29 December 2011

Holiday Runaround OR The State of Texas isn't THAT big

During this white elephant season, I made a killing. And yes, that is a NCAA-licensed Snuggie.

For everyone disappointed in the usual anniversary post or the "this is what I did on my birthday" post (which is usually one in the same), I was slightly preoccupied this go-round. Since I am what you call a lame son/sibling/family member, I wanted to prove my metal this holiday season. With last year lost to holiday work coverage and this Thanksgiving lost to scheduling SNAFUs, I wanted to make it up to the ones I love. Therefore, we loaded up Andi, packed as many gifts as we thought we needed, gassed her up and launched to four different stops. Yeah, who's the deadbeat now?

Checkpoint 1: In between the rural communities of Stockdale and Floresville off of State Highway 97 lies a very familiar waypoint. Uncle Gary, Aunt Tami and Grandpa hosted yet another white elephant/Chinese Christmas/Pepsi blind taste test party. This was a definite go-to because I wanted to see my grandfather in a non-wedding setting. Plus, the party is always packed with surprise gifts and discussion topics I know very little about (i.e. Whitetail hunting season in Texas). It's classic good times generated primarily by old family friends and loved ones but kicked up a notch by absolutely absurd white elephant gifts.
     Painful part of the trip: watching Grandpa get his selected gift stolen from him FIVE times. He was by far the most popular target with the gift traders. I winced every time someone jacked him.
     Lessons learned on Checkpoint 1: I have a little bit more to discuss with Grandpa than I thought. From natural gas drilling issues in South Texas to the family stronghold in Glenrose, The Lovely and I had a lot of talking points we went back and forth with my sole surviving elder patriarch.
     Addendum: thoughts and prayers are with our friend Chesley and his family as he will be going into surgery next month for cancer. With a personality and tenacity such as his, he will whip this fight no problem.

Checkpoint 2: Barreling through more of State Highway 97 and dodging heavy trucks through State Highway 85, we would connect to the southern tip of Interstate 35 headed down Laredo-way. The trip to the parents is always interesting. As some folks would love to discover the aura and the mystery that is Laredo proper (at least the Chamber of Commerce version of Laredo), The Lovely and I practice quite a solid policy of isolationism. Once we are at the homestead, that's it. We are there, along with my sister that spent Christmas with the four of us. And everything we would ever need is in the spot where we landed. And to me, that's perfect. It's like showing up to an all-inclusive resort where there is absolutely no desire to venture outside the premises. You know, like all over Mexico? Well, this is tantamount to our trip to my parents. The food and drink are always available, the conversation is great and the relaxation level is at 11.
     Painful part of the trip: my first shower in two days and I have icicles forming on my fingertips. I guess with their house, the water heater isn't used to supporting three other humans. Boo.
     Lessons Learned from Checkpoint 2: Ham is delicious BY ITSELF. You don't need a stupid glaze and bag of brown sugar to cover or coat the fine, tasty meat product. It is fine. Leave it be.

You want proof? Here. Here's your proof (via Google Maps).

Checkpoint 3: One would think with a latitudinal difference of  13' 6", it would be a straight shot. But as we I have written about Corpus Christi, nothing comes easy (even though they can't help their geographical location). It took three hours mostly across US Highway 59 connecting to State Highway 44. But we hit it. Once we landed, I felt like we were on the clock...the total opposite of the Laredo trip. Drop gear, do a load of laundry, drop off some more gifts, check in with Cutaway, come back, get dressed, do Hanukkah, enjoy latkes, open gifts, go back home, watch the Spurs, watch Drew Brees break a record, think about running in the morning, think about running in the morning, think about running in the morning...you get the point. It was such a short trip, The Lovely and I always have about two to three days to stretch out the family and friends connections. It kinda sucked being rushed as this one stop felt like we were under the gun the whole time. The total time we spent was 23 hours and it did not feel like enough.
     Painful part of the trip: aside from feeling rushed, realizing that we brought the wrong vehicle for transporting all of The Lovely's historical artifacts. I was kicking myself the whole time realizing that the Urban Assault Vehicle should always be the default vehicle (terrible gas economy notwithstanding) because we have no idea what will will be hauling to and fro.
     Lessons Learned from Checkpoint 3: Corpus roads absolutely suck. That is probably why there is not any MINIs rolling through that pothole haven. Yet another job for the UAV.

Checkpoint 4: This is probably about the easiest leg of the trip. A cigarette-smoking monkey falling asleep can navigate Interstate 37 with no problem. Once we hit San Antonio proper, it's only a matter of navigating some patches of traffic, but nothing infuriating. Once we landed on the northside, we were golden. Granted, we beat little brother to his own house, but only by two minutes. I think this stop was a hybrid of the relaxation of my parent's house with the constant activity of the white elephant party. When there is a nine-month old and a nearly three year-old, Uncle Bam Bam and Aunt Mel have to be on point. After making Gav want more laughter and attention, we had to eat at some point. Finally, a lean protein! Brother's culinary artistry extends to the open-flame grill. Awesome. More reading of books, opening of games and watching RC tracks in action, we were far more worn out than his parental counterparts. Conversation was light and informative, but really, it was about being there. Apparently, young Gavin debriefed his mother on how much fun he had with Uncle and Auntie. Right there, that was worth the 153 mile extension.
     Painful part of the trip: hearing something made of hard plastic crash then the sequential baby screaming. Fortunately, the baby gate resting against the back of the couch just missed Baby GIG. That loud noise would upset any mammal.
     Lessons Learned from Checkpoint 4: Baby GIG is one tough son of a...one tough kid. The day we landed he was rolling with dual ear infections. But he was just moving about like a pseudo-normal nine-month old. He is dealing with an overgrowth development malady where his is the size of an 18-month old. GIG will have to deal with this for the rest of his life, but the glance of strength I saw in him, he should be perfectly fine...especially with a supportive, loving brother like Gav.

Missed opportunity: Our trip would have had an interesting hook route pointing to Wimberley, but our timing pattern was off. Young August and his daddy (my brother) were unable to launch until early afternoon, where we were chasing a 5:30pm sundown back to Dallas. Two out of three nephews isn't bad, especially when it comes to all of our competing schedules. So, we will have to make is down to (ugh) Houston to check on Nephew Prime (he was the first of the bunch by about two months). Better luck next time.

So, four checkpoints, 1,030 miles, 18.5 hours of road time. That's like driving from Dallas to Tampa, FL one way. That's like Dallas to Grand Forks, ND. That's like an hour short of driving from Dallas to Vegas. That's how you start your third year in your 30s.

Lessons Learned, my three things:
1) The toll roads around Austin are ABSOLUTELY USELESS. Yeah, let me pay eight bucks to get to the city limits of Austin, drive 10 miles east, then 20 miles north to realize I probably could have saved time taking surface roads...even while I am average 90 MPH down said tollways. The 45 and 130 toll is poorly planned, poorly executed and saves zero time. What an absolute waste. I blame Rick Perry.
2) Satellite radio is also a poorly executed product. Remember when it used to be commercial-free? Remember when it played non-commercial deep cuts of albums? I do, too. At least they still have Stern.
3) It's good to be reminded that family is important.

Happy anniversary to P30P. I have had just as much fun composing this blog as the seven people that read this drivel continue to read post after post. I still have some back-logged blogs to hit while I have the time. Let's see if the muses and my selectivity provide some write-time. Until then, talk later.

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