Two of the plethora of advantages of living in the South are the roads and the reason said roads are in such good shape. What seems to take a toll on northern roads is the effect of the cold winter. There are two seasons north of the Mason-Dixon line: snow-and-ice-covered roads in the winter, followed by construction-crew-covered roads in the summer to repair the damage done by the snow-and-ice-covered roads in the winter.
And then there’s Houston.
Houston, with almost six million people, is the fourth largest metropolitan area in the U.S. It is huge and the roads simply can’t keep up with the need. The story goes that some men in road construction have spent their entire career working on Houston roads. Some roads are good, until you reach where road crews are still building them, extending them, or repairing them.
An unintended consequence of traveling with a GPS is that you don’t get the overall image of the city and its highways. So, when the route we were taking was closed because a tanker had hit a mammoth bridge, we were all rerouted. I followed the traffic for a bit until I could pull over to get a look at the atlas and its inset Houston road map.
I thought that I had a fairly good route mapped out, though it involved going into the heart of Houston then finding the correct freeway to take us back out to the suburbs and League City, in the south east part of Metro Houston. This meant traveling on some of Houston’s oldest freeways, the ones whose potholes had been ignored so that a new freeway could be built somewhere else.
I love my truck. My last truck was a 4×4, but my days of off-roading, tearing through mud bogs and getting bounced out of the seat are long behind me. Now, I like to be comfortable. Not possible on the road we were on currently.
Like most cities, Houston has a ‘ring road’, a freeway that circles the inner core of the city. Actually, I believe Houston has two of such freeways. Although I had our route in mind, I saw a sign for “610” in a couple of miles. I thought this might save us some time and keep more fillings intact if we could find a shorter route.
Finding out if this was possible required my mother locating the atlas and the inset Houston road map, her glasses, the road we were on, the road I was talking about, and our final destination. Many women do not do well with maps. My mother is no exception. Many sons, frustrated, driving in unfamiliar, congested traffic, looking for road signs while trying to keep the shiny side up, do not do well with their tempers. Can we take ‘610’ or not? I need to know… NOW!
(I certainly did not want a repeat of what had happened the day before in Baton Rouge. Creeping towards a stop light, I had been paying more attention to the GPS than I had been to the car in front of me and the brake pedal. The sudden stop sure got my attention, though. We pulled off the road to assess the damage to a rather aged old Oldsmobile. I was very fortunate, while the lady I nudged was very unfortunate. This was the second time she had been hit within an hour and, lucky for us, she was still incensed with the way the policeman had treated her at the previous incident. I hadn’t done any noticeable damage and she didn’t want another run-in with Baton Rouge’s finest, so we did not wait for her to reconsider before we got out of town sans passing ‘Go’ and sans collecting $100.)
In prehistoric times, it must have been that men hunted for prey, built fires, and read maps while women tended to the family. Understanding maps has been ingrained in men since long before Adam. Maps are simple to understand: north, south, east and west, here’s where we are, here’s where we’re going, can I take “610” or not?
Well, Gloria Steinem may have burned her bra, but she never learned to read a map, and neither have any of the generations since. Highway “610” came and went, the crappy freeway we were on continued to rattle the raised letters off my tars, and it took an hour of me apologizing for my short temper to calm the waters. As planned, with no shortcuts, we drove all the way to downtown Houston then doubled back towards League City.
To that point, Memphis had been the only city in the South where I would never have lived. Add Houston. Too big, roads all tore up, and questionable navigators.
Once we got out into the suburbs, we stopped at a mall in Friendship, Texas. Standing in the parking lot, it was reasonably comfortable – around 95° and humidity that could stop a train. Step inside the Kohl’s store, and you need a parka. Same thing in Whataburger. You needed a hot coffee, not a cold coke.
“Coke”, of course, being the generic name used in the South for any carbonated beverage.
When Hewlett-Packard computers got bought out, I found myself between jobs. The nearby Ruby Tuesday restaurant in Huntsville Alabama had a sign out front “Servers Wanted. Day-one Benefits”. I sure needed benefits, so I signed on. It wasn’t long before I was asking…
“What would you like to drink?”
“What kind of coke?”
“What have you got?”
“Dr. Pepper, Hires root beer, Sprite, Coke, Diet Coke.”
“Give me a Dr. Pepper.”
Here is a map I stumbled across recently that shows regionally where the terms ‘coke’, ‘soda’ and ‘pop’ are used.
Soon after, we made it to our friends, David and Michelle, spending a terrific evening with them, catching up on the too-many-years since we had seen them.
Unfortunately, the next morning, Michelle was feeling very poorly, so we headed out earlier than anticipated. The simplest way to get from their house down to the Rio Grande Valley was back through Houston. Once that was accomplished, we found a Wendy’s and stopped for breakfast.
We have found that Wendy’s is the most friendly to Canadian Seniors. They have a very reasonable priced “Value” menu where you can get two small cheeseburgers, a chicken sandwich, and a small fries for under $5.00. Coffee and HOT tea are complimentary, as in free gratis. Yes, they are set up to provide Hot Tea.
It was 10:30 and we were hoping to get breakfast, however this was a very small Wendy’s which did not feature a breakfast menu. The manager served us and was exceptionally accommodating. Generally, the restaurant did not serve coffee either, but he offered to brew a pot for us and give it to us free. My mother, always pushing her luck, asked for 2% milk. The manager agreed to that as well, free, giving us a pint container that would have been sold as a drink.
Inadvertently, on the way back a few days later, we found ourselves in the same Wendy’s, though later in the day. We ordered our Value Menu meals and a single cold drink. The young man behind the cash register looked at us and pushed two cups across the counter after charging us for one.
This is why I get on my high horse about Canadians trashing Americans. Even I, after twenty years here, am still astounded at how helpful, friendly, and accommodating Americans are.
With full bellies and treated like royalty we headed off for the worst stretch of the drive. From Corpus Christi down to Harlingen is two hours of Texas scrub brush. The highway is in quite good condition but the view seldom changes… none of it pretty and all of it boring.
But all in all, as they say in the 1994 song….
I’ve been sent to spread the message…
God Blessed Texas!