Tuesday, April 19, 2016

On Our Last Leg

San Jacinto Monument
Everything that came after the George Strait Team Roping Classic seemed anticlimactic. But Lucy and Ethel still managed a few adventures on the return trip to Alabama.

We visited the San Jacinto Battleground and monument near Houston, where we learned a lot about Texas's fight for independence from Mexico. We barely made it across the Texas-Louisiana border before flooding forced the closing of I-10. Against our better judgment, we stopped for the night at a Motel 6 in Jennings, Louisiana.

There was an unusual development in this Motel 6 experience. The buildings had previously housed another motel chain, but when Motel 6 bought them out, they removed the existing hair dryers. “I asked that we keep them, because I had just bought new ones,” said the manager. “But they insisted that I remove them to be consistent with other motels in the chain.” He had kept them and stashed them away. He offered us one. “Do I leave it in the room tomorrow, or return it to you?” I asked.  “It’s complimentary,” he said. “Keep it.” (Note: I didn’t, because the cord was frayed.)

Lucy & Ethel show off their new
road trip tees.
We couldn’t find any place to eat in Jennings except for fast food, Mexican and a Waffle House. We settled on the Waffle House. It proved to be an interesting culinary experience. I found a salad on the menu that was supposed to have apples and walnuts on it. “We got any apples?” the tired-looking waitress called out to the cook. They did, but they were the dried kind, in a cellophane baggy with the nuts. Still, it wasn’t a bad choice. Annette and I almost doubled over in laughter when a waitress-in-training called out an order to the cook: “Plain omelet with egg,” she said. Is there any other way to make an omelet?

Moby almost got Lucy's arm!
The next day we stopped at one of the best tourist information centers we’ve ever encountered. It was in the Louisiana parish of West Baton Rouge, which bills itself as “the kite capital of Louisiana.” Tourism Center Manager Kayla Denova obligingly took our pictures with Moby, the largest alligator ever caught in the parish, shot on September 14, 2013. He was stuffed, of course. West Baton Rouge holds an annual kite festival, and has a kite-making station for children visiting the tourism center. “Can we take a kite kit home to our grandchildren?” we asked Denova. “Sure,” she replied cheerily, and put some kits together for us. Then she gave each of us a slightly larger kit for ourselves.

Tyler is proud of mini martinis.
Our next stop was Baton Rouge, where we had lunch with another National Federation of Press Women buddy, Marsha Shuler. A former NFPW president, Marsha was state government reporter for The Advocate newspaper for many years. She left that position in January to become policy manager for the commissioner of administration Jay Dardenee in the Division of Administration for the State of Louisiana. (Whew! What a title.) We lunched on pineapple-glazed shrimp with rice and steamed broccoli at the Capitol Grill. The joint features $2 lunch-sized martinis that are to die-for. I had the French Kiss: vodka and pineapple juice shaken and poured into a small martini glass, then topped with Chambord raspberry liqueur. The drink is layered, or you can stir it for a blended flavor. Dessert was bread pudding with orange sauce for me, carrot cake for Annette. “Our carrot cake is made in heaven and delivered here,” claimed our young waiter, Tyler. 

LSU's Tiger Stadium
After lunch, we spent an hour visiting the old state capitol, and were especially intrigued by its Huey P. Long exhibit. Then we stopped by LSU so Annette could add another football stadium to her photo collection. Tiger Stadium was our last major stop for this trip. By this time, we were eager to get home. 

Now, we’re packing for our next adventure, a trip to Las Vegas to see George Strait in concert. We have tickets for Friday and Saturday nights, April 22 and 23. Can you guess what my next blog will be about?

The nearly submerged building across the levee from
Tiger Stadium gives you an idea of the flooding there.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Let the Ropin' Begin!

Waiting in line.

Dozens of horse trailers lined the muddy shoulders of Boerne Stage Road near the San Antonio Rose Palace that foggy Friday morning. Dozens more occupied the grounds behind the fence. Most of those trailers contained living quarters, all belonging to the 583 teams registered for the 34th annual George Strait Team Roping Classic (GSTRC).

By the time Lucy and Ethel arrived at 6:40 a.m. on March 11, at least a dozen vehicles were already ahead of us. The gates open at 8 a.m., and there are no reserved seats, so folks line up early to get a good one.

An early sighting of The King.

Inside, a sea of middle-aged and older women was sprinkled with some younger ones, their male companions and a few children. The women kept their eyes peeled on the glass-fronted announcer’s booth, hoping for
a sighting of The King of Country Music. When he stepped out onto the balcony, it was difficult to say which was loudest: the clicking of telephoto lenses or the swooning of the women behind them.

Joyce Morris of Georgia is a FB friend of Annette
and a long-time GS fan.

Elaine & Annette
       There was great camaraderie among those women. Many had “known” each other for months or years via various George Strait fan pages on Facebook, so when they met each other, it was like running into old friends. With Strait’s music playing in the background, they compared digital photos, swapped email addresses with the few who didn’t bring cameras, and talked about their love for George. The old-timers, i.e., those who had attended the event before, tipped off the newbies as to when The King would be making his rounds via horseback and where to stand at the rail to touch his hand. It’s a wonder Facebook access wasn’t jammed, with all the postings going on. Ethel, a.k.a. Annette, posted a few shots for a Facebook buddy in Germany, who hopes to attend the roping next year. 

Once the calves started bolting out of the chutes, the guys watched the roping while the gals continued watching George and his family in the announcer’s booth. I did find one woman actually filling in her day sheet with scores, but she was the exception. With so many husbands accompanying their wives, I wondered how they felt about their spouses’ obsession with George. So I asked one or two.

"I don't care," said Clarence Cranford of Pontotoc, MS. His wife, Norma, chimed in, "He says I have more pictures on my phone and Facebook of George than I do of him."

Bill Arlitt first said his wife's life-size George Strait cutout in their Poteet, TX, kitchen does not bother him. Then he admitted, "I do get tired of it sometimes."

The first day’s roping went on until after midnight, with the teams who garnered a score on their first round qualifying for a second go at another calf. Lucy and Ethel left about 4:50 p.m. and went next door for a meal at the Scenic Loop Cafe. Each of us selected a “mini meal” so we’d have room for dessert and the Cafe’s famous Snake Bite Margarita. The latter consists of Jose Cuervo Silver, Grand Gala, lime juice and “snake venom,” (prickly pear juice). We shared a serving of Banana Enchiladas for dessert. They reminded me of a cannoli: chocolate-flavored “tortillas” wrapped around a cream-cheese filling, topped with slices of banana and drizzled with chocolate syrup. For someone who wasn’t very hungry, I ate well.

I must admit to my irreverence during the opening ceremonies Saturday morning. I wanted to get a shot of George without his hat. He took it off for the prayer and the singing of the national anthem, so instead of bowing my head like a good Southern Baptist, I trained my eyes on him. I wasn’t alone, though, because once again, the sound of clicking camera shutters was almost deafening. 

By the time he rode around the arena high-fiving everyone, many of us had been standing at the rail for an hour. Most folks wanted to touch his hand. Honestly, all I wanted was a photo of him touching Annette’s hand. What I got for my effort was her hand in the foreground and a blurry George Strait in the background.

Dustin Egusquiza (left) and Kyle Lawrence
made up the winning team.
Second-day rounds went much faster than the first, because only the top 50 teams qualified. By 2 p.m., it was all over but the shouting. The winners were Dustin Egusquiza of Florida and Kyle Lawrence of Andalusia Alabama, on a three-head average time of 13.99 seconds. Each received  $115,500, plus a 2016 Chevy Silverado dually truck and a trailer. The latter were painted up one side and down the other with George Strait photos and logos. George personally congratulated the winners and presented the awards, autographed the dash of each truck, and posed for photos with the team. For many present that weekend, that alone was prize enough.

The last three days of our Texas Road Trip was anti-climactic. But I’ll tell you a little about it next week. That’s assuming I have time to write while packing for Las Vegas, where Lucy & Ethel are going to see The King in concert — twice. Don’t expect me to write much about that adventure. Remember, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!

Thursday, April 7, 2016


The rainy weather leaving Lampasas, Texas, may have slowed down Lucy & Ethel’s car speed, but it didn’t dampen our shopping spirits. We were eager to get to Boerne and the George Strait Team Roping Classic, but we couldn’t resist distributing a few more greenbacks along the Texas back roads.
Following Highway 281, our first stop that Thursday (March 10) was The Pottery Ranch in Marble Falls (www.potteryranch281.com), where Annette bought a small metal bluebonnet and had it shipped home. Continuing to Johnson City, we picked up 290 toward Fredericksburg. We had spent considerable time and money there last year, so we figured we’d just drive straight through. But we went at it from a different direction this trip, so saw some things we missed in 2015.

A model Sunday House

We stopped at a Sunday House model home, where a sign proclaimed that you could have this “historical handcrafted” home built on your own site. The original Sunday Houses were built by early settlers who lived on remote farms and ranches and needed a place to stay when they came to town for Saturday marketing and Sunday church. Some originals are open for occasional tours and others serve as bed-and-breakfasts. I’m guessing that the new versions are being marketed toward the tiny homes movement. (For more info go to http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/cfs01.)

Our next stop was the Messina Hof Winery in Fredericksburg (messinahof.com), where I did a wine tasting. I bought their Paulo Texas limited-edition red blend, their Papa Paulo Port, and a box of dark chocolate truffles infused with port and molded into the shape of a tiny cluster of grapes. Note to self and other wine aficionados: Don’t buy wine and chocolates until the end of your road trip. The wine and port barely survived, and the chocolates melted into unrecognizable blobs.
A few blocks down the road we stopped at Wildseed Farms (www.wildseedfarms.com), a garden center that specializes in bluebonnets.  It’s the largest working wildflower farm in the nation, and includes walking trails through the production fields and gardens, a nursery, Biergarten, wine tasting and gift shop. We ate a light lunch, then wandered through the indoor shop, buying bluebonnet seeds and some small garden trinkets. It was still raining, so we couldn’t really peruse the trails or get good photos.

We took Highway 16 from Fredericksburg to Kerrville, arriving mid-afternoon. I was in the mood for a pastry, so we popped into the Hippie Chicks Bakery off Main Street. After our snack, we visited Creations, a quilt shop Annette had discovered via the internet (creations-online.com). She bought four quilt patterns and wads of fabric, while I purchased gray socks with horses on them and a book called “Texas Curiosities,” by John Kelso, updated and revised by Sharry Buckner. It features quirky characters, roadside oddities and other off-beat stuff. I read a few paragraphs in the shop and found Kelso, a longtime humor columnist for the Austin American-Statesman, to be a witty writer. I think it would be fun to do an Alabama version.

Creations has been owned by sisters Kathy Thompson and Julie Milam for 38 years. In addition to their shop, they have a building next door called The Main House, where they hold classes and three-day quilting retreats. It has an upstairs lodging area with 24 beds in six bedrooms, nine full baths, plus the downstairs sewing studio.
It will look even better framed and hanging on my wall.
My greatest find of the trip was at the River’s Edge Art Gallery (www.riversedgegallery.net) in Kerrville. Annette had purchased a colorful print of two longhorns in a field of bluebonnets at the Wildseed Farm. Imagine my delight upon discovering several originals by the same artist, Katherine McElwaine, who painted the original of Annette’s print. I bought an unframed one, and inquired about commissioning a larger piece to go over my fireplace. I’m waiting until I’ve recuperated from travel expenses before proceeding.

While in Kerrville I looked up a fellow member of the National Federation of Press Women. Bonnie Arnold, a staff writer for the Hill Country Community Journal, took a few minutes between assignments to meet us for a Coke and conversation. After Bonnie left, Annette and I had dinner at the H-E-B, a San Antonio-based grocery store chain with locations throughout Texas. Then we headed to Boerne via I-10 East and checked into our hotel.

Annette likes the GSTRC grand prize.
My next installment of Texas Road Trip 2016 will be a yippie-ki-yay from the George Strait Team Roping Classic in Boerne. Lucy and Ethel had too many adventures, big and small, to put this trip into one or two blogs. Meanwhile, here’s a little photo tease for you Strait fans.