Road Trip #3

It’s my third road trip of the summer (using the calendar-year end of summer, Sept 23, not Labor Day.) I wish it could be as leisurely as the one that kicked off this blog, but I can’t really be away from New Orleans that long these days… job searching takes time, y’all. In August we drove from D.C. to New Orleans with a 15-foot truck that contained all of my belongings, including my crazy cat, so we couldn’t really stop. We’re using this opportunity to repeat most of that route and spend time with our friends and family.

Day 1: Drive from New Orleans to Atlanta and stay with one of my closest friends from college.
Day 2: Drive to Charlotte to for the wedding of two of my boyfriend’s grad-school friends
Day 3: Drive to Winston-Salem. Meet up with one of my (other) closest friends from college. Stay with the couple that introduced my boyfriend and I to each other (they are New Orleans ex-pats, but they will be coming back here 100%) and go see Cowboy Mouth!
Day 4: Hang out in Winston-Salem. Drive to Columbia, SC in the evening to stay with my brother.
Day 5: Drive to New Orleans, stopping in Atlanta to eat with a dear friend from D.C. who now attends the Portfolio Center.

I wish that we could take the scenic routes to some of these destinations, but when I looked up the off-roads to Atlanta, Google Maps said it would take 11 hours. Eight hours sounds much better after that…

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Where Y’At, Kind of New Orleanian Blog?

I have been a bad, bad blogger. It’s been two weeks since my last post. Shame, I have it.

But I also have a good excuse–moving. My boyfriend and I said goodbye to our lovely Uptown sublease, traveled to D.C., packed up my life there, drove  south in a 15-foot truck (with my cat) and arrived back here to a new place in Mid City. I’ll write up some of my thoughts from those events in upcoming posts, but for now I’ll update y’all* on some things I’ve blogged about before.

Recycling
Recently I wrote about recycling in New Orleans. A few days after the post went up, the Times-Pic published the article New Orleans Recycling Efforts Not a waste, but Has a Long Way to Go. The article is optimistic, and says that NOLA has diverted approximately two percent of its waste from the landfill.

In my recycling post I mentioned my disappointment with the city for not recycling glass, especially because Abita (arguably the most consumed beer in the city) comes exclusively in bottles. Well, big up to this Big Easy brewery, because it announced on July 25 that three of its most popular flavors will come in cans, starting in 2012.

Austin Updates: My Questions Answered
In June, when I wrote about my experience driving through Austin. I quote myself (how narcissistic) “I don’t remember hearing much about Austin in the 1990s. I am also curious as to how the city became what it is. A friend said she’d send me a link to a set of stories NPR did on the city’s growth.”

Lizette made good on her promise: Austin, TX, Growing Pains. It’s from this rad site called “State of the Reunion,” which explores how American cities and towns create community and cultural narratives about the uniqueness of these places. Basically, I’m going to read and listen the hell out of this site… as soon as my boyfriend and I get internet in our new place.

*trying to use “y’all”


 

 

The Expected and Unexpected in Texas

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*I typed this in the car. It could be better. I will fix when I am on land.

There are some things I expected from Texas. I have seen ranches, cowboy hats and a man getting arrested in a gas-station Wendys. I’ve heard country music, “y’all’s” and a chatty woman casually utter a racial slur. But the most surprising thing about Texas is everything I didn’t expect.

The Landscape
Our detour into West Texas took us through Guadalupe National Park. I had no idea such an epic mountain range existed in the state. We drove through a forboding thunderstorm accompanied by high winds that blew smoke from a nearby fire. Coupled with the fact that we were one of the only cars on the road, I felt like we were driving to the end of the earth. It was beautiful and eerie.

On Friday we drove through Texas hill country, which is dotted with farms, peach stands and–as billed– hills. We passed through some adorable towns. Fredericksburg looks like something out of a movie. An adorable Texas movie.

Marfa
Although it seems everyone in Texas knows about this place, I feel like I am breaking some serious news here. Guys,– assuming you like hipsters and randomness–Marfa, Texas is awesome.

At first glance, Marfa looked like all the sleepy, one-block towns we had seen in the southwest. It was already nightfall, so we weren’t going to be able to see the great art galleries my friend had recommended to us. The streets were empty and the town was dark, but we made it to The Miniature Rooster just in time to order dinner.

So I don’t have any pictures or the restaurant or Padres, the bar we went to afterwards, but somehow we had driven to a hipster oasis. Miniature Rooster had an amazing menu (shrimp and grits with some foam–sorry, this ain’t a food blog, but it was YUM) and decorations straight out of the pages of Ready Made Magazine. Padres had a stage and a back porch, lit by Christmas lights. We joined a small group of cigarette-smoking bearded guys to watch the Heat/Mavs game.

I was desperate to find out how this artistic community chose this area to make their haven. Sure, it’s cheap– but wouldn’t any remote town been just as cheap? In talking to the people in Marfa, it seems most are Austin transplants, but no one could say WHY Marfa. The only attraction there is the Marfa lights– but how did art follow? We drove through Roswell New Mexico and it didnt seem like alien sitings lured anyone funky. So I guess the lights arent the only mystery in the town. And speaking of…

The Marfa Lights
I think I saw them? We stopped at a viewing station they have set up, which is just binoculars and bathrooms. I can’t remember the last time I was somewhere so dark and quiet. I was even a little scared. You could barely see the person next to you.

I did see SOME stuff. I saw some light over the horizon and two shiny things that looked like headlights. The people that stood with us said that wasn’t it, but the woman at our hotel said that if you saw any lights, those were the Marfa lights. Okay! So… I saw the Marfa Lights?

Austin
I thought I’d have tons to say about Austin. After all, it’s the city I’ve heard the most about from our travels.

But Austin turned out to be exactly how I imagined. And I mean that in a flattering way. The food is amazing and overwhelming. The city doesn’t just have the very popular food trucks– they have food trailers. (Everything is bigger in Texas?) They are everywhere. And every single person you ask has at least five different recommendations as to where you can get the best BBQ and breakfast tacos. And as a design heavy city, each place had a well-considered brand and it’s own tshirt.

It was HOT and HUMID, so we didn’t do too much. We heard music on sixth street and went dancing in East Austin, but mostly we sat around. Driving for over a week and eating will do that to you.

I was most surprised with how unpretenious I found the city. In the past decade it seems the majority of all things cool in music, food and design originate in Austin and Brooklyn. I enjoy Brooklyn, but have found it scene-y, self conscious and intimidating. I assumed the same for Austin, but it just didn’t have that air. Is it cos it’s in the south?  Cos it’s too hot for people to care? Yet another Texas mystery.

I don’t remember hearing much about Austin in the 1990s. I am also curious as to how the city became what it is. A friend said she’d send me a link to a set of stories NPR did on the city’s growth. I’ll post them here for y’all. (See how I did that!)

Another thing that I found surprising about Austin: most places have fans instead of air conditioning. All the other southern cities I’ve been to blast the air. What’s with that, Austin? Not cool. Literally.

New Mexico in Context

Route 285 in New Mexico. This is the busiest the road ever looked.

On the car ride from New Mexico to Texas, I read my boyfriend the post I wrote about Albuquerque. As an urban planner he is trained to look at cities in context, and he had a different perspective. Although I viewed the city’s big box stores as tacky reflections of urban sprawl, my boyfriend assumed that most other parts of the New Mexico didn’t have those services. He told me that Albuquerque is the biggest city in the state and reminded me of a conversation we had with an employee of the funky Flying Star Cafe. When we told her we were visiting the city, she excitedly recommended we visit the Borders a few blocks away. I giggled as we left the restaurant. “Borders! As if that’s an exotic place!” I said (or something equally snobby).

However, the Albuquerian’s enthusiasm made more sense  as we drove southeast through the state.

Most human activity ceased about 45 minutes outside of Albuquerque. For miles all I saw was barren yellow grass. As the car grew low on gas, the desperation for a town increased. Everything was bordered up in the first town we passed through, including the gas station. A trip to Wikipedia told us that, as of the 2000 census, the city had 96 people.

Vaughn’s main street

Vaughn, about 20 miles down the road, was a little better in that it had two working gas stations… but not much else. As I took a picture of a vintage sign outside a motel the motel’s older owner started talking to me. He said Vaughn was established at the turn of the 20th century as a railroad town. It once had 1,900 people, but now is has 500. The man was glad I liked the sign even though some of the neon had gone out. He wants to get it fixed, but it costs $1200 and means he has to ask  someone to drive up from Roswell, which is almost 2 hours away. He has four kids, but they’ve all moved away to Albuquerque.

Another view of Vaughn, with the vintage hotel sign on the right.

As I got back into the car and took another look at the bordered up businesses around us, I thought about how much a Walmart, Sears or, yes, a Borders would mean to the 500 people who lived in the area. Albuquerque looked pretty good now.

Ehbuquerque

Inside the Balloon Museum

Albuquerque was a controversial choice. When considering a stop in New Mexico, Taos and Sante Fe seemed alluring, with their artist communities, rich histories and Georgia O’Keeffe museum. But I heard that Albuquerque is less touristy, which appeals to me.

I admit, fatigue got the best of this traveler and her companion. A late start meant only an hour at the impressive and thoughtful Balloon Museum. An hour was not enough time to experience it in full, but I did glean some interesting facts. Did you know that zepplins were considered advantageous during World War I because the enemy couldn’t hear them approaching? This, despite the fact that they’re totally easy to pop!

Village square in Old Town Albuquerque

We visited Old Town Albuquerque (your standard tourist spot), drove by some adobe-style homes and made two stops at the Flying Star Cafe, but I can’t claim that I really got to know the city. It’s more of a sprawling than I thought, and is brimming with the chain stores you see everywhere. What struck me as unusual is that the city has southwesternified all the typical eyesores of a concrete city. The walls of the freeways are painted warm browns and oranges, public art stands by many highway exits and most street medians are well manicured. The city does a good job of making you feel like you are somewhere, because the gluttony of big box stores and roads make you feel like you are nowhere.

Still, the city doesn’t seem that unusual. Even the funky area near the University of New Mexico reminds me of a less intimate and beautiful and Gainesville. Albuquerque is okay, but next time I’m in New Mexico maybe Taos and Santa Fe are worth a look.

Recalculating

Before departing for this trip, I sent the itinerary to one of my dearest friends, Melanie, who lives in Dallas and has spent a lot of time in the state. She was aghast when she saw that I had planned to drive from Albuquerque to Austin through the Texas panhandle. She said that this route included some of the “dullest roads” in the state and probably the country, and suggested we reroute through Marfa, Tx. The city has a vibrant arts community and as well as the unexplained Marfa lights. By taking this route we will also see Hill Country, a beautiful part of Texas and the birthplace of LBJ (yay, Civil Rights Act! Boo, Vietnam!)

The Beau explored the route and found that we can visit both Roswell and the Carlsbad Caverns. Excellent!

We leave Albuquerque in the morning and head on our way. We’ll be in Austin Friday night. New Orleans, Monday evening.