Galveston 2014: Day 2

…And what do we do on Sunday, kids?

Early this morning we woke, grabbed breakfast, and packed the car.  OK, let me back up for a moment.  I’ve always had this thing where, whenever I sleep in a new place for the first night I tend to sleep fine but usually wake up at an ungodly hour.  This morning it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 6AM.  Oddly, during the school year that’s a little on the late side.  However, I didn’t get to sleep last night until 2.  So on four hours of sleep here I was wide awake.  After about a half-hour wherein I was able to grab my coffee and collect my thoughts, I returned to the room to discover that my son was also wide awake.  Last night he was examining the little laminated card listing the TV channels.  For some reason he latched onto the Golf Channel as THE thing he wanted to watch.  I can’t figure it out.  I have absolutely no interest in golf, never picked up a club or whatever you call them, and have never discussed the game with the boy.  Yet somehow this is what he wanted to watch.  So when I walked back into the room, there he was sitting up in bed, excited to be awake so he could shout out to me “Daddy, the Golf Channel!”  Fortunately, when I had been in the lobby moments earlier I observed that the only other hotel guest who was awake at that hour was dressed in a block-patterened polo shirt and white shorts, staring at the giant screen, practicing his “swing”.  When he realized I was also in the dining area he dropped his “club” and pretended not to be playing imaginary golf.  Either way, some major golf event was on and I happily obliged my son by bringing him downstairs to eat breakfast and watch golf.  Lucky me.

After we had all eaten we headed to mass.  Yes, that’s the thing we actually do every Sunday.  Interesting church.  We drove south a bit to a little town called The Woodlands (TX).  This is kind of interesting…  Following the signs and the navigation to the Catholic church in town brought us to what I can only describe as an industrial park for religion.  First we passed the Baptist church, followed immediately by the Methodist church.  OK, those are traditionally the big 2 denominations of Texas, although the Catholic Church is now a plurality of all affiliated faiths in the Lone Star State.  I kind of expected to see these two megachurches as we rounded the corner.  What I was not expecting was a two block stretch with a Lutheran church, an Assembly of God church, a Quaker meeting house, a Latter Day Saints building, a kingdom hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and something called the Temple Emmanuel of Jesus Christ in God and the Spirit of the Law.  Finally we found “our” church.  You can imagine with all of these houses of worship in close proximity to each other the traffic was a bit of a pain.  Good news is that the kids were relatively well behaved.

After mass we met up with an old friend at a Cracker Barrel down the road.  It was a lovely time.  Sunday morning, around 11:30, chain restaurant on an Interstate, right after every church service known to man has just let out…  That wasn’t crowded at all.  Still my wife got a kick out of my order of a double meat breakfast with a side of bacon.  I thought she would be used to that by now.

Drinks, anyone?

Drinks, anyone?

Open wide and say "Argh!"

Open wide and say “Argh!”

Driving on, we made it to our next hotel.  I won’t mention the name of this hotel. It’s a well-known chain that we got on Priceline.  Driving up to the door I got the sense that we might just be the only occupants of this place.  The fact that there were NO cars in the parking lot was a good indicator.  Indeed, it was a strange experience.  The hotel itself wasn’t bad, per se — the decor was a little lacking but it was clean and quiet — but the feeling that we were alone in this place was odd. As it turns out there may have been a few other people staying here.  We didn’t really wait to find out because after a quick change we headed out to a little town called Kemah (Key-mah) for dinner at the aquarium.  Astute readers will remember that we stopped at an aquarium-themed restaurant in Houston last year on our way to Galveston.  And last year, as this, Wilma and I indulged ourselves in a few several drinks in commemorative hurricane glasses.  Keep in mind that the Houston area in July (actually, most of the year) is known for its humidity and heat.  After drinks we stepped outside and sweated ourselves to the point of near death as we stumbled down a gangplank.  A what?

Jean Lafitte would be proud.

Jean Lafitte would be proud.

We boarded a pirate schooner!  And this was the highlight of our day.  Ahoy, matey’s!  First we got the kiddies changed into their costumes.  Yeah, costumes.  Sonny Boy was an honest-to-goodness pirate.  This made me especially proud considering that his old man went to a college who’s mascot is a pirate.  But Baby Girl took the cake in her mermaid get-up.  They were too cute for words.  But I’ll try anyway.  They couldn’t have been cuter if they’d tried to be and they weren’t even trying.  The booze cruise was delightful.  There were all of ten passengers and five of them were us.  We had been instructed to bring our own bottles should we desire.  The cruise headed out into Galveston Bay at a slow speed.  The “crew” (one guy named Jim) raised the sails and actually all was right with the world.  About an hour out, the captain (a guy named Chris) instructed us to take our seats around the edge of the boat as the boat would be turning back.  It was only a two-hour cruise.  And as soon as we made our turn we spotted them.  That would be the dolphins!  Leaping out of the water with abandon — I was actually afraid that we’d ride right over one of them — these playful creatures prompted a discussion with my son about how they weren’t really fish but mammals.  After a few minutes I began to find it odd that the dolphins (and now seagulls, manatees, and even the occasional krill) were swarming our boat.  That’s when I noticed that Wilma was tossing food off the stern.  The most unusual thing was that she was tossing the remnants of her dinner.  What do you think they serve at an aquarium-themed restaurant?  Yep, our Wilma was enticing the sea-creatures with fish.  “Wilma, exactly how many of those mai tai’s did you have back there?”

Christopher Cross would be proud.

Christopher Cross would be proud.

And like that we were back at our slip, heading to the car with two very excited and very tired children, one intoxicated old salt, one always-laid-back Aunt Jane who had joined us earlier in the day, and a relaxed Mommy and Daddy.  Tomorrow we actually arrive at our destination.  I can’t wait!  And from the looks on your faces as we carried you into the hotel, kids, neither can you.

Galveston 2014: Day 1

A Safari in Texas

Why animals and a Chrysler Town and Country Probably Don’t Mix Too Well

And we’re off again on another exciting road excursion.  This time we’re headed back to that great barrier island on the Texas Gulf Coast known as Galveston.  For the record, this is our third trip to G-Town.  OK, so nobody calls it that except me just now but repeating the name “Galveston” a third time was going to get boring.  The first time was a trip my wife and I took with her family when our son was about 8 weeks old.  A month after that trip Hurricane Ike destroyed much of what we had seen including some notable landmarks in an otherwise sleepy city by the sea.  The second time was just last year when we rented a house for the week with my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and several of my wife’s aunts and cousins.  Also for the record, Galveston was site of the the worst natural disaster ever to befall the United States when, in 1901, a major hurricane made landfall and swept as many as 12,000 people out to sea.  Lucky for us, the weather looks calm this week.

"I promise, honey, the beard comes off as soon as school starts again."

“I promise, honey, the beard comes off as soon as school starts again.”

Most folks, when traveling with two children in an overpacked minivan on a five hour trip, like to take the most direct route, avoiding as many potentials for pitstops as possible and saving the precious few that do arise for necessary purposes — as in “Daddy!  I have to pee!!!”  Not us.  We have mastered the art of turning a relatively short drive (hey, it’s Texas, five hours gets you into the next county) and turning it into a phenomenally long but always fantastic voyage.  So after a long night of packing and cleaning (having consumed every morsel of food in the fridge because no one wants to come home to rotten food) we began the day quite piously with 8AM mass.  I suppose we could have been asking God’s blessing for a successful trip.  Instead I was musing on the fashion choices of several of my fellow older parishioners.  Hey, I’m only human.  Did I mention that after 25 years I’ve decided to give up on shaving?  I’m a teacher.  It’s summer.  Look, when I was 13 it was cool.  Now that I’m almost 37 it’s a drag.  So I was making those subconscious judgments at mass while scratching my hot and itchy face.  I foresee a beard trimmer in my immediate future.  But as soon as Father announced “Go forth, the mass is ended” we went forth.  A quick stop for coffee and a whole bunch of breakfast burritos I did not need from McDonald’s and our vacation was underway in earnest.  It got real.

OK 1) What are they wearing?  2) What are they wearing?!

OK 1) What are they wearing? 2) What are they wearing?!

No, he's not branded.  That's the reflection of my sneaker in the window.

No, he’s not branded. That’s the reflection of my sneaker in the window.

To say we like to get off the beaten path is kind of like saying that Michael Jackson was a tad bit eccentric.  The most painfully obvious route for us would be to get on I-45 and follow it to the Gulf.  Boring.  So instead we headed into East Texas and a region known as “the piney wood”.  Not sure why they couldn’t conform to the conventions of English and call it the piney woods but, whatever…  Our first stopover was in a tiny town called Jacksonville.  For some reason my wife and I thought it would be fun to take the kids on a ride through a drive-through safari.  I envisioned being escorted to an armored vehicle with iron bars separating me from the few majestic creatures that would approach it.  In short, I was thinking of the words “safe distance”.  And then Mrs. H. dropped this gem on me.  “So…  yeah, the safari thing?  I found out that we drive ourselves through it.”  I contemplated slamming the breaks but realized that our rockin’ Town and Country would probably disintegrate given the posted speed of 80 MPH on the road on which we were driving.  “We do what now?” I said aloud.  “We drive through it ourselves.  Oh boy…  Do you want me to drive?  Are you going to be scared?” she said.  I know my wife well enough to know that this was not a challenge to my testosterone but a genuinely loving and concerned offer.  The truth is I was scared out of my mind.  But then there’s that testosterone thing.  And there was no way I was going to not drive through a safari now that someone had suggested I might be scared to do so.  She then went on to say “…and Mom, don’t worry about the cost.  Just don’t freak out or anything.  We’ve got it covered.”  Turns out that the place charged a fee of something like $13 per vehicle occupant.  Upon hearing this, Wilma remarked “Couldn’t you just drop me at the gate and circle back for me when you’re done?”  Nice try, lady.  If I’m driving through this thing, then you’re coming along too.

If the animal wants to stick it’s head in your car you just pat ‘em on the nose and say ‘shoo now!’

I don't even want to know where they found this thing.

I don’t even want to know where they found this thing.  Or what it is.

So here we were, an hour and a half into our trip, miles “off course” but exactly where we wanted to be.  We checked in at the “welcome center”.  The nice young lady behind the counter went over the rules for us.  “Here are the protein pellets to feed the animals with, you know hon, so you can get ‘em closer to your ve-hi-cle.  If the animal wants to stick it’s head in your car you just pat ‘em on the nose and say ‘shoo now!’  Don’t let them think you’re scared, now, y’hear?  They know the drill.  If ya’ll be wantin’ to move on and especially with the bigger critters, they’ll just kinda tap at your car or somethin’?  Ya’ll can just start inchin’ forward and they’ll scram.  OK?”  My God, that was almost as painful to write as it was to hear.  After I mentally interpreted what she had said into proper English I looked at her in all sincerity and asked “What do I do if the animals attack me?”  She stared at me with a puzzled look and said “I don’t think that’s ever really happened before, sir.”  I contemplated responding with “Good job.  You did grammar and stuff!”  Instead we got into the car and headed out onto the red clay roadway that lead through the safari.

The gas station was on Gin Road.  Unfortunately, there was no actual gin nearby.

The gas station was on Gin Road. Unfortunately, there was no actual gin nearby.

See, they just come up right by your car, real easy like, and then they either lick your hand or kill you outright.

See, they just come up right by your car, real easy like, and then they either lick your hand or kill you outright.

And about ten minutes into our trip I asked my wife “How long’s this thing estimated to take?”  Her response of “an hour and a half” lead me to rejoin with “Then we’re about to learn what happens when you run out of gas on a game preserve.”  Yep, we had to exit the safari, drive seven miles on fumes, fill up, and return.  Should have checked my gauges first.  Now here’s the neat thing.  There were some pretty cool animals.  Clearly they had all been tranquilized and I don’t care what the safari people say.  Their liability would be too great otherwise.  But for safe measure I did have several Valium pills ready to mix into the bags of feed.  We started out being approached by alpacas.  That was neat.  They walked right up to the car and lazily waited until we tossed pellets at them.  Then we saw white tailed deer.  Up next were four large bison.  They were followed by speckled deer.  “Ooh, an ostrich!  Look, it’s more deer.”  Are you following the pattern?  This must be the business model taught at Harvard these days.  When opening a safari park and you cannot find enough safari animals, just fill the place with deer.  To be fair, the camel came right up to our car and actually stuck his head in the window.  A bit freaky, yes, but funny, too, based on Sonny Boy’s reaction.

I still managed to find the longest footbridge in America in one of these East Texas towns.  And this is the reason we get off the Interstate.

I still managed to find the longest footbridge in America in one of these East Texas towns. And this is the reason we get off the Interstate.

They claim to be "oldest town in Texas" but so does nearby Jefferson.

They claim to be “oldest town in Texas” but so does nearby Jefferson.

We continued to drive through this place and my daughter piped up with “What’s our next stop?”  We told her we wanted to visit the tiny tourist trap of Nacogdoches.  “Hey,” she said, whispering to her brother, “We’re going to Nag-a-no-jez next.”  He was quite disinterested.  He was too busy naming the safari animals.  “Mommy!  I think that one (the zebra) should be called Ze-be,” he said with glee.  “And that one (the camel) I will call Cami.”  I must not have been paying attention to his nomenclature.  Moments later I spit out my drink when he tried to grab the attention of the errant antelopes (with the twisted horns) by yelling out the window “C’mere, horny!”  I looked up to see that he (my son, not Horny) had moved over to get a better view.  Now he was sitting atop a suitcase belonging to my mother-in-law.  Remember her?  She had a double mastectomy not long ago.  “Wilma, do you know what’s in that case he’s on top of?” I asked.  “Oh, just my ta-ta’s dear,” came the reply.  Good to know her prosthetic boobs were packed for the trip.

This little jaunt was nearing it’s end when some of the ugliest animals we encountered made their appearance.  I think they were from India and they resembled oxen who’s faces had been smashed with bricks.  Worse yet, they had flies surrounding them.  Windows went up immediately.  My wife then muttered under her breath “We’re not feeding you unless you’re healthy you disgusting beasts.”  Who knew she took this so personally?

And no Texas road trip is complete with paying homage to the beaver.

And no Texas road trip is complete with paying homage to the beaver.

After exiting the safari-land adventure park we continued on, passing through the many small towns of the region.  We stopped for early dinner in Na-ga-no-jez as my daughter called it.  Finally, after a quick stop at Texas’ most famous chain of roadside rest stops – Buc-ee’s – to fill up on junk food and coffee, we reached our destination for the night.  That would be a hotel about thirty minutes north of Houston.

And if we had driven here directly we would have made it before lunch.  But we would never have encountered the mountain woman behind the desk at the world’s most awesomely strange drive-through animal park.  Also, the zebra licked me.

Father and Son Bid Farewell to New Jersey

And like that, our trip was over and we headed back to Philadelphia for our return flight.

Had I been writing these along the way (instead of a week later) they probably would have been more interesting.  Nonetheless, I think they provide a snapshot of our time together visiting Daddy’s family.

What Luck! Father and Son Hit Up Jersey, Day 7

Pipe cleaner art!

Crowns and bracelets.

Crowns and bracelets.

That’s right, friends, today it was time for more arts and crafts.  Actually, that just meant that I stayed in the air conditioned house drinking my coffee.  But Sonny Boy did manage to get me outside for a bit to help him shape some things with the pipe cleaners that he was making for Mommy and Baby Girl.

Meet the Mets! Father and Son Hit Up Jersey, Day 6

I don’t really follow baseball.  I haven’t got time.  Still, I always have a soft spot in my heart for the New York Mets.  I was in fourth grade when they won the ’86 World Series.  I seem to have passed my affinity for the team from Flushing on to my son.  So this evening, after dinner, we went to a sporting goods store where someone got his very own Mets shirt!  Because he’s good at getting what he wants, his aunt who was with us also bought him his very own Mets cap.

No he can stop stealing mine.

Oh the fans are true to the orange and blue...

Oh the fans are true to the orange and blue…

Looking good, son.

Looking good, son.

Finally Crashing: Father and Son Hit up Jersey, Day 5

Not much going on today.  We did get a chance to rest a bit this morning.  Then we went to visit another sister around the corner and enjoyed a lovely dinner with her and some of her family.

Apparently, though, Sonny Boy did not get quite as much sleep last night as I had thought.  He completely crashed on the ride home from dinner, waking only as we approached a Dunkin’ Donuts to ask for a donut.  He’s crazy.  I love him.

Tired, son?

Tired, son?

1337 Explained

Thanks to Tom Huff I discovered that the number 1337 is “hacker speak” for elite.

Cute, WordPress.  Thanks!