Battleship Texas

We have always been a little envious of the carelessness with which the childless couples we know go off on little jaunts and weekend trips. For a long time, we’ve wanted to follow their example. After all, technically, we are a childless couple even if we act like parents out of habit. Yet every weekend is packed with household and garden chores, or else AJM is working. And is it really worth trying to get away, when everywhere you go you see the same strip malls and the same big box stores? The effort has always seemed greater than the benefit.

Then AJM says, “I want to see this battleship near Houston.” And so we find ourselves early Saturday morning heading east on Highway 71, steeling ourselves against the cold, drizzling rain with coffee and pastries from Jo’s. We’ve both brought our iPods with the idea of sharing music, but the road noise is so loud even in AJM’s car that we just end up listening to our own iPods with headphones.

Around noon we arrive at the San Jacinto Monument, a very tall skinny obelisk in the middle of a swamp. There is a tiny museum at the base, which I might have enjoyed more if we hadn’t rushed through it. I did find out that Sam Houston was a Union loyalist and refused a commission from Lincoln, but lost his job when Texas joined the Confederacy.

photo: Battleship Texas
This is not a black and white photo. It was just that kind of day.

The drizzle creates a perfect condition for visiting the Battleship Texas. Almost no one else is there so it’s easier to imagine that we are in the past on some cold sea. I’m fascinated by the living quarters: the laundry and the post office, the dentist and the operating room, the barber, the supply depot, and the toilets–which improved as one gained in rank. For the lowliest sailors, they were just seats over a common metal trench.

photo: Battleship Texas
The barbershop. I’m happier than I look. I’m just trying to hold very still to take the shot in the low light.

photo: Battleship TexasAJM came to see the big guns (which could shoot missiles the weight of a compact car 12 miles–they could hit the new Frost Bank Tower from the Arboretum). The engines were also interesting. I wouldn’t want to be working down there while the ship was in tropical waters.

It’s only a little after 1:00 when we finish walking around. We could have easily made the trip there and back in one day. But since we have hotel reservations, we decide to drive down to Galveston in search of lunch and something to look at. I never thought I’d find a place I’d like to live in less than Las Vegas. But then I’d never been to Pasadena, Texas before. In comparison Las Vegas is beautiful and Killeen, Texas a paradise. The third coast, at this point, is a mass of oil refineries and chemical plants. You can’t get away from the stink of it, even in the car with the windows rolled up.

We drive into Galveston with no idea of where we’re going. We see a sign indicating tourist-y sites to the left, but AJM can’t get over three lanes of traffic. So we turn right and left again and go parallel with the main street until we see a streetlight. We turn on 14th Street and stop at the first restaurant we see, the Mosquito Cafe. It turns out to be a very nice California-style place. After we eat, we walk around the East End Historical District looking at gorgeous 19th century houses. The vegetation is much more tropical than Austin. Two huge brugmansia were in full bloom outside one grand house.

We find our way down to the Strand, watch a huge cruise ship leave port, see the tall ship “Elissa“, and then find the tourist information center and a map that explains what we just did. Seeing Galveston makes me wish that the old Austin neighborhoods had been better preserved. We drive to the sea side of the island looking for a nice restaurant. The beach front is typically shabby-looking so we end up at the Mosquito Cafe for dinner.

Had I known we were going to end up in Galveston, I’d have made reservations at a B&B. Instead we have to drive back to Deer Park.

In the morning, we wend our way through Houston. The exit for I-10 is closed and we go around and around the spaghetti bowl looking for a way to get home. On the drive in, AJM spotted an IKEA and we decide to go. Now this was not a trip where the husband said, “Let’s visit a battleship.” and the wife said, “Sure, if we can go shopping at IKEA afterward.” It just happened that way.

I’ve never been to an IKEA and my expectations were disappointed. I expected something more along the line of Marimekko or Muji. Although I liked some of the designs, I thought the execution was cheap and shoddy. Still AJM was bewitched by gadgetry and I had to hold him back, lest he buy again. In the end, we found matching lamps for our bedside (at last!), a duvet cover (with little blue flowers–a bit girly for me), kitchen shears, a paring knife, and two cereal bowls for the boy. (He’s such a fan of Fight Club, I thought he’d like something from IKEA as ironic gesture.)

As we left IKEA and headed home, the sun came out. Around La Grange we saw the first roadside bluebonnets of this year. When we reached South Austin, I was so incredibly happy to be home. We live in one of the coolest places on the planet. I’m beginning to think the main reason to travel is to realize how lucky you have it at home.

After our usual Sunday visit to the Central library, we stop off for milk at Whole Foods. The place is a riot as it is the last day it will be open at this location.

4 Responses to “Battleship Texas”

  1. M2 Responds:

    I haven’t visited Galveston since before I learned details about the terrible hurricane, and how the city (semi) recovered from it. I must admit, the idea that a city could and would bootstrap itself up by 17 feet is fascinating.

    As much as I’d hate to be a “tragedy tourist,” there are many things that I’d like to see related to that specific tragedy. The metal lighthouse, for instance.

    One thing that struck me as interesting is that the city simply assumed that a percentage of the people “feared dead” were in fact using the hurricane as an opportunity to start a new life. Maybe it’s not so much of an assumption these days because of the difficulty of inventing a new identity … or maybe it still happens, and just isn’t much remarked on.

    Of course, when I go to Galveston (one of these days), I’d like to see the famed Moody Gardens, as well.

  2. mss Responds:

    According to the man at the information center, the famous 1900 hurricane wiped out the town on the sea side of the main street, Broadway. That’s not quite the same story I found here. But the neighborhood on the far side of Broadway is remarkably intact. And, unlike Austin, there seems to be an eclectic mix of people restoring and keeping up the old houses. They haven’t been converted to lawyer’s offices or hair styling shops.

    I just looked up Moody Gardens. So that’s what those pyramids were.

  3. KAT Responds:

    More weekend jaunts! I love hearing about your travels just as much as I do your garden and that fabulous shot of the letters on the sidewalk downtown.

    I’ve never been to Galveston. My grandfather went there to clean up after the Hurricane–there was a lot of work there, for awhile.

    One thing: didn’t we stay in Pasadena when we went to see Yes at the Astrodome? Or was that somewhere else. The name stuck in my mind–but then, it would

  4. bill Responds:

    I visited San Jacinto only once – with my parents the summer before I enrolled at Rice.

    I was a frequent visitor to Galveston in my college days. It was kind of shabby in those days. Sometimes I would just drive down and sit on the rocks listening to the surf for an hour or two at night and then drive back to the dorm.

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