I’ve just returned from a mostly solo trip travelling through Texas and Belize during my hopefully short retirement. Retirement so far has been a couple of months of no stress and no honey do lists which is nothing but good. After a short negotiation Jackie consented to hold off on the list until I returned from this trip and I shudder to think of what awaits me. The lack of money will offset the lack of stress at some point, but hopefully that day is a few months off. Anyway, the following is sort of a travel log and South and Central Texas food review, with emphasis on the funnier parts I hope. And a bit of forewarning though. If you are a supporter of the presumptive republican nominee and can’t take some light ribbing, stop here.
This whole thing came together when I found out that my services at my 24 year job were no longer required. I’ve always wanted to go on a do it myself trip to fish for bonefish, with hopefully some shots at tarpon and permit, and this seemed the perfect time. It really worked out that my sister and brother in law were going to be in Belize meeting with their developer for the house they are building near Hopkins (a drinking town with a fishing problem) and that I was also able to talk one of my brothers in to meeting me there, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s start with my travels getting together with family in Texas.
I gave myself 6 days to travel around Texas seeing friends and family. Two days in Houston, then off to the Tyler area to see an old friend and family from both sides,then San Antonio for a mini reunion,finally back to Houston to see some old work buddies the night before my flight to Belize. It was mostly uneventful. That’s not entirely accurate, it was plenty eventful as I got to see a lot of people I don’t get to see nearly enough and eat some ridiculously good food. It would just be boring to the reader to recount most of it here. Though I will recount some! Typical friends and family stuff; laughing over old stories, arguing politics with my sister, unspoken competitions to see who can get the most stories in, fishing old stomping grounds with my brothers, driving all over a state that I always forget how truly immense it is. Avoiding talking politics with an old friend as it rarely ends well. Eating stupidly good food (mmm Whataburger.And how come no one ever told me about Chic-fil-a?).
The first morning I got to fish with both of my brothers in my hometown Texas City (go fighting stingarees!), seen in the featured image.It wasn’t the best day to go because wind and recent rains had the water pretty dirty, but it was really nice to fish in the same waters we fished with out father countless times. The sunrise was pretty sweet also. Didn’t catch anything, didn’t really care. Got to have lunch with my dad’s only surviving sister along with my cousin and my brothers. Teased her about dislocating my shoulder when I was 18 months old just like every tome I see her. She told me to shut up, just like every time I see her. Told old stories.Laughed. Wished we could see each other more often. Take out from a place called Local Food off Kirby in Houston near my brothers house. It is in a list of the Best Fried Chicken Sandwiches in America even though it isn’t actually fried.
It is drool inducingly good. If near the Rice Village in Houston, go there. You can thank me later. Then off to Tyler the next morning.
During my stay in the Tyler area I had crawfish with my aunt, cousin and her sons, and my old friend at a little shack near Arp, Texas. Like 4 tables big, bring your own beer type of place. Also bring your own pink Yeti chiller cup to pour your beer into to keep cold:
I need me one of those, maybe not in pink. I hadn’t had crawfish in a long time and almost forgot how much I love them and how messy they are to eat. As we are loudly reminiscing, my cousin shows me the toys her son got from the old school vending machine. The kind where you put in your money and rotate the handle. It was a little set of toy brass knuckles. Seriously. So I look at the machine and it is called “Special Forces” and has small pistols, assault rifles, brass knuckles,handcuffs, and hand grenades. Everything a little boy might need in case the terrorists,or maybe Trum’s horde of raping Mexicans invades East Texas. Gotta be prepared these days,right? I personally found the machine more than a bit surprising. But the reaction from my Texas peeps was a collective “meh, why are you surprised?”
Lunch the next day, after a quick side trip fro a very short visit with an uncle was a a bbq place voted one of the best (2nd best or something like that) bbq joints in East Texas. And a side note, if you are near something that is voted one of the best bbq places by Texas Monthly Magazine I highly recommend you go there. Being among the best bbq in Texas is passing a very, very high bar. It was almost a religious experience. It is called the Country Tavern, and is near Tyler.So dark inside you can barely see the menu. Light is unnecessary. Just get the ribs (everything else is good,but don’t mess around and get double ribs) and no matter how hungry you are when they ask if you want desert suck it up and say “blackberry cobbler with ice cream please.” I had lunch there with a couple of cousins and my aunt. I’m pretty sure my personal heaven will have a Country Tavern in it.
I left Tyler for San Antonio after the aforementioned bbq stop (I didn’t eat again for 18 glorious hours). I started driving smack through the heart of East Texas, purposely avoiding interstates. I’m not sure if it was in a semi-conscious state due to the meat coma making me all nostalgic, but I was really feeling it driving through all the little old towns littered down Hwy 31. Other than seeing too many Confederate flags (seriously people, give it up already, you look truly stupid. Though I know who you are voting for), it was a fascinating drive. Dairy Queens and Whataburgers. Old school donut shops (you haven’t lived until your first jalepeno and cheese kolache,or your first fresh from the oven butterfly roll. Were it not for the fact I would have literally exploded with all the bbq still in me I would have certainly stopped). Baptist, Episcopalian, and Methodist churches. Football stadiums and water towers with the football team name and mascot painted on.
Family run hardware stores and broken down auto repair shops Thunderstorms on the horizon. Manufactured homes with next to decaying mini mansions. Big trucks and shiny bass boats with way too much horsepower. The big thicket of east Texas with all the pine trees giving way to scrub oaks and corn fields as you move west. Fireworks stands. Downtowns that have been dying so long I think they are pretty much zombies at this point. The walking dead of downtowns. It did get me to possibly see a bit of the appeal of that certain outsider politician. I couldn’t help wondering if the people who live in these old towns sometime wonder why life has seemed to have passed them by and maybe they feel more than a little resentment about it? They didn’t do anything wrong and their way of life is slowly disappearing. Or has already disappears and they didn’t fully notice.So they discuss it at the local Dairy Queen and think why not vote for a total outsider?Maybe then things will change! I think they are completely and scarily wrong, but I get it, at least a little. Anyway, after a couple of hours I had to hit the interstate and all of the above morph into Starbucks and McDonalds and Walmart. The only thing that can take the transition are the ubiquitous Whataburger. With good reason. As I said before, mmm Whataburger.
Just before I hit Austin, my friendly driving app Waze ( if you don’t have it get it) tells me to take a toll road south to I-10. I’m usually too cheap for toll roads but decide rush hour traffic in Austin should be avoided much like one avoids sticking tooth picks under ones fingernails, hearing life lessons from Justin Beiber, or letting Donald Trump anywhere near the Nuclear Launch Codes. So toll road it is. Uh, like best decision ever! Speed limit sign from road:
I’m going the speed limit and getting passed like I’m stationary. When did they put the autobahn in Texas? It was just a blast. Don’t know how much it cost because the charge went straight to the bill for my rental. Don’t care though.
I hit San Antonio in the evening and took a boat ride with my my mom, sister and brother in law, and their neighbors. We have a nice conversation and he says “so you are from Canada?” I tell him no, like my sister and mom who live next door, I’m from Houston, but I do live in Canada. He asks me what I think of our health care. I tell him my father died of cancer and it took almost all of his money because he could not afford proper coverage. I said that I thought that in a country with the resources the US has that it should not be possible for that to happen. He said all due respect to my father (pretty sure I knew what was coming next) but he believes in free enterprise and that to him free health care sounded like communism. I didn’t spell that wrong. I thought of asking if all the other major countries in the world (which is just about all of them, see this List of countries with Universal Health Care) that have government run health care are communist? Or if he found it ironic that the only other fully industrialized countries not to have government health care, Russia, used to be a communist country? I wanted to ask if all large organizations or public works that are tax payer funded, like the military or the interstate road systems for instance, were hallmarks of a communist system? But instead I bailed, said uh huh and we talked about how his engine was running rough. Didn’t serve any purpose to continue the health care debate.This is an educated, self made, intelligent, very wealthy man who thinks a government run health care system is communism. Not sure who to blame here other than maybe our education system? Or talk radio.
A quick aside for my American friends and family: When we are discussing things, please oh please stop saying some version of “that’s not what it’s like in America” or “things are different in America” as if I’ve somehow forgotten my home. Uh, I grew up there? Defended the country and all? Lived in like a bunch of different states and even California? You might want to hold out the possibility that I have a bit of understanding of how things work in both countries and am a possible source to compare and contrast. Or continue to explain to me how things are in the States like they put a pump on my head and sucked out all my Americanness when I took my Canadian citizenship. FYI it happened right after I had to swear fealty to the Queen if you must know. In reality, I am totally multicultural. I like fried things as well as bangers and mash. I can sing both National Anthems. Rant over.
Anyway stayed with my sister and mom for a couple of nights. Saved my moms burnt gumbo (after she cooked it for two days. First time my mom has burnt something for me since every time she’s made me toast in my whole life) by making a giant pot of jumbalaya (and it turns out I can make a freakin mean jumbalaya) for the dinner with aunts and uncles and nieces and grand niece! Got a little drunk with same. Stayed up too late with my uncle (a closet subversive) my mom (always the last one to go to sleep at these events, a total bad ass) and sister. Previously discussed political argument ensued. But what’s a family get together without a good argument?
Sadly left my family the next afternoon and drove back to Houston for a bbq at my old boss’s house. Food once again was great and the company was better. The beer was cold and crown still goes with ginger ale. Got a little drunk again. Slept at my friends house, woke up the next morning, dove to my brothers and off to the airport for Belize. I had intended to do the Belize part here, but true to form this has gone way to long. The follies of Belize to follow….