Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Austin, star of the Lone Star State

We drove, drove, drove, bungee cord in place -- through Missouri and into Oklahoma, making it to the other side of Tulsa for a late dinner. The stress level in the car was palpable. Wil was straining to hear every little noise the car made, sure that the death rattle was coming and he watched the temperature gauge like a hawk. The kids were, again, oblivious and kept themselves busy in the back.

We pulled into the lovely Motel 8 in Sapulpa, Oklahoma just past Tulsa and sauntered next door to Freddie's barbecue for supper. Our waitress insisted that we all try the house speciality. She kept repeating the name telling us that "y'all 'll luv it". However familiar the name, it never dawned on me that it could be what I thought it was. Sure enough these little bowls of "tabouly" soon appeared on the table, along with the "picka plattah" -- crudités and hummus. We thought the owners must be of middle-eastern descent but as the articles and photos on the wall showed, the Texan restaurateurs were as American as apple pie and had even won awards for "Outstanding Beef Menuing." (?)

Back at the motel, Wil checked to see if he'd gotten replies from any of the mechanics he e-mailed earlier in the day. No luck but being Sunday, we weren't really expecting much.

Monday morning he got on the blower to a guy in Austin (the closest VW shop) and got the answers he was looking for. Darryl told him not to take a chance in Mexico, that the former fifth gear was now dangerous little bits of metal floating around in the transmission. If luck were on our side the bits would stay put near the magnet meant to keep them away from the other gears. It looked like we were on our way to Austin to get the straight dope.

Another 500 mile day. 8 hours of driving with a quick stop over the Texas border for lunch at Harley Dan's Grill, a cinderblock bunker of a building just off the I-35. As we jumped out of the van, the curtains of the diner parted as the regulars unabashedly checked us out. As Wil stepped through the door, a couple of fiftyish bleach blondes, skin puckered by too many cigarettes and more sun, greeted Wil with a friendly "I wish I had ME a van like that. Then I could go somewheres." The place was tiny, one end devoted to a very small stage set a couple of feet off the ground, complete with drum kit, a few mics and a television for karaoke night. A harley-orange stripe ran around the whole place, 45s thumbtacked to the walls, little shelves lined the walls, one with a little statue of an eagle with wings that flapped and glittered in rainbow colours. There were maybe six tables, one was occupied by a very large bearded man wearing a t-shirt that read "Big people are harder to kidnap", one by a young couple with their two young daughters who ran around playing hide and seek, the other by the two blondes. Everyone was smoking. The waitress took our order, calling in to Dan to make sure he had buns for Frances's hotdog and then again to make sure he had a hotdog for the bun. "Your kids sure are polite", she said. "My girls is 25 and 19 and I guess I didn't do such a good job 'cuz I'm still raising 'em up. They didn't get their attitude from me tho'-- 'cuz I still got mine." It was one of the tastiest burgers I have ever had in my life. A toothless Harley Dan emerged from the kitchen after our meal and we thanked him for the great lunch. "Couldn't pay me enough to travel in a van like that with three kids,' he said. 'I'd have to stop every hour on the hour."

Kept driving, through Fort Worth and infamous Waco. Wil relaxed enough to let me drive for a while, making me promise to keep a close eye on the temperature. The wind blows hard in Texas, with little to get in its way. More than once I found myself trying to pull past an eighteen-wheeler, coasting in the lee, only to find that I couldn't maintain any speed once I got my nose past.Then the humiliating slowdown to pull back in behind the truck with a long line of irate Texans in their pickups on my tail.

We pulled into the Austin Motel at supper time and got the last room. There's something about the place that reminds me of the Phoenix in San Fran. We went for a wander down South Congress to find funky resto after funky resto and cool little shops of every description. Frances swayed the supper vote and got us seated at a picnic table in a street-side terrasse of an oyster bar. Lovely bottle of Albarino, variety pack of fresh oysters from California, Washington and BC, Texas snapper, calamari, green beans and the best brussel sprouts on the planet. It was so refreshing to be surrounded by normal people eating real food.

Got to the garage at 7:45, fifteen minutes before opening hours and therefore got the undivided attention of Darryl, Mike and a few other mechanics who discussed the ins and outs of the engine. When Mike drained the transmission fluid he found a treasure trove of metal bits, the pathetic remains of our fifth gear. We left the van in their able hands while we went off to see some of Austin.

We had a great breakfast but found it disconcerting to be surrounded by people holding hands and bowing their heads to say prayers aloud before tucking in. And we're not talking about "for what we are about to receive...", we're talking several minutes of deeply felt personal thanks to the Lord and his son, Jesus Christ our Saviour. One praying couple sat beside us and when they heard us ask the waiter to order us a cab they told us to cancel it because they wanted to drive us where we were going. Les and Mary from outside Springfield, Missouri piled us all into the back seat of their Hyundai and drove us all the way across town. Good christians indeed.

We spent an hour walking around the Bob Bullock Story of Texas Museum, a sometimes interesting and highly-glossed-over look at the life of the early settlers. We were then treated to a hysterical twenty-five minute film of the Story of Texas, a cross between the old natural history dioramas and a light show with misting and lightning and chair-thumping. The on-film narrator, "Sam Houstoun", concluded the film with a stirring invitation to embody the maverick Spirit of Texas telling us that not having been born in Texas "dudn't" matter.

Back to the garage for the verdict. Darryl and Mike said the van was okay. Just like that. They'd driven it around and said it didn't sound like the transmission was going to fail any time soon. They said if we could keep it from popping out of fifth we should be good to go but that we'd have to look into a rebuild when we got home.

Looks like we're going to Mexico after all!! Yeehaw!


Jenny Wren said...

Great news - safe travels - and hang on to the bungee cord!! Love to all

Unknown said...

never underestimate the genORosity of a good christian (then you know they're the real deal!!!) ... glad to hear that you're back on the road.

A Friend Indeed said...

Huge relief. Jesus loves ya, we can see. Safe journey.

ajm said...

Phew ... your travels can now resume their food (versus under-the-hood) focus. What's a transmission anyhoos?

I concur with Joanne ... the stereotype of the Christian that does NOT walk the talk was certainly not our experience on the Camino de Santiago ... met some amazing, and generous priests en route.

Peter C said...

Ever hear the story about the people who's carefully planned trip went exactly to plan ? Yeah, too boring. Another exciting start. Will they make it across the border for Xmas ? I see good things coming. Enjoy the adventure.
Love you guys.