River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Texas here I come

September 2005

Anne gives us a delightful review of her recent visit to Texas

Martin, my younger son, has now been in Texas for 12 weeks, so it is time for a visit from his Mum. I only took the minimal amount of luggage and was treated with suspicion at Gatwick, as everyone else had cases to go in the hold.

After a ten-hour flight, I was looking forward to him meeting me, but life is not straightforward, no one even remotely like him in the crowd. .... I had to borrow a phone, to ring him, to say I had landed (he had heard that my flight had been delayed an hour and was waiting in the car park in his air conditioned car ... well the temperature was 33 degrees C.so it seemed sensible)

The drive to Fort Worth was my first time on a many-laned freeway, with other traffic passing on both sides. Most other vehicles were large pick ups, and were a status symbol, until Martin told a Texan friend that, in U.K. they were used by tradesmen, as their working cars.

Pleased to see his flat, with a Texan bed so tall that my feet did not touch the floor. A small closet big enough to hold a single bed. His bedroom curtain was an England flag. The Texan bath, too wide to use, as my arms would not reach both sides at once, (note to any youngsters reading this; to enable me to get in and out again). The ceilings were 10 feet high, with set in light bulbs. He was not using the open fire place.

He cooked a good meal for us, but touched the oven cloth on the oven's open element. As we ate, smoke arose and set off all the alarms in the flats. Luckily the automatic sprinklers did not cut in, to wash his computers, and a bowl of water solved our problem, his burned hand was better in the morning.

On Friday I visited the local supermarket, differences I noticed were, the prices shown did not include the tax of 8.25%, added on at the till. There were no fresh fruit, vegetables, frozen food or chiller cabinets. (Martin's nearest chilled food was 5 miles away!) With temperatures in the 90's a car was a must. Then an hour's drive to a local wildlife park, stopping for a Wataburger on the way, a much bigger beef burger than I have had before. I will have to get used to wasting food. Soft drinks were large and you could have as many free refills as you liked and lids were provided so you could take some away with you. The park was a bit of a let down. The white mice which had been put in with the rattlesnakes were all still there when we left. The old trees were not that old, but I saw a jack rabbit (long-legged and skinny), Chickadees (similar to bluetits) and Northern cardinals (big red finches).

Downtown to eat, just off Sundance square. Bible belt country (a church for every day of the week) and someone tried to convert me (I am not sure to what.)...Crab insulata. Great, I could get used to this food. A few men wore Stetsons, and kept them on whilst eating.

On Saturday I walked downtown to a corner shop. The Asian proprietor assured me that he was a practicing Muslim and was relieved that my only reason for being there was to spend money. A great bookshop with a coffee bar (free water) and rest rooms (don't call them W.C.s,) took most of my time. Tried some, new to me, type ice cream, best described as polystyrene beads, in vanilla and mint colours and flavours, which melted in the mouth, if it did not fall on the floor first.

To a friend's for a barbeque in the evening, and I noticed teenagers are the same the world over, needing money! Beef and Chicken fajitas with avocado sauce were delicious. This family cooked outside to save the kitchen getting hot.

We visited the famous "Stockyards" on Sunday. There were 14 head of cattle (Longhorns) and about 6 cowboys. Part of the show was the cattle drive through the streets. Having driven cattle in my youth, I expected the pace to be faster than a slow amble, how wrong can you be. The stagecoach museum had old carts from USA and Leominster etc. I expect Martin will have to bring all his visitors here !!!

Evening at an open-air concert. The trees were full of cicadas, which sang as loudly as the orchestra. Some tables that were laden with food, still seemed to be groaning at the end of 4 hours. Some teenagers were playing rummy, while eating Kentucky fried chicken by the bucket. (But did have small vases of flowers on their table) The 1812 overture was spectacular, fireworks raining down on the audience. But the tickets were a third the price of the same in England.

Decided to swim on Monday, so wearing costume and towel (as no changing rooms). I crossed the road to the pool; The Texan Jacuzzi was so big that a life belt hung at the side. It was great to cool down, but dripping wet, I had walk down the road to traffic lights to cross the 5 lane carriageway to get back. We drove to Waco to see the suspension bridge over the Brazos river, and the Luther King memorial, then stopped at a Subway for a filled roll, one could choose which, and how much, filling was added. Rather nice. Then crossed the Colorado and Guadeloupe rivers on the way to San Antonio (the 9th largest city in USA);until now these had just been names on my globe.

I noticed deer, rabbits (both run over) black vultures, mallard and lots of grackles (black birds) making lots of noise. It was surprising how green the countryside was, with lots of big trees and some yellow flowered cacti. Assorted cattle drank at a stream with blue, pink winged, dragonflies. There were large fields of maize and what I presumed were baby sweet corn, and several fields of beans; the black eyed variety?

Booked into an old hotel, (must be 70 years old) the bedroom window had a do not touch sign. We ate at a Mexican restaurant, with lots of music and atmosphere. I chose baby goat (It could not be called kid here!) refried beans (not the green sort, but boiled and mashed with lard), guacamole filled tacos and Spanish rice. Was offered a doggy bag for left overs, but have no dog.

Waffles for breakfast. What looked like Danish pastries were dry sponge things and the instant porridge contained sugar! Shame they had run out of orange juice and I found out why no one bothered to eat the apples...but they did look red and tasty.

I wanted to see the cathedral and walked straight in, followed by a coffin. First time I have gate crashed a funeral. I hopefully looked ashamed as I made a hurried exit.

Went in The Alamo. A really old building, pre 1835. It was the scene of battle, when fewer than 200 soldiers, including Davy Crocket and Jim Bowie defended it, and the women and children inside, against 2000 Mexicans. The help they were waiting for never arrived and 169 were killed. I will now not need to see the film! The other tourists, mostly from Texas, were so proud of this bit of history.

San Antonio is also famous for its river walk. The river (which is clean and supports fish and ducks) loops through the centre of the city with sidewalks, lined with cafes, shops hotels etc. All below the level of the rest of town. Very touristy looking boats gave rides. We sat in the shade with a long drink and watched the world go by. And then back to the cathedral. Founded in 1731, the oldest in the USA. (Just a normal service this time). Stained glass windows and a beautiful golden altar, very large because this is Texas. A stone coffin holds the bones of Davy Crocket etc. The temperature was well into the 90 degrees's in the shade as we drove to the missions founded by the Spanish 300 years ago. They are similar to English Priorys. Indians were let into these religious compounds and taught trades so they could weave etc. for the Spanish. I do hope they were grateful. The churches had Spanish carvings and were still in use. The grass inside was very dry and the shrubs were mostly cacti.

Drove to a Taco bar for lunch. Mine was toasted cheese and I helped myself to garnishes, the one I thought might be lettuce was salantro and I tasted it for hours. On to Austin, the state capital. It was named in honour of Mr Austin, having previously been Waterloo. Lots of parking spaces in the centre, for a small fee, and we visited the state library, it was free to enter and huge. We seemed to be the only visitors and admired some encyclopaedias identical to mine and many old books. Then to the Capitol building. I was astounded that we just walked in. I expected to, at least, have my handbag searched. We could go any where except the legislative chambers. We looked from the gallery to see laws being passed. (To save money on education) and noticed all members had their own desk and computer. Some sat with feet up and some were walking around talking. (No-one was playing computer games). The floor of the rotunda has the flags of the six countries that have ruled over Texas. The dome is higher than that of Washington. The treasury room now houses antique banking machines. The agricultural museum shows all the foodstuffs grown in Texas. I sat on the governor's chair in his private sitting room.

Just a sandwich for tea. Cinbati bread and so big that I had to open it to get it in my mouth, no side salad as an extra, just unasked for chips. Of course some was left on my plate. (One day I will have room for a pudding) Then to congress bridge, under which is the summer home to 750,000 pregnant female free tail bats. They fly in from Mexico at 10,000 feet at 60mph. They had given birth by the time of our visit and at sunset left the young behind to go out to feed on tons of insects, mostly mosquitoes. Quite a sight as blankets of them took to the skies. In 5 weeks the young will fly with them, making a total of 1.5 million. As they flew out a bird was waiting for tea, so now there is one less. I also saw night herons and a turtle in the river.

A long drive back. We were keeping to the daytime speed limit, but the night time limit was less than this. (Martin's USA licence would be revoked if had a misdemeanour in the first 6 months here) A kindly officer stopped us and, luckily, just issued a warning and we could breathe again.

A day to myself so went to the Cattle Rustlers museum, geared to teach children the history of Texas. I found it really interesting. It was OK to shoot a rustler, but a crime to kill a lawman. There were many branding irons, all different, and hopefully impossible to alter to someone else's mark. Rustling is still big business today, with cattle trucks also being stolen to transport the stolen cattle to Mexico.

I treated Martin to a meal out, and I picked Salmon with an Eastern sauce, mashed potato with garlic and for the first time fresh vegetables. Martin did not allow me to eat it all, and so I was able to share a pudding with Martin, lemon cheesecake with an inch of cream on top.

Time to return to UK. On the plane I sat next to a well travelled student who was going to UK for the summer, not bringing any jumpers, coats or socks with him, as it would be at least 80 degrees.

I am now looking forward to going back, (once the temperature falls to 70 degrees) to "The Friendly State.

Anne Brown

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