Sunny sandy days

This afternoon we got back from Inverloch, a place Kim had spent several summers in, romancing the local boys when in her early teens. Apparently the place hasn’t changed a great deal since then. We don’t see a lot of our friends nowdays because they all seem to have substantial kid commitments, and because we’re lazy. So the Inverloch (long) weekend was her plan to get some pals along to share a few days together. Each couple had their own cabin, and there was supposedly no pressure to spend all our time together. It worked out that we spent most of our time together anyway, so not a lot of my book got read. The highlights were a lazy afternoon down at the beach, where most of us got burnt in some way, and an evening of “Who wants to be a Millionarie” the DVD trivia game. It was all a bit short, and we were only really hitting our relaxed lazy mode this morning when we had to leave. Darn.

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Big Daz plays uncle: darren-plays-big-uncle.jpg

Some busy weeks

A lot of things seem to have happened just recently – In early November I took a flight to Columbus to visit the Kenney’s for a couple of nights. We drank some Burning River Pale Ale and some Edmund Fitzgerald Porter – just the thing for cool Ohio in November. The kids had all grown up a lot, and there was a couple of new ones in Carys and Ian. Dave’s brother Dan came over with his little tackers and the place became kid-central. I’d bought Browns tickets on Ebay previously, so we took off on a customary road trip to Cleveland and grabbed a sick Mike Snyder from Akron on the way. The stadium environment was very electric and despite the high ticket prices and the poor showing by the team, it was a great experience for me. The middle-aged lady beside me wore a “Dubya” badge and was very happy I was Australian because “you supported us in the war against terrorism”. To which I replied “yeah, the goverment sure did”. She threw spent peanut shells good naturedly at a showboating Steeler fan a couple of rows down (as did the whole group of people around me) and at one point in a fit of rage called him a “Blue Stater”, referring to the Kerry victory in Pennsylvania the previous week. People were openly cursing the Browns coach Butch Davis (who resigned today by co-incidence) and a guy made jokes about ex-Steeler quarterback Kordell Stewart in the toilets “Was the Kordell’s finger I just felt up my ass?”. Afterwards we trudged back to Akron for some lasagne cooked by Mike’s wife Maree and after dinner played Monopoly with Olivia and Neil before they went to bed – I came last by the way! I got to crash in Neil’s bed whilst he got to camp inside a tent in Olivia’s room – it was pretty cold outside, and the emergency services people were attending to a leaky oil well a quarter mile away. Mike got me to Hopkins airport in Cleveland at 5am for my Houston flight on American. I was reminded I was in middle America when sitting in a Chili’s restaurant at Chicago’s O’Hare reading the Cleveland Plain Dealer and listening to Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart” – I used to like that song in the early 80’s but boy it sounds old now. I got through the last week in Houston ok, but struggled to get all my bags and bike to George Bush international due to some lousy airport facilities/setup. The crowds were big because it the Friday before Thanksgiving and I could barely get into a lift with my trolley before a guy saw my exasperation and made everyone stand back for me to board first. The flights were a breeze and I enjoyed the sight of all the gum trees alongside the runway at Tullamarine. I’d had a great sleep on the plane so I drove home from the airport like a pro – ok, maybe once did Kim’s side go into the gutter because I was used to driving in the other part of the lane. But I was good. The dogs were excited as always and the house looked crisp and attractive as did my much missed partner!

An imaginary life recedes

A favourite folly of mine has been to imagine my alternative life. If I was born elsewhere, where would I live, who would I do things with, and what political leanings would I have. Finishing up here in Houston, I have had a chance to try-out the real thing, if only for 8 weeks. I have enjoyed this city far more than I thought though. There are liberals here in Houston (quite a lot of them), they have an OK public radio station KPFT 90.1FM, which, if it cut out the Zydeco music and semi-hysterical political rants, could be a great. I might even volunteer there if they were close-by. There are nice neighbourhoods and interesting neighbourhoods, and I suspect I would prefer the latter, so maybe around the Memorial Park/Heights area would be good so I could jog in the evenings. Nothing like a bit of urban grit to keep things from getting too whitebread sometimes. I would stick with the car I have because I don’t know any better. I would avoid the Galleria like the plague. I would setup shop near a local bar that could be a weekend sport and music hangout. I would get a Foleys and Frys discount card. I would only buy the Chronicle on weekends because there are already too many trees chopped down to produce it. I would explore some of those interesting Asian supermarkets down in the southwest of town and do a birdwatching or wildflower tour in central Texas. I would chase a storm or two in May. I’m not sure what I would do for friends – it seems the most difficult part of any relocation (you don’t have old schoolfriends to fall back on). Maybe I would join a bookgroup, or do something with the cycling group people – though they’re a lot older. I could watch the young lady in the opposite apartment who never seems to close her curtains for cheap entertainment. I would find out where things get recycled and hoard my stuff for regular trips there. I would buy one of those wine storage machines that many folks have, and ready a few dozen in there. I wouldn’t revert to smoking, despite the insanely cheap prices. I would invest in some older style housing in midtown because I am certain that the area is going to boom bigtime once all the bars and groovy shops arrive. I would drink Saint Arnold beer in large quantities over summer. And lastly I would become an energy guzzling air-conditioner user, because there seems little alternative in this hot and humid town.

Todays note from the spendthrift

It was a day that the Westpac card had been bracing for – after weeks of discussions an IPOD, a body hair exfoliator and some kids PS2 games were clocked up at Fry’s in north Houston. It’s an electronics shop that puts Bunnings to shame for size and facilities – I counted 12 fridges of drinks alone and that didn’t include the ones in the eat-in restaurant. I’m continually blown away by the sheer range of products available here – my local supermarket has its own full time Sushi chef and an aisle of pain and sinus tablets. For indecisive types it’s probably a nightmare. Speaking of nightmares, the black beast of my dreams (road bike) hasn’t proved itself the comfortable tourer that I’d hoped – I ride it each week and play with the adjustments, but it’s basically too big. So, I ordered an expensive short stem online today in the hope that I can put in 70k without feeling like I’m stretched as far horizontally as possible. Finally, I’ve found myself drinking Saint Arnold beer over the course of my visit and happened to notice that they brew the stuff just outside the 610 loop in northwest Houston. So co-worker Dave Owens, close friend Dawn and I went down there on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon for the weekly tour. This proved to be nothing more than a boozefest where regulars turned up each week with picnic hampers, last nights leftovers and huge packets of Tostitos and gulped down 4 tokens-worth of some lovely ales (Lawnmower, Essie, Xmas, Amber, Brown). It was a total party atmosphere and it was free. I bought a glass and a t-shirt and took some video footage of the 300 people that had rocked up wanting to grog-on. The company doesn’t advertise themselves in any way but word of mouth, so I’m passing on their message. If you find their stuff, go for it because it’s delicious.

So, where’s all the Halloween action?

You must forgive me. I know little of the the long held traditions of this country. Today is Halloween, so where are all the kids? I thought I’d be able to get all these cutesy shots (on my digital) of spooks, protective parents and Snickers bars. Scouting at 2pm, looks like I missed it – instead I bought some magazines, one of which I am embarrassed to say was called “Muscle” – what on earth am I turning into? and plonked down on the couch to read and alternate with a lacklustre NFL game. I’ve had the flu for the past 4 days (well, mostly the sore throat part of it) and it’s been hard to do my usual stuff – a bit down in the dumps – only 2.5 weeks to go and I haven’t seen all those cool bands I wanted to catch, nor done all the gym-work I aspired to, nor cooked the ultimate Texan BBQ/Tex-mex combo that I wanted to return triumphant with. At least I’m driving like an absolute pro nowdays..

Aint nuthin wrong with roadkill

These exact words were overheard at the bar in Rudyards Pub on Waugh a couple of weeks ago coming from a guy with the most boggled out eyes and hill-billy accent you ever did see. He was straight out of a movie and drunk as a skunk – talking to anyone he could find. Even the drunks seem civil here; abruptly mid sentence he seemed to sense that either he was late for an appointment, or that people were growing tired of him jumping in on their conversation, and he excused himself and headed straight for the door. As for roads, I’ve seen plenty of them in the past 4 days as I urge my white Chevy Impala steed (with lights that never turn off) from lane to lane, trying desperately to not stray beyond the lines and watching for tricky red indicators disguised as brake lights. It’s seemed more difficult this time around to get accustomed – sheer volume of cars and endless construction make the commute to Greenspoint a bit of a sweaty knuckled affair. Day two was a lot better.

Oh Astros – you broke my heart

And so it ended in Game 7, after a month of big-hitting and mass t-shirt sales, the Astros went down to the Cardinals last night – one win away from the World Series, and probably half the town is wallowing in misery this morning. Perhaps it’s a good thing, as I was beginning to spend most of my nights in front of the TV, as I watched the Cinderella story unfold. Instead, it was time for the Red Sox to break a few curses, and rise above those cursed Yankees. Now the Astros are out of it, to quote an American “I could care less”. I picked up my rental car last night, and after the immediate things like trying to find out how to move my seat forward (only when the car is running) and turn off the headlights during the day (you can’t), I plotted the simplest possible ride home in peak hour traffic. A bit unnerving, as even though I knew the way, sitting on the left side made things harder. Since I’m driving Roman, my Russian co-worker to the airport tommorrow, I want to make sure I at least can enter an on-ramp or two, otherwise all he’ll remember about his trip is a nightmarish trip to George Bush International doing 40mph in the far right lane on I-45. For lunch today, Bill took me to the Goode Company Barbeque restaurant on Kirby, and it was quite an experience. They pick out some old shed (for authenticity) and load it up with huge open air coolers, fill them with beer, iced tea, and tiny wine bottles, then pile on 6 inches of ice. It’s Mexican-run cafeteria-style eating, with delicious soft meats (in my case a chopped meat sandwich), in a jalapeno bun, and load up on sloppy potato salad and brown rice. The cups are milkshake size. Music is 60’s Country and Western. If I didn’t have Bill, I’d have been lost with all the choices and the rapdifire questions by the servers and cashier. Now I know what’s going on – I’ll be back, and there’s no way I’m ordering from the dinner menu – the lunch sandwich was plenty big enough (like my local slang?).

Jandek and weird Texas things

I caught the Metro 73 bus down University Boulevard last week to Rice Cinema because the Jandek documentary was being shown. A grand total of 5 were there for it – 90 minutes of interviews by people trying to explain the “cult” that is Jandek – a mysterious Houstonian native who has produced just over an album a year of excrutiatingly unlistenable music since 1978 to the present day. I had suspected that I was ripe to become a fan of this man that has only given one interview to a music journalist (in 1985) and who has taken great pains to remain anonymous. One journalist described the overwhelming majority of Jandek fans as being more into the mystery of the situation than the music. Another claimed that he would be really disappointed if Jandek turned out to be Joe Schmo who had a wife and a couple of kids, and who worked at the local garage. Many described the first time they heard another person singing in a Jandek song (album 12?) as one of “relief that he at least had one friend in the world”. Such is the lonely desolate world of Jandek. I walked out loving the movie, but unlikely to buy a CD anytime soon. I meant to make mention of Creamer and Soggy Biscuits. Both seem unbelievably common in Texas. In a state where the amount of food choices are unbelieveable, I can only conclude that THERE IS NO DAIRY INDUSTRY HERE. And what’s with the soft, stale biscuit thing – perfectly good choc-chip biscuits that sag in your hand. And to finish off my rant – whats so hard about sugar? They have 5 different coffee types in the office and 4 different sweeteners but none of the real stuff. Not even the white guff, let alone Raw.

Well, I tried..

The stirfry was a bit of a failure really. Using the wrong noodles didn’t help. I picked out all those that had clumped together, hunkered down and made the best of it – an overabundance of chicken jammed in with bok choy wedges whilst the faint smell of chilli and ginger taunted. Kim – how on earth do you do it! Thank goodness for the 7 buck Jacobs Creek and the Zykos CD I bought at the gig on Wednesday. The afternoon was spent in a suburban sports bar on S.Wilcrest, watching the Browns bumble their way past the Redskins. Natalie and I tried a different beer each time, as people cussed and frothed at bad umpire calls, and cheered when the Astros won their game that gave them the wild card spot. We counted 51 TVs inside. The Browns won, and when we left, the most vocal of the fans approached us and apologised for his swearing. We were highly amused and later talked about the exquisite manners of these southerners.

Cruising on crushed concrete

Kim woke me at 7 with a phonecall about missing me, and I heard Fergus yelp in the background. I was too asleep to miss anyone right then, but like her, I find I think of her more in the evenings. Well, this was it – my first ride in my new shoes and pedals on my sleek black (classic?) Jamis Quest, braving it all on the Houston roadways. I snuck up Buffalo Speedway to Richmond, and east to Kirby, then went north a few miles to Memorial Park, where I came across a phenomenal amount of joggers, and a few cyclists and rollerbladers. The roads are usually pretty awful slabs of concrete with all sorts of cracks and holes for the unwary. I’m glad I chose early Sunday morning so I could dodge and weave a bit. Kept trying to remember the good roads for next time. It’s odd to not have a speedo – don’t know if those shoes are making much of a difference or not – at least they’re comfortable. After three loops of the course it was time to head back for home. In an ideal situation, I would drop in on an ever-so-cool bakery in Montrose for a latte and a pastry, but I didn’t want to press my luck so it was home to Camden – without crashing – without a sideswiping and safe. Even had a healthy breakfast to finish off. Now, it’s off to a Sports Bar with Natalie (from work) for a Browns game. Geez life is tough.