So here I am back from one of my semi-annual meccas to Houston and points south. I am sure that a trip to Texas conjures up images of cowboys, rodeos & BBQ. And in talking to the people, I work with in Texas, I am reassured that these things play a large part of their world. But, this is not the Texas I know... (with the exception of the exposure to such things as BBQ, chicken fried steak & white gravy). My Texas consists of trucking terminals, rail yards & chemical plants. I kid you not. While I am down there, I get glimpses of the Gulf (from the vantage point of the Houston Ship Channel); sometimes, when I have a free ten minutes, I drive the couple of extra miles from the plant to get a glimpse of Surfside Beach (the Buc-cee's on the corner makes it very clear that the Gulf is near -- someday, I will have to explain what a Buc-cee's is. It's a Brazoria County phenomenon that has to be experienced to be fully understood. For now, think 7-11 or Wa-wa's on steroids.)
Now before I proceed, I want to make one thing clear. I really do like my job - it brings me in contact with many interesting concepts, people and places. It's just not very glamorous. Here is the run-down. Tuesday, 3AM. Up and at 'em -- have to get to the airport by 5AM to catch a 6AM flight. 7 hours, one layover and one time change later - arrive in Houston. Grab luggage. Run to curb and meet up with first appointment. Drive one hour for meeting - walk around chemical plant & rail siding; drive hour back to airport to pick up rental car. Grab rental car and drive half hour to hotel through insane Houston highway traffic. In NYC, the traffic may be crazy (along with the drivers) - but at least there everything is a log jam. You just can't go that fast. In Houston - there are lots of crazy drivers going a gazillion miles an hour. Do you have any idea what it's like trying to merge on to a six lane highway in 70 mile an hour traffic? (Usually with a great, big 'ol tractor trailer coming at you from.) Not for the faint of heart, I say.
Any hoo, by the time I got checked into the hotel, it was nearing 4PM Central Time, I had been up for 14 hours and I still had a 6PM appointment. Grabbed a very short nap (everytime I got into snooze mode, phone would ring) and met up with my 6PM and headed out to grab a bite of desperately needed dinner. My appointment had just flown in from her home base of Cleveland - so we were both in the same travel-numbed comatose state. We asked the concierge (at least we think he was the concierge) his recommendations for dinner and had no clue what he told us (we think we understood the restaurant name and made our way to navigate in and around the loops.
If you are not familiar with driving around Houston, here is the scoop. Essentially, there are two big loops that run around the city -- the outer loop, which is Beltway 8 (aka, "the Sam Houston") and the inner loop, US 610 (or the "freeway). Of course there are roads that cut straight through Houston, which connect the loops. The most useful thing I have learned about the "loops" is that there are access roads that run all along the loops, where you can access restaurants, side roads and most importantly U-Turns. Keeping that in mind, does mitigate the "mouse in the maze" effect I experienced on my first several visits. Now that you have the low-down, I will add that the hotel we were staying at was just off the "Sam Houston" - amidst a mind-numbing amount of overpasses. So with the "concierge's" barely understood directions in hand, we wound our way through the maze - and after several U-turns and back-tracks found our way to what we think was the recommended restaurant, which happened to be a Houston-area seafood chain. Fortunately, my fellow "northerner" shared my laid-back attitude that you are never really lost, just taking an unplanned adventure... Fortunately, our adventure was short-lived.
We were in the Gulf & it is crawfish season - and the rule of thumb I have learned from my many journeys is "eat what is in season"... I love crawfish, so this was really not an issue - and at that point, I was so hungry I probably would have even settled for something "chicken-fried" (no, I take it back - I still can't do chicken-fried anything). We made it back to the hotel in one piece - both of us were definitely in auto-pilot by this point (having been up for about 18-19 hours now). At that point, I tried to crash - but you know the drill, the more tired you are the less you are able to sleep.
Too few hours later, it was time to hit the ground running (again). Time to fight my way through the loops to get to my 8:30 AM appt inside the "inner loop". (East Houston is closest to the ship channel and tends to be very industrial - hence industrial traffic. As you move closer to the center of the city, traffic gets to be less industrial, but more jammed up. I made it to my first truck terminal in one piece. My 10AM appointment was on the ship channel (about 20 minutes from my location in the inner loop). Fortunately, my 11 AM appointment was only around the corner. Three truck terminals later, it was time to hit my next appointment near Hobby Airport (which is South Houston - I had been in North and Eastern Houston). I finally headed South sometime after 4, for my hour & some change drive down to Freeport (where I had a 6PM dinner). Are you tired yet??? I sure was - I made a quick stop in Pearland to grab me some Starbucks (Where I was headed, there was no good coffee to be found, so this was my last chance to get a fix for a couple of days.)
On my drive down to Texas, I always pass this big, 'ol honking statue of Steve Austin (who is like the father of Texas - no really, the placard on the statue says that). I always drive by this behemoth, so on this particular trip, I pulled off "the 288" and swung around to get a picture. Now as I pulled off the road, there were signs reading "prison area, do not pick up hitchhikers". Oh, great. But I was not to be deterred, I was going to take my picture. So here's Steeevvveeeee...... (I didn't realize that he was half covered with mold - ugh. Mr. Austin needs a bleach bath to return him to his alabaster glory.)
Of course, we are in the chemical belt of Texas, so across from Stephen are...
Railcars! By the way, there really isn't any zoning in Texas, so just on the other side of these railcars was a ranch with a bunch of steer grazing. The most bizarre thing is when you see the steer grazing next to chemical plants. Someday, I will get pictures of that - but I am always a little hesitant to take pictures of chemical plants. I have this mental image of site security coming and hauling me off... Anyway, at this point, the Brazoria County Sheriff had circled around me a couple of times (plus, I was running out of time to make my next appointment), so I got out of dodge and made my way down to Lake Jackson (which involved dinner at a Hibachi restaurant - the concept of Japanese in Lake Jackson just boggled my mind - and still does).
Several hours later, it was time to crash again. Another busy day was on the horizon and this girl needed her "beauty sleep".