H-Town Happenings: Crawfish and Caskets

If you ever go to Austin, Fort Worth or San Anton'
Find the barrooms I got lost in and send my memories home
Put my tears in a bottle screw the top on tight
If you ever go to Houston, buddy you'd better walk right
Bob Dylan - "If You Ever Go To Houston"

A little artwork oasis in the Midtown area of Houston, Texas
While Dallas may have the word "big" in its nickname, it's really Houston that's the big dog city (population and geographic-size) in Texas. To this longtime California resident, the city's sprawl and traffic, and to a lesser degree demographics and weather, remind me of what you'd find in the Los Angeles area more than any of Texas' other big cities.

For my spouse, this was a bit of a return to old haunting grounds, as she had attended grad school in the area in the 1990s. And the time of our visit was most fortuitous, as there was absolutely one must do for her while we were down in the area.

Brews Cruising (Pt. 2): Bats to the Left of Me, Jesters to the Right

Driving through the traffic morass through Austin left me with a case
of tunnel vision as I headed through the surrounding Hill Country
I left Austin, TX with a severe case of tunnel vision.

Perhaps if I knew about the November 2015 Culturemap Austin's article naming I-35 through downtown as having the absolute worst traffic in Texas, I wouldn't have made the mistake of staying on the freeway as I reached the outskirts of Texas' capital city. This sludge-like trek through city limits reminded me of the first time I drove through Los Angeles in the late 1980s. Crawling along on city streets around 2 PM, I spotted an empty on ramp for the I-10 freeway overhead, thinking that this was a great idea since it was nowhere near rush hour. Little did I realize that almost every hour on L.A. freeways is like rush hour, and one mile and 20+ minutes later, I escaped the sludge and happily settled for the crawl.

The L.A.-style traffic and other circumstances meant there would be little exploring of Austin's treasures this day. But the traffic meant that the one stop I would be able to make would be the perfect cure, and it lay on the outskirts of town down a bumpy service road in the surrounding Hill Country.

The San Antonio Stroll (Pt. 2): Serenity from the West Side

Lips so sweet and tender,
Like petals fallin apart,
Speak once again of my love, my own
Broken song,
Empty words I know
Still live in my heart all alone,
For that moonlit pass by the Alamo,
And rose, my rose of San Antone!
Bob Wills - “San Antonio Rose”

A performance by Faisan Folklorico provided a colorful finish to
a fabulous time with friends and the city of San Antonio's charms
“So how are you doing, sir?”  His voice was warm and welcoming, and his hand extended slowly across the counter.  I offered a brief hesitation, but I responded with what came naturally. Our handshake was firm and friendly, as if we had known each other for decades.

Granted, this was not my first handshake from a restaurant representative: a visit to the Short North’s Philco Diner gave me that pleasure after I had had a meal there. However, this was the first time I could ever recall being greeted with such before I even placed an order.

“Doing well, how about you?” He brushed his hand through his pulled-back, gray-streaked hair and leaned back on his seat. “Oh, I’m fine. I’d be better if my hammertoe wasn’t acting up.”

This would not be your typical Sunday morning visit for coffee for certain.

The San Antonio Stroll (Pt. 1): La Colorido Tierra

Mamma'd smile and say, "Child don't you know
There ain't a thing in this world
To make you fall in love girl
Like the San Antonio stroll"
Tanya Tucker - "The San Antonio Stroll"

San Antonio lingers in the distance as you drive south through Texas' Hill Country
San Antonio, clocking in at just 1.4 million people (seventh largest in the U.S.) at the end of 2014, might have changed quite a bit since our last and only visit for both of us, but our visits were too brief to know for certain. One thing we did know for certain was this wouldn't be just any ordinary warm-weather escape for us northern climes living folks.

My spouse fully realized this after hearing the all-Spanish-chatter of gathered diners during a late-night-eats run at the Southern Texas mini-chain Taco Palenque (whose founder started the more familiar El Pollo Loco chain of Mexican quick eats.) Memories of visits to similar eateries came flooding back from her years spent as a grad student in the state of Texas.

Brews Cruising (Pt. 1): A Seventh Son Sighting in Big D

“A Seventh Son Brewing T-Shirt? In Dallas?”

Little did I know it at the time, the t-shirt, sporting the logo of one of the most well-regarded Columbus-area craft breweries, belonged to a well-traveled beer aficionado.

Similarly unbeknownst to me at that time, it was something of a symbol of a parallel growth in craft beer in two rather different cities, as well as a sign that I would be doing some fairly substantial beer traveling in the next few days.

Ice Cream Questing (Year 3): Dog is my Co-Pilot (Shojimoto, Arlington, TX)

"Go ahead, take your time,"  the elderly woman manning the counter behind me advised between chattering in Tagalog (the national language of the Philippines) with a colleague over the cell phone.

With that scene, I was reminded I was on Filipino time, a state where punctuality isn't necessarily expected nor even desired. Indeed, this was a good thing, as I was contemplating an important decision in the flavors of my ice cream selections.

A drive on Texas State Highway 360 through Arlington will give you a good view of the three grandiose attractions (the two stadiums in which the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers play, plus the home of the original Six Flags amusement park) within the borders of this city of roughly 380,000 people.

However, if you wander closer into the downtown portion of the city, the college scene takes over as the campus of UT-Arlington dominates much of the area. For Ohio State Buckeye sports fans who are thinking this college sounds semi-familiar, it was the UT-Arlington Mustangs who broke the 61-game Buckeyes' Men's Basketball team's 61-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents.

The Kouign of Little Rock: Mylo Coffee

The promenade along Allsopp Park provides a serene, nature-laden backdrop to Little Rock's Pulaski Heights (or The Heights, for the locals) neighborhood. This probably was one of the furthest places in my mind to experience a bit of a phenomenon in the Breton pastry that is the kouign amann. Stateside, the phenomenon started up in the San Francisco Bay Area at eateries like Starter Bakery and B. Patisserie just as I was packing up and leaving for the Buckeye State. But as I and probably millions before me have learned through my travels, good food is where you find it.