Monday, January 7, 2013

Back to California

After a great course and marvelous hospitality in Houston we packed up and cruised the scenic Texas interstate back up to Grand Prairie.  It is truly amazing how barren I-45 can be.  The landscape is nothing exciting but a pleasant roll through the occasional stand of pines.  This is basically where east Texas begins.  The man-made side of things however is seriously disappointing.  I understand economy - the idea that you don't spend money you don't need to in order to accomplish something - but does no one ever even think of aesthetics at all?  There is some depressingly ugly stuff on this highway.

Amazing Texas Architecture
Just like St Peter's
Who knew boats could fly?
Nuff said
Anyway, we spend a few days with Pat in GP wrapping up and saying our goodbyes and head out for west Texas.  It's a whole other country - from just regular Texas.  We wind up at the Gage Hotel in Marathon for the first night.  Great old hotel resurrected by J.P. Bryan in the early 1980's.  In fact the last time we stayed here was 1989.  Nice place with a great bar where we communed with the locals and a few travelers.

Also headed out for another unsuccessful attempt to view the Marfa lights.  Check it out if you are unfamiliar with the phenomenon.  I have been there three times now and have yet to see anything.  JoAnn has seen them many years ago but I am beginning to think the spirits don't like me.

From Marathon we head into Big Bend.  Texas is truly an amazing place.  Out in the middle of what is basically a desert, a mountain range pops up and a river runs through it.  Beautiful.  Great time of year to be here as it is not too hot and not too many people.  As usual we manage to find the hot springs and have a nice afternoon.  Finally we wind our way back to Ft Davis and find yet another perfectly acceptable no-tell-motel for the night.

The next day we devote completely to McDonald Observatory.  What a place.  Got lucky on the weather as well.  Did the the whole tour and the star party at night.  Just got to look through the telescopes before the weather rolled in and shut things down for the night.  Yea, I think I coulda been an astronomer.

The big guy
David graciously giving the guide some instruction

Waiting for evening

Home sweet home in Ft Davis
We wake the next day to almost snow.  We hit the road early and as we head up the hill the almost goes away and we have real snow for the second time in Texas in the past two weeks.  Who would have figured?
Driving 118 out to the interstate was a bit nerve racking as we made fresh tracks but it was worth it.  Can't say I was sad to finally see I-10.

As El Paso is not the most scenic part of the southwest, we put the hammer down until we made Tucson.  What a surreal night.  I guess I might have driven a bit too long with too little food but our usual good karma let us down as we were looking for a place for the night.  Finally wound up at a La Quinta - first time we did the chain thing on the entire trip.  Dinner at Cracker Barrel and off to bed.  Interesting evolution in urban planning.  All of the chain places are clustered together, sharing brightly lit parking lots.  It feels as if they are circling the wagons for protection.  Not sure from what but there is definitely a sense of isolation and defensiveness to the arrangement.  Weird.  This IS America, right?

Next day we escape Arizona and make it to the promised land.  After marveling at the pumping stations where LA steals water from the Colorado river we turn north and drive through the Joshua Tree National Park.  What a great place.  We are treated to a thunderstorm right at sundown for a great show.  That night we wind up in the Harmony Motel where U2 stayed while recording Joshua Tree.  We got to stay in Bono's room - nan a nan a nan a.  I hope is wasn't the same color of purple when he stayed there.  Could explain some things.

Josha Tree

Bono's room

Next day, with a rocket in my pocket we fly down the highway back to Carmel Valley.  Seems like we've been gone for years.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Diamond Way New Year's

With Santa come and gone we head for Houston to a New Year's gathering with the Diamond Way Buddhist Center there.  Travel teachers Olga and Jamie are up from Guatemala and lead several splendid sessions.  The idea behind this course was to bring as many of the America's folks together as possible.  We got to meet new folks from all over and see old friends (even from Portland!)  Good people and, of course, a great party on NYE.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas in Texas

Back to Grand Prairie for Christmas.  In case you don't know Grand Prairie was named by a lady who stepped off the train many moons ago in this sleepy burg and exclaimed, "my, what a grand prairie".  Obviously things have changed a bit since then but it is, none-the-less, a true story - supposedly.

First order of business is a magnificent feed at Max and Jackie's.  Most of the usual suspects showed up as well as a few extras.  This is the core of my old church youth group and we are still tight 40 years on.  I know, you're thinking "church"?  Yea well, it's a long story.  Suffice to say - great food, great people.

Monday brings Max's Christmas Eve church service.  Max gets more entertaining as each year rolls by.  Lots of music, a herd of McCaslands and lots of candles make for a nice evening.  I am proud of Max.  He dedicated this service to the Connecticut school shooting victims and called for action on gun control from the pulpit.  This being a church in Ft Worth Texas the message had to have made some of his congregation uneasy but it damn sure needed to be said.  Good work Max!

I spent 30 years in Texas and never once remember a white Christmas.  This year we got it.  Christmas day was a winter wonderland with big fluffy flakes falling till there was actually a couple of inches on the ground.  Enough to make it official.  Of course no one knows how to drive in the stuff because most have never seen it before which made the auto body repair guys happy with all the extra business.  We all go over to Betty and Wally's for a little Christmas tree and cheer where we all take pictures of each other and then to Jeannie and Ray's for dindin.  

Even made a run to the barn to feed the horses who were as confused as the humans about the white stuff falling from the sky.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Still ramblin'

From Austin we head back out to the hill country to Fredericksburg - now home of JoAnn's sister Sandi and her husband Gary (the parents of the bride from an earlier post if you are keeping up).  More Mexican food and BBQ in an alternating pattern.  Lots of great limestone and log buildings from the Germans who settled this area in the 1800s.  Good chance to visit and catch up that we didn't have at the wedding. Plus that fact that it  is in the seventies and sunny in December doesn't hurt.

Fredericksburg is nice but there is more Mexican food calling so it is off to Weatherford to visit my old racing buddy Ol Weird Harold.  I would never have expected truly gourmet Mexican food in Texas but it does exist in the little town of Godley.  Tacos del Norte is a revamped gas station at the highway crossroads that doles out the best.  Below is definitely one of the best chile rellenos I have ever had.  If you find yourself south of Ft Worth, check it out.

Ol Weird is an interesting fellow.  Like many guys, he likes to keep a project going in the garage.  Unlike many guys his latest project is a Bonneville speed car - a 1927 model T with a model A body and a blown straight six GMC truck motor under the hood.  It makes a wonderful noise.  Harold has forgotten more about cars than most people will ever know.

His last project is still taking up space in the garage as well - a Devin SS, one of the last kits from Bill Devin. It is a 1950s sport racer that Harold has finished beautifully.

Now if he would just race the damn thing . . .

Monday, December 17, 2012

. . . on to Austin

On the way into Austin the truck rolls over . . . to 200K miles that is.  And the DUBY keeps on crusin'.

We journey into Austin and land at an AirBnB spot that is perfect.  A mid-century modern house in northeast Austin with an attached 1 bedroom apartment.  One of the owners is a mid-century furniture dealer and has furnished the place in period.  At about 650 sqft (1 1/2 times the size of our first NY apartment) it does the job admirably.  If we were here in the warmer weather there is even a pool.  When we lived in Austin this would have been WAY out of town.  Now it is VERY convenient to everything.  Go figure.

We take in the Blanton museum on the UT campus for a Buddhist Thangka exhibit from Theos Bernard's collection from 1937.  Interesting museum and a nice addition to campus art but the architecture leaves a bit to be desired.  This was the museum that had initially been designed by the international architecture firm of Herzog and de Meuron but was deemed too modern by one of our esteemed Board of Regent's members.  Herzog and de Meuron declined the commission and one of our local Texas architects completed the building.  It is a typical red tile roof and limestone edifice that fits right in with the Paul Cret campus design.  The only problem is the scale.  It simply looks like a typical campus building on steroids.  Way too big.  What a shame.  UT lost an opportunity for a world-class building.

First night in Austin we meet up with our Buddhist friends for a meditation at their center.  Good friends, many of whom we saw in New York at the Phowa.  They have a live-in center with six residents.  several more make up the sangha.  Great folks all.

The next night is dinner with old friends Jerry and Amy.  We go back WAY too far and it is always nice to catch up.  They take us to a wonderful spot on 6th Street where we eat too much and marvel at the circus that 6th Street has become.  What used to be the heart of Texas rock and roll has now become our very own Bourbon Street.  Kind of unfortunate actually.  There is however some interesting art on the street . . .

 On Friday I drive up to Center City with my friend Dale to the funeral for Virginia.  Virginia was a friend and mother to dear friends from high school and the years in between.   Hard to believe it has been 40+ years of knowing them.  It was just by chance that things worked out that I could go.  A familiar reunion for a sad occasion in a wonderful small country Texas church.  A chance to see friends after many years.  

Saturday is simply a day of doing nothing - or very little.  Just catching up with all those things we must do to exist in the world (insurance, bills, etc...) and taking a day to be easy.  Then we end the weekend with a trip to the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar.  We meet up with Debbie and Pat again and have a chance to see the Lounge Lizards performing wonderfully politically incorrect music.  Long live the Lizards!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

. . . and (some of) December

Cowboy dreams aside, we head back to Denver to a plane ride back to Dallas. Safely ensconced at Pat's once again, we contemplate the end of 2012.
Took in the new Perot Science Museum in big D - definitely worth checking out.  Glad to see he is putting his money toward something useful like education instead of wasting it running for president.
More eating and visiting.  While JoAnn and Pat made Christmas cookies (and sampled wine) with Wally and Betty I ventured down to Kaufman for a good visit with Thomas.

Everyone will be happy to hear that we did actually solve all the world's problems with a long conversation deep into the night. Next day brought breakfast with Alfred and Caroline, an exhaustive 15 minute tour of beautiful Kaufman and finally BBQ and the Kaufman Christmas Tree lighting parade. Kaufman wheeled out all three of their emergency vehicles and a couple of tractors and hay trailers with local partiers. Kaufman - always a hopping spot. (Sorry no photos)

 The weekend brings breakfast with Dawn and dinner with Ken and Susan and the girls. Dallas/Ft Worth is always such a pleasure to visit. You can see anyone and anything easily. After only a 45 minute drive at 80 or 90 mph you can be anywhere in the metroplex. Unless of course you actually take the freeway which is constantly under construction or you happen to be killed in a massive traffic accident. I'm not sure where they got all of this concrete but I suspect there is a big-ass hole in the ground somewhere.

Never ones to stay anyplace too long, we are back on the road headed to the hill country.  First, a couple of nights with Debbie and Pat in Dripping Springs.   Good visit as we played pool and Mahjong and enjoyed their fabulous new kitchen.  Tried to take a hike at Pedernales Falls State Park but it was closed to people without guns.  Seems Bambi needed killing and God forbid any of us unarmed taxpayers get in the way.  So we decided to head to Blanco State Park instead and had a nice afternoon hike complete with pockets full of pecans.