Monthly Archives: January 2014

Road Trip – Central Texas

Laura and I are spending about four days in Central Texas. We started in Austin for two days, then on to San Antonio (where we are now). In the middle, we took a look at Hill Country real estate. Tomorrow it will be on to Fredericksburg.

Austin State Capital Building

Austin State Capital Building

Austin is a pretty cool city. It’s known for several things. First, it’s the State Capital of Texas. It’s also a major center for music, mainly Country. And finally, it’s the only “liberal” city in Texas. We were there mid-week, so we didn’t get to see any of the music activities there, but apparently the weekends come alive with music in many places and many forms. We did get to see some of the liberals on parade. We parked in the City Hall parking lot. When we got there, a bunch of people were ready to protest. They had a big banner stretched across the entrance to City Hall that said “Hunger Strike against Flouride!” Hahahaha. There was another protest going in front of the Capital building – something about “Women for Peace.” Laura and I are looking for a place to settle long term, and Austin is one of the places on our short list. I liked it there, but am a little nervous about the politics. I don’t want to land in a city that wants to take away my gun rights or tells me that I can’t de-claw my cats or use plastic grocery bags. We have a city like that in California, right down the 405 freeway from where we live. It’s called Santa Monica (and it’s the place I was born, by the way). Many people in the surrounding cities call it the “People’s Republic of Santa Monica.” Some people love it that way. To each his own.

One place that is a must see in Austin is the Old Bakery, which is just across the street from the Capital building. It’s a really nice old building from the mid 1800s that has been preserved. The first floor is a visitor’s center and gift shop. The second floor has a small museum. There were very nice people handling the counter downstairs who love to talk about their city. Very interesting and enjoyable.

One big downside about Austin is the roads. They are extremely confusing. I won’t bore you with the details on that. I’ll just say this. Have a good GPS unit with you. Otherwise, you are liable to get lost.

Both Laura and I have heard very nice things about the Hill Country, so we decided to look at some housing tracts there while we were driving from Austin to San Antonio.


Hill Country Tract. Large house on a nice piece of land.

We looked at a couple of tracks in New Braunfels, one of the many small towns in the area with a German heritage. Wow. We really liked this area. The two tracts we looked at were mainly “pick the land, work with a builder” type communities. The first place we looked at had a model house. It was a HUGE 3700 Sq Ft one story house. Very nice, on a little over an acre. This model home was for sale…..for $570,000. That’s a lot for Texas, but it is more than $200,000 less expensive than our much smaller condo in Redondo Beach, CA. Location, location, location as they say. The second tract that we looked at was similar, but it was a gated community, and the taxes were a little bit lower due to the community it was in. We had very nice conversations with the brokers in both locations. Bottom line, we could get a 2500 sq ft house built on an acre or more in either of these tracts for about $375,000. That’s pretty tempting. We aren’t going to be pulling the trigger on a major move like that in the near future, but perhaps in the next 5 – 10 years it can happen. I liked the idea of the Gated community, because of the added security. We plan on being off in our RV for months at a time, so having that added level of protection while we are gone sounds kind of nice. Time will tell… thing that scares us is the fact that, if we leave SoCal, it would be pretty much impossible to get back there. And then there is the weather. Higher summer temperatures plus higher humidity. How much would that bother us? Hard to know.

Now, on to San Antonio.

The Shrine

The Shrine

San Antonio is one of my favorite cities. I’ve been here twice before, on business trips with my former employer.

San Antonio has the Alamo. This is one of the handful of places that I find really moving. Why? I’m not really sure.

Laura and I have a special connection with this place. I’m related to Sam Houston. Laura is related to Davy Crockett. That is kind of weird, I guess, but not that unusual. Like most other people who lived in the early 1800s, both of these historical figures have lots of descendants populating the world of today. My Grandmother on my Dad’s side is the connection to Sam Houston. She said the family pronounced the name “Houseton.” Grandma’s mother had Houston as her maiden name. The way my Grandmother told it, Sam was the black sheep, who cavorted with Indians and left the family behind. I couldn’t see much family resemblance between Grandma and Sam Houston. Then I saw a photo of Temple Houston, Sam’s last child. Whoa. He looked a lot like Grandma. But is this the reason I find the place so moving? I don’t think so.

The were two other places I’ve been to that make me feel in a similar way. One was a battlefield in a forest right outside of Sitka, Alaska. The other place was the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington DC. At these places, and at the Alamo, I felt something like a vibration when approaching, and then I’m tearing up to an extent that is hard to control. I’ve only been to Sitka and the Vietnam Memorial once, but I’ve been to the Alamo three times now (counting today), and it’s happened to me all three times. Am I feeling some kind of sorrow that is left behind at these places? No blood was shed at the Vietnam Memorial, but family members who lost loved ones have been there by the thousands. What’s up with Sitka? I have no idea. The battle was between Russians and the Tlingit people, but I haven’t read anything about that conflict being especially horrific. As we all know, the Alamo was a terrible battle, and all of the defenders of the Alamo were slaughtered, along with a large number of Santa Ana’s army.

Once we get our RV, and can travel to sites like Gettysburg or Bull Run, it will be interesting to see if they have a similar impact on me.

To round out the night, Laura and I took a stroll on the Riverwalk and had a nice dinner.



I always feel very much at ease when I’m in Texas. It was a good day.

Tomorrow, it’s off to Fredricksburg for more Hill Country exploring.

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A Tale of Two Toothbrushes

2 toothbrushes

We’ve been on the road since January 1, a total of 13 days.  Just the other day, I noticed my toothbrush had been “used”.  I’m not sure what it was about it, but I knew it had been used in someone’s mouth and that mouth was decidedly not mine.

Now using someone else’s toothbrush is kinda . . . gross.  But then again, the only other person to use my toothbrush was my husband who I’ve been known to share spit with on occasion, so how gross could it be?

And I could understand his confusion.  We have an Oral B electric toothbrush set which only distinguishes the brushes by small colored bands.  When you switch out the heads as you’re supposed to every three months (ha!), you do have to be careful to not pick the same color as the other member of your household.  It’s only right and proper.

The other thing you can do is have a completely different brush head than the other toothbrush.  That’s what I did for a time – the set I bought at Costco had several different ones, so I used the “polishing” head which had weird little suction cups to mimic the polishing you get at the dentist’s office.

But before the trip, I thought to hell with that, I’m going back to the primary brush head that gets all the junk between my teeth out.  I’m a great believer in oral health.  I plan on dying with these teeth firmly affixed in my jaw which doesn’t seem to be an unusual goal.  In an earlier generation, it might have been, but not today.

So . . . I explained as gently as possible, “Uh, honey, the toothbrush with the yellow band is mine.” (subtext:  QUIT using MY toothbrush!)

Several times he’s looked at me puzzled and said, “Yellow?” and I nod sadly “uh-huh”.

No doubt he’s embarrassed that he’s managed to use my toothbrush several times.  I’d be embarrassed if I used his, too.

After all, boys have cooties – everybody knows that.

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Louisiana Americana

Today, we were in Northern Louisiana to see some Americana.

Our first stop was West Monroe – Duck Commander country. I expected a really small, sleepy town. West Monroe and neighboring Monroe together make a pretty good sized city that is far from sleepy. West Monroe has a population of about 13,000. Across the Ouachita River to the east is Monroe, which has a population of about 49,000 people. These two little towns feel like one town to me. For my fellow Californians, population wise, these two towns combined have a few thousand less people than our home town of Redondo Beach.

Duck Commander Headquarters!

Duck Commander Headquarters!

For a Monday morning in January, I was surprised to see so many people here. Lots of cars, and a real cross section of people. Everybody was taking pictures of the building and the infamous motor home where Uncle Si served up his Vietnam Beans! The building looked somewhat smaller than I expected, but once we got inside, it felt pretty large. None of the TV characters were present when we were there. I wonder if they ever come out and make an appearance?

Duck Commander Store

Duck Commander Store

We bought a few items, including one of the cheaper duck calls. It was great fun. Judging by how many people were in there buying things, I suspect that the Robertson clan makes a pretty good amount of money off of this place.

Heres the Motorhome. I was temped to try to peer in the windows, but didn’t want to get that close.

Duck Commander Mobile Unit!

Duck Commander Mobile Unit!

There were people working on the shipping dock nearby, behind a sign that said “Employees Only.” I think they must shoot the actual show on the other side of the building, as I don’t remember seeing the store entrance before. Who knows – they might have the building set up as a sound stage somewhere.

It was fun making a visit here. I’d recommend it to Duck Dynasty fans.

Now we turn to a little darker piece of Americana.


I have always been interested in the dark underside of American history. The crime wave of the early 1930s is one of my favorite periods, and I’ve read quite a lot about John Dillinger, the Barker/Karpis Gang, Pretty Boy Floyd, and others of that time.

Then there was Barrow Gang. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. As with many others in my generation, the 1967 film about Bonnie and Clyde really captured my imagination. I was in 7th grade when I saw it. This movie created quite a sensation at the time, which is kind of funny when you contrast it to the “flower power” movement going on at the same time.

After the movie became a hit, new books on Bonnie and Clyde with movie stills on the cover started showing up, and the older books about them in libraries became pretty hard to get – a waiting list to check them out was the norm.

Most of what I read about Bonnie and Clyde was from the older books, published long before the hysteria. The best of these was a book about Frank Hamer, the Texas Ranger who was instrumental in taking them down. This was the first time in my young life when I realized that historical movies coming out of Hollywood rarely tell the whole truth.

The real Bonnie and Clyde

The real Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde were not romantic, misunderstood people, as the 1967 movie and the 2013 miniseries suggest. They weren’t “Robin Hoods” either. They were very dark hearted, cold blooded killers.

One cannot make a case for them being good at what they did, either. Compared to John Dillinger, who carefully cased banks, planned well, pulled off fairly complex jobs, and rarely killed anybody, Bonnie and Clyde were pikers. The Barrow Gang rarely robbed banks. More often than not, they knocked over gas stations and grocery stores, hauling in amounts that were generally $100 or less. They were good at killing people, though, racking up about 14 murders in their brief career. Most of the victims were police officers.

Many people in the 1930s cheered on the desperadoes like John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd, because they were widely perceived as being decent people forced into breaking the law by the depression. Not so with Bonnie and Clyde…..people knew they were dangerous psychopaths who would kill innocent people at the drop of a hat. My Grandfather told me a little about them after I raved about the 1967 movie in front of him. The Barrow Gang ran a rampage through Iowa, and the people living there at the time, including my Grandfather, were scared to death of them. Buck Barrow was killed near Dexter, Iowa in 1933, in a big shootout that also left Bonnie, Clyde, and W.D. Jones wounded.

After I learned all of this, was I still interested in Bonnie and Clyde? Yes, more than ever. Part of the reason for that was the fascinating accounts of their crime careers and the hunt to capture them that I read in the older books. This really gave me a feel for what Depression-era America was like. Another part was the pictures – those taken by the gang and lost in one of the shootouts, and other pictures that have showed up in books over the years. The pictures the gang took are very famous and can be seen in books and all over the internet. The infamous “cigar” shot of Bonnie is part of this group of pictures. These pictures are a window into a time which is now long gone.

Gibsland is a small town just south of I-20 on old Hwy 154. I don’t know if it was ever much of a town, but today there isn’t much there. There is one small street (Main St, of course) that has a handful of buildings on either side, plus a couple of ruined buildings.

Formerly Canefield's Cafe

Formerly Canefield’s Cafe

Bonnie and Clyde ate their last meal at Canefield’s Cafe. The building still exists today. It houses the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum, which is run by L.J. “Boots” Hinton. Boots is the son of Ted Hinton, one of the officers that participated in the ambush. The museum is definitely worth a visit. Boots Hinton is a really interesting guy. He LOVES to talk, and will answer any questions you might have. After paying the fee, he takes you through a door into a simple theater, and puts on a DVD about the Barrow Gang. The first part of the DVD is a short modern film, with lots of good info. The second part is an old film (I would guess 1930s) about Bonnie and Clyde. I’ve seen parts of the old film before, but never the whole thing. It was worth watching.

After the DVD, you are free to browse through the museum, which has lots of interesting stuff. Pictures, newspaper clippings, items taken from the “death car”, and pieces of memorabilia from other incidents in the career of the Barrow Gang. I would say 45 minutes to an hour is a good amount of time to spend in there.

The actual death scene is south about 8 miles on Hwy 154. It’s a spot with a gravel turnout on each side of the road. Watch for the sign that says “Historic Marker, 1 mile” – it lets you know you are getting close.

Bonnie and Clyde Marker

Bonnie and Clyde Marker

The marker is very badly damaged. The edges are all chipped away, the victim of souvenir collectors over the years. There are also bullet marks. I’m wondering how the shooters enjoyed the ricochets that must have happened when they blasted away at this thick piece of stone. The wood framing on the lower right side of the picture is for the new marker, which is under construction. I think they need to make it out of something stronger than stone.

Driving down the road from Gibsland to this site is an experience in itself. It’s kind of eerie. The feel is completely different from the interstates we’ve been traveling most of the time. It’s narrow, and it makes you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. The vibe wants to slip into the 1930s……until a 2008 Silverado cruises by.

I expected the death site to feel sad. It didn’t to me…..I’m sitting here wondering why. Perhaps it’s because I know that these people aren’t really worthy of mourning, even if we are fascinated by them.

Tomorrow it’s off to the Texas Hill Country.

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Vicksburg by car


Laura and I did a driving tour of Vicksburg today.

We started out driving around in the downtown area.


There were many very interesting old buildings, some from before the Civil War, and many that appeared to be replacements for buildings that were destroyed in the Siege of Vicksburg. These were still very old – circa the late 1860s to the 1880s. It would be very charming, but unfortunately many of the old buildings are really run down. Some are so badly dilapidated that they look unsafe. Others just need a little paint and clean up. Very few buildings looked like they are getting the love they deserve. This was very sad to us. The downtown area has a dying feel to it, except for one or two streets. Many of the houses had For Sale signs on them.

There were some jewels there, though. Look at this old theater:


Hopefully, some people will come along and spend some money on the town.

After the downtown tour, it was a short drive up Clay Street to the Vicksburg National Military Park. This is a huge park, with many displays and monuments. Coming to Vicksburg is worthwhile just to see this park.

The park has a Visitor’s Center and Museum, but most of our time was spent on the “driving tour” which snakes around a large battlefield. There are markers everywhere, and monuments to fallen soldiers put in place by states that took part in the battle. Illinois has the largest of these memorials, but many states have built very nice monuments here, including the home state of Mississippi. Here is the Illinois memorial:


Another great feature of this park is the USS Cairo. This is a partial reconstruction of an Ironclad that was found in the Yazoo River in the 1950s. It is the only partially surviving Ironclad that we have. There are pieces of the real boat held together by a modern skeleton, so you get the feel for how large this ship was, and get to see many of the real parts of it. It appears that most of the boiler and piston assemblies survived, as well as the framework for the paddle wheel, and various other pieces. I’ve really got to hand it to the National Parks Service for making this happen. Here are a few photos:
IMG_0897 IMG_0889 IMG_0886 IMG_0880 IMG_0876 IMG_0873 IMG_0863

Finally, there is the Union cemetery. It’s difficult to walk around in this section, but you can drive through it. Here is one picture, but it doesn’t do the scale justice. There are thousands of graves here. The casualties weren’t all that huge by Civil War standards, but due to the surrender of 29, 495 Confederate soldiers, this battle took a lot of men out of the conflict, and was the turning point for the war. It cut the Confederacy in half, and gave control of the Mississippi river to the Union.


Well, that does it for Vicksburg. Check it out some time!

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