May 15-19 - Houston TX
Houston was one of the "must" stops on our trip - it's the home of Melody's Traditional Music, one of the best sources for harp music in the country, and the owners Mary Radspinner and John Gill made it quite clear that we just had to stop by. Judy especially wanted to buy music for her new double-strung harp. Plus, it's home to NASA, and we wanted to tour the Johnson Space Center. It's also pretty much the southern end of Tornado Alley, so we were hoping for a lack of the storms that the area had been having. Houston's also our last "gotta do" stop for a while. We'll be exploring for a few weeks as we head generally north.
Mon 5/15 - Texas cities have the greatest websites for traffic information, so we monitored the San Antonio rush hour traffic, and when our route was flowing normally, we pulled out and headed east for Houston - a relatively short trip. We fueled on the way out of town, both because we needed to and because gasoline prices were about 30 cents a gallon lower than those in Houston. www.gasbuddy.com is a great source of gasoline price information, especially for larger cities. Our highest gasoline price yet for the trip has been 2.999 (in Winslow, AZ) and our average for the trip has been 2.777. We're averaging 7.61 mpg, or 36.5 cents per mile for fuel. Some statistics you don't really want to know. Anyhow, we had a head wind all the way, and arrived at the RV park in Houston early in the afternoon. We stayed at a place called Trader's Village, home to an immense permanent flea market every weekend. The RV park is essentially a large parking lot with a few little trees. Not what you'd call a resort, but just about perfect for us - right price, good wifi, sewer hookup and immaculate laundry room. Almost all the comforts of home.
Tue 5/16 - We had arranged to have dinner with John and Mary, so we took advantage of the day to run some errands and do some minor chores - Al had bought a compass-temperature display for the RV and wanted to get it installed. Finding a place to mount an external temperature sensor is a bit of a challenge - finally settled for underneath the left front headlight. It's not perfect, but it's close. The Houston weather was unseasonably pleasant - temps in the low 80's - and we heard that Oregon was having a heat wave. Ira wanted us to come home and bring their Oregon weather back. Sorry about that. We met Mary and John at their home, about 10 minutes from the RV park, and were introduced to their eight "kids" - four Afghans, two Golden Retrievers, a Saluki and a Basset. We managed to remember some of the names. John and Mary foster dogs with problems, and as often as not wind up adopting them. Big hearted folks. After touring their home (John built it all himself, and he's still tweaking), we followed them to their favorite Outback Steakhouse for a great dinner. Then back to the RV, so they could tour our home. Mary tested the new harp and pronounced it good, and around 10:30, we called it a night.
Wed 5/17 - Sometime Tuesday night, our email went down, and it took several sessions with the hosting company in Phoenix to get the web and mail servers working again. 'Twas a frustrating morning, but by later afternoon it looked like most of the mail we should have received had trickled in. Around noon, we drove over to Melody's Music, where Judy browsed the music collection. John and Mary operate Afhgan Press, which publishes a lot of traditional music for many instruments. It's all computerized, of course, and as they do it in-house, they publish "on demand" - printing only what they need when they need it. Pretty cool. We made a couple of stops at Home Depot for just the right mounting screws for the compass, and worked on our travel log for the San Antonio leg. Judy did laundry - something that has to happen at about every stop. We're not carrying all that much wardrobe.
Thur 5/18 - The Johnson Space Center is headquarters for NASA and the entire American space program, and it's about 25 miles south of Houston itself. The public access and tours are managed through an independent non-profit corporation named Space Center - Houston, and it's perhaps the definitive museum for the US space effort. We spent most of the day, starting with a guided tour of some of the NASA buildings, and then wandering through the museum. They have several IMAX theaters, lots of artifacts (including actual spacecraft) and an immense area especially for kids - and they get a LOT of kids. There must have been 50 school busses in the lot when we got there. It's really awesome to be able to see the actual space capsules flown on some of the earlier space missions, and to hear the words and recollections of all those folks who made it all happen. Do you know the first word ever spoken by humans on the moon? Sure you do . . . "Houston". The rest of the line ... "Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed." Some of us remember staying up all night to watch the first lunar landing on TV.
On a totally separate note: What is it with Houston and inflatable figures? Everywhere you look, there's a business with a giant inflated something strapped to the roof. We saw football players, dragons, pigs, eagles, gorillas of every color and some things we couldn't identify. It's pretty tricky getting a picture, though, through the window of a speeding car. Must be one heck of a balloon salesperson working Houston.
Fri 5/19 - After monitoring the Houston traffic flows, we pulled out around 8:30 headed for Fort Worth. It was a challenging morning, to say the least. More on that next time.
Al's Highlight - Mary and John are special people, and it was a real treat to see them on their home turf, and hear about their plans for Melody's Music. We first got to know them at Harpcon last summer in Montana, and they are extremely comfortable folks to be with. Harp people are really neat people. But the real highlight has to be the Space Center. It's always great to be able to relive past events in a good museum, and the NASA folks have been architects of some of the most amazing events of our lifetimes. It's almost hallowed ground (if you're into that kind of thing - and we are).
Judy's Highlight - I was really looking forward to seeing Mary and John again, so that has to be my highlight. Melody's Traditional Music (named after Melody, their first Afghan hound - as is Afghan Press, their publishing business) is one of the best places in the US to buy harps and music. Ninety percent of their business is via internet or phone, but an actual visit to the store is another "holy grail" experience! We had a marvelous time visiting and meeting all the dogs, too. One of the Afghans (was it Nicholas?) fell in love with me - it's great having a gorgeous dog standing with his feet on your shoulders, staring limpidly into your eyes!
Click here to see a slideshow of some of our pictures from this leg of the trip.
Stay tuned . . .