Monthly Archives: November 2011

Young Man On The Road #20: Steers and Queers

I hadn’t been motivated to write throughout the entire month of September.  The trip’s over, I’m back in Hawaii, and I have three more states to write about.  Let the freewriting begin!

PS: As always, bonus points if you caught the title’s reference.

August 15 – 23

Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Lubbock, TEXAS

Texas is big.  We spent a lot of time in a lot of places, making it impossible to concoct a single-themed story.  I decided, instead, to just pick and choose random memories from our time within the Lone Star State.

And so, I give you. . .

THE TOP TEN TAKEAWAYS FROM TEXAS

1) Spatially, Houston is a lot like Los Angeles.

Houston is a big city.  And not in a towering-skyscrapers-and-bustling-crowds kind of way, but in a damn-this-covers-a-lot-of-land kind of way.  Like Los Angeles, it’s spread out over a huge area with no real city center or notable downtown.  Unlike Los Angeles, however, it is actually just one city.  Everything was a car drive away, so we did a lot of nothing, which was fine by our CouchSurfing host, Brett, because he didn’t want to go out either.  We just lounged in his air conditioned house all day and played video games while his friends dropped in every now and then.  He was exactly the host we wanted at that moment.

2) Houston is home to the best breakfast diner, hands down.

The only time we went out during the day was to a breakfast place.  Wait, let me rephrase that: to THE breakfast place!  Brett introduced us to local hotspot and diners’ delight The Breakfast Club, whose towering and tasty breakfast dishes are outshined only by its impeccable service.  This was an order-at-the-counter type place.  All they had to do was have one person at the register to place my order and I’d have been satisfied.  Instead, there was a greeter at the door to manage the line outside, walk through the menu with the newcomers, and hug all the regulars.  There were several people behind the register to take your order, suggest meals if you’re still unsure, and start a little small talk.  A manager came around to every table to make sure everything was okay.  Even the food runners and bussers took care of you.  And they all did it with a genuine smile.  I’d have enjoyed the experience even if my food was mediocre.  Thankfully, it was a generous portion of taste bud euphoria.

How do you improve a chicken and waffles dish? By surrounding a perfectly-grilled Belgian waffle with six seasoned, tender chicken legs. Fist pump from our host, Brett.

3) Lone Star is Texas’ version of PBR.

Seeing as Houston was so spread out, it made sense that there would be a niche neighborhood for every type of person.  And seeing as our channel for meeting people was an international culture-sharing online community, it came as no surprise that we found the hipster pocket of Houston.  We spent our first night drinking cheap beer at an outdoor bar with guys in skinny jeans.  Believe it or not, Texas has hipsters, and hipster Texans have Lone Star beer.  Of course, you can still get Pabst Blue Ribbon in Texas, but you’d be remiss not to grab a 16 oz. tallboy of Lone Star for one dollar.

16 oz., 4.8% ABV, $1

And as we followed the trail from the hipster pocket of Houston to the hipster haven of Austin, so too did we follow the trail of that cheap, ironically popular beer.  We found Lone Star all along Sixth Street, and they were all still just one dollar.  It wasn’t bad tasting, per se, but I had about five before I was even the slightest bit tipsy.  I’d rather spend the same amount of money and save stomach room by buying one old fashioned and getting the same effect.  I guess I ain’t a hipster.

4) If you like being outdoors and hate spending money, Austin is the place for you!

I was low on money by the time we rolled into Texas, and though worth the price, my meal at The Breakfast Club in Houston hit the bank relatively hard.  So imagine how happy I was that my number one destination in Texas had much to offer in free, outdoor activities.  There’s a place called Barton Springs near a giant park close to the University where people can swim in natural, fresh water springs.  Of course, there’s also a sectioned-off portion that was made into a pool, but why pay the $3 entry free when you can gallivant in the same water for free?

Never have I seen such a seemingly literal division of classes. The free swimming area is in the foreground, and the fenced-off spring-fed pool is in the background.

That nearby giant park is called Zilker Park and is the location of Austin’s summer-long concert series Blues on the Green.  It’s a free, outdoor music festival that happens every Wednesday for six weeks of the summer.  We happened to catch the last night of the series, the headlining act being Los Lonely Boys.  It was surprising and soul-satisfying to see a city provide such a professional show for tens of thousands of people, free of charge.  Of course, the food vendors that lined each side of the park made bank off us, but it is easy to justify overpriced barbecue with free live music.

5) If you love movies but hate the typical movie-goer, Austin is the place for you!

The Alamo Drafthouse is a haven for movie buffs who are fed up with today’s plot-discussing, question-asking, not-so-subtly-texting, idiotic, movie-going crowd.  They aren’t only known for kicking people out of the theater for talking or texting, they pride themselves in doing so!  There’s a well-known ad they play before each movie of a real voicemail they received from an angry customer who felt unjustly victimized because she “didn’t know that she wasn’t allowed to text in a movie theater.”  (Idiot.)  She sarcastically thanked them for being assholes.  They’re response: “You’re welcome.”

I couldn’t wait to go!

My lovely friend and our gracious host, Sarah, with me on Sixth Street near Alamo Drafthouse.

Not only does the Alamo Drafthouse play major blockbusters as well as indie flicks, but they show a lot of old films, too, and usually with some sort of accompanying activity: sing-along, quote-along, live comedian commentaries, etc.  We chose the Action Pack Thursday showing of Starship Troopers (1997), one of my favorite cheesy sci-fi flicks.  Included with the price of admission was a live pyrotechnic show that coincided with the on-screen explosions and a toy cap gun we could use to shoot at the alien bugs (though most exhausted their ammo shooting at Denise Richards)!

On top of all that, the Alamo Drafthouse serves restaurant-level food and house-brewed beer to your seat in the theater!  Servers come around to take order while they play old movie trailers.  Why aren’t you already on a plane for Austin?!

6) “The Six Flags of Texas” is an interesting tidbit of information elsewhere, but an oft hammered-in history lesson in Texas.

While in a bar in Hawaii months before the start of my trip, I was quizzed by an older gentleman about the origin of the term “Six Flags,” as in the amusement park franchise.  He revealed that it started with a single amusement park called “Six Flags Over Texas” and stood for the six different countries that at one point in history ruled–and hence flew their flag over– what is now Texas.  I correctly guessed five of them (Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, and the United States of America), but failed to guess the sixth (the Confederate States of America).  I found it to be an interesting piece of trivia and fun conversation starter wherever you are. . . as long as it’s not Texas.  Texans love their own history and since the Six Flags are flown everywhere in the state, they wouldn’t find the question challenging.

As found in a children's coloring book in the Texas State History Museum.

SIDENOTE: Ian and I agree that if a Southerner wanted to represent their heritage, the First National Flag of the Confederate States of America (shown in the bottom left) would be a worthy banner, historically more accurate and definitely less controversial than the more well-known Confederate Battle Flag, a.k.a. the “rebel” or “Dixie” flag, which never officially represented the CSA as a nation.  All the pride of the South without the stigma of racial insensitivity.

7) The Alamo is, unexpectedly, in the heart of downtown San Antonio.

When I envisioned the Alamo–the last stand of slave-owning rebels who, actually, weren’t American–I saw in my mind a Spanish-style mission in the middle of a deserted Texas plain, somewhere on the outskirts of San Antonio.  We followed our GPS unit through downtown San Antonio until we realized. . . we weren’t going through downtown, we were stopping in it.  Our end destination was a bustling tourist street with chain restaurants and a Ripley’s Believe It or Not.  Across the street was a Spanish-style mission and the materialization of my disappointment in the tourism of historical sites.  The Alamo. . . THE Alamo, was but only one stop between the movie theater and the Five & Dime on a San Antonio tourists’ itinerary.  We entered the Alamo out of equal parts obligation and pity. . .

Five minutes later, we were done and hungry.  Place was boring.  Show a video!  Have historical reenactors!  A small-scale display and well-manicured garden doesn’t cut it.  The Alamo doesn’t stand a chance amongst all the modern day distractions.

We beelined it to San Antonio’s other tourist attraction: the Riverwalk.  Talk about a saving grace!  I really wanted to stay and eat along the river, but both time and money were running low, so we hightailed it to Lubbock.

The Riverwalk. We were in no position to pay for restaurant food at the time, but at least the view was free.

8 ) A friend of your aunt is your aunt, and she will spoil you, too.

Sometime near the beginning of the road trip–I think it was in Colorado–I got a message from a woman named Donna through this blog.  Turned out she was a friend of my aunt and a follower of my blog.  Donna saw that we were planning on stopping in Lubbock and offered us a couple rooms in her house.

Our response was an obvious yes.

As I posted blog entries and photo albums from around the country, Donna was there every step of the way with a comment, and sometimes a plug for Lubbock.  She seemed just as excited to host us as we were to crash there.  It would have been much harder to leave Austin if it weren’t for the promise of giant beds and home-cooked barbecue.  When we got there, those promises were just the tip of the iceberg.

Ian and I got our own rooms with the aforementioned giant beds, as well as our own televisions with digital cable.  The home-cooked meals were big and plentiful.  And free.  Our hosts were truly hospitable and eager to please.  Donna’s niece Rachelle even took us around town, playing tour guide to Texas Tech, the Buddy Holly statue, and the many bars and nightclubs she frequents.  Rachelle couldn’t understand why we didn’t drink that much; I don’t think anybody truly understood just how broke we were by that leg of the trip.  That fact just made us appreciate the comfort of Donna’s home even more.

Me and my Texas auntie.

It’s ironic: the city where I felt the most like a foreigner (see below) had a host that made me feel truly at home.

9) Never have I felt more like a foreigner in my own country than in West Texas.

Although I felt right at home at Donna’s place, we’d go out to one of Rachelle’s bars and I’d feel like a visitor in a foreign land.  The locals have their own dance, and they ALL know how to do it (Google “two-stepping”), they have their own songs, and they ALL know all the words (Google Kevin Fowler’s “Pound Sign”), and they carry themselves differently in a social setting (I have no idea what you should Google for that).  I felt like I was uncovering a new culture every step of the way. . . or should I say, every TWO-step of the way!

I already feel bad for that pun.

I’m not complaining, mind you.  I just found it all very interesting how citizens of the same country can belong to such vastly different cultures.  I don’t know how to describe it without sounding narrow-minded, biased, or suggestively cynical, so instead I implore you to go out and discover the foreign cultures in your own backyard, so to speak.  I mean, while it’s still in your own backyard. . .

10) Texas seems ready to secede as soon as they have a chance.

Despite Texas being a breeding ground for uber-patriotic Americans, I sensed this underlying feeling that Texans just want Texas to be its own country again.  In addition to having their own cultural nuances (see above), they fly their flag at the same height as the US flag (and more often), refer to themselves as Texans first (though I do the same as a Californian), and never let anyone forget about how they were once the Republic of Texas.  You know that stereotype about how New Yorkers don’t shut up about being from New York City?  You can see a statewide version of that pride everywhere in the state, from plaques with famous Texas quotes in every gift shop (“You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas!” – Davey Crockett), to state-shaped decals on every truck, to oversized Lone Star flags on every front porch.  Texas isn’t the West.  Texas isn’t the South.  Texas is Texas, period.

The only other state I’ve seen with that much pride and desire for sovereignty is Hawaii.

"The stars at night are big and bright, (clap clap clap clap) deep in the heaaart of Texas!"

I don’t know what it is about regional pride, but it makes me very happy.  Maybe to see people so in love with their state justifies–or excuses–my own pride in California.  The whole trip, but Texas especially, made me yearn to be back in the Golden State.

We just had to get through the Southwest first.

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Young Man On The Road #19: Who Dat?

 by Guest Blogger Melanie V. Ramil (Sister of “Young Man”)

I had the great pleasure of joining my brother along his continental adventure in the great city of New Orleans.  It was both an excuse to spend time with him and to explore a new city which I had yet to visit, and an opportunity for me (finally) to treat him to a vacation as his long overdue college graduation gift.  To recount his New Orleans leg, he has bestowed upon me the honor of guest blogger of entry #19 to share our days there together.  Enjoy! 

August 11 – 14

New Orleans, LOUISIANA (aka, NOLA, Crescent City, The Big Easy)

Some things never change.  My flight landed at MSY in New Orleans at 11pm, a surprising 30 minutes before our stated arrival time.  I had confirmed with my brother days beforehand that he could pick me up from the airport, and I made sure to send him my flight information so he knew exactly what time I would be arriving and on which airline.  Excited, I texted him, “Just landed!  Got here early.”

His response?  “I just paid cover at a bar and the band is still setting up.  Can I stay for a few songs?”

Whhhaaattt?!?!

Little brother strikes again.  For any and all birth order theories claiming that responsibility and organization belong to the first born, and that the carefree and laid back among us are the last born, my brother and I are their poster children.

It was my first night in NOLA and I had not seen my Bubs for awhile, so Ate (Tagalog word for “older sister” and term of endearment, so I assume, my brother used for me) was going to be nice.  I texted back and said he can listen to a few songs, but “please don’t leave me here all night.”

On his way to the airport, he gets lost following the wrong directions.  Once my little brother actually follows the correct directions and makes it to the airport, its 1am and I had been waiting at the airport for nearly 2 hours.

Empty airport

After we valet park like pros at our hotel, I laughed aloud as soon as I saw my brother.  He walked into our quasi-fancy hotel wearing a huge traveler backpack, lugging a ukulele in one hand a bag of dirty laundry in the other.  I feel like I had picked a hobo off the street and offered him a warm place to sleep for the evening.

Bubs holding his bags in hotel lobby

I love my little Bubs with all my heart, so I just had to laugh at all the scenarios that had played out during our first night together.  They seemed all too familiar from our 24 years together as brother-sister – I was convinced that some things just never change.

The next day we set out to explore the city, primarily as gastro tourists.  We started out with the muffuletta (a sandwich of salami, pepperoni, ham, provolone and a marinated olive salad) and then roamed the famed French Quarter and Bourbon Street.  During this walk, I concluded that Bourbon Street is best experienced at nighttime.  Large hurricane drinks from a sidewalk stand and girls in gold thongs may be part of the Bourbon Street allure, but only serve to bare their sadness during the day.

As we walked and ate Café du Monde beignets (of course), my brother shared with me his adventures over the last months – Kentuck Fried Chicken buffets, more-than-hospitable Couch Surfing hosts and the gems of cities small and large.  I was excited to listen to it all and even more proud that my little brother – the once seemingly mute baby boy that clung to my mother during family gatherings – was independent, adventurous, spontaneous, and even an inspiration to some.  Our little cousin Jordan shared with me that after college he wanted to travel like Anthony because “he was living life more than anyone he knew.”  I beamed at that statement and shared his sentiments with my Bubs as soon as I could.  I’m not sure I would have predicted someone saying that about my little Tony-Bones years ago…

Young bubs nestled in mom’s chest

Later that evening, we joined the masses and enjoyed fried alligator, crawfish po’boys and beer while taking in a pre-season Saints game.  I figured that, if there was anything NOLA-ish to do at this moment in time, it was to surround ourselves with proud Saints fan donned in black and gold shouting, “Who dat!  Who dat!”

As the hundreds of times before, we started debating something (topic irrelevant) and little brother got frustrated with me.  All of a sudden, we reverted 20 years and I was Older Sister Bully who had just told him he was adopted and made him cry (shamefully, I admit to such an act).  I felt bad of course, but also succumbed  to the role I knew in this dance, the stubborn one who was always right, and frustrated once again by his sensitivity.  I guess even our little sibling rivalry had remained, 24 years and going strong.

Like we do, we toned it down, brushed it off and enjoyed a fun evening out with his friends.  We celebrated his old college friend’s roommate’s girlfriend’s little sister’s 21st birthday (which was very different than the 30th birthdays I’ve been celebrating of late) with the famous/infamous New Orleans’ hurricane.  It is the equivalent of the “jungle juice” of my experiences, a sweet, juice-like drink that creeps up on you and which, I assume, causes many to do that of which “what happens in NOLA, stays in NOLA.”

The next day, we were overjoyed – we had found NOLA.  We found the spirit and soul of the city, and finally felt the essence of the place and all it had to offer: its music, Creole-inspired culinary treats, heart, history, pain and pride.  We started the day off with a walk to Treme and an awe-inspiring visit to the New Orleans African American Museum (did you know that Treme was the country’s first neighborhood of free people of color?!).  Our time in Treme was marked by a side of my brother I had always known and admired: his all-encompassing and wildly enthusiastic desire to learn every single detail, fact and anecdote about something of which he is passionate/intrigued/interested.  As he spouted details and dates of the historical markers we passed, most of which were learned from the HBO show “Treme” and then Wiki-researched later on, it reminded me of all the “loves” (obsessions?) of his life.  The time he spent transcribing Will Smith’s songs and reading his biography, the money he has spent collecting Stars Wars figures and buying books that detailed the history beyond what most Star Wars fans know, and the energy he has put into learning every theory, thought and historical detail about Mars and our ability (as humans, not as “my and my brother’s”) to exist there.

Later, his excitement exploded as we stumbled upon (figuratively, as we were just sitting, listening to a jazz band and eating gumbo at the time) a second line, an impromptu brass band parade and tradition that seems to be the thing that at once captures everything New Orleans.  He jumped into the parade, danced and earned his beads (no, he did not flash anyone).  Of course, before this trip, he had researched the tradition, knew the lingo and shared the historical context; it was his one wish for this trip and it had come true – it was a good moment with my brother, the passionate and excited Bubs I’ve always known.  We ended that wondrous day with a night on Bourbon Street, completely captivated, at times grossed out and overly-stimulated by everything going on around us.  We were stoked to have found a lively bar with a jammin’ jazz group and danced the night away…that is, until Ate headed back, worn and beat, and little brother stayed out with his buddies until the wee morning hours.

Bubs with beads from second-line

On our last day together, despite an empty wallet and full stomach of everything fried and Creole, I was sad to see the end of this trip with my brother.  As we enjoyed our last lunch together (jumbalaya and red beans and rice), we entered shaky territory as the sibling-rivalry debates heated up again.  This upset me being our last day together and I started to tear up.  I think this may have softened us up a bit because we started to share, for maybe the first time ever, those things we do to each other that just get under the other’s skin.  It was the type of conversation I routinely force my boyfriend to do, those ones about “feelings” so we openly communicate, blah blah blah.  Oddly enough, as I had thought in that embarrassing public display of emotion, I have never had this productive kind of dialogue with my brother.  We shared with each other why we get hurt or frustrated in those instances and then, unlike every time before, we both listened.  In rare fashion, instead of getting defensive, we strove to understand the other’s point of view and asked the other what we could do differently in the future.  It was touching and refreshing and wonderful and new (and yes, emblematic of the Nickelodeon after-school specials we used to watch together).  Maybe my brother and I were growing up, and maybe – some things do change.

We finally said goodbye – and after I slipped him some cash to help him make it to the end of his road trip (hey, baby steps people) – we parted ways.  Older sister was heading back to work and younger brother was on his way to the next destination along his once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing, post-college tour and exploration of self (so I assume).  I’ll never forget our trip together – not only our delicious and educational exploration of this beautiful and storied city, but of the time my brother and I grew up together in our own little rare and beautiful moment.

Only pic of me and bubs in NOLA

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