Friday, April 14
For the few days before our trip, I was in a funny mood.
I’d decided for some ungodly reason to try and read everything I could about the Cheshire Home Invasion just a few days before our trip. I still feel nauseous and terrible when I think about it, even after trying to flush it out of my system with every scrap of available information. Knowing it happened barely 20 minutes from where we live doesn’t exactly help. So thank you, random female library patron, who checked out the Cheshire Murders documentary and sparked this necessity to True Crime myself out.
Anyway, This time we were off to San Antonio to visit his sister, Jackie, and brother-in-law, Brett.
4:30 a.m., Good Friday: 40 degrees.
My nail polish smudged in my sleep.
I wore “travel clothes,” like I always do on planes — fashionable yet comfortable clothing. Today was the day to wear leggings and a tank top dress/tunic thing with a hoodie because once we got to Texas, it’d be HOTTTT.
On the flight, I tried to sleep but it didn’t work. Instead, I read a book on the Alamo and then began reading Watership Down. I’d read Fire Bringer, a book inspired by the classic, when I was in Arizona, so it was only appropriate that for this trip I bring along the original. And oh, man, I fell in love. Watership Down is like an anthropomorphic Lord of the Rings, complete with quest and fantasy culture, survival against all odds and camaraderie. Except instead of fantastic races, Watership Down is about rabbits, who have their own unique language and culture and religion.
I also touched up my nail polish during the flight due to some unfortunate inability to paint TWO NAILS properly without the polish smudging. My fault for choosing a light blue polish so thin that it needed four coats to show up, and also, do you know how difficult it is to dry four coats?!
I should also mention that I had just very recently stopped biting my nails for the first time in like 25 years to allow the nails to grow out, and even as I’m writing this now (May 12th), it’s been about 2-3 months I think so far since I stopped biting them! They haven’t all fully grown in yet but the majority look awesome and I maintain them pretty well. I can’t explain HOW I decided to stop; I just woke up one day and thought I wouldn’t do it anymore. For good. Even after failing every time. And it worked this time.
We had a little layover in Houston, home of NASA! I ate an apple. Not much to report.
It was lunchtime when we landed in San Antonio and Brett told us to just call once we did because their house is like, only 10 minutes away from the airport and by the time we picked up our luggage, they’d be there. Brett took us downtown to meet up with Jackie and their friends Denise and Keith at an awesome little place called Tacos and Tequila which is reminiscent of a place back home called Bar Taco. We got adobe mounds and three different tacos each which all had different toppings: like the corn-crusted fried chicken had pickled onion and jalapeno and the beef one had a sour cream sauce and green pepper. It was outstanding and of course, the tequila was flowing.
Denise and Keith had to leave, but we continued our adventure by heading to the River Walk. It wasn’t like anything I’d expected; I thought it would be like a sidewalk next to an open river with shops on the other side. Instead, it was walking into a jungle with buildings configured every which way and actual roads crossing over your head. It was wild, and busy, and steamy, and I loved it.
Our next stop was Pat O’Brien’s, a kinda famous place on the Riverwalk where you can get a special drink called a Hurricane. The patio was very Mexican in style, as were all the buildings really, and since I have a thing about architecture, I appreciated it. Besides the Hurricanes, we also decided to get a SPECIALTY DRINK FLIGHT. I mean, where else can you do that? We don’t have that in Connecticut. Paired with the hot weather, we were in vacation paradise.
Yes, that IS a fountain on fire. And no, that is NOT my Alamo beer. Those were actually left on our table and I found them to be funny.
Well, about three drinks later (each) and it was time to move on. Specifically, to walk the very short distance to the ALAMO! I was so excited. One thing about San Antonio is that it’s got a ton of military training bases, and many military people, including my dad, have lived there. My dad LOVED the Alamo. It was so special. Instead of paying for a tour and waiting in the HUUUUUGE line, we just decided to walk around the outside and peek into all the rooms, which a lot of other people were doing.
Raining on our parade was the one and only Westboro Baptist Church, which decided to camp some members right in front of the Alamo. Rude! I was so disgusted. The signs said the usual — repent, find Jesus, don’t be gay, etc. — and they were yelling at all the tourists. You just KNOW they were parked there on purpose because it’s a busy part of the city.
Luckily, we were too buzzed to care too much and had a great time exploring the Alamo.
Now, my children, it is time to explain the Alamo and why it’s so goddamned important to Texan identity, because it’s important to know if you ever want to visit Texas.
Long ago in the 1830s, the land that is “Texas” was part of Mexico (before that, it was part of Spain). Americans continued to settle in Texas due to its plentiful lands and beauty and intermixed with the Mexicans. Over time, the Americans decided to declare INDEPENDENCE! from Mexico. Antonio Lopez De Santa Anna, the General of the Mexican army, did not like this. He sent the army forth to crush the rebels (think Star Wars) once and for all. However, the rebels put up a terrific fight in the Spanish mission-turned-fortress called the Alamo in the city of Bexar (San Antonio).
After a few days, the rebels were defeated — all were killed — but it didn’t go in the Mexicans’ favor, as the Alamo was used as a rallying cry for further rebels to rise up against the army. Eventually, “Remember the Alamo” became propaganda for the cause, and the Mexican army defeated. For about 10 years, “Texas” was its own country independent of the United States AND Mexico.
AND THAT’S WHY if you go to Texas, you’ll see the Texas State Flag flying in front of Texan houses, Texas-edition vehicles, and even “Texas” bumper stickers on Texas license-plated cars. Texas still behaves almost like it’s its own country. We made it a kind of joke over the course of the trip: “Oh, I FORGOT we were in Texas! Glad we have all these people to remind us!” And GOD FORBID if you neglect the Lone Star motif. That’s on everything, too. And it’s also why there’s Alamo Beer.
Can you imagine if you saw “Constitution State!” bumper stickers and flags or “Connecticut Pride!” and “Charter Oak Edition” cars everywhere you went? Texians are proud to be Texians. That’s the old way of spelling it, by the way.
Ford Vs. Chevy: TEXAS EDITION.
Back at Jackie and Brett’s, we explored their home. It was so cute, about the size of our townhouse, in a beautiful neighborhood full of gorgeous brick and stone homes that reminded us a lot of Florida. That night, we drank in the hot tub and relaxed. I got feeling a little giddy and tired all of a sudden, so Pat and I tucked in.
Saturday, April 15
The plan on Saturday was to spend it up North, in the German district of Fredericksburg (I know, so original, right?). But then we heard about this BIG TEXAS FLEA MARKET that only comes around once a month or so; it’s basically a huge fairgrounds flea market with food, liquor, and everything else you can think of — like a goat in a dress telling fortunes.
I wore a sundress; it was a nice day (albeit a bit breezy, oops!) but I wanted to wear a cute dress and be all New England in Texas.
The flea market was in the wine district, about an hour north of San Antonio. The interesting thing about Texas is that once you exit the city limits of S.A. and drive north, the land suddenly changes outside the outermost loop to hilly bush not unlike those of rural Arizona where we went to Diamond Ranch. Oh, and there’s like 50 wineries.
The Big Texas Flea Market was called Fredericksburg Trade Days, and it only happens the third Saturday of every month — so we were in luck!
There were antiques, furniture, weapons, metal home decor, metal signs, flags, t-shirts, woodworking, metalworking, hot barbecue, beer and wine, and rows and rows of pavilions. I’m upset that I didn’t buy the really ornate knife and sheath that I wanted — it looked at least a few hundred years old. On the slightly-but-not-really upside, we did buy delicious homemade habanero, jalapeno, mango, black bean, and corn salsa and jelly from one stand.
We got lunch from one of the barbecue pavilions which had brisket, ribs, chicken, and all other manner of Texas — beans, corn, bread, chili, slaw, whatever. YUMMY!
We stayed at Trade Days for a short time until we’d exhausted all the pavilions, then moved on to the vineyards. There are a lot of them up and down that particular part of highway 290, north of San Antonio.
We did a wine tasting at an Italian villa looking vineyard not far from Trade Days. And, as it turns out, it’s also not far from Lyndon B. Johnson’s birthplace (which is now a State Park and historic site). Just drive a little farther up 290, and you’re there. :Italian villa” is no understatement… it’s like walking from Texas into Pompeii. Oh, and the wines are pretty good, too. Expensive, but good. Some of Jackie’s friends even signed up as members and get boxes shipped to their house! Oh, the joys of wineries.
The next stop was the Garrison Brothers Distillery. Now, I love wine, but Pat does not, so the whiskey distillery was right up both our alleys. We decided on a bourbon flight to try single and double barrel whiskey, as well as their signature tastes from 2016 and 2017. Garrison brothers feels like walking into a little western ranch in the 1890s. There’s a wooden cabin, windmill, and trees blowing in the wind, barrels, and dirt roads in the orchard. It’s fairly isolated, up a dirt road away from the highway.
Oh, and it’s in Hye, TX, the most Texas name for a town I can imagine.
Patrick, Brett, and I enjoyed our whiskey. The Garrison Brothers provide complimentary jugs of iced tea and lemonade so you can chase or mix your whiskey into a delicious mixed drink. We tried a little of everything — shooting, chasing, and mixing.
Then, it was off to another winery, because why not spend your afternoon chasing beautiful, relaxing settings? I mean, CT has a passport to wineries but nothing beats an area of Texas with so many wineries that it has its own shuttle bus.
Anyway, William Chris Vineyards was the next stop (seriously, look at all these places on Maps and see how close everything is. You can make an afternoon out of it just like we did).
William Chris had good wine, and even better hummus and cheese platters. We ordered one of each. Each platter came with an assortment of either hummus or cheeses, meats, crackers, and bread. It was AHHHH-MAZE-ING. And delicious.
The William Chris was rather scenic, too. As not expressed in my photos, there were expansive fields and vines, and one big pavilion with boardwalks that was nice (behind where I took this picture).
We got Dairy Queen on the ride home — I got fries, while everyone else got some kind of ice cream — and we just relaxed for the rest of the evening. Pat and Brett watched the Chicago Blackhawks (lose) and I, keep in mind, was in the middle of my grad school spring semester. So I had to catch up on homework, decked out in my Chitown best and blasting “THE THINGS WE DO FOR FASHION” song from Pretty Little Liars.
Sunday, April 16
Jackie and Brett are both singers in the choir at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio. For those that don’t know, St. Mark’s is a kind of a famous church where Lady Bird and Lyndon B. Johnson were married in a rushed and private ceremony. It was founded in 1858, which is “recent” by New England standards, but still acceptable. Before the mass, I picked up a book on the history of the church and read, since I like to read about architecture and the stages in which buildings are constructed and change. Fun fact: Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson were married at St. Mark’s in 1934.
The inside is B E A U T I F U L and I, having never attended an episcopal mass before, found it nearly identical to the Catholic mass in every way except: episcopalians say the full Our Father prayer, and sing every verse in a song (sometimes 8 verses!), not just one or two.
Patrick gave me a hard time about it but I found it enjoyable. It was Easter, after all. And Texans wear their Sunday best to Easter — unless you’re a 20-something, in which case you wear your clubbing best. I thought my puffed sleeve, sorta low back Easter dress wouldn’t be appropriate, but I fit in much better than the four-inch heels and short, tight dresses some of the other skinnies were wearing. And I thought Texas was proper! The housewives and matrons were even wearing their best derby hats. So men — wear a suit. Ladies — advertise yourself as attractive and fertile, or matronly and Marian-like.
Back at the ranch, it was time to start getting ready for our Easter Feaster. Jackie and Brett’s friends were coming, and each group was bringing their own dish. On top of that, we had a charcuterie and cheese spread, courtesy of Pat’s parents, some fresh salsa courtesy of Trade Days, and a big old ham to eat.
The rest of the day conceived of hanging by the pool, drinking, sitting in the pool, drinking, eating, watching Rupaul’s Drag Race, eating more, and then drinking while singing along to ’90s hits and playing Mexican Train Dominoes with our friends. At the end of the night, we headed to the hot tub, but I was ready to doze off. We stayed as long as we could, listening to stories of music auditions and performers and bad roommates. Pat always knows when it’s time for me to go to bed, and so, we bid everyone adieu before I got too grumpy.
Monday, April 17
Hungover, I thought it would be a lovely idea to work out in like 100% humidity in Jackie and Brett’s backyard, doing push-ups and triceps dips and all manner of nonsense. What a workout — I gave myself a nice headache and no amount of water could quench it. High humidity and thick cloud cover is my least favorite weather to in which to excercise.
What a Workout! Followed by… the very real and completely not fantasy Whataburger® for lunch. Brett claims it’s the best in the west, better even than the elusive In-N-Out Burger, but being from New England, we were mystified by these new chains in entirety.
I didn’t actually know Whataburger® was a real chain. As you may or may not know, one of my favorite books is the literary fiction and postmodern masterpiece, Infinite Jest. As a doe-eyed college girl starting my English degree, I was captivated by David Foster Wallace’s seemingly seamless ability to write characters’ inner monologues and dialogue. The book is littered with casual references to things like Byzantine erotica and Kekuléan, which is not an actual adjective by an adjectived word, used to describe August Kekulé’s dream of the ouroboros (the snake devouring itself). It was handy, when reading, to have both a dictionary and encyclopedia handy because each page is littered with references and words that have double meanings or small, inconsequential phrases that are actually crucial for piecing together the nonlinear plot of the story. The book (SPOILERS) begins in the present, and then the entirety of the rest of the 1000 pages is a flashback told in many different pieces and from many characters’ perspectives, ending just before the climax of the story. It’s up to you to read the hundreds of pages of footnotes along with the actual book to figure it out. It’s also a near-future sort-of dystopia ish, where advertising has run rampant to the point where calendar years are auctioned to the highest corporate bidder and you have things like the Year of Glad (the brand).
Double meanings, reprises, cyclical storytelling, and hidden plot points are why I love this book. And they’re also why I love the band The Dear Hunter’s concept albums, Act I – V. Same idea. Different execution.
So, reading Infinite Jest, there’s this tennis tournament sponsored in Arizona called the WhataBurger Southwest Junior Invitational, which I always assumed was one of DFW’s wacky creations for a seemingly real but undoubtedly fictional fast-food chain.
However, it is real. I ate there for our penultimate Texas meal, and thought of DFW the whole way.
The worst thing, though, is it was just okay.
BACK TO THE STORY
The rest of the afternoon was just like this — I finally got a picture of the Indian Paintbrushes that grow in Texas, the rain poured heavier than I have ever seen, the streets flooded, and just like that, it stopped. Brett left for work. Patrick and I drove to Dick’s to find him a duffel bag. We called an Uber to go into San Antonio downtown and meet Jackie and Brett for lunch. We ate our dinner meal at Tacos and Tequila again, getting those delicious steak, pepper, and crème fraîche tacos I loved. And, I am sorry to say, Tacos and Tequila has since closed down.
We visited Jackie’s campus, a small liberal arts college not unlike Trinity in Hartford. She showed us her office and the stage where rehearsals take place, and pointed out Brett’s campus, where he teaches, across the highway.
Back at Jackie and Brett’s house, we dedicated ourselves to packing and getting ready for our early morning drive to the airport. I tucked Watership Down at the top of my bag so I could finish the second half during our flights.
We turned out the lights and enjoyed the thrumming of the ceiling van and strange bird calls for one more night.
Tuesday, April 18
For the second time in 2017, and the third time in my life, we landed in Phoenix.
But let me back up.
On the plane, Pat suddenly panicked that he lost the flip phone he uses to transfer the tow truck number to his and his coworker’s phone. He asked Jackie and Brett to check our guest bedroom (not there) and began picking through his backpack. He felt every pocket, every tab, and every zipper opening. He has a like, rock climbing heavy duty backpack, so there are many places to look. I began feeling the pockets on the lower sides of the backpack and felt something about the size of the phone. He slapped my hand away. “I already looked there,” he said.
“Oooookay,” I said, giving up helping.
I finished Watership Down on the plane, loving every moment and mulling it over. It was a book that made me feel warm inside, due to having genuinely good characters. I mean good as in, Lord of the Rings good, in which the characters always strive to stay in the light, are honorable, and forge fierce loyal friendships. It was an adventure I am sorry I did not enjoy years earlier when my friends first recommended the book in the summer of 2007. Better yet, the copy I own is a beat-up paperback that’s probably forty years old and picked up secondhand, the way I get all my favorite books.
We had a layover in Phoenix, in which we ran to our next gate and waited to board again. We’d reach Vegas in the early afternoon, essentially making up the time it took to fly the three or so hours from Texas.
Here I am, I thought, just like in February when we landed in Phoenix.
Back in the desert. About to head deeper. About to head back to where I belong.