in a Tolerant City
spending four days in Austin getting caught up with my website and visiting with
Ace, Joan, Julie, and Lou, I said goodbye and left on a warm and humid morning.
After I got in my truck, though,
I decided to drive into downtown Austin to visit this beautiful city. I
strolled around the downtown area for a half-hour, walking up Congress Avenue to
the State Capitol building, and then got back to my truck just before my meter
One reason I like
Austin is that, unlike the rest of Texas, it's a pretty easy-going place.
I've traveled through Texas and the South many times (see
much more than the average Texan or southerner has traveled through the
Northwest, Midwest or Northeast. And while I usually have a good time
visiting Texas and the South (due in no small part to the widely, but not
universally, embraced concept of "Southern hospitality"), I definitely wouldn't
move to either place because of the intolerant attitudes that I've
encountered there during my numerous visits. While I enjoy the South, how the concept of "Southern
hospitality" can freely
intermingle with the heightened levels of intolerance that are common in the
South is a paradox that I've never figured out.
my travels around America, I've noticed that friendliness is more polarized in
the South and in Texas than anywhere else in the U.S. While
almost everyone in Oregon is fairly friendly, you don't meet a lot of people on
either end of the "friendship spectrum," being either overly friendly or
hostile. On the other hand, while most people in the South are very warm
and friendly (much more so than in Oregon), a small handful are also extremely
obnoxious and intolerant (again, much more so than in Oregon).
Nevertheless, as much as I appreciate Southern hospitality, when it comes to religion, politics, or anything else,
I've never liked people telling me what to think, what to read, and what to
believe, which is one reason
I enjoy living in the Northwest.
During my previous
visits to Austin, I had always thought of the city as an oasis of friendliness and open-mindedness
in a general sea of parochialism.
left, though, my attitude about Austin's tolerance took a big hit.
Austin's own Nanci Griffith singing about
intolerance. This is It's a Hard Life Wherever You
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stopped at a grocery store to buy some food on my way out of town and sat in my truck for a while with
my window rolled down, writing up a list of things to buy. As I made up my
list, an old, clattering station wagon pulled into the space facing my truck. The
driver, a grizzled guy with a ponytail who was about 40, sat in his car and listened to
the radio, which I thought was a bit odd but I continued working on my
list. A few minutes later, he started muttering some pretty nasty things
about gays. I wasn't sure if he was directing these comments towards me or
to someone else, but I didn't acknowledge him because he was obviously
I finished my list,
went into the store and
bought my groceries, then returned to my truck. That's when I noticed a
2-foot long scratch in my door that someone had intentionally made with a key.
Yep, I'd been "keyed." I knew who had done it and I angrily looked around for the
station wagon, but it was gone. The only thing I can figure is that this
guy saw my very colorful Oregon license plates and assumed that I
was gay (which I'm not, but not that there's anything wrong with that).
I've frequently read about this kind of thing (or worse) happening, but it's
different if it happens to you. This was the first time that my beloved
truck had ever been vandalized and I was really, really ticked off. It's
pretty scary to think that there are people with so much fear, arrogance
and hatred running around -- although it's not too surprising when you look at
the current Administration, which is also from Texas (hmmm, is there a pattern
here?) I waited for a while there in the hot, steamy parking lot,
hoping that he'd return. I finally gave up though and, still fuming, got
into my truck and left. Goodbye, Austin.
left: Downtown Austin is a mixture of old and new, the South and the
West. It's also home to the University of Texas and has a great music
scene. And, of course, Austin City Limits is taped here (though,
disappointingly, on the top floor of a tall building).
center: The Texas State Capitol building, former home of George W.
Bush. He lives somewhere back east now...
right: Downtown Austin.
on the Bayou
Still thinking about that scratch,
I left Austin and headed east towards
Houston, where I encountered some pretty nasty thunderstorms. Houston traffic
can be horrific even on a good day, and an intense thunderstorm at rush hour
made the drive even more exciting. I was planning to camp that evening
near one of my favorite Texas cities, Galveston, but the clouds were even darker
off in that direction, so after surviving Houston, I continued on Interstate 10 and drove into southern
Louisiana, a land of endless swamps, marshes, and armadillo roadkill on the
Here's Buckwheat Zydeco
singing Allons a Boucherie.
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Other than the
fascinating roadkill, one of the things I love about Louisiana is the music
here. Many of the radio stations in southern Louisiana play Cajun/zydeco
music, which, with its fast-paced accordion, fiddle, and washboard, is unlike
music in any other part of America. Some of the radio stations here even
have Cajun D.J.'s ("All Cajun, All the Time"), so unless you know
French, you can't understand a word they're saying. Even if you can't
understand the D.J.'s or the advertisements, though, the infectious, toe-tapping
zydeco music blaring out of your car speakers is a lot of fun to listen to.
afternoon, I pulled into a place called Sam Houston Jones State Park, north of Lake Charles, Louisiana,
where I discovered a
beautiful, swampy bayou filled with turtles, egrets and probably some
alligators if I looked long enough. The almost-deafening cacophony of chirping
crickets and bellowing bullfrogs cracked me up that evening as I cooked up a
tasty dinner of brats and beans, and I almost couldn't stop laughing. As I
sat at my picnic table and ate dinner, I enjoyed watching a wall of lightning bugs dance around
the Spanish moss, just like something out of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" but
without the long lines. Camping there on the bayou was a phenomenal experience,
and I decided to put Sam Houston Jones on my list of
10 Favorite State
Parks in America. Yep, this definitely wasn't Oregon.
left: I have a daily ritual of loading my cooler with one bag of ice, this
time in Giddings, Texas.
center: Highway 290 east of Austin.
right: I crossed paths with a thunderstorm in Houston and could
barely see out the windshield, even with the wipers on "High."
Driving 60 miles-per-hour through Houston at rush hour in a construction zone
during a heavy downpour and unable to see... it just doesn't get any better
left: My campsite at Sam Houston Jones State Park in southern
center: Cooking brats (pronounced "brots," as in bratwurst)
on the bayou. It was about 95 degrees here and the air was so thick you
could've cut it with my Swiss Army knife... just a wee bit different from
Oregon. The South is a great place -- if you like to sweat.
right: While eating breakfast the next morning at my campsite, I watched
looking for his breakfast. This is a backwater of the sluggish Calcasieu
left: A sweltering bayou, a cooler full of ice, and thou.
center: Replacing my headlights...
right: ...and giving my truck a bath.
This is in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Temps in Soggy Louziana
doused by one torrential downpour after another as I drove
across Louisiana the next day, and I had to pull off the highway several times
to seek higher ground and let the floodwaters recede so my Toyota wouldn't float away. People
make jokes about how flat the Midwest is, but I think Louisiana is probably the
flattest state in the U.S. However, it's also one of the most interesting,
with all the bayous, bald cypress trees, incredible wildlife, and Spanish
moss... not to mention those indecipherable Cajun DJ's.
driven through Louisiana several times before, but I've usually taken the
coastal route on my way to, or from, the Atlantic Coast. Instead of doing
the Atlantic coastal drive this time, I decided to head north and visit
Appalachia, a place that I've never really seen. I always try to take
different routes whenever I drive anywhere, and Appalachia was one of the only
places in the U.S. that I'd never really seen before (along with Oklahoma -- see
of culture and atmosphere, Louisiana is about as far from Oregon as you can get
in the U.S. A lot of my friends out west or in the Midwest think it's a
bizarre place and whenever I tell them about Louisiana, their facial expressions
always say, "Why would you ever want to go there?" Well
no, I don't
think I'd want to live in Louisiana, but with its unique culture, it's one of the most
fascinating places in America.
After a few hours, I
left Louisiana, crossed the muddy Mississippi River, and drove into the stately old city of
Natchez, Mississippi. Because of cotton, the port city of Natchez became one of the richest
towns in the U.S. in the early 1800s, but it fell on hard times after the Civil
War thanks to soil erosion and a critter called the boll weevil. However, visitors still come to Natchez
from all parts of the country during "pilgrimages," when
many of the spectacular antebellum (that's Latin for "Before Bellum")
mansions are open for touring. For some reason, most of the stately mansions here have elegant
names usually referencing either women or trees, such as "Lady Victoria" or
"Secret Oak," or my favorite, "Victoria's Secret." The rest of the city
really isn't that great. In fact, it's pretty run-down and it's obvious
that Natchez has seen better days. However, the
elegant mansions of Natchez have an alluring charm.
poking around town for an hour, I hopped on the Natchez Trace Parkway and camped
a few miles away at a free National Park Service campground. I like
campgrounds partly because they're cheap, and free campgrounds, I think,
are definitely the best kind.
left: It poured a LOT in Louisiana. Each time a deluge started,
I just pulled off
the highway and waited it out. That was wiser, I decided, than driving
through a river that was formerly the highway. The torrential downpours in
the South were pretty spectacular, very unlike our drizzly weather in the
center: Looking back into my truck's bed, waiting for another
Louisiana thunderstorm to pass by.
right: Street scene in steamy Alexandria, Louisiana.
left: Here's the Mississippi River bridge (well, o.k., bridges) in
center: Natchez is a city of stark contrasts, with a dingy downtown
area ringed by graceful antebellum mansions, including this one named "Rosalie."
right: Entering the southern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway
29, 2001 (Corinth, Mississippi)
24, 2001 (Austin, Texas)
20, 2001 (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)
18, 2001 (Clay Canyon, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 2 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 1 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
14, 2001 (San Diego, California)
11, 2001 (San Jose, California)
2, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
19, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
30, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
19, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
5, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
* * * * * * *
Travels (2001-02) >
U.S. Trip >
June 27, 2001