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On the Road with Bryan

July 2009 - Posts

  • Day 91: Galveston, Texas

    Steve went to work at 6:00 a.m., so I got an early start towards Galveston, Texas. I drove through Houston along the way, and decided to stop. Houston has an interesting and unique skyline that reminds me of Legos.

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    I stopped and found a cafe and got some work done for awhile, then drove the last stretch to Galveston. I hit rush hour traffic exaggerated by a car accident. It took me about 2 hours of stop-and-go driving to get 20 miles. The last 30 miles went quickly. 

    Galveston is an long narrow island off the coast of Texas. It's a favorite beach destination for Texans - especially Houstonians - but was devastated by Hurricane Ike in September 2008. The water in Galveston Bay was green and brown, the wind was swirling waves around. I had never seen the Gulf of Mexico before and didn't know what to expect. The color wasn't appealing and I was disappointed. But upon reaching the island I drove inland along Offats Bayou and inside the bay the water was a pure deep beautiful opal blue and I was so surprised and invigorated that I forgot about the horrible traffic.

    I met up with Casey (who I'd met in Austin), who generously invited me to stay with her. We went out exploring and took the ferry to Point Bolivar.

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    The sun was setting and it was very beautiful.

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    We regrouped and grabbed a bite to eat - seafood po'boys - and went to a couple bars. The first one had a good sense of humor about the hurricane.

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    We stayed out pretty late and I felt bad because Casey had medical school intern rotations at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. I didn't, so I slept in late.

  • Day 90: San Antonio, Texas

    I finally left Austin and headed towards San Antonio, where I had found a place to stay through couchsurfing.org. I arrived pretty late and had a low-key night hanging out with Chris (my cs host) and his friend Russell.

    San Antonio was hot. I went downtown to see The Alamo monument and it was so hot walking around outside that afterwards I found an air conditioned cafe and sat there drinking fluids for an hour. The Alamo:

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    The Alamo is an old fort that was over-taken by the Mexican army prior to the Mexican-American war. I don't know all the specifics but the rallying cry 'Remember the Alamo!' more or less plunged the United States into war with Mexico. Davy Crockett and other mythical old-time American heroes died at the Alamo. It was hot and it was crowded. I wasn't all that impressed; I think it's mostly a Texas thing. There was a big monument out front.

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    The rest of San Antonio was pretty neat. The Riverwalk district is nice - there are lots of interesting shops and resteraunts surrounding it. It was too hot during the day but I returned one evening to walk along the river. River taxis went up and down and it was very pleasant.

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    The Tower of the Americas reminded me a lot of Seattle's Space Needle.

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    The heat burnt me out of seeing many San Antonio attractions - each day it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit well into the evening. I mainly hung out at cafes and the magnificent downtown library. On my third evening in town I met up with my friend Steve (who I had met up with in Austin the week before). We had dinner and a couple drinks. Steve is a cool guy - I love hanging out with him. He's got a really interesting perspective, he's in the top 5% of his class at the Baylor School of Law, and he likes to backpack alone into the wilderness and live off the land for several days at a time. I'm sure we'll have some adventures in the future.

  • Day 87: Austin, TX

    I got up pretty early when smelled food cooking in the adjacent kitchen. I'd slept on Catherine's couch and everyone was up very early making breakfast. They're all doctors and med students, so it's programmed into their circuitry to wake up very early no matter what time the night ends. I'm not a doctor or a med student and I wanted to get some more sleep. But I also didn't want to miss breakfast. It was a tought decision, but I woke up. It turned out to be a good call because breakfast was good.

    We hung out for awhile and then everyone dispersed. Casey drove off to her cousin's son's birthday party in south Texas, but the rest of us planned to meet up later that night in Austin. I was bummed out that Casey was leaving because we got along real well, but we made plans to meet up if I ended up heading towards the Gulf of Mexico.

    Maya, who I had met a couple days before, invited me to a water balloon fight. I drove over to her place and about 20 kids were dressed up in war paint and crazy costumes. They had about 500 water balloons packed into the back of a pickup truck. I put on some warpaint of my own and made a war vest out of a big piece of fabric. All of us climbed onto the truck and drove to a nearby park. Apparently there was some type of rivalry between their house and one of their neighbors, and someone had found out that their neighbors were having a picnic. It was less of a fight and more of an ambush. There was lots of elaborate choreography, including a war drum, cream pies, fireworks, a dedicated photographer, etc. We very graciously gave the picnicers a box of water balloons with which to defend themselves before commencing the attack. Then we attacked and totally soaked everybody. Afterwards we brought them a watermelon as a peace offering and they gave us some picnic food. I wish I had pictures, but I didn't bring my camera.

    I hung out at Maya's place for awhile afterwards. It was extremely hot and everyone was lazing around like we had won a battle in an actual war. Half of the ambushers fell asleep and I left to get some writing done.

    It was Independence Day, and the city of Austin was putting on a fireworks show later that evening along the riverfront. 100,000 folks were expected at Zilker Park and I wandered over there. The crowd was at least that large - every spot of grass was taken. It was like a carnival; tons of food vendors, attractions, entertainment. As the sun set, the Austin Symphony Orchestra played.

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    No one was answering their phones so I found a spot along the river and watched the fireworks through the trees. The show was really spectacular. It was kind of hard being there alone when everyone else was there with their families and girlfriends and buddies. Normally Austin is great for meeting people, but July 4th is about friends and family, not making friends with sleepy vagabonds. After the show I walked across the river to town. Everyone was dressed to impress and headed to the bars and clubs. I was all sweaty and exhausted and I wandered around for awhile but didn't get too far.

    I went back to Randy's place hoping I was still welcome. I hadn't heard from them in awhile, but when I arrived they were all sitting on the porch and they welcomed me back. We played some patio games and I went to sleep.

  • Day 86: Austin, Texas

    I stayed in Austin, writing and wandering around for much of the day. On 6th street I ran into this old hotel.

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    I went to the Whole Foods store again to get some food and ran into Sy. Sy was born in India, but has lived in Texas for years working as an engineer and a teacher. He is a very friendly guy. We chatted for awhile and then he asked me if he could show me his special talent. I said sure. He told me he needed something to write on and I gave him my notebook. He pulled out several colored markers and worked for a few minutes, and then gave me this:

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    Now my notebook is much fancier. I plan to make a stamp out of this and use it to sign things dramatically. Maybe I'll put it on the front cover of the books I write. Anyway, it was a surprising moment.

    At the waterfront the sun set along the river and I got a couple good photos.

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    I ran into another buddy from school who happened to be in town - Brian. He attends medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, TX. He is in Austin doing clinical work and was planning to go out with some friends that evening. He invited me to tag along to get some sushi. I met him at his friend Catherine's house. Brian's medical school buddies Forrest, Katherine, Rod, Casey, and Catherine's brother Wayne were already there. They were all cool and we got along fine. We headed to a fancy sushi place and I wore my first collared shirt in probably a month. On the way from the car to the restaurant a bird crapped on my shoulder and I had to take my shirt off. I think it was a sign...

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    Dinner was fun and tasty and afterwards we went to the Ginger Man, which had an entire wall of beers on tap. I would say around 75. Maybe more. We hung out for quite awhile and then tried a few other places. 6th street is the epicenter of the downtown nightlife in Austin. The entire area goes crazy every single night. The streets are blocked off and there is live music flowing out of every respectable venue. Tons of food vendor stands fill the air with all sorts of delicious smells. We couldn't resist and stopped at a hot dog place - 'The Best Wurst.' Clever.

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    We stayed out late and had a blast.

  • Day 85: Austin, TX

    The next morning I wandered around downtown, checking out 6th street with all the bars, restaurants, venues. It's always interesting to get oriented in a new city. It's like plunging into a novel or a movie set. You have certain ideas of how it will be, but feeling the sidewalk, smelling the food/sea/garbage/exhaust, hearing the language, seeing the faces; these are things that don't translate well in the descriptions people give. I was told that Austin was 'really cool,' 'fun, alternative, liberal, artsy,' 'a big university town,' etc. But I wasn't told how wide and clear the lake was that runs through town. I wasn't told how tall the vaulted ceilings in the old music halls along 6th street were. I wasn't told how the mist fans felt in the 105 degree (Fahrenheit) heat.

    I stopped by the Whole Foods grocery store on the west side of downtown. It was gigantic, set up like a European marketplace with various food serving stations, multiple lounge areas, etc. It was a little intimidating. Also pretty expensive. I found an air-conditioned cafe to wait out the sun. Austin has a really fantastic cafe/coffee shop culture. Tons of local independent shops, great coffee, late hours, interesting conversations.

    In the evening I headed down to Town Lake - a branch of the Colorado River that flows through town.

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    A long trail runs along the lake and tons of people were kayaking and fishing and swimming. I crossed a bridge to the south side of the river and Zilker Park - a giant grassy park along the riverside. The park was alive with frisbee games and sunbathers and dog walkers and joggers. I met several interesting people and the sun started to set. Steve, a buddy of mine from school, was passing through town and we met up for some dinner and a few drinks on 6th street. Maya, who I had met along the river, joined us. She took us to an amazing bar near the University of Texas called 'Hole in the Wall.' It's narrow but very long and the outdoor patio in the rear is as big as a school playground. A band was playing and it was a good night.

    Posted Jul 13 2009, 12:40 PM by bryan with 54 comment(s)
    Filed under: ,
  • Day 84: Dallas --> Austin, TX

    The next morning I made the short drive to Austin. Austin is known as the liberal heart of Texas, the music/art/intellectual heart of Texas, the coolest city in Texas, and other similar things. I drove there early and found a campsite at McKinley State Park south of the city. The ranger looked at me funny when I asked for a campsite - it was over 100 degrees fahrenheit when I set up my tent and I was the only one camping.

    I went to town to cool off at a cafe. Randy was my barista and I mentioned I had just arrived in town. 'Where are you staying?' he asked me. I told him I was camping. He told me he and some friends had traveled the country the summer before and used the couchsurfing site the entire way. They had some amazing experiences and felt like returning the favor so they had set up a room dedicated to couch surfers. They didn't have anyone staying at the moment and I was welcome. I really didn't want to stay in the tent so I quickly said 'yes, please.' Randy and his roommates lived in a big house east of downtown. I went over and hung out with them until pretty late. They were all nice folks from Chicago and San Diego who had moved to Austin a half year before. I was tired and slept very well on their big couch.

    Here's where I've gone so far - I'm getting quite a collection of markers:

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    Look at how big Texas is!

  • Day 83: Dallas, Texas

    The cities of Dallas and Fort Worth sort of run into each other. They are often collectively referred to as Dallas/Fort Worth. Fort Worth is known as more of a 'cowboy' town, while Dallas is supposed to be more of a fast-paced business/oil money/sports/clubs/nightlife place.

    I went to the Crooked Tree Coffeehouse to get some work done and ran into a couple friendly folks - Basil and Amy. Basil was a businessman from Jamaican and he had been in Dallas for a few years. He had lots of good ideas for things to do. Amy was from Oklahoma and had also been in Dallas for a few years. She was a big sweety and offered her couch to sleep on and her time to show me around town.

    It was hot out and we rode the free, air-conditioned(!) trolley up and down McKinney Ave, where most of the bars and restaurants and all the other young-people stuff was. There are a ton of bars on McKinney and nearly all of them were full on the hot Wednesday evening. We ate and hung out for awhile, then hopped bars. The scene seemed aggressive and trendy. Not a lot of dive bars around. Very much a 'be seen' type of atmosphere.

    This kid was practicing for a drumline in a convenience store parking lot. He was pretty good.


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    The next day Amy took me for a jog along the Katy Trail - a very long, popular trail that runs through Dallas under tall shade trees and bushes. It was very beautiful with the blooming dogwoods and flowering plants. I returned to the Crooked Tree and found Basil there again. We got to talking and his friend Phil showed up. Phil was also from Jamaica, and he worked for the Jamaica travel bureau to get people to travel there. He was very impressed with my travel stories and told me that I should try to get on the Late Show with David Letterman. I told him if he got me on I'd give Jamaica some props. We'll see!

    I drove to downtown Dallas and walked around for awhile. It was very hot and there were a lot of tall buildings and concrete. This building looked neat.

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    I was disappointed with the lack of 10-gallon cowboy hats and girls wearing tight blue-jeans. I had thought Dallas would be more of a cowboy mecca, but instead it reminded me a lot of downton Los Angeles. I only spotted one cowboy hat.

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    I didn't have too much fun in the main downtown area. The heat made it difficult to walk around very much. Old Town Dallas was pretty neat, lots of cafes and old brick buildings and things like that. I tried to stay inside as much as possible. Also there was this dinosaur statue. I never found out what it was for.

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    I headed back to McKinney street at night and ran into Phil from earlier at a table outside of a bar and he invited me for a drink. Everybody loves Phil. While we sat there a ton of folks came up to say hi to him. He asked me what I thought of Jamaica. I told him, a land full of Rastafarians and marijuana and dreadlocks and beautiful beaches and beautiful women and everybody hanging out all the time. He said that was pretty accurate. He tried to convince me to go there and I plan to someday. It was a very enjoyable drink.

    I met up with Amy and we stayed up late comparing our childhoods.

  • Day 81: El Paso --> Fort Worth, Texas

    I left El Paso in the morning with a bag of provisions that Ophelia had prepared for me. I took interstate 10 east, then merged onto interstate 20. I drove for 9 or 10 hours and stopped once, in Midland, Texas because the sign on the freeway said it was the hometown of George W. Bush and also because I was out of gas. Midland was boring.

    The road was long, straight, and flat. The terrain changed slowly from dry desert to occasional sagebrush to more sagebrush to larger bushes to small trees to Dallas/Fort Worth lights and concrete. It was the most boring stretch I've seen so far. I made it to Fort Worth late. I planned on camping but couldn't find a site, so I slept at the Fort Worth Walmart. It was hot out and I sweated all night. The whole outdoors sleeping thing works best when it's not blisteringly hot.

  • Day 80: El Paso, Texas

    After sweating all night inside my car at Walmart with windows down and bugs feasting on me, I drove to El Paso, Texas. It was hot there. Hot like you're not supposed to go outside between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Hot like my rubber sandals melted inside my car and the water in my jug was boiling.

    I wandered downtown and there wasn't much going on. I crossed over the Interstate 10 freeway, the same one I took west from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica to begin the journey. It's funny how things seem to follow you around.

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    I tried to find a coffee shop or a bar to escape the heat but I didn't have any luck. I went inside the El Camino Real hotel but their bar was much too fancy for me underneath a 25-foot Tiffany glass dome ceiling.

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    I stopped in El Paso for a couple reasons. Firstly, I wanted to check out the border crossing over the Rio Grande to Juarez, Mexico. It looked pretty interesting and I really wanted to cross over, but right now crime and corruption is out of control in the region and I decided against it. Driving along the river a giant Mexican flag flies on the Juarez side. Juarez and El Paso are continuations of each other. They trade huge amounts of goods back and forth, and many folks live and work on opposite sides of the border.

    Secondly, I wanted to see where my good buddy from Los Angeles - Memo - came from. He grew up in El Paso and started out attending the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) for college before transferring to USC. I sent him a text message, saying 'El Paso is really hot,' or something like that. He called me and insisted that I stay with his family. After the previous night I wasn't hard to convince. I had met his mother, Ophelia, only once in Los Angeles but she treated me like a long-lost son. She told me all sorts of good stories about Memo. She introduced me to his sister Vanessa and her husband Dajuan, who were really friendly and good people. They had more good stories about Memo.

    The next day was a housewarming party for Memo's cousin Jessica. Ophelia said that half of her siblings and some of their families would be there. When we arrived the house was full of happy people and good food. I met many people and learned about the city. Everyone was very happy with El Paso. There isn't the vibrant nightlife of Austin or Dallas. There isn't the cool mountains of Santa Fe or the riverwalk of San Antonio. But there's a unique culture there and a focus on family that I haven't felt in a lot of places.

    El Paso has a very rich history and culture as a key waypoint for the Spanish prior to Mexico's independence, a haven for revolutionaries during the Mexican Revolution, a classic 'western' town during a lawless period in the late 19th century when it earned the nickname 'Six Shooter Capital', the birthplace of the margarita, the highest-trafficked border between Mexico and the USA, etc. But more than anything, it seems to me that El Paso is about family.

  • The Triumphant Return of 'Where's Bryan?'

    Where's Bryan?

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    Rules and stuff.

    First to comment correctly wins a USAtourist tshirt!

    Remember: If you live or ever have lived in the area this photo was taken, you cannot guess. Sorry. There will be other chances for you.

  • Day 77: Santa Fe, NM --> Las Cruces, NM

    I finally said goodbye to Santa Fe in the late morning. I took a last shot of the adobe neighborhoods.

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    I took highway 285 south towards Duran, NM and the clouds began getting darker. I could see the rain ahead of me.

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    I caught up to the storm and it was quite the little desert squall. My windshield wipers were useless - there was so much water that it was like driving through the ocean. I had to crawl along the highway for several miles. After the storm the drive was uneventful. I passed through many small towns and flat desert landscapes. Highway 285 turned into highway 54 and at Alamogordo I took highway 70 west. Soon I came to White Sands - 275 square miles of pure white sand dunes. The U.S. army has long used the area as a missile testing zone, NASA uses it as a space testing area, and there is a national monument to preserve and share the unique ecosystem. I didn't stop but I took a picture from the freeway so you all would believe me.

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    Soon I came to the Organ Mountains, 14 miles east of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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    I'd heard of a good campsite in the mountains but when I arrived at around 9pm the steel gates had been closed for 2 hours. I drove through Las Cruces and north on Interstate 25 towards a couple state parks that had campgrounds but their gates were closed, too. It seems that in New Mexico, you need to get to your campsite early. I found a deserted field and set up my tent. It was very hot out and hard to sleep. Within an hour a United States border patrol vehicle drove up and shined a spotlight at me and told me to leave on the megaphone loudspeaker. Before I got my clothes on, it drove away. I packed up my tent and drove to a Walmart parking lot and slept in my car with the windows down. I felt lucky to sleep in my car and not in jail.

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