What a wonderful month of November. I spent the better part of the month in the terrific town of Austin, visiting with family and playing tourist. Then, I escaped for a week and flew back to MD to be with family and friends for Thanksgiving, and to visit with my new granddaughter. To say it was a whirlwind month would certainly be understating it. But it’s now in the record book and I must journal my adventures. So, here for your reading pleasure is what I did in the month of Nov.
Visiting with Family & Friends
I had the pleasure of catching up with Jeff and Craig – two of my nephews and their families while in Austin. Jeff has sort of a vacation home here in Austin and comes down fairly often from New England, and Craig resides in Cali and was here to celebrate Thanksgiving with his brother. It had been several years since I’d seen them, so spending an evening over dinner was a special treat for me. Each having three young kids (Jeff with three boys, and Craig with three girls), it was especially fun being in a kid-busy home again. I also got to catch up with sister-in-law Sheryl who I’ve not seen in some time. A wonderful day – thank you for the invite!
While staying at the Austin KOA, I left my RV and truck behind and snuck out and flew to MD for a week to spend time with family and friends. I landed early Sunday, and spent the afternoon and evening with daughter Samantha, her husband Ryan, and newborn Savannah. After visiting with them for a while, Samantha, Savannah and I went out for dinner so that Ryan could focus on a school paper. I had always known that Sam would make a wonderful mom, but to see her breastfeed while simultaneously playing Pokemon Go is an all together next level of skilled! The following day on Monday, I travelled to my former homestead of Fairfax, VA so that I could catch up with all my doctors, and renew my scrips for another year. It also gave me an opportunity to catch up with former workmates. After an early morning Doc appointment, I had a terrific tour of the cool new GDIT headquarters building with Howard and Brian, then went to lunch with Howard to have Peruvian chicken (sorry I forgot to get a picture). Then another Doc appointment in the afternoon followed by dinner with former workmate Nilou at one of our favorite Sushi places. It was great catching up with them. I had dinner with my old pal Tom on Tue evening (again forgot the picture) and we caught up on things. Still hoping he will get another RV and start doing some traveling with me. Then I spent Wed with Ashley supervising as she prepared her contributions for the next days Thanksgiving dinner. Friday was mid-day sushi lunch with the girls and their family, and then on Saturday, I was on a plane heading back to Austin.
Thanksgiving day was filled with great food and wonderful company. I caught up with several nieces, nephews, and many brother/sister in-laws, some longtime family friends, and was even introduced to new friends. Much thanks to Mike and Helen for not only hosting a fabulous Thanksgiving, but for also opening their home for me to hang out in while I was in town. Very much appreciate you two! After a world-class Thanksgiving dinner, several of us ventured out to play some cards. Savannah was introduced to the game, but seemed overall disinterested despite our best attempts. It was a wonderful week spending time with family and friends, and I look forward to my next visit – which will probably not happen until it gets warmer up there!
Austin is a fun town with lots of rich history and a thriving nightlife. I spent several days downtown on South Congress Ave taking in the scenery and enjoying the many eclectic shops that line the street. On one particular Saturday while visiting the Soco Select Farmers & Makers Market, I took a stroll up and down the street. I noticed lots of scooters and e-bikes which seem very popular among the urban youth, a car covered in astro turf, a converted Airstream RV that is now a cupcake venue, and some sort of makeup store that must have been having one hell of a sale as there were long lines of people waiting to get in. Also located on Congress St was Lucy in Disguise – a cool costume and vintage goods shop. Very trendy! Looking up to the north was the beautiful Austin skyline. A really cool area to spend time.
I also took a Segway tour of downtown. Too bad my brother Jerry was not with me as I know he too really enjoys a good Segway tour. Anyway, I like to take these tours of a big city as it is a great way to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time, and having a guide point out interesting places along the way, it sets the baseline for exploring the city. The state capital building was certainly the focal point of the tour and I went there on a separate day to take a more detailed tour of the building. On the Segway ride, we passed several notable buildings including the Governors Mansion, and another in particular (Frost Bank Tower) that was built to resemble an Owl (pictured right – top left), and another building (Austin City Hall) that has these strange angles and elements sticking out in all directions (pictured right – top right) that from the ground just looks like an odd building, but supposedly from the air it is supposed to look like an armadillo. I looked at the building from satellite view in Google Maps, and for the life of me, I don’t see it. Might just be too abstract for my feeble art skills. The last interesting reference point was the Floppy Disk Repair Co. Now who would think in almost 2020 that we would need this type of business? From the outside all you see is mirrored glass windows, a permanently closed and locked door, and a keypad. Maybe some sort of front for some elicit activity? They do have a website (HERE) where they tell you they repair all types of disks and require a phone appointment, but yet don’t have a phone number. Upon further research, turns out this place is an exclusive bar/night club having a burlesque-inspired eccentric atmosphere, and a wide array of fancy drinks. You can’t just show up to get in, but rather you have to learn the code on the keypad, which changes every week or so to keep it exclusive. Very odd indeed, but sounds like an interesting place.
One of the many prides of Austin is their state capital building, and so it should be. What a beautiful grand facility! Complete with chambers for both the state Senate and House of Representatives, many offices, and a decor that is absolutely beautiful. Even the lighting in each chamber is made up of the Texas star with the letters TEXAS in each point. Absolutely beautiful. Then, when space became an issue, they built a 2-story expansion that is actually underground, lit up mostly with natural lighting from above ground. Again, just a beautiful facility. And, like everything Texas, this is both the largest and tallest of any state capital in the country. Yea Texas!
My next stop was to visit the presidential library of Lyndon Baines Johnson. This wonderful venue to his career was both solum and entertaining. LBJ was born and grew up in central Texas, and developed a strong sense of compassion for the poverty and discrimination of others. He served in the Navy during WW II, followed by many years in the House and Senate – eventually elevating his career to become Majority Leader in 1954. In the 1960 presidential campaign, he was the running mate of John F. Kennedy and with that win, would get his seat as Vice President. On that tragic day of Nov 22, 1963 when Kennedy was assassinated, LBJ would become our 36th President. In that role and via his subsequent reelection in 1964, he would embark to pass numerous bills representing a vast array of programs – not the least of which was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawing segregation and discrimination throughout American society, as well as 60 bills focused on education, and the bill creating what we now know as Medicare. He also was heavily involved in the Vietnam war, looking for ways to reach an honorable peace in that conflict. I also found the extensive archive area (pictured right – top right) to be particularly noteworthy. Among the many exhibits within the library was a replica of his oval office, his presidential limousine, and an animated LBJ speaking in his chatty and witty ways. A very nice library recognizing a very effective president.
The Obscure & Heartwarming
Austin did not disappoint when it came to Roadside America. Among the many roadside attractions was a giant fork in front of a restaurant, that has ever changing items at the top depending on the holiday, season, or current event. It’s been a local attraction since 1982. Given this was Thanksgiving season, the top of the fork was adorned with a beautifully roasted turkey. I’ve seen pictures of a heart on top for Valentines day, even Texas longhorns to celebrate the state. I also visited an art store with a rotating artist sign, and a music store having a giant neon light wrapped guitar out front. Lastly, located in Mueller Southwest Greenway park is this 23 foot steel spider named “Arachnophilla”, and is the work of a renowned Houston born artist named Dixie Friend Gay. Really cool art in the middle of a nice community park.
A bit more roadside hunts got me to these gems in the area. First, a mural promoting native son Willie Nelson for President – now that would be interesting. Next was “El Rey”, a 6-ton replica of a giant stone-carved Olmec head that was added to the campus of the University of Texas in 2008. There are 14 of these heads given as gifts by Mexico and placed around the world to remind all of the Olmec society that flourished for a while in ancient central America. Lastly, I visited a footprint in a cement sidewalk just outside of Manor Grocery in Manor, TX. This is from none other than Johnny Depp – who at the time in 1993 was in town filming the movie “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”. Very interesting!
Next up on my visit list was to a place called the Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata. I have to admit, I had to look up the word Ephemerata – from the root Ephemera which means: Something of no lasting significance. For example, paper items (such as posters and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles. Now knowing the meaning, this museum makes more sense. Among its many artifacts were hair samples from Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson, the supposed last cigarette smoked by Marilyn Monroe, and Chairman Maos Acupuncture Pins. It also featured the ever-present Jackalope, but this one featuring a Florida Mosquito House hanging from its antlers. The museum was actually located in an oversized shed in the back yard of a private residence. Curators Scott and Jen provided guided tours each Saturday and had wonderful stories to share about their collection. Certainly one of the more interesting stops in my visit to Austin.
Last up is a heartwarming place I sort of stumbled upon. I’m still a geek at heart, and subscribe to several email, blog, and Facebook groups related to technology. From that, I learned of a company in Auston called Icon (HERE) that has developed a construction technology that leverages 3-D printing to build houses and structures. An example of one of their 3-D printed structures was a new community center at a place called Community First Village. I wanted to check out this 3-D printed place, and in doing so, I learned more about the community. From their website (HERE) this place is a “master planned community that provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for men and women coming out of chronic homelessness.” I have to admit, the cynical side of me expected to see a homeless encampment. Boy was I wrong. This place was magnificent! It features a large garden area, car workshop, and other trade buildings that are worked by the residents. Each resident is expected to contribute in some way to the community, for which they are paid to cover their living rent and other expenses. It was a beautiful community filled with tiny homes and RVs, was clean, well landscaped, filled with various pieces of art, and demonstrated a clear sense of pride among its inhabitants. This place is easily a model community that many urban cities struggling with homelessness could adopt to help provide both a stable living coupled with a sense of dignity and pride to its residents. Check out the link to their website above, and watch their introductory video. This is truly a remarkable community!
Well, that certainly was a quick month. I’ve since moved on to this years winter hibernation destination of Portland, TX – along the Gulf coast. So Far the weather has been perfect, sunny and low 70s on most days. I’m hopeful that weather will continue through early next year. I’ll have more to report soon. Till then, safe travels!
(P.S.) As requested, I have updated my travel itinerary that shows all the places I will be in 2020. I’ve still got a few actual campgrounds to fill in, but the general locations and dates are pretty much finalized. I’m looking forward to another adventurous year traveling through the country.