Dispatches From America - Part Tres
Day 5 - Houston to San Antonio, TX - 200 miles
"Music and bugs"
These two things play an increasing role in the trip. Many bugs have given their lives throughout the Southeast, to get me where I am. Their remains are all over my car's grille, front air dam, license plate and headlights. I imagine that, at night, my headlights look like disco mirror balls, their refracted light throwing spots all around.
I get excited whenever a song that fits in to the themes of the trip comes over the satellite radio. Today, it's "Little Pink Houses" by John Mellencamp, "Fuel" by Metallica, "Night Rider" by Tom Petty, and one that I have chosen on CD, "Highway Star" by Deep Purple.
I arrive in San Antonio early in the afternoon. I have planned this stop to meet my friend "Linda" and her husband "Dave," both S.A. natives. It is time to get my Spanish on. We meet at Market Square, known to locals as the Mexican Market. The Market is replete with Dia de los Muertos merchandise and altars, live music and gorditas. Then we head into Mi Tierra for some of the best Mexican food around. I have been there before, and, although we have to wait for a table with the mob of people, it doesn't disappoint.
Afterward, we head to the River Walk. On the way, a tiny parade passes behind us. We try to pull the car over to watch, but the street is too busy.
The River Walk is tree-lined, serene and very pleasant. This town is designed largely for tourists, but I think it's tasteful rather than tacky, and I always enjoy it. We walk up the steps to La Villita, an original Spanish settlement that now contains shops and art galleries. At the church, a wedding is taking place. This is the second time in a row this has happened when I was there, and it adds some nice color to the scene.
Then we hit South Alamo Street across from Hemisfair Park, and the same parade is passing by. It is made up of only about 20 marchers, all wearing matching white t-shirts. At the front is a guy riding a Texas longhorn. At the rear is the smallest covered wagon I have ever seen. The whole thing is really quaint. Linda starts laughing and calls it a "redneck parade." We see a yellow bus parked in front of the park gate, and it is painted to read "Children's Miracle Network Torch Relay." The Children's Miracle Network is raising funds for children's hospitals across the country. It is their parade, and their day.
At night, we go to Momma's for chicken-fried steak with mashed potatoes and iced tea. I eat every morsel. Afterward, it sits heavy, but it was well worth it. I earned it.
Day 6 - San Antonio to El Paso - 548 Miles
Heading Northwest out of San Antonio, I enter the Hill Country. The landscape is harsh. The air is cool. The distances stretch way out. A sign reads "Rest Area 2 Miles. Next Rest Area 123 Miles." Toto, we're not in Connecticut anymore.
I have picked up a traveling companion, courtesy of Linda. His name is Richard Friedman. His friends call him Kinky. He is 12 inches tall, and says a lot of funny things. 25 of them, to be exact. Among his sayings: "As the first Jewish governor of Texas, I will lower the speed limit from 55 to 54.95." He recently ran for governor, but came in fourth. I think the field only had three candidates.
After the Hill Country, I drive through a series of plateaus. They are spectacular, with the Davis Mountains to the left, crinkly in the sunlight.
Thematic songs on the satellite:
"Wish You Were Here" - Pink Floyd
"California" - Phantom Planet
"Far Behind" - Candlebox
I'm traveling faster than an airplane. Faster than the sun. I'm a highway star!
After 9 hours of travel, I arrive in the Eastern part of El Paso, near the airport. It is a scary place. My hotel room is scary, with small windows high on the walls. The refrigerator is scary. The microwave is scary. It's fit for military housing, and it turns out, that is what it is. With the airport and Fort Bliss nearby, air force pilots from Japan and Germany train there and stay at the hotel. I see tall Japanese guys in camouflage uniforms and blue caps. I'll bet you haven't.
I go to a place called Carlos and Mickey's and sit at the bar. A trio plays very moving traditional Mexican tunes. I talk to the skinny Mexican manager, who has straight shiny black hair pulled into a tight pony tail, and a face covered in acne. I ask him what I should do in town for one night. He says that I should go to Teddy's in the airport Holiday Inn, where they have karaoke and stewardesses. I ask, isn't there something down in the city that is more interesting? He shrugs his shoulders and says, "This is El Paso." Exactly.