Monthly Archives: October 2017

Surprising San Angelo

San Angelo TX was a double surprise: a surprise that it was even there when we started looking at where to go, between Austin TX and Carlsbad NM and a surprise once we got there that it had a super park along the Concho River and a stellar little museum. It is a small city of about 100,000, deep into the Texas West, that neither of us had ever heard of until Michele read that the local Museum was having a show by an artist represented by Catherine Clarke, an art dealer who we are fond of.

San Angelo has seen better times but it also had seen much worse times. Sometime, probably starting in the 60s, maybe the 70s, people started to build nearer the new Highway rather than near downtown, then Walmark sucked more life from the local stores in town, then a whole host of chain stores and restaurants spread out along the highway and San Angelo’s downtown became deserted except for the poorest renters.

As an aside – I am going by memory, from a story my late stepfather, Sherry who worked at Booze, Allen, and Hamilton, told me, so the details may not be accurate but the general drift is that sometime, probably during the late 60s early 70s, with the American steel industry falling behind technologically and an excess global capacity, Pittsburg realized that it was going backward.The City hired Booz, Allen, & Hamilton to give it direction in turning that around. They did a study on cities and parts of cities that were prospering  – this was after Jane Jacobs published the influential The Death and Life of Great American Cities which challenged the freeway-ization and suburbanization of America with Greenwich Village being the ideal rather than Wright’s Broadacre – and concluded that attracting artists and gay people, who were attracted to cheap but interesting places and are the motors of gentrification, would lead to a general improvement of the area. Now, in every city we stayed, from Tulsa to Savannah, there is a lively art scene in a revitalized area downtown or near downtown, including interesting restaurants (although the chains still are prospering out on the highway). End aside.

San Angelo is a little behind the curve with most downtown stores still selling sad Victorian antiques and junk but it does have a couple of interesting restaurants including the Angry Cactus where we had dinner on our first night (the second night, we got barbecue takeout and went back to our room where Michele hooked her computer up to the TV and we watched Hamilton win the US Grand Prix by hooking up to our VCR, at home, where we had it recorded). The park along the river, however, makes up for the downtown. We walked a little bit on the LA River along a section of park near Griffin Park and although the River was good, the park improvements weren’t. LA Parks should send a couple of their guys over to San Angelo to see how to do it right. 

Alongside the park and semi-Incorporated into it is the San Angelo Art Museum. It has a superb collection of ceramics and had a very nice exhibition of paintings by Julie Heffernan. The week we were there, the museum was also sponsoring a Plein Air competition.

I don’t think that the park or the museum are worth driving 300 miles out of one’s way for, but, if you are driving from Austin TX to Carlsbad NM, San Angelo makes a good stop. 

San Angelo TX: Mile 5342.6

From Fredericksburg TX to San Angelo TX is about two and a half hours through country that is getting increasingly dry and increasingly flat (although we did cross the Pecos River which did have lots of water). Every couple of 50 miles, or so, we would pass through a small town, some were destitute, and some were prospering; driving through at 50 mph, there was no way to tell why, either way.  As an aside, the speed laws in Texas, are higher than any place I have ever been, the speed limit is often 75 on a two-lane road and 50 through small towns. End aside.
By the time we reached San Angelo, it was almost dark. We checked into our hotel and then went into the old section of town for dinner at the Angry Cactus where we had the excellent Smoked Meatloaf. 

San Angelo: Mile 5342.6

Austin was great and then we left. For us, it was a long stay, a whole day, but that was not enough time to do anything but blow into town, have dinner, sleep, go to the Race Practice, go to Congress Street for some music and dinner, sleep, and leave. That is a problem; it has become wearing, always having to move on with never enough time to really see anything. And always looming in the background is the specter of disaster: Beth and Howard’s home burned down, Michele’s stepfather’s and sister’s home almost burned down – the fire took out their friend’s homes across the street – in the middle of the Cousin’s Get-together, one cousin who didn’t make it, died. Just over the horizon was Hurricane Harvey laying waste to Huston where Carol’s mother’s house was flooded, then Irma, Jose, Katia, Maria, and – improbably, but too true – Hurricane Ophelia hit Michele’s family home in Baltimore Ireland (damage not yet known). All the while, telling ourselves how lucky we are, we move on to the next town, in this case, the surprising San Angelo. 

Before we left Austin, we stopped for breakfast at a food-truck parked conveniently near a  coffee shop. Then it was on the road, our first stop being the ancestral home of President Lyndon Bains Johnson in the rolling hills west of Austin. Once again, all the pictures taken from the car were taken by Michele. 

I can not stress too much how beautiful this part of the country is and how hard it is for me to admit that. I have not liked Texas for a long time, starting when I was stationed at Ft. Bliss in west, West Texas and later being reinforced by the old 49er/Cowboy rivalry, and now I am falling in love with it. We drove through rolling hills, past a sweet cemetery under stately Pecan Trees, through Johnson City, and onto the joint State/Federal Park celebrating all thing Johnson. What was most surprising to me is how much Johnson loved the land, especially this part of Texas. As an aside, to quote a White House article on “Presidents and National Parks”, the Johnson administration achieved passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, and established the Canyonlands and Redwood National Parks.    

After touring Johnson’s Ranch, we were both hungry and decided to stop for lunch at the next burg. That turned out to be Fredericksburg, which unbeknown to us, is the center of the Texas Wine Country, habitat of Texas yuppies, the home of the world-famous  National Museum of the Pacific War – if it isn’t world famous, it should be, it looked terrific – and home to Tubbies Ice House where I had a terrific burger and Michele had goat vindaloo tacos. 

To be continued…

United States Grand Prix (sort of)

Daniel Ricciardo (Australian) in a Red Bull Renault and Roman Grosjean in a Hass Ferrari.

Sometime during the planning of our trip, we realized that we would be passing through Austin on the Friday before the United States Formula One Race at the pretentiously named The Circuit of The Americas (COTA) near Austin. Since Friday is Practice Day, Michele suggested that we go. I was reluctant, primarily I think, because I have convinced myself that Auto Racing is a sport best seen on TV, but Michele was insistent so we went and I am glad of it. It was great fun. I still think it is easier to follow a race on TV but it was neat seeing and hearing the real cars, and we got a much better sense of the track by being there so watching the race on TV, Sunday night in San Angelo TX, was more fun. We were so thrilled to see The Master, Lewis Hamilton in a Petronas Mercedes, driving noticeably faster than anyone else that we left talking about coming back next year to see the actual race. BTW, much to my surprise, we both left thinking COTA is the best race circuit we have ever seen and it and Austin are perfect hosts.        

Austin TX Mile 5043.4

We woke up in Cameron LA, very much a working area, and 379.8 miles later, most of it off the Interstate, we went to bed in a Super 8 near the circuit of the Americas in Austin TX. In between the land changed from flat, flat, bayou country to gently rolling Oak covered hills in the middle of Texas, all of it beautiful. We started after breakfast at Anchors Up Grill and drove a couple of miles to a ferry across a channel to the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge. While waiting for the ferry, we watched a pod of dolphins hunt – or, maybe, just playing, either way they were hard to photograph –  and more birdlife than we would see in a week at the Don Edwards San Francisco Wildlife Refuge near home and, it turned out, more than we would see at the Sabin Refuge. And that is what makes this area distinctive, Cameron is a working area but it is also filled with wildlife; the locals, including the oil companies, have a more intimate relationship with nature than any place I can remember.   
After we left the gulf, we headed inland, crossing from Eastern Louisiana to Western Texas as we crossed the inconsequential Sabine River near Deweyville TX. We wanted to both stay off the Interstate and get north of Houston to avoid, as much as possible, the devastation of  Hurricane Harvey.  But even well north of Houston, we ran into piles of flood damage debris by the side of the road. The land was still flat and we crossed and passed lots of small streams and ponds, but the vegetation slowly changed. When we stopped for a mediocre lunch, we were well into Texas.
Driving on back roads with trees on both sides it was hard to know where we were. We drove through country that didn’t seem to change, with the occasional towns all looking pretty much the same except for the FEMA signs. One thing that surprised me is that, although this is poor country, there is a sprinkling of big, new, houses, much like we would find in the Gold Rush Country. Slowly, slowly, almost imperceptibly, the flat land began to change to low rolling hills. Just after sunset, we rolled into Austin.