Tag Archives: texas

Version 0.23

01-14-10

In my “roomette” on the Sunset Limited, the train I’m taking from Houston to L.A. Thus far, things have been enjoyable. The train attendant is a friendly, amiable chap. He setup my bed, which I am now lounging in, and politely answered the couple of questions that I had. My expectations for meals may well be very much exceeded too if tonight’s supper was any indication.

I’m looking forward to the next 34 hours or so. I have much work to be done, and with no distractions should be able to plow through a fair bit of it. No wifi is likely to be a boon.

I’d like to sum up my thoughts on Houston, though I’m not certain I did or saw enough in the three short days I was there to justify that sort of thing. Furthermore, because I was there for such a short period of time there is likely little that I will have to say. So why even write about it? What is the point if I don’t feel like I have much of substance to write? I guess I feel that there may be something in it worth something to someone—perhaps it will encourage an arts lover to travel there, because if there is any reason to travel to Houston, it is for the arts scene.

I found the city to be a surprise for various reasons, so as a journal entry this will be written regardless, but to post it publicly for the consumption of others…. I just don’t know…. Granted, I could toss this whole blog in the garbage and I doubt it’d make much of a difference to anyone, including myself, because, after all, my primary audience for writing is myself, not anyone else.

Now, with my usual “what is the point of doing anything” ramblings out of the way, here are a few thoughts on the city of Houston.

Houston is a big advocate of the arts. This is something I was not expecting to find upon first investigating the city. Its Museum of Fine Arts is two, and soon to be three, beautiful, spacious (prodigiously so in places) well designed buildings, and should rank highly amongst the best art museums in the world in terms of its collections (this is arguably the most important qualification to check off when ranking museums, I would suppose), but of equal importance, in my opinion, is its curation. The rooms, many of them, are large, and this is necessary in order to give the displayed works space to be; to breathe, as the saying goes. This is very much a case of less is best. It also contains in one of its buildings a theater within which they regularly show movies. Sometimes these are art-related, sometimes not. In fact, one of the reasons I visited the HMFA was to catch a viewing of a new film on Edgar Degas.

Aside from the Museum of Fine Arts, the one other collection of artworks and antiquities objects that one must pay a visit to is The Menil Collection, 1) because it’s one of the best collections of works, brought together by a married couple, on the planet (and it continues to grow through gifts to and acquisitions by the foundation), and 2) it is FREE. Essentially it is a labor of philanthropy, with works from Picasso, Joan Miro, Mark Rothko, Renee Magritte, Max Ernst, Jasper Johns, Alexander Calder and many others on display, along with a fine collection of artifacts from the South Pacific, Africa,  Byzantium, and ancient Greece. As well, there is a permanent installation by Don Flavin housed in its own building, and another dedicated to Cy Twombly. Also, near to the Menil Collection is the Rothko Chapel which I may dedicate a post to my experience there later.

While in the HMFA I had a conversation with a lovely, older couple in their 70s or 80s about the museum and the city. The woman approached me after I had taken a photo of the city skyline through a window, her favorite window as it turned out, that was draped with small, aluminum beads as well as a piece of perforated fabric, all this presumably to diffuse the light which would shine through blindingly, and glaringly throughout the morning. Well, she recommended to me that I check online for information regarding theaters and plays, as there is a strong thespian community, and numerous theaters throughout the city. Unfortunately for me I forgot. Typical… Well, they were lovely people. The gentleman didn’t want to stop talking to me about the city and its history. Meanwhile, his wife is trying to get him to move along. Sometimes it can be such a pleasure to speak with older folks, particularly those who glow so warmly as these two did, who still have an interest in life and in their community, and who have something of importance to impart, some story to tell to a tired, solitary traveler, an appreciator of the arts.

Texas

55

Today is one of those lonely, melancholy days when I don’t feel like pedaling my bike, going anywhere, doing anything. The dour, overcast, cold weather doesn’t encourage joviality, and its endless stretch of soggy, grey clouds along one continuous horizon that encircles me like a purse seine has me fenced in, physically and emotionally. What might it take to encourage my lips to stretch themselves into even a mere semblance of a smile?

Here I sit, in a friendly gas station convenience store just off the interstate in Adrian, TX. I’ve unsuspectingly wandered into Mountain Time, or, no, I haven’t actually*. I am apparently simply incapable of reading the clock on my phone. Or I am confused by the passage of time.

The few people I have talked to here are all that is keeping my spirits up, if I should define them in such a way, and I’m not sure that I should. But I am no longer dangling from the nadir of despondency. That I can say. The chili and hot chocolate have provided comfort and encouragement as well. That warmth! Not just of the meal, but of the cheerfulness of the two ladies behind the counter, too. Talking to them has been like warming myself in front of a stranger’s—now a friend’s—hearth; fire once stoked, embers now softly glowing, the cast-iron stove having absorbed their heat now emanating it throughout the room like the passing of a baton in a relay.

I’m tempted to linger longer as I’m reluctant to go back out into the chill, but it’s five o’clock, and I really must get back on the road.

The baton is in my hand.


*I crossed the border into New Mexico an hour and a half later, where I did actually cross into Mountain Time

54

A final coffee at Jacob’s. Something from Evocation. Melancholy a bit, as usual. Bon Iver’s self-titled on the record player.

Quiet.

Little conversation.

He hasn’t had his coffee yet.
Looking outside. The sky is a dull grey-white, like the ash left dangling from the end of a cigarette. Everything not of an ethereal nature is dripping. That includes my bike that was locked up beneath the overhang of his patio. It might be fifty degrees out there. The weather fits my mood, though I prefer it rather not. But what difference does that make, really?

The coffee is delicious. It’s finally cooled, and I can taste it in depth now: apricot, subtly floral, soft but lively acidity. I love African coffees. Preferably Kenyans, but wet-process Ethiopians have a nuanced, delicate majesty all their own.

Amarillo, like most (all?) Texas cities, is sprawling, and designed for vehicular traffic. Thank God for the bike path, though…

I’ve been interrupted by Jacob. Perhaps I’ll finish my thought later.

53

“I’m bursting, Jerry! I’m bursting!” Mr. Costanza would say.

Crept into Amarillo not long ago. By “crept into” I mean I’m in the seedy-looking outskirts—not yet downtown—which actually don’t seem to be seedy at all, but instead, the buildings backing up into quiet neighborhoods beyond, there is a peaceful happiness, and a sense of contentment, that all is well. They, or at least this area, could very easily be defined as the S.E. Asia district. I’ve never seen so many Thai, Lao, and Vietnamese restaurants and grocers in one place. My curiosity and fascination are peaked (and my hunger has been so).

I’m at a Pho restaurant in which men are gambling away at machines in one corner while a family, or two? (I can’t tell), or, perhaps, various friends sit in a group and converse amongst themselves. Toddlers are roaming around, climbing over chairs, over people, dancing on the pool tables. There is a man at one of the tables occupied by the group smoking a cigarette. A television is on in a corner, tuned to CNN. An old woman sidles over to me to inquire as to how my meal is, and offers me an ice tea. I surmise that she cooked my meal. Also, this seems, based on other cycle travelers’ blogs, standard treatment in S.E. Asia for guests, and, especially those traveling in lesser style and comfort, depending on how you define that, such as yours truly.

The restaurant (/gambling and games hall) is a huge space, plainly and sparsely decorated in the fashion of so many excellent Asian restaurants. Large, clay tiles make up the floor. Spartan, white walls. Cheap masonite tables and office chairs. Poorly taken photographs of food, stuck to the walls. Poster-size, laminated beer list (extremely short) with prices—Miller Lite $2.50, Heineken $3.00, Dos Equis $3.00, Smirnoff $3.00—tacked to a wall. Table cloths on some tables, or not. Four pool tables, one of which with the aforementioned children playing atop it. A little girl two chairs next to me playing with a phone. A general air of merriment, happiness, family, joy, love, fun. The meal was fantastic, and even more so for the generous discount I was given.

52

The most brutally difficult day on my bike yet.

I hope this is the last time I write feel the need to write that.

Things started well enough with my front tire nearly bereft of air. I discovered this after breakfast, and after breaking camp, and after having packed everything onto my bike, naturally. Irritated, and rather perplexed I removed everything and proceeded to look for a hole of some kind in the tube. Nothing doing. Now even more perplexed I added air to the tire and finally rolled away from Black Kettle a half hour later.

It was a short three or four miles north that I was to cycle before turning west, and I managed that with aplomb. Having accomplished that task I was immediately walloped by a strong cross-headwind from the south-west, and I wished that my destination lie more immediately north rather than west and south as it did. I was to continue directly west for approximately 45 miles, cycling into Texas, before turning south-west for another 15 in order to reach the next town on the route. That’s 60 miles of basically nothing. That’s actually not entirely true. There was the headwind, of course, and there were many, many, many hills. And there was plenty of grass, and some scattered trees. So, this portion of the day which lasted far, far too long mainly consisted of a series of outbursts of cursing from me from time to time while pedaling along at about eight or nine miles per hour, often about half that for having to go up a hill while being battered by a headwind. It was hot, but I had to conserve water because I was moving so slowly (yet with tremendous effort) so I knew it would take at the very least an hour more than I had anticipated the previous evening to make it to Miami. I also carried little in the way of snacks with me, and I consumed all of those within the first thirty miles.

The few prominent memories I have of this portion of the day’s ride, besides what I’ve already related, are as follows: being passed by a foursome of motorcyclists just before the Texas state line, and then passing them as they pulled off the road to snap pictures of the sign, then being passed again by them ten minutes later and thinking that I chose the wrong mode of travel; stopping beneath one of the few trees not on the other side of the fence, which ran along beside me on both sides of the road for as long as there was a road, to eat all my snacks in one go; a decrepit and caved in old ranch house that I tried and failed to get a good photo of; and, lastly, several miles after turning south-west onto a new highway, dropping down in elevation a few hundred feet, loosing the dry grasslands and rolling hills and finding myself cycling amongst small, stunning plateaus erupted like mushrooms from the sandy ground, and the lushness of trees, and bushes, and the color green to the left and to the right of me, everywhere but on or near the plateaus in the middle-distance.

I arrived in Miami and demolished a surprisingly delicious burger and fries at what appeared to be the only restaurant in town, and consumed more than a liter of water. There being no decent place to stay in town I decided to cycle the next 24 miles to Pampa where I would stay in a much over-priced (as they always are) Best Western. I had one more lengthy climb before the terrain flattened out, the wind lessened and changed direction slightly, and the asphalt improved considerably (I had crossed a county line). Coincidentally enough, all this happened in about a span of ten minutes. After this I scooted along at nearly 20 mph and arrived in Pampa in close to half the time I had expected. It was a glorious end to an absolutely horrid and long day.

Now I am currently eating at the Texas Rose Steakhouse next door to the inn. The name certainly sounds charming enough, though the staff exude none of that. Everyone is just scurrying around like mice or ants, or standing in a corner chewing the cud like a couple of old cows in a field.

The place itself is a squat, wooden building erected over a concrete floor; square, hardwood tables all around, sort of old-timey-like if you might imagine. I can see them all being pushed out of the way from time to time, and great, joyous dances taking place, the community all gathered together, people holding hands, laughing, and the occasional boy and girl, twinkles in their eyes, sneaking off unbeknownst to their parents. There is a band playing on a small stage set up in front of the big stone fireplace over which is mounted a stag’s head. Kegs will be tapped, the beer will flow and many a person may be found stumbling through a dance as the night moves along, and perhaps even found on the floor or passed out in one of the booths that line the walls by night’s end. But here I am munching on a roll, waiting for my food, my imagination brandished like a shield in front of me, and the waitress comes over with my chicken-fried steak (the first and likely only one I will ever have), and all this melts away as I’m seized back into reality and look around me and think about where I am and realize I must have been dreaming because these people want nothing to do with me. They want my money only, and they want to go home.