, but it is the small towns that have the manicured main street, and the abandoned schools and water towers that I love. I stopped at several of these small towns as I made my way to mobile.

The Clock Still Worked

When you travel, simple things have a tendency to transform into daunting tasks. Oddly enough, one of my major considerations while planning this road trip was how to find showers. I was not expecting to have a free shower before I got to Houston, but luck was with me today. I decided to drive by the University of Mobile on my way into town, just to get a look at their campus. As I drove past the athletic facilities, I noticed that there is an exterior door leading to the men’s locker room. On a whim I decided to check the door, and sure enough, it was unlocked. I quickly explored the place and upon determining that the building was empty, I proceeded to take my first road trip shower, courtesy of the University of Mobile. Thanks Guys!