Our journey continues in place 79 of 92: Houston, Texas. We get adopted by a new family, Annie gets stoned, we turn our eyes to the stars and I celebrate my third birthday on the road.
Thursday, July 11th, 2019
Somewhere near Orange, Texas
I’d blasted through this state on the way down to Mexico and dipped my toe in its waters in Texarkana, but now I would be spending some quality time here. Song places Houston and Amaraillo are spread out in a way that meant I would be logging a decent amount of miles and time in the state.
I began by spending about five hours in a library on the edge of Houston. It was here that I learned my first tough lesson about leaving Annie unattended in this state.
Rough place. 🙂
Behind Salvador, Toronto and Chicago; Houston is the fourth largest city mentioned in the song. Big cities are always awkward with my method of travel. There’s nowhere to park, it’s harder to stealth camp, drivers are more rushed and it takes a long time to get between places. Fortunately, someone special was conspiring to remove the second barrier of that list.
My sister, Elise, and her husband, Brad, have been recurring characters throughout this saga; always seeming to add some joy, love and most recently, a new nephew. Brad’s mom, Beverly, is originally from SE Texas and she has the accent to prove it. When she saw I was in her state, she made numerous calls to try to get me housed.
I ended up being accepted in by an amazing lady named Pauline in Channelview. It turns out we are quite closely related. She was my sister’s husband’s mother’s mother’s brother’s wife. (SHMMBW, henceforth) My SHMMBW is definitely someone who puts the “grand” in “grandmother.” Just check her stats: 7 kids, 18 grandkids, 30 great grandkids, 3 great-great grandkids.
Beyond this, I got the sense that she was deeply influential in the lives of her family members. She was the main parent for a number of her grandchildren and many have stayed beneath her roof when between places of their own. I guess I qualified!
Pauline had pizza ready for me and I enjoyed getting to know her. A few other family members were around, including Jarod, one of the 18. We hit it off, just like I normally do with one of my sister’s husband’s mother’s mother’s brother’s wife’s grandsons (SHMMBWGs)
Interestingly, many of the family members still live within walking distance of Pauline’s house. Despite being in such a major metro area, this gave a really small town feel to where I was staying. People would just sort of come and go at her house and I started having a bit of a hard time remembering who was who. Perhaps with the size of the family, the others just assumed I was one of the members that they had forgotten. I was surely treated as such. 🙂
Friday, July 12th
Yep. It was my birthday. Number 35. It was hard to believe that this was my third one on the road. Number 33 was in Trout Lake, Washington:
Number 34 was in Lençóis Paulista, Brazil:
…and now number 35 was at my SHMMBW’s house in Houston, Texas. As I said in my facebook post for the day, I really think that I am really becoming more like a fine wine: I’m extremely overvalued, only cultured people appreciate me and it is best to keep me secured in a dark cellar. 🙂
Where my 36th birthday will take place? I’d like to see the Vegas odds on that! I sure as heck better be done with this trip by then!
I would spend the first day of the second half of my 30s checking out Houston. I’d been given lots of good advice from my new family and felt fairly well prepared. I began with a ride on the Lynchburg Ferry, the oldest continually operating ferry in the US. The ferry took me across the Houston shipping channel to the La Porte area.
There are a couple of historic sites to see in this area. First is the USS Texas. This battleship served in both WWI and WWII. It was also the first battleship to become a permanent museum.
Up next was the San Jacinto monument.
This towering obelisk rises 567 feet (173m) into the air. The story goes that they were not allowed to build it taller than the Washington Monument in DC, so they stopped a few feet short. But later on, they added the unique, 34 foot tall star on the top which has five points from any viewing angle. That made this monument taller.
The battle of San Jacinto happened after the defeat at the Alamo. Texas was struggling for independence from Mexico at the time. Mexican general Santa Anna had been pursuing the remaining Texas forces, eventually catching up to them on this battlefield.
In what must be one of the strangest military outcomes in history, the Texas forces were able to launch a sneak attack at around 4:30 in the afternoon. Did you catch that? 4:30 IN THE AFTERNOON! There is a joke about a Mexican siesta in here somewhere, but that may be in poor taste.
It was just $6 to go to the top, a no-brainer even on my budget.
Annie’s trunk? Still visible:
The limestone is full of shell prints and other fossils. Each piece has its own personality.
To the west one can see an endless number of refineries. 14% of the US’s total oil processing takes place in this area:
General Sam Houston (above), the city’s namesake and leader of the Texas army, was wounded in the battle, his horse killed. I got a picture in this location too. This is another potential “Houston” image. Nobody took a shot a my steady steed, thankfully.
This battle was a true turning point in North American history. At the time, Mexico stretched from Louisiana, through Colorado and California, all the way up to Oregon. Had this battle gone differently, our present-day borders might look much different.
As well as being the birthplace of Texas as an independent republic, it seems like this was maybe where the “Texas attitude” was born as well. You can hear the tone in some of the words inscribed into stone:
I rode on to the Johnson Space Center. I was kind of on the fence about whether I would visit, as the entrance fee was $30. When I saw that it was an additional $5 for parking, I decided to pass.
I headed downtown and went to a visitor’s center. It was one of those “for profit” VCs and the guy there wasn’t much help. I walked around downtown a little bit. I’m really not sure what to say about it, as I’ve realized that I am perhaps the least qualified individual to discern what makes a big city unique. They all feel the same to me. It is so much easier for me to see what makes a place like Jellico or Oskaloosa or Gravelbourg or Diamantina special.
There is a nice green space which runs through the city, the Buffalo Bayou. There are lots of nice trails and definitely makes the towering buildings feel less oppressive.
While riding around downtown, I had a special experience. A lady pulled up next to me and said that she recognized me from online. I was a bit unsure whether that was due to this quality publication, or if it was because of my time as a feature model on EpicSwedishNoses.com; but it appeared to be the former. Her name was Autumn and we shouted a few conversations at the subsequent stoplights. The main thing she stressed was that the Space Center was a must visit. I said that my budget was pretty tight, but that I might think about visiting the next day.
Normally I don’t have too many meaningful interactions with strangers in the bigger cities, but Houston was an exception. There were so many during this day that I can scarcely include them all. There was a groundskeeper who had randomly visited Manaus (the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas), a friendly guy who almost got me into the Bell helicopter plant in Amarillo, and a handful of others who were both enthusiastic and helpful.
I saw just a few more sites before heading back to my hosts. Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros (who are apparently good now?).
I headed back to Channelview, feeling like I’d had a productive day. Jarod had invited to take me out for my birthday. He and his husband Brian (my SHMMBWGsH) took me to a nice Mexican restaurant called Ninfa’s.
These guys were so much fun and could almost match my lofty level of weirdness. Brian is a mechanic who has a collection of over 500 pairs of basketball shorts. He was in full approval of me using diesel oil in Annie. Jarod is a special ed teacher. If you give him a number between 1 and 45 he can tell you the president’s full name, vice president(s), where they were born, died and buried…maybe even their shoe size (I didn’t ask that).
At the beginning of my trip, I didn’t imagine I would be celebrating my 35th birthday with my SHMMBWGs and my SHMMBWGsH, but they made me feel so welcome. Just like the previous two, I’ll always remember this birthday dinner.
Saturday July 13th
I intended to get an early start, but I was pleasantly delayed as more family members kept showing up.
We took care of some signatures and got Houston crossed off of my sign.
I also had the opportunity to ride a Hyabusa instead of Annie for the rest of my trip. I decided to stick with my trusty transport. 🙂
My ridiculous acronyms for my new family members were partially a feeble attempt at humor, but they were also an attempt to highlight their generosity. They had no obligation to take me in and care for me like they did. I know that wherever my future adventures will take me, I will always have a home in Channelview, Texas.
The previous evening I received an email from Autumn, the nice lady I’d had a stoplight conversation with the previous day. She said that she would like to pay for my entrance to the Space Center, as it was an essential Houston experience. I declined her offer, but it was enough to convince me that I really should visit the Space Center…budget be darned! When they waved me through at the gate without paying for parking, I knew I was going to enjoy my visit.
The fuel injector for a rocket:
Probably the highlight for me was a talk given by astronaut Ken Cameron. He flew three missions to space. He had been a fighter pilot and learned Russian during the Cold War in an attempt to get an advantage on Soviet MiG pilots in potential skirmishes.
Ultimately, these skills were used for collaboration rather than combat. He was the first person to dock an American shuttle with the Soviet space station Mir, an important achievement both scientifically and politically. His story of bringing the Russians a bunch of ice cream was especially entertaining.
Control panel of a space shuttle:
This is a special year, as it marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. How they were able to do this with such rudimentary technology remains an astounding feat.
It’s pretty rare that I feel like my timing, weather-wise, is spot on. In this case, I could see rains from Barry in the distance as I was finishing up my tour.
I normally don’t do much for souvenirs, but I scoured the gift shop looking for something special. There has only been one astronaut from the state of Nebraska. Coincidentally, he is also an Anderson and got his bachelor’s degree in physics. Other than the motorcycle-space shuttle discrepancy, we are basically the same person. 🙂
Clayton Anderson was famously rejected 15 times in his application to enter the astronaut training program. On his 16th and final try, he was accepted. His career saw him spend over five months in space and log 38 hours of space walks.
There are insignia badges for each mission in the gift shop. They are not the most well organized, but I finally found the patch for his final space mission. I am going to try to attach it onto the shoulder of my riding jacket.
I took time for one more quick photo and hit the road heading west.
My Mom is not a coffee drinker, but she will have a cup when I make my Swedish egg coffee. She refers to this brew as the “least worst” coffee. Likewise, I would have to describe Houston the same way. Yes, it is still a big city and I don’t quite understand the appeal, but it is perhaps the least worst big city that I have visited. Especially now that I know some wonderful people there, I doubt I will make an effort to avoid it in the future.
A post-Houston map update:
13 to go!
Stay astronomical, everybody
Realtime update: Anderson Family Reunion 2019 is underway! We are at a cabin outside of Fairplay, Colorado, enjoying our time together. I might get another post out while I’m here, but I’m going to try to be social too. I will be here for the rest of the week and then probably hang out in Colorado for awhile longer.