Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Texas Part 2

Sunday evening (that would be the 16th of October) we arrived at Barbara and Paul's house by 4:30 or so. After a short clean up and unloading of miscellaneous belongings in their guest room, we enjoyed a drink while we sat and attempted to sum up the big events of the past 11 years.

The nice thing about really good friends is that you don't really have to catch up on all the little bits and big bits that have happened in the intervening years. You can just pick up from the present moment and move on from that point without any feeling of awkwardness.

We went to the Texas Land and Cattle restaurant for huge slabs of Angus beef with all the trimmings for dinner. After dinner it was back to their house to put our bloated and swollen selves to sleep. Paul had to be up at an entirely unnatural hour to get to work, and we left when Barbara and Beaux were off to work and school respectively.

It was a wonderful visit, but entirely too short.

Over breakfast at Denny's, Mom and I broke out the map to plot our path to Port Arthur, Texas. Great grandma and grandpa Kapschull lived there for several years. Mom had vivid memories of the place from many summer trips--vivid memories of the stink of the oil wells and the heat of summer in Texas. It wasn't quite the same as she remembered it this time, particularly because Hurricane Rita had come through a few weeks before we arrived.

A large part of Port Arthur was still without electricity as we passed through town, and there were more tarps covering gaping holes in roofs than I'd ever seen. Downed tree branches littered many neighborhoods still. But the college in town was open for classes, and grandma and grandpa's house was still standing and not too much the worse for wear.

After taking a few pictures (still and moving) of the old homestead that grandpa had built, we set off to find the cemetery where they were interred. Mom couldn't remember the name of the place, but she had a vague recollection of where it was in relation to the main strip through town. We found a boulevard that seemed familiar to her, and we pulled into a gas station to ask directions. I was climbing out of the car when what should I spy across the street? You guessed it--a cemetery. We asked if it was the only one in town, and sure enough, it was.

We made a few attempts at aimlessly wandering through the mausoleums to find them, and finally admitted we needed some assistance. A quick query at the main office and we were off with a map and the specific instructions. As it happens, it was one of the places we'd already checked, but we were concentrating on the opposite wall.

The information about where to find Charles and Laura Kapschull has been added to my family tree files.

From Port Arthur it was a fairly simple matter of retracing our route back a bit to find the highway that would take us to the ferry leaving for Galveston Island where we had plans to check into a hotel for the night and meet Deana, Tom and Dale for dinner around 5 that evening.

We got in line for the ferry and waited maybe ten minutes before we were loaded on board. The ferry ride was all of 20 minutes or so, and we were driving along the gulf coast on Galveston Island.

Galveston had felt the effects of the hurricane too, and it was obvious in subtle ways. We saw a car wash that had been converted into shower stalls, and the owners were selling showers for $2. Where Port Arthur was lagging behind in having their power restored, Galveston (and it's large tourist business) had recovered much more quickly.

Hotels and restaurants were open and running (and hiding any lasting effects very well), but if you asked the wait staff delivering your meal if he/she had weathered the storm well, they almost all had losses (mostly property) to report.

The economic effects on average Americans of the hurricanes' damage were palpable even as we reached the southern end of Illinois. We were eating greasy burgers in the parking lot of a Hardees, and a man walked up to the car, leaned on the open sill of the driver's side door and said his car had been stolen and he was looking for help to feed his family. This would not be the only time we ran across the new homeless. The country is hurting, but I digress.

We drove along the main strip through town, eyeballing the hotels as they went by. From east to west, the hotels slowly became newer and newer, until we saw a Holiday Inn that spoke to us.

It was still fairly early in the afternoon when we checked into the hotel, so after unloading most of our STUFF into the room from the car, we rolled up our pant legs and went wading in the Gulf of Mexico. The water and the sun were warm and gentle. There were kids and dogs playing on the beach. Yep, it was pretty perfect.

About the time we were relaxed and ready for a siesta, it was time to get cleaned up and go to the Rainforest Cafe to meet Deana, Tom and Dale for dinner. Mind you, I've never been to a Rainforest Cafe before. I don't know which one of us was more blown away; 4-year-old Dale (who had actually been there before) or 37-year-old Nan. Wow--what a place. It was another evening of very enjoyable visiting and catching up, but it ended much earlier since Deana and Tom had a long drive home. As I said at the very beginning of the Texas recap, any one of the things we did on this trip would have been worth a trip on their own.

Tuesday morning was all about getting from Galveston to Austin, but not before I took the opportunity to do a sunrise ride along the seawall in Galveston.

There was just a touch of red on the eastern horizon when I left the hotel, and I was riding without lights. The street lights cast enough of an orange glow to see by as I rode slowly to warm up. The path wasn't entirely deserted. There were couples sitting on the edge of the wall sipping coffee. A few commuters on bikes passed by me as I headed southwest along the path.

The path came to an end 4 miles later, and as I turned the bike around an older woman walking her two dogs and husband said, "My you're energetic this morning."

I smiled and said, "It's so beautiful out here that I just couldn't resist."

"Yes it is."

"Enjoy your walk." I took a picture back down the path as the sunrise was starting in earnest, and I headed back into it.

I never did go very fast, but the ride wasn't about speed. Some rides are very much about how fast I can get from point A to point B, but this ride was certainly more about soaking in the experience of it.

When I drew about even with the hotel again I stopped to see a statue. It was a memorial to the people who had lost their lives in the storm of 1900. The photo below is very dramatic as a silhouette, but the statue's details are lost as a result. It is a man holding his wife and baby daughter in one arm and pleading to the heavens for help with the other. The statue was positioned on an enlarged area of the seawall, and there were benches surrounding it. A homeless man was sleeping underneath one of the benches with plastic bags of his meager belongings piled around him. Seemed like an appropriate time to ask God to watch over all of those who ask for help, and for those who don't but need it anyway.

After stowing the camera back in a jersey pocket, I clipped back in and continued on my way. I was making my way back toward the ferry, but knew I wouldn't head all the way back. I noticed as I passed by all the older hotels and touristy shops that as they got older, they also developed more personality. I was leaving behind the cookie cutter idea of luxury and modern comfort that guarantees a Starbucks on every other corner, and heading into an area where private, family-owned businesses still existed to cater to their patrons in their own special way. These, unfortunately, were also the businesses that were taking a bit longer to snap back from the effects of the hurricane, so they wore their age heavily on their frames. Construction tape hung from corners and railings like the battered streamers the morning after a party. Progress was being made at a slower pace, but even that seemed more fitting for these businesses that had grown up back in a time when life itself moved at a slower pace.

Galveston Island has 5 (that I can remember) businesses that stretch out over the water on docks. One of these is a huge hotel which was open despite the work still being done on its foundation. Another is a fishing dock back toward the newer section of the seashore. But 3 of them are grouped one after the next in the older area. Two of these are a restaurant and a gift shop, but the third is Murdoch's Bathhouse, est. 1910. Murdock's probably started life as a bathhouse with horse-drawn carts that ladies would use for privacy down on the beach. They almost certainly wore rather involved swimming costumes. But the sign's graphics captivated me the first time I passed it by, so much so that when I passed by on the way back I stopped to snap a couple of pictures. Undoubtedly, the bathhouse underwent renovations in the 30s or 40s when a newer more up-to-date graphic and identity would have been created for it, and from the look of the structure it must have undergone far more recent renovations as well. In the latest renovations the sign was preserved, probably with some degree of nostalgia, but entirely inaccurately from the perspective of 1910. All of this is speculation on my part, but it would be fun to trace the lineage of this establishment and see how close my guesswork was. Galveston's history is heavily layered, and each generation has left its personality on the shoreline--too bad my generation is leaving McDonalds and Starbucks.

After packing up the car, ingesting a little breakfast and a couple cups of coffee, it was time to leave for Austin. I'd go into rapturous detail about the drive from Galveston to Austin, but it was pretty unamazing. The highpoint was crossing over the bridge from the island to the mainland--it was a first for Mom.

Thanks for reading. More later....

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