Sunday, January 25, 2009

Trespassin' on T. Boone's Land!

Nathan made a trek similar to mine in the early summer. He thinks automakers should produce a device that is to be mounted to cars in the US: similar to a GPS unit but much simpler. Once the car gets too far out of San Antonio, TX, it's shuts the engine off. Then it proceeds to check with you via IQ test to make sure you do want to continue to West Texas and that you are insane enough to try.

I understand now why this device should be in place, and yes, I am insane enough to try!

'Nuff Said! (and I zoomed out quite a bit on that too)

But from the beginning: Kingwood, TX. Chris' house is in a suburb of Houston in northeast of the city in Montgomery County, TX. I couldn't help but release a slight chuckle as I realized that I went from Montgomery County, Alabama to Montgomery County, Texas on day one.

However being on the northeast side of the city caused problems when I slept through my alarm, well alarms.. three of them. I had planned on getting out of Houston by 6:30 am but didn't wake until 7:45. I was on the road shortly after but it put me in rush hour traffic from then all the way until Katy, TX adding about an hour to what is already the longest drive on my trip. ... But man I needed that sleep!

Once you leave Houston on I-10 heading west you begin to see billboards advertising a convenience store called Buc-ees. But they start about 160 miles before the store is reached. They each have a different little one liner or advertisement, usually around there logo which is a beaver. My favorite was:"IF IT HARMS BEAVERS, THEN WE'RE AGAINST IT!"

At first I found it odd to advertise so far out, and then I laughed at their jokes. Later I got fed up with the signs and they became an annoyance. It was a weird déjà for 2 and half hours! I was so glad to reach the exit where it was because it meant the signs were done and no more Buc-ees... but I was out of gas and decided what the hell.. let's go in and see what the fuss was about. It was the first road side store that actually had departments. Yeah the typical snacks and sodas, but you could also pick up collegiate wear for local Texas universities, home furnishings like leather couches, all sorts of Texas themed souvenirs and outer wear, electronics, and even cowboy hats. So I got a cowboy hat! Probably not a truly authentic cowboy hat, but it joins a collection of regional specific hats I pickup in the respective region.

The turn off to pick up Jason in Canyon Lake went through New Braunfels. Instantly I started to whiff because of a strange smell. The area of Texas I was in had the distinctive smell of kibble. Then I saw this guy:

Well there's your problem.

New Braunfels also provided me with a few revelations. The high school, NBHS had a unique mascot. It was plastered all over the local water towers and the city was well supportive of the teams. But me personally, I wouldn't want to wear purple while sitting in the stands “It’s Great... To Be... a Braunfels Unicorn!" haha... One Horn Pride!

I thoroughly enjoy irony, and one of the local cafes was the epitome of my type of humor. It was called the 'Clear Springs Cafe.' I’m sure it's a fine establishment; being in small town USA, especially in Texas, in must have good food. But the 'Clear Springs Cafe,' on the day that I passed through down, just happened to have a septic tank overflow. There was a cleanup truck from a septic tank overflow service in the front yard. I wish I had snapped a photo, but I was laughing too hard.

Northwest of New Braunfels, I came upon Jason. It was the midway reunion of our cross country paths. He was three hours into my 16 hour drive so he and I had a good long time to be together. His Aunt's property north of San Antonio was amazing. I'll tell you she was at the top of hill with a view over the lake one way and a view into a valley the other side, but I'll just show you pictures.

The beginning of our journey together.

And strictly because it's me and the opportunity presented itself, I took this photo also, a place to hang your hat:

So Jason and I set off on our path through the desert. The scariest part of the trip was the right turn onto I-10. I enjoy this GPS unit, without it the trip wouldn't have easy. Finding Jason in Canyon Lake was a cinch, and Aunt Buffy's house too. It would have been a nightmare to be looking for street names in the dark after being on the road for what felt like forever. I tells you the, what street to turn on, then how long to continue until your next turn. The right turn onto I-10 was given as... "Take ramp on right to I-10 west, then continue for FIVE HUNDRED AND FORTY-ONE MILES" That's almost two tanks of gas for me! And WOW was it an interesting drive.... not!

Most of the drive, I find something interesting every few miles. In west Texas, it all looks like this:

At one point Josh texted me and asked how the drive way. I replied "You know that drive we do every once in a while to D.C.? Now imagine something a little longer, but completely flat, and all in the West Texas Desert!" I think I even got excited when I saw a tumbleweed, but only because it was something other than sand, rock or cacti.

The countries green initiative has given us alternative fuels and energy sources. In west Texas, they have found ample space to litter the valleys and plateaus with wind mills. We've all seen them on TV, but this was my first chance to actually see them in person. The slowly rose off the horizon, and then before we knew it, they were EVERYWHERE. One point it was as though an army of windmills was attacking us.

To give you an idea of the mass quantity of these things, let me present you the next two photos. First I have a horizon shot with a plateau in the distance. Then a zoomed in shot of the same plateau. They were planted across the entire span, from the mountain in the left third of the photo all the way to where the plateau drops off on the right of the frame. The lower photo is zoomed into the right side of the plateau; use the drop off distance as the scale factor.

That's alot of energy harnessing power! Thank you T. Boone Pickens!

Here's a West Texas Freeway photo for you to delight your eyes upon:

West Texas Sunset [sorta]:

Long exposure into the sunset:

Approaching El Paso gave us more to look at than nature. There also happen to be a high density of strip clubs, all of them with really cheesy names like "Texas Longhorn" or "The Kitty House." It also gave Jason and I the chance to view across the border into the shanty towns on the border. We were so intrigued by this we forgot to monitor the gas gauge.

Passing an exit outside of El Paso, I remembered to glance at the gauge, only to find that the low level light was already on. Very assertively I plugged it the next fuel stop into the GPS unit and saw that we were a half mile away, but it was behind us. The next exit with fuel was 20 miles in front of us. Once that light comes on I only have 25-28 miles left, and that’s with an empty car load! We slowed down to 50 and cruised the next 20 miles barely making it to the pump. Apparently though, this is suspicious behavior! We passed a white Border Patrol SUV on the side of the interstate; it looked like a cop set up in a speed trap, only he's looking for drug runners and illegal aliens! Going really slow apparently makes you look like a runner. I noticed in my mirrors headlights that approached very fast then hung to my rear bumper for about 5 miles. I just maintained 50 mph and if he pulled my over I was not going to make it to the gas station! With the bikes on the back of the car you can't get a clear view of the plate, potentially more suspicious. This SUV then pulled into the passing lane and hung to my quarter panel, again for another five miles. It was pitch black dark; I felt for sure it was a cop or Border Control, because everyone else was doing 8omph! After five minutes of scaring he slowly pulls up to my window, glances in, then speeds off down the highway. I don't know what he was doing, but I assume he ran my plates, and I looked white enough to be my own self!

We finally reached New Mexico by 1:30 am MST Quite thrilling to be done with Texas. This means that I have driven across the entire state of Texas. As much as people complain about it, it really wasted that bad. Houston was about 2 hours in from the Louisiana border then about 12 hours to the other side of Texas from there, and I drove it all! I have championed the Texas Width!

New Mexico delivered us a Border Patrol check point. Jason struggled to find his wallet with his identity, but luckily the guy just let us through. I was driving and had my stuff ready to go. The car was so loaded down that it was obvious we didn't have anyone in the car with us, and neither of us looked like illegal immigrants.

From there we ventured west through an unusual geographic anomaly, a dust storm zone. I wonder if a car were to be in one of these dust storms, does the paint just get sand blasted off? What if you were on a motorcycle, how bad would it hurt? Glad we didn't see anything.

Here's the car at a gas station in New Mexico, I noticed that with Jason's bike, all my crap in the truck, and the back seat being filled to the brim, that's alot of weight on the rear axle!

Leaving the gas station we once again got a Border Control guy to stalk us for a few miles. Late at night, a car all packed out, I guess I just have that kind of face.

Yeah Arizona!

It rains in Arizona 4 or 5 days a year, outside of monsoon season. I happen to win the jackpot and land on one of them. The humidity in the heat the next day was no big deal to me, but man did it cause a fog the night we drove in. It was so bad at one point that I couldn't see more than about 30 feet in front of the car. But since it was straight, it wasn't really a problem. You just have to be ready to hit the brakes really fast if you see someone, which at 3 am, nobody is out.

We finally arrived at my Aunt Buffy's house in Tucson around 3:45-4 am. I wasn't really paying attention. We walked in the door, she showed us our room and handed us a beer. We just crashed.

I have to thank her for letting us arrive at such an odd hour, and on a school night. Luckily Uncle Joe had just gotten home from work and Buffy had enough of a warning to get a nap before we got there. Still, the inconvenience of 4am is bad impression. And I've gotten plenty of hell about it form other family members.

The next day, we go to Phoenix for a side trip.

Where is the application to be a Texan?

I've made a few observations about life and about places I've been. You can tell me what ever you want to tell me about wherever I may be going, but I do like to make my own opinions. Texas is not exempt from this either!

Texas is the one place where people here are more proud of being Texans than they are being America. I noticed the Texas flag is the same height as the American flag. Texas is bigger then most countries, and the resources here it could easily support itself should they ever decide to leave the United States, which by the way, they can do on their own free will since they are the only state to voluntarily join the Union! If they were ever to do this, life in America would change, oil and gas would skyrocket, they boast huge energy fields and large agricultural gain which would all become foreign imports! Hell the land mass is bigger than most countries! And they know it! Look at this; it's a bumper sticker I found at Rice University:

Today I'm in Houston, TX. I stayed with my college friend and now my cousin-in-law, Chris. He's a crew scheduler for continental airlines, and because he works for an airline company, one of his benefits is domestic round trip flights for 50 bucks! Traveling is not an issue for them. He's even said he has flown somewhere just for the cuisine and flown back. He was in the middle planning a trip to Atlanta to see his wife, my cousin Janet, but has said that he wants to fly to Boston for Chowder at lunch or go to San Fran for a delicious seafood dinner then head home. This is a luxury most of us wouldn't dream about, but has done it before. I'm slightly jealous.

Chris was a wonderful host. Outside of bragging about his travel opportunities he enjoyed having someone to talk to that didn't want to mention Oklahoma or Texas. He provided what is likely the most comfortable couch to sleep on. I would probably take it over my old bed back in Auburn! Then my last night in town we visited a local seafood joint. Decent prices, nice atmosphere and delicious food. I took up Chris' recommendation on the Shrimp Prosciutto (Maybe that's spelled wrong); it was about time that someone combined the three greatest ingredients to grace a kitchen table. This dish was a plate of huge jumbo gulf shrimp stuffed with bell pepper slivers and a lot of cheese; they were then wrapped in bacon and grilled over an open flame. The skewer was then placed on a heaping portion of Cajun jambalaya rice that rivals most Creole chefs! While my arteries are taking a hit, my stomach was satisfied. I can't say it was one of the best meals I have ever tasted, but its close.

But my adventures in Houston, let's get back on track!

Part of this adventure was to be able to look at grad schools. My eventual decision will be based on a few criteria. Where is it: I want to learn in a different environment than that of my undergraduate studies. Auburn is a small college town in Alabama, that means the polar opposites are a large metro or the middle of nowhere in a cold snowy climate or a super hot dry area. I also want to be in a place where I can feel at home in the culture of the area. There is also a slight preference to cities that have water: beaches, wharfs, or even a nice riverwalk like San Antonio's.

First on the docet, Rice University:

I was highly impressed with the Rice campus. It had a turn of the century feel with classical organization. The buildings there spoke of history and tradition while providing a place for modern civilization to learn. It was hard to even tell you were in Southern Houston..

The loggia at Lovett Hall.

Entrance to Andersen Hall, the School of Architecture.

View of the quad from the Architecture building. That is Lovett Hall, the gateway of the university. There are four buildings or schools, that line the quad, and then the library is opposite Lovett (it's behind me as I take this photo).

Finally, Andersen Hall. Behind those windows are the studios. The archway colonnade on the left side connects to a breezeway that wraps around the back side of the quad providing a covered path to the library and the building on the opposite side of the quad.

The program offerings at Rice would have me studying in Houston for two and half years with the possibility of spending an entire summer at a studio in Paris. The graduate program only takes 20-30 a year which is dispersed among 2-3 professors by the second semester. They boast an internationally acclaimed faculty with plenty of facilities to cover all your studio needs. While I don't have a picture of it, the review spaces here are absolutely incredible. In the center of the building is a triple height space 25'x25' square room that rises with stark white walls to a rim skylight that fills the room with crisp clean rays. There is a small opening of entrance on the first floor and a sliding wall on the second so observers can watch from above too. I can only imagine being able to present there, or for that matter, being grilled by a design jury.

This is in the grad school hall. There are red feet prints on the floor and the lines which go all over the various walls are supposed to visually redefine the space. If you look at just the red lines it looks like a large mass on the right side and then a flat wall to the left. Real neat, huh! It didn't quite work for me, as I believe the girl was a little shorter than I am, but this is me attempting to line it up with my camera.

My venture around the campus led off the old block onto the new areas. Rice just opened a new student center and has a new coffee shop in the middle of campus. The coffee/danish/study/meeting space, as it serves all sorts of purposes slowly being found as a popular place on campus, is highly contrasted with the surrounding built environment. While slightly refreshing, it does speak more to the current time than the new buildings which were designed to have an old antiqued feel.

Simply a square glassed box with a central core of bathrooms and services it provides a hang out spot either inside or outside. Inside you have minimalist furniture surrounding a round cafe island. Outside on the wrap around patio you also have the same furniture but a screen roof of small white round cylinders. Small while steel elements allow the lighting to suspend itself out from the building. I'm sure it's dramatic at night time, but I enjoyed the day environment. I got to see it in use at peak hours. Plenty of people were studying, socializing, and one group even had a Bible study going on.

Here is a close up of the patio roof. It was relatively cooler under the patio awning than in the sunlight, and it doesn't remove too much light either.

There was also a garden space in between this pavilion and the library (brick building behind this one in the over all photo). I spent a few minutes there and produced a few artsy photos. I think Josh will recognize something is some of these.

Every architecture student has to have structures classes. Basically it is three semesters of physics with building materials. At Auburn the professors wanted us to do hands on learning and actually build something with concrete, metal, and wood. I would assume it is a similar practice at Rice. I found these benches and stools in the archs of the colonnade of the architecture building. Some are very interesting, other not, but I was intrigued by the last one I show here.

This one here is three slab of concrete: one as the seat, and two more on their sides to create a front and back panel of the base. Connecting the seat to the base is truck spring from the rear axel of a pick-up truck.

The spring works like it should too! The seat bobs up and down as you sit on it. It also rocks front to back, but that felt like a poor connection job between the seat and the springs. I made a video to show how much deflection the springs had in them, and then the seat started to rock, I felt like I was going to fall off so you see me brace for impact. It's kind of funny, once it's loaded up, I'll post a link here.

I know I'm a few days behind on this, but I'm still going to post these as one entry per day. Next comes my trip across West Texas, Yee Haw!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Kangaroo on the Wall

Howdy ya'll,

The night before I left I was able to meet a few friends for dinner. My little brother and his girlfriend, along with Nate and Lauren drove all the way from Auburn just to see me off. Walker came too, but he's from just around the corner. I'm really glad I got to say goodbye to those that showed up. I forced myself to not swell and tear up, but now I feel I have to succeed or I will let down everyone who loves and supports me.
Next morning, after a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and a cup of tea, I strapped the bike on the back of the car and hit the road. Several tears were shed because I don't know when I'll see my mom next, similar to those indefinite goodbyes I mentioned previously. I do think that she took it a little hard, and since she had a funeral to go to later in the day, she just flat out did not have a good day back in Alabama.

But I was on the move. Driving through lower Alabama brought back a few memories. I can remember driving down to Larry's Eagle Scout Ceremony in Georgina, and going all the way to Mobile for a Scholar's Bowl competition. My favorite resparked memory was that was cruising all the way to Miflin, late at night, singing to Led Zeppelin on the stereo as Rob and I were going down to visit Moon at the bay house.

There were several more memory nuggets; it was a long drive, I had plenty of time. Some I just laughed at, some I want to forget. With everything that entered my head I knew I had the chance to make plenty more, and hopefully along the Pacific Coast.

Alabama gave me a farewell send off... it sent goats. Yeah, I said goats. About 15 miles south of Montgomery on I-65, there was roughly 30 goats grazing on the side of the road. Some right about the lanes, others well off the shoulder, none of them seemed scared of the cars. I fell compelelled to whine, "Only in Alabama..."
I turned this trip into a photo graphic journey. I really enjoy old structures, especially the rusted ones. The photo I posted last time of the shipwreck is similar to what I like. When I passed certain things I made it a point to photograph them. At one point I saw a neat water tower in Mississippi so I pulled off the interstate and went on a hunt for it.
Speaking of Mississippi, they had an awesome welcome center. I like to stop at the first rest area of every state I visit on long trips. It's a chance to stretch my legs and it also lets me get a state map, which I like to collect one from each state I go through. Louisiana has closed all of their rest areas; it had been suspected that budgetary issues might be the reason. I had heard the ones on I-20 were closed as well. But in Mississippi, not only was the staff extremely courteous and helpful, but the facilities were amazing. It was set up like a museum of Mississippi history and culture. They had Elvis' Mardi Gras costume from his 1976 shindig! There was also a little exhibit about gulf coast towns pre and post Katrina. Mississippi was hit really hard, arguably harder than Louisiana, but it failed to get attention due to the issues around New Orleans. This little piece they had in the rest area was a moving memorial to the southern Mississippi victims of the hurricane. .

Following the two short stops in Mississippi, I was out of there ASAP! I got to Slidell, LA to gas up and eat lunch. The little GPS unit I have is a dream. Not only can I find a gas station, I can search for food and see what choices are available. It also lowers the anxiety level that comes with guessing on these types of trips. When traveling to D.C. I always thought the exit was "around the next bend".... then 37 "bends" later I still haven't found it. Now I'm able to site back and cruise until I'm told to prepare to turn "In Point-Nine miles." I feel as though I need to name it. I have a few options and I will have one picked before I get to California. But not a nice name, she's a meanie!

Baton Rouge, or as I like to call it Red Stick, LA was a fun stop for me. I dressed up the car with my Auburn flag and antennae helmet then drove through the LSU Campus. Fairly neat campus, but then again everything has a nice luster when you first see it. The city seems nice, but feels like it should be dirty. It was a roadway nightmare: horrible pavement conditions, crummy businesses and lots....LOTS of trash, graphitti, and condemned buildings. Red Stick doesn't make a great impression as one of those cities you'd love to be in.

Highlight of Red Stick was the park where I stopped. Granted it had an interstate bridge right over the lake, and it was butted up against the road way, it still produced a pleasant back drop.

Like a photographers photo shoot set, looking one way it's pleasing to the eye, looking the other direction it reveals its dissonance.

The other side of Baton Rouge just revealed refineries and rivers. I'm going to close this with a few pictures that caps off the evening of driving for me. As I mentioned with the water tower earlier I enjoy the structures I pass on the road. That means alot of bridges. I collected a couple on Tuesday and will have to upload to view online. I don't like how this blog site does photos so I'll put them on Flickr, but that will happen once I get settled up there in the northwest. The sunset photos are at the Texas welcome center. It had closed before I got there, but I still enjoyed the chance to stretch my legs and take these photos. Enjoy.Suspension arch bridge over the Mobile River, entering Mobile County, Alabama

Bridge over the lake at the park in Baton Rouge, LA

Bridge that spans the Mississippi River just east on Baton Rouge, LA

Upon entering the Texas rest stop at EXIT 880! WOW! I'm am going to drive 880 miles of I-10 in Texas. That's the entire drive to D.C. and here it's in one state!

The big star statue. It was welded square steel segments. Similar to what may be used as a column.

Star framed by the Texas and US flags. I've found out that Texas is the only state in which the state flag is properly display at the some height and with the same priority as the U.S. flag. It stems from Texas' acceptance into the Union. Being the only state to join voluntarily, the flag is just as important as the Flag of our Nation.

I wanted to put a scale figure in a photo so you could see how big this was. Only thing I cold think to use that would give you enough of an idea... was myself.

For you Dave, apparently you need to be able to so the rest of us are permitted to.

G'night Folks!

(Houston, TX)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The First Step is Hardest of All

Checking in here for what is potentially the last entry before I hit the road. I had a great weekend spending time with my mom and friends that have impacted me over the last five years. It was great to have one last hurrah before I leave. I didn't get to see everyone that I wanted too, but in the past 2 weeks I've see most of the people I'm going to miss.

I've found myself in an awkward position. For the first time in my life I'm saying goodbye without knowing when I'll see anybody again. I usually throw out a "See you next time" or "Catch you later," but I felt as though I was lying to people. I don't know when "next time" will be, I'm not sure if there will even be a later. I'm well aware of the fact that I may never see some of these people again.

When someone dies it's easy to understand that you won't see them again. When you break up with a girlfriend, you don't want to see them again. But the people I'm talking about are the ones who I confide in. These are the people I've helped and have helped me back. The guys you want standing next to in the worst of times and the friends you want to be laughing with during the best of times. This is the scariest, yet most refreshing thing about this trip for me. While I am leaving behind several great relationships with great people, I also get the chance to start fresh and open a new chapter in my life. It's easy to walk away from Montgomery; in fact it's a cakewalk. But I fear I'm going to miss the memories, the friends, and the 2 o’clock in the morning runs to Krispy Kreme. I won't have those all nighters in studio that seemed to happen 3 times a week, or the Waffle House "dinners" as the sun rises. I will most likely not be rolling any trees after a victory. I doubt I'll have those conversations on the couch that go on until the wee hours of the morning.

I do however get to see what life has available. I know I will not be the same person in two weeks after this trip. I will be a better endurance driver for sure! There will also be alot of time for self reflection. While I have already written a list of things I want to do in my life (Of which a cross country road trip is one of them....check!), this should also give me the opportunity to evaluation the person that I have become. There are areas in my life where I am not happy, and there are other areas where I don't think I can try harder to be better. This is my chance for a Henry David Thoraeu moment. I don't think he took this trip, but I do think that it is a modern adaptation of simple living in natural surroundings.

There are several people I need to blame for this idea, call it a spark of insanity or a mental leap towards greatness, but it's a complex accusation. While studies of Thoreau and his trip to Maine are a precedent it's really about a desire to see more than I have. I have a list of people from inspiring professors to encouraging friends and family. I would be lying if I said my surroundings and the ambition of the people from this area had no effect. There might even be a slight hint of the desire to prove myself, albeit to people are no longer in my life, but I still know I can take pride in outshining the vision they have/had of me!

P.S. Astoria has been green lighted. I have the keys to the house downtown, complete with a lavender flower key chain! I'm really excited about this, and now I feel indebted to the Wehtje family. I'm told the townsfolk are pleasant, and they should be expecting me. I was even warned that if word got to the chamber of commerce there, they might hang a banner to welcome me! Love it, Small Town, USA!

That is a shipwreck near Astoira. It's
the legendary remains of Peter Iredale.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge over the Columbia River.
Oregon-Washington State Line

Should you feel a strong desire to send a postcard (my favorite momento) I'll give you the address, just ask. I'd love to get some encouragement or even just a memory of something in the past.

As for now, I'll try to up load a few photos from the Anthropology Museum, in Mexico City, take two!

Statue piece with screen detail

Courtyard form the Azteca Gallery

Outdoor recreation of a temple.