Posts Tagged With: road trip

Texas Road Trip — Crystal Beach, Boliver Peninsula

As I write this, I am sitting at the table in the beach house at Crystal Beach, near Galveston (just 15 miles to the ferry and then you’re on the island). A glass of chilled wine . . . and total relaxation.

It’s the first time I’ve been here since March, and it’s clearly full-on summer. The ceiling fans and the air-conditioning let me forget that even now, just after 8 pm, it’s in the 90s.

Once I had packed the car, and the dogs were settled, and I had a diet Coke and some water for the road, I plugged in my iPod and headed out on Interstate 10. By the time I’d crossed the border into Texas (halfway over the bridge over the Sabine River), I was in the road mode. Starting with the Dixie Chicks, I sang along with Natalie Maines. Texas music for the Texas road trip. Perfect.

My favorite route is to leave the interstate just past Orange, turning off onto state highway 62 South to Bridge City. It’s a two-lane road, but just perfect for avoiding the heavier traffic along the interstate. This route is much more rural, through small towns. Nine miles or so south and I turned right onto Highway 73 West, crossed over Rainbow Bridge, and took the 4-lane that skirts the Gulf and takes you through some of the scenic refineries of Port Arthur.

All along the road, though, you know you’re in a slower paced life. Cars and trucks are parked off the road. People and their fishing poles dot the various small bodies of water that are on either side of the road.

Even here the speed limit is 75 miles an hour (thanks, Texas!). The Dixie Chicks are through and it’s time for The Civil Wars for a while. As I sing, I travel in memory to childhood and later, scenes of the past triggered by the very places I travel through.

At one point, I cross by the turn to Taylor’s Bayou, and I am transported in time immediately. I am 5 years old, and my mother’s mother and stepfather have a camp on Taylor’s Bayou. It’s a real fishing camp, not a decorative one. Spiders co-habit with us. The camp is at the end of the road, and right by the bayou. Somewhere in a box, I’ve got photographs from that summer of 1956. In my so-stylish rubber swim cap, floating in an inner tube near my grandmother’s friends, I grin right at the camera. The water is dark, brownish, and now I don’t even want to think about what might have been near me. Regardless, I paddle and float without a second thought. Nearby, my grandmother sits in a lawn chair, wearing a bra and her peddle-pushers. My brother Phil, not quite 2, sits in her lap. His hair is bleached cotton white and he’s clearly suntanned. He’s laughing and happy as she teases him. My sister Kay isn’t around yet — she won’t be born for another 7 months or so.

I’m not quite sure when Mom and Poppa (my grandmother Ella and her husband, Glenn) bought the camp; nor do I know when they sold it. But the name of the camp? It may tell you a lot about their political leanings — and about the era. They named the camp Adair’s Hyannis Port. Not quite Kennedy headquarters, but wonderful nonetheless.

Soon I’ve passed that turnoff and continue on the highway that parallels the interstate, but south of it, and while there is certainly traffic on the 4 lanes, it’s nowhere near as packed as the interstate route. Another advantage: I avoid the Beaumont knot of traffic and interstate. If there’s going to be a traffic jam or an accident, it’s going to be on the stretch heading into Beaumont and curving toward Houston. Bypassing it, I don’t really cut any time off the journey, but I do avoid hassles and possible traffic snarls. I also get to travel through a very different landscape.

Highway 73 takes me through Port Arthur and Port Neches, near Groves, just skirting the south parts of those towns. For miles, though, what I see is grass. And water. And people fishing or crabbing. And birds.

Soon, I’ve followed Highway 73, curving right toward Winnie. That’s where I get off the highway (which continues on to Houston, and joins Interstate 10. Once at Winnie, I take a left and head south, through Seabreeze and lots of pastures. Soon, I’m crossing a bridge over the Intracoastal Canal, and then I’m in High Island. The high point of High Island allows you to look up and see the Gulf of Mexico, straight ahead. Slowing down past a fruit and vegetable stand that always has treats, I curve right, and then it’s the home stretch.

If I roll the window down, I can hear the Gulf, smell the salt air, and hear the seagulls that whirl overhead. Not too far out, there’s an oil platform. Just a few years ago, this area was devastated by Hurricane Ike. Now it looks so much better. The dunes are re-established, and while the beach road is closer to the Gulf than it was before, the road no longer appears in danger of washing out. Not now, not yet, anyway. There are trucks and cars on the beach, with canopies sheltering people who are there to swim and fish. Saltwater poles are stuck in the sand and the lines arc out into the surf.

Soon the houses appear to the left and right of the road. Bolivar Peninsula is rather narrow here, certainly narrower than it used to be. Visible to the left — the Gulf of Mexico. To the right is the Intracoastal Canal and then the bay. Single houses are on either side at first, but then the land widens and small communities of beach homes cluster off to the left and the right. Beachside and bayside homes, in summer colors, pastel and bright, announce that Hurricane Ike might have done a lot of damage, but it didn’t destroy this area.

Traffic slows from 60 MPH to 45 and then 40 as I approach and then cross Rollover Pass, the area cutting between the Gulf and the bay. Great for fishing, this cut-through effectively renders the rest of Boliver Peninsula a virtual island. Lots of people already line Rollover Pass, their fishing poles busily pulling in fish. It looks like a good day.

Once past the Pass, traffic speeds up again, and I pass through small communities like Caplen. The Peninsula’s water plant is on my right, and by the time I see the sign for Lafitte’s Landing and then Copacabana Beach, I know it’s almost time to turn off on the road to my destination.

Just to the right is Stingaree Road (North), and a flashing light, and I move to the center, come to a stop, and have my left blinker on. As soon as traffic allows, I turn left onto our road and then I slow down, take a sharp right, and park under my house.

Two hours, door to door, with no stops. I’ve sung along with the Dixie Chicks, The Civil Wars, and any number of different artists on The Return of the Grievous Angel, a tribute album for the late Gram Parsons.

I’ll be here for a week, probably. Right now my friend Donna is here for the weekend. We ate at a local place, the Tiki Bar and Grill. As I turned into its parking lot, a small plane was landing in the pasture just beyond. This is the place to be on a Friday night, clearly.

I love to drive, and this short two-hour drive has taken me into a different state — Texas, to be sure, but also just a different state of being. It’s Jimmy Buffet territory. Beach time. Summer music.

For years, after my grandmother and her husband sold Adair’s Hyannis Port, she rented beach houses here in Crystal Beach. Sometimes, she’d just come down from Beaumont for the day to go fishing or crabbing off one of the piers right after the turnoff from High Island onto Highway 87.

I’m not sure when it happened, but Highway 87, the actual beach road, is now named for Jane Long, a woman famous in Texas history. Sometimes, oldtimers in the mid-20th century said that if the surf rolled out far enough in the Gulf, it was possible to see the remains of old Indian settlements. Galveston Island once was home to Jean Lafitte for a while.

Like the other communities on Boliver Peninsula, Crystal Beach is a family-oriented area. Weekends, the beach is flooded with day-trippers from Beaumont and the Golden Triangle area. During the week, though, it’s just us locals and homeowners, and those who rent for a week. This is very laid-back, not very high-powered, though there are larger and far more expensive beach houses now. The post-Hurricane Ike building is surprising.

On Boliver, dotted between some communities and houses, you still see cattle. This is a bird sanctuary area, too, or used to be before Hurricane Ike.

For my week here, I have two pairs of shorts, a few tops, a swimming suit, and two pairs of cotton pants. Flip-flops. One pair of beach sandals. THere’s one big grocery store, known as Gulf Coast Market and now as The Big Store. You can get anything from gourmet cheeses to plumbing items. It’s one of my favorite places just to wander in. We’re also happy to have a Dollar Store now. We’re easy to satisfy. There’s a lumber yard. There are a variety of businesses. Also a number of bars and places to eat.

If you need more choices, you have to go onto the island. Krogers, Target, Home Depot, Walmart –those are in Galveston. Also Pier One.

Galveston is tourist territory. Moody Gardens, Schlitterbahn. The seawall along the Gulf. Or the Strand near the bay. Tourists wander everywhere. There might be a cruise ship docked, and those passengers might be wandering around too.

For people interested in history, this is the place to study the great storm of 1900, the hurricane that killed an estimated 5000-8000 people. No-one really knows how many died. Read Isaac’s Storm before you come; and when you’re here, take time to look for the film on the hurricane, shown on the bayside near the Strand. It’s chilling.

Along the Gulf Coast we mark our summers and falls by hurricanes, named ones. It’s just a fact of life here.

The beach house I’m sitting in is new. My sister and I rebuilt last year, on the land where there was a fishing camp. I bought it in 1997, and after Hurricane Ike, all I had left was a broken slab and one Christmas ornament, an angel. Its wing was chipped, but it survived where nothing else did. It’s not Christmas, of course, but that ornament sits on a table in the living room. It has meaning for me.

We rebuilt. Others did too. This is an area of survivors. And we know to enjoy what we have, while we have it.

Tomorrow, I think we’ll head to the ferry, get in line and take one of the ferries across to Galveston.

For now, though, I think I’ll finish my glass of wine and maybe sit on the deck for a while. If the mosquitoes let me.

I’ve traveled only two hours, but into a very different zone. It’s time to kick back and enjoy.

As Jimmy Buffet notes, “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.” Absolutely.

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“On the Road Again”

Last Friday as I was driving to Baton Rouge for a few days, I turned on my iPod and just for grins clicked on “The Best of Canned Heat.”  The first song, appropriately:  “On the Road Again.”  Maybe it was something about the ride to Baton Rouge, but Canned Heat just brought back lots of memories.  When I was an undergrad at McNeese, Canned Heat played in what now is the area of the Rec Complex but was then known as “The Cow Palace,” the arena where all sorts of events happened.  I saw them then, and by the middle of song 1 I was just singing along, bopping as I drove (safely, of course).

The drive also brought back memories of my days at LSU, from January 1973-December 1974, when I was studying for my MA in English.  I drove that road many times — or at least part of that road.  Those were the days before the entire I-10 corridor from Lafayette to Baton Rouge was completed, so we’d drive part of the way, turn off at Grosse Tete (I think) and go to Krotz Springs (where Diesi’s Little Capitol originally was), then hit 190 to Baton Rouge.  Even in the 1980s to the late 90s, I drove that road every month for a meeting.  My little Mini might be a newbie on the drive, but I knew just where I was going.

Driving usually energizes me, and so by the time I hit Baton Rouge, I was pumped up.  A few days away — my own little spring break of sorts.  A friend was there for a conference, and on Sunday and Monday we traveled the River Road to see some plantation homes.  I’ve lived here most of my life, yet had never been on the River Road before.  It was long overdue.

Two plantations a day — four total — and that was a good pace.  We could enjoy ourselves without rushing.  On Sunday we saw San Francisco, a clear example of Steamboat Gothic style.  The tour there was okay — not great, but okay.  Then it was on to Houmas House, much different in style — Greek Revival.  Much larger than San Francisco, Houmas House had the best tour — our guide, dressed in the highest male fashion of the day, led us through room after room with humor and ease, not with a canned spiel. Houmas House also was the site of the indoor scenes for the movie “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” and the beautiful circular staircase where the head rolls down is there for all to see (though without a head, needless to say).  Bette Davis slept in one of the bedrooms.  The external scenes were shot at another plantation.

We’d hoped to see Bocage Plantation, but that didn’t pan out.  The tour at Houmas House kept us there until nearly 4, and there wasn’t time for Bocage.  Another day.

Yesterday we set out for the other side of River Road, heading down I-10 to Gramercy and then taking the highway west across the river, turning right on Highway 18.  Our first stop was Laura Plantation, billed as “A Creole Plantation.”  Very different from any other home we saw, Laura had both business and living quarters in the home.  Once more our tour was entertaining and thorough.  This was a house I could imagine living in — not so huge that I’d feel out of place.

The final plantation we visited was Oak Alley.  Once we parked, we decided to eat at the restaurant first.  Yummy shrimp po-boy!  Then it was on to the tour,  The grounds at Oak Alley are impressive — especially the long alley of live oaks that lead from the River Road to the entrance of the house.  We entered from the front door, but walked from the back entrance around to it.  Oak Alley is where the external scenes of “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte” were filmed — the owner refused to have the film crew indoors, which is why the inside scenes were done at Houmas House.

By the time we completed that tour and took a walk down the alley toward the road for the classic view of the home, it was beginning to sprinkle.  The rain meant we skipped a third house, Nottoway.  We did stop to see it from the road, though — and saw a bride having her photographs made there.

The opportunity for a few days away, visiting with a friend from Greece and California, gave me a breather I needed.  I won’t say I didn’t think about Dad and getting him home — that would simply be a lie.  I did manage, though, to relax.  I slept a lot.  I visited and talked a lot.  I drove a lot.

And those homes gave me views into lives long past, into ways of live long gone.  Photographs of the homes before the 1927 flood showed what land and trees were lost when the Corps of Engineers built the current levee.  Only in imagination could I see the Mississippi as previous owners did — with a small levee and private boat docks for each plantation.  And lots of lawns leading to the river.

Now the protective levee blocks actual views of the Mississippi, and the River Road itself divides what once were expanses of plantation lawns going right to the river.

Inside the homes, furnishings original to the houses as well as simply to the period allowed us to step into other worlds, other lives.

Today I rode I-10 back to Crowley, to Egan, and then to Lake Charles and back again to Crowley and Egan.  I traveled from the world of plantations that none of my ancestors ever knew first-hand back to my own world(s).

As simple as a road leading toward something and away from it — that is what takes me from one of my worlds to another.  My Lake Charles world seems to dim more every week — not out of my lack of interest, but out of lack of time.  Today I was there for a total of 3 hours — long enough to grab lunch, see my doctor for allergy problems, pick up my new medicines, pick up two pairs of shoes, and hit the road.

Two visits today with Dad — once on my way in from Baton Rouge.  We visited, and I left after he’d eaten lunch.  I drove to LC, did my errands, and went back to Southwind, with a stop at Walmart first.

Dad is scheduled to come home the day after Easter.  As of this morning, no phone calls had been made to the home health care agency we use, nor had one been made to Dad’s doctor.  I’ll have to talk again to Southwind tomorrow — this is cutting the whole thing a bit too close for me.  Dad’s doctor isn’t in on Thursdays.  Friday is Good Friday and lots of businesses will be closed.  I have no idea when his hospital bed and other equipment will be delivered, nor do I know what to do about his medicines. Perhaps the early phone call will clarify things — and I will ask to be called back with definite orders and arrangements.   I found out he was being released when Dad said something last week — one of his PTs told him.  Only after I called and talked to a nurse — who also didn’t know — did she get someone to call me.  And that person reassured me that phone calls would be made on Monday (yesterday).  Clearly, they weren’t.  Tomorrow I’ll find out if she bothered to call yesterday, and if not, I’m prepared to get tough.  Somehow I am not really impressed at this particular facet of care there.

So I’m doing what I can — working my way through frustration once more.  I’ve concentrated tonight on the office area.  I’ll work on Dad’s clothes before I go to bed — clear out his dresser drawers and chest of drawers once more and arrange clothes in one and supplies in the other.  There’s a metal bookcase as well for books and probably supplies.

I bought three sets of twin sheets for his bed, along with a new pillow.  I’ve got a blanket and an electric blanket already.

The time nears — and it truly feels as though I’m on the road again, the road to a new level of caregiving.

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