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Smokin’ The Waitress

~ A New Year’s Trip Memoir By Wayner ~

~ Texas: 2003 ~

Photos by Dan and Alec


Sunday December 29th, 2002

It’s hard to believe that lightning could strike the same place at the same time two years in a row. In fact, it didn’t, but that sure was a catchy opening sentence. Truth be told, our destination this year was several hundred miles to the west of last year’s destination, New Orleans. However, we weren’t going to forfeit the gulf coast experience, and we were able to comb the beaches of the confederacy yet another year. That all comes later though, as we can’t forget the way these trips always start, which is in utter frustration and total despair. :)

Alec was already in Mississippi, so our ride to the airport was a little less cramped than last year. Four people were seeking transit to the airport, but we found ourselves scrambling for options… again. The logistics of getting dropped off and picked up in Milwaukee proved too complex. So by Benny’s decree, it was once again decided that we were going to drive, and moreover Dan’s Pontiac would be the vehicle of choice. Davy would have offered his parent’s Bonneville, but the heatless wonder escaped their driveway one lonely night to the comforting arms of Mc Dill Auto Wrecking.

Dan picked up Wayner just minutes after 10 AM and we proceeded to Tres Picos (aka: Winchester Mansion [aka: Ben’s Mom’s house]). To our surprise, Ben was almost completely packed (and clothed!) when we arrived. On schedule, we continued to Maia’s driveway to find Davy. It was too early to be making decisions, so Davy just decided to pack his entire wardrobe, consisting of enough clothes to outfit a small army for the week. Everyone watched in awe as the new quartermaster fit his wardrobe into a single duffle bag, and then finagled it into Dan’s trunk. The journey had begun, and we set out to Milwaukee. On the way we stopped at Dan’s apartment in Madtown to get window clings, pack some clothes, and oh yeah, find out where the airport was. Pizzeria Uno was lunch.

Arriving in Milwaukee around 4 PM, we found a parking spot in the super mega discount lot and caught the shuttle to the terminal. General Mitchell is a smaller, and a much more comfortable airport than Midway. This isn’t to say we didn’t have problems though. First, after cradling his lunch in his lap for more than an hour, Benny lost his pizza to a stray traveler’s limb, and then came the metal detectors. As Benny left Minneapolis for break, he had forgotten that he threw his Leatherman in his backpack. A frustrated look came over the TSA employee’s face as he looked at the array of razors, knives, and other goodies inside the backpack on the screen in front of him. He opened the bag, presented the Leatherman, and gave Ben a couple of options since he couldn’t carry it on the airplane. Time dictated Ben relinquish the Leatherman, while he was assured the Boy scouts would appreciate his gift to them.

Our plane left promptly at 5 PM and we arrived in Atlanta at 8 PM EST. YAY Airtran! We had some time to kill since our connecting flight to Houston was not departing until 10:30 PM. We dined late night at a TGI Friday’s inside the terminal, featuring plastic cutlery. Surprisingly everything was on time in Atlanta and we made it to Houston by 11:45 PM. The cloud cover over Houston made for a sweet view during landing. First there were dense clouds and then suddenly we dropped out to see all the lights of Houston.

We recovered our checked luggage and telephoned our hotel to send the shuttle to pick us up. The Mexican music on the radio, the driver (who I don’t think spoke English), and the trinkets hanging from the rear-view mirror distinctly marked that we weren’t in Wisconsin anymore. Once at the hotel we met up with Alec, who had arrived earlier in the day from his conjugal visit in Mississippi. He didn’t have much to report except that the pool was freezing and dirty and the only show on TV all day was a History channel documentary about the Autobahn. After a wrestling match between Davy and Wayner to see who got to sleep on the floor (Wayner wins!), we retire for the night around 1:30 AM. Amen.

Monday December 30th, 2002

Grand Opening! Hope it's good.
Ben and Wayner rose bright and early at 9 AM to pick up the pimp wagon. In a matter of thirty minutes, as opposed to last years two hours, we arrive back at the hotel with a 2003 silver Dodge Caravan; a deluxe model featuring duel sliding doors and triple climate controls. We would be traveling in style. Rousing the others from their slumbers, we loaded up the van and departed on our soccer mom tour of southern Texas. We drove around for a bit looking for some cheap lunch and came across a new Mexican restaurant called “La Colina Taqueria”. How could any Mexican eatery with ‘colin’ in its name be bad? After our delicious cheap Mexican combination plates we headed down the Interstate to the Johnson Space Center on the outskirts of Houston.

The Space Center, home of Mission Command (“Houston, we have a problem!”) and the astronaut training facilities, was extremely busy but definitely worth the visit. We challenged each other to a shuttle-landing simulator and Davy proved to be the best shuttle pilot, barely beating out Dan (obviously flying a shuttle is nothing like driving a submarine). We then waited in line for an hour to take a tram tour of the grounds. We got to see some of the astronaut training areas but unfortunately it was too late in the day to see any actual astronauts. After the tour, Alec, Davy, and Wayner played around in the Martian Matrix, a huge kiddie playland, until closing time. Weaving our way back to the highway, we stopped at Vincenzo’s for dinner. Confused by the Italian menu, Davy ordered his meal at random and began a vacation long goal to look at his menu BEFORE the waiter asks what he would like.

Thats as big as......

Upon review of the state map, we see that state highway 35 would take us all the way to Corpus Christi. This way would allow us to see some of the coast and even ride a ferry! It nears 9 PM as we set out on the 200 mile drive through rural Texas. It starts to rain shortly thereafter, and we plowed through a hurricane-like driving rain and 35 mph wind! The rain let up, the wipers started working again, and we began to make up some ground. Ben got thirsty so we stopped at a gas station to pick up some fluid. The porn rack caught Davy’s attention while he was waiting in line for the bathroom and he subsequently buys a three porn value pack. Nobody complains because we don’t hear a word out of Alec for the next hour and a half! It was a break through in new anti-whine technology!

The highway reminded the captain of Highway 10 as we wound through many small towns and rural areas. Nearing the halfway point of our travels for the night, we spot a huge, orange flame burning in the distance that completely lights up the night sky; jokingly we name it Mount Doom after the LOTR trilogy. Advancing down the road, we eventually meet this brilliant flame that illuminates the area better than a full moon. Wayner pulled the van over at a picnic area and we took some pictures. We discover that the flame was from the Port Comfort Alcoa Aluminum Plant (that’s AL-YOU-MIN-E-UM). After the heavy industrial sites an area of sparse population gives us the opportunity to see what the minivan can really do! It seems they don’t design the minivans to exceed 102 MPH, since that’s when the governor kicked in. Respectable performance for a grocery getter!
Mount Doom, Texas, 77978.

We arrived at the Port Aransas ferry at midnight-thirty and hopped out to stretch our legs. The ferry returned in few minutes to take us across the channel to Mustang Island, a barrier island just north of Padre Island and Corpus Christi. We made good time to Corpus Christi arriving at the Motel 6 at 1:30 AM. They left the light on for us! We unwound with some late night HBO programming (read: Real Sex 27) before going to bed at 3 AM.

Tuesday December 31st, 2002 – New Year’s Eve

The day’s festivities began by ditching Alec at the hotel. The four bastards went to the gas station to fill up while Alec was in the shower. Oops. We loaded up the gear and sampled the Texas treat, WhattaBurger, for lunch. Alec spots WhattaWaitress here, while eating his Whattachicken that he Whattasized. “Smoking the waitress…” rolls off his tongue as we quote Super Troopers in our mutual boredom.

On our way to South Padre Island, we visited the Padre Island National Seashore on North Padre Island, just outside of Corpus Christi. The wind was rather intense, but the beach was still quite active. We spent some time combing the sand and even drove on the beach since Texas considers all beaches as public highways. Also, people drove their RVs right onto the beach and set up camp. We admired some fishermen as well as a few kids braving the surf. Then we turned back, and headed to the main land. We could have driven the beach to South Padre Island (some 60 miles away), except for a man-made channel half way that is impassable by car.

Miles and miles
Who wanted to see the snake? Oh, she's not here!


I'm going to catch you and eat you!
Texans like dumping waste into the ocean!

Heading back through Corpus Christi, we continued west to Agua Dulce, the hometown of Doni’s parents. On the interstate, Wayne thought Ben and Davy were being asses since they opened up both side doors while cruising at 70 MPH because they didn’t like the AC. To make matters worse, Alec was opening up the porns to the centerfolds and laying these across the dashboard for all passersby to see. It was an interesting trip to Agua Dulce, but there wasn’t much to see there. We snapped a picture of the city limit sign and continued south.

Instead of backtracking, we took a new route that took us through Kingsville. After some ice cream from a Dairy Queen that had chocolate and vanilla, but no twist, we picked up State Highway 77. It was interesting because it was the only road that appeared on the map in an entire County! For 60 miles, there weren’t any towns, houses, or gas stations, just range land! Quite a sight to experience, but the driver, WayneR, was the only one to see it since everyone else was taking a nap.

We penetrated South Padre Island around 7 PM by crossing over a two-mile causeway connecting the island and Port Isabel. Disguising several laps around the small island as ‘sight seeing’, we locate the hotel. The Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort was a cool hotel and we got a room overlooking the pool with a patio. It was great to open up the patio doors and just let the wind blow in!

Hungry and ready for action, we loaded into the minivan and hit the South Padre Island strip. The city is quite touristy for a few miles and then the city stopped, leaving nothing but dunes and beaches. Incognizant of the city’s alcohol sale ordinances, we hit up the liquor store first before finding a place to eat. Everyone got a little something and the worker was pretty lax, “carding” us by saying, “You guys are 21, right?” For dinner we ate at Blackbeard’s Restaurant. Arrrrrrr. Dan ate what he said was perhaps the best shrimp he had ever eaten, and tears came to Wayner’s eyes from his tasty japaleno sandwich.

We returned to the hotel and took to the beach with our booze to look at the fireworks people were lighting off. Alec takes the point as he did last year, but the uninhibited nubile coeds just weren’t there (at least not in January!) After pursuing 12 year olds and coming to his senses, he exchanges glow sticks with them and roams back to the hotel. We played President in the hotel gazebo under the twinkle of many white Christmas lights, and hang until sleepy time.

Wednesday January 1st, 2003

Today was probably the least eventful day of the trip but still had its fun! For breakfast, we ate at a local restaurant in Port Isabel called Isabel’s Café. The food was tasty, cheap, and plentiful. Davy ordered three plates of crap and Ben had the ‘contodo’ (with everything), something similar to a breakfast burrito. After lunch we planned to try one of the few things we listed on our pre-trip itinerary: Horseback riding on the beach. We tried to book a reservation, however the only horseback riding operation on the island was full until 4:30, their last ride of the day. Weighing our options and time left on the island, we decided to sign up for the morning ride on the next day.

The decision freed up our afternoon to just hang around the hotel. Alec, Davy, and Dan went swimming, Wayner combed the beach, and Benny took a nap in the sun. Later on, Wayner, Davy, and Alec played soccer on the beach and Benny took a nap in the sun. Then we all also spent some time exploring a water park that was closed down for the “winter.” Later that evening, after a thirty-minute session in the crapper, Benny had to call room service for someone to come up with a plunger to break up the ‘contodo’!

I think it is the off-season, wayne!

For dinner, we ate at the Beef Eater’s Steakhouse in Port Isabel. We all ate our fill at this home of an all-you-can-eat barbeque. Our waiter, who was originally from Iowa, offered us some tips on Brownsville (“The City That Never Sweeps”) and crossing over the border. After dinner, we went to Walmart to purchase a cooler and a football. To finish off the night, we went to the Sheraton swimming pool, since our pool closed at 11, and hot-tubbed and played ‘500’ until 1 AM.

Port Isabel lighthouse, we climbed it!

Thursday January 2nd, 2003

The early morning horseback ride got everyone up and moving early, but it wasn’t to be. As the last person (Alec) was showering, “Horses on the Beach” Inc. called saying that the morning ride had been canceled due to high winds on the beach. She rescheduled us later in the day, and everyone decided that 4 PM would work best. We finished our morning cleaning routine and checked out of the hotel by 9:45 AM, a two-hour improvement from the usual!

Amidst a sea of elderly and succumbing to Alec’s incessant “I want Denny’s” whining, we enjoyed a breakfast at Denny’s. The food was rather slow but we weren’t in any hurry. After breakfast, we visited one of the touristy gift shops to buy some momentos. Our choice of shops was Ship Shape SPI, where the smiles are always free! The store owner was very nice and gave us some information regarding silk screening and iron-on transfers for this year’s Trivia shirts.

Our next stop was the South Padre Island Post Office. Stopped in the parking lot, we spent a few minutes writing postcards to our families and Tany. Benny also did something uncharacteristic of himself; he sent a postcard with only “Cheesie” and “Stevens Point, WI” written on it. Can they just throw away mail they have no idea about? The rest of the afternoon was spent in Port Isabel exploring some historical museums and scaling the famous Port Isabel Lighthouse. Grabbing some ice cream before we left the town, we headed back to South Padre Island to ride horses on the beach! The riding was one of the highlights of the trip and was worth every penny.

We stopped at the Padre Island Brewing Company on the way out of town upon the recommendation of the owner of Ship Shape. Everyone ordered a pizza except for Wayner who went with a chicken fajita sandwich. Alec and Wayne played NTN Trivia while they ate at the bar, scoring some points for the Brewing company. Meanwhile Dan, Davy and Ben sat at the table thinking about scoring the waitresses! It was getting late, and most were eager to get to Brownsville so we signed off and said goodbye to South Padre Island. Good Bye South Padre Island! We’ll be back!!!

Before we left Port Isabel we stopped at Amigo Pawn to satisfy Dan’s hankering to visit a pawn shop to look for guitars. No decent guitars were found, but Davy and Benny had a good time trying on some full body harnesses and looking at power tools. Dan’s craving for pawn started us on a trend as we subsequently stopped at two more pawn shops on the way to Brownsville. Best intentions are not always realized, and we never really bought anything, but HEY: It was fun.

Now, for a side note pertaining to our visit to Brownsville: When we planned the trip in Minneapolis, Benny made a recommendation to find a local, non-chain place to stay for the night in Brownsville. As he and Alec browsed the motel listings for Brownsville, Motel Citrus seemed an obvious choice, and a reservation was made. Looking back, we should have known better, since the owner made the reservation with only a name.

We arrived at our “reserved” lodging and discovered this wasn’t a ‘nice but old’ ma and pop establishment, but a real glimpse of hell. The Omni did not even have enough rust to blend into their parking lot. Benny and Alec went up to the “lobby,” which was a door with a piece of glass and a hole in it, while Wayner, Davy, and Dan questioned our support of this hole. The man with no teeth, or “clerk,” informed us that they didn’t take reservations and they had only a “suite” available. At the same time Ben noticed the “Cash Only” note next to the pricing. Against a perturbed Alec vote to stay, an executive decision was made to find another hotel. Super 8 Brownsville was our answer! Located within blocks of the border crossing, we were pretty sure that this room would have carpeted floors.

Leaving behind a crabby Fasching, the rest of the guys took a midnight walk to the border crossing along the Rio Grande. It was exciting to see the two Border Patrol Suburbans cop-talking right below the crossing on their own dirt road along the river. The whole area was illuminated by giant flood-lights, and managed to escape the typical image of ‘the border’. In fact, the surprising thing about the Rio Grande was that it was only 30 or 40 feet across. In search of a snack, we arrived at the neighboring restaurant to the hotel just at closing time. Unable to find local food, we piled into the minivan to find some more options. Heading out along the river, we came to a railroad crossing and had to wait for a train. A minivan behind us got impatient and turned left into a vacant field. They drove around there for a while, eventually coming to a stop and not being any further ahead than they started. It was fun and creepy to watch at the same time, which is what can be said about most of Brownsville. It would be safe to say they were fleeing something. Also, while backing up to see where this other minivan was headed, Wayner executed the famed ‘Weidner Maneuver’ on the vehicle next to us. The train passed and we continued on our trip around town but ultimately we returned to the hotel empty-handed. The drive wasn’t a complete waste since we found the location of a Sonic Drive-In. This restaurant would enable the group to satisfy the Prime Directive the next day and get Alec over the pain of not staying at the Motel Citrus.

Friday January 3rd, 2003

We kicked off the day with a brunch at the Sonic on the left. It was like a commercialized version of Tess’ Twist, like many A & W drive-ins around Wisconsin. Then we decided to hit up some Mexico.

On our way to the border crossing, we infiltrated the library at the University of Texas at Brownsville in order to check our email and grades from the previous semester, which is a tradition. Everyone seemed pleased, and Alec took the cake by making the Dean’s List, after he was told what it was of course! We prolonged our visit in the air-conditioned building by searching the phonebook to find a local bowling alley to continue that tradition as well. Only a few exist in Brownsville, but we spot a 40-lane behemoth in McAllen, a city near Brownsville, along our way to tonight’s proposed destination of Laredo.

We returned to the same Super 8 where we stayed the previous night, parked the minivan and walked to the border crossing. The crossing area was bustling at this time of day and we each deposit a 50-cent toll to walk across the bridge to Matamoros, Mexico! Once across, we are bombarded with offers for cabs, markets, prescription drugs, and other close stores. Benny then obtained a city map and directions to the central market of Matamoros. We continued walking deeper into Mexico and marveled at the line of cars waiting to cross the border. Horns were beeping, tires were screeching, and the exhaust was clouding above the road. Most people though just sat in their cars and waited.

Eventually we arrived at the market. The Mexican store owners were really smooth talkers and didn’t want to take no for an answer. We get asked multiple times if we want some “tequila with the worm”, but even Dan wasn’t interested! Davy buys a straw hat for $15, but everyone else is able to resist. Alec meets a young attractive “clerk”, but doesn’t buy anything from her, even though Ben was convinced he would walk out with a bag of several shirts! Dan looks at some guitars but doesn’t find the quality he’s looking for. After some Cokes in bottles, we head back towards the bridge. Along the way we get propositioned for $1 Coronas, but we keep moving on. Near the border, we stopped to visit Garcia’s, a gift shop/restaurant/liquor shop/pharmacy complex. Everyone gets some gifts here and we decided to head back to the United States. The bridge toll was only 25 cents per person this time but we did get the added bonus of passing through Customs. The guards recognized us as corn-fed Midwestern gringos and let us pass unbothered. We return to find our minivan intact and then load up for Laredo.

Hopping on the main highway towards Laredo, we pass through McAllen and decide to find somewhere to eat. In a decisive highway maneuver, Wayner piloted the minivan to Tia’s Mexican Grill. While Ben was in the bathroom, the waiter asks what we would like to drink and Dan ordered a super margarita upon his recommendation. Ben returns, and now while Dan is in the bathroom, he orders the same drink (not knowing that Dan has done the same) in an effort to be original. It was quite the surprise when the waiter returned with two margaritas on his tray! Benny, not one who regularly imbibes, quickly realized that a super margarita is no whine cooler. To his credit, he finished the drink! Splitting two orders of fajitas between four of us, we all ate like kings here. On the way out of the restaurant, the hostess inquires which of us was driving. Wayner raised his hand and she gave him three mints, insisting he put them in his mouth to cover the alcohol! Wayner, who hadn’t been drinking, was confused and informed the hostess that Benny needed them more. On the way to the bowling alley, Benny was loud and goofy. He might have even been drunk!

The Flamingo Bowl lived up to its advertisement in the phone book. We prepaid for two games and bowled away. Dan proposed a few Coke Frames and Benny and Davy wind up having to buy a round of Cokes for the entire group. Benny and Steve notice how Dan always proposes the Coke Frame but rarely ends up losing it! They propose an ice cream frame after the frame was done, and spotted an ice cream vending machine across the building. Then Dan was successfully pressured into purchasing ice cream. He returned shortly since the ice cream machine was broken, so we had to collect our winnings at a later time. As all this transpired, Alec overheard the group on the lane next to us complain about being hungry. In an unselfish act of compassion, Alec used his own money to buy the girls an order of fries! One of the several girls offers to exchange telephone numbers, but Alec wisely declines (Hi DK).

After bowling, the group made the decision to stay in McAllen for the night instead of driving 140 miles to Laredo. Perusing the hotel coupon book we picked up at Denny’s, we find that the Best Inn would be our best option. We checked in and as soon as we were inside the room Davy crashed face first into a bed. He had a migraine and suffered while the rest of us watched a cheesy action movie and played a round of team cribbage. Steve and Ben started out on fire but a LUCKY twenty-three-point crib launched Alec and Dan past them. Alec and Dan won the game and Davy’s sister! Benny squeezed onto the bed next to Davy and we all went to sleep.

Saturday January 4th, 2003

Excited to be rid of his headache, Davy celebrated by jumping on the bed and breaking it. After rotating the mattress and box spring to cover the damage, we checked out and drove to Edinburg, home of the Hidalgo County Historical Museum and the only surviving gallows in Texas. The museum was fascinating and we make sure to put a pin in Stevens Point on the Visitor’s Map as we left. After a cafeteria-style lunch at Luby’s, we head out along the border for Laredo.

One stop on the way was the Los Ebanos Ferry. This ferry is the only hand-drawn ferry still used to cross the border. We don’t take the minivan across but we did get out and ride the ferry. The ferry can transport three cars across a time and allows passengers the opportunity to help the crew pull the ferry. We all take our turn helping. Another stop was the Falcon Dam. This dam, a joint venture between Mexico and America, was an impressive sight. We took in the sights of the power generating stations, the spillway, and the line separating the Mexican side from the American side. Leaving the bridge, we passed through Customs again without much hassle and carried on to Laredo.

I'm in Mexico, I'm in the US, I'm in Mexico, I'm...

We made it to Laredo and complimented ourselves on the decision to stay in McAllen the previous night. The 140-mile drive took a few hours longer than expected and would have been bad to start at 10 PM. On the outskirts of town, we refueled the two-wheel drive sleigh and ate some ice cream sandwiches courtesy of Dan.

Our hotel options were limited in Laredo so we stayed at the Gateway Inn on the 2 ½ floor, and saved a couple of dollars on lodging. We encountered a similar dearth of eating establishments once dinner time came along. Honoring Alec’s request of no Chinese, we drove the strip a few dozen times finding nothing much that interested us. Crossing over to the other side of the highway, we find a CBRL subsidiary restaurant called Logan’s Roadhouse that looks promising. Benny ran in to see the menu and decided that we should pass on this burger and steak joint for something else. We continued on our trek for another hour before Alec began to whine and then laid down on the back seat. In the end, we return to Logan’s Roadhouse, where Alec decides to eat alone and watch the Packers game at the bar. The others in the group have a great time eating the complimentary peanuts and discarding the shells on the floor. We met a nice waitress here, but there weren’t any sparks like last year.

Back at the hotel, Davy jokingly takes the fire alarm off the wall and places it in an exterior pocket of Dan’s luggage where he will surely see it, right? We’ll see tomorrow.

Sunday January 5th, 2003

We hit the road immediately this morning, even skipping breakfast, in order to spend some more time in the big city. The interstate was rather barren for the 150 miles to San Antonio. The only excitement came when we passed through a Border Patrol station and saw a group of ten Mexicans standing outside a semi. It was good to see that the Border Patrol was actually doing something! About 30 minutes outside of San Antonio, Benny started to swear in the back seat. Alec had informed him that we had left the hotel and forgot to take the fire alarm out of Dan’s suitcase! We were too far along now to turn back so we had to just laugh it off and hope that the maids wouldn’t notice. (The maids didn’t notice, and we were never charged for the detector. Benny even tried to send it back once at home, but they refused the package. In response to this, we soaked the alarm in lighter fluid and burnt it in the driveway.)
The heat melted the snow.. yeah, that's what she said

The green hotel discount book served us well again by finding us the La Villita Inn in San Antonio, which featured computers in every room! Benny checked us in as a group of four as usual, but as we were bringing our things up we ran into the owners and they eventually charged as an additional five dollars for the fifth person. Once in the room, Alec was the first to test out the no frills E Machine computer. The thing was so gummed up with spyware and porn that we couldn’t even get Internet Explorer to run. Alec fired up Defrag in hopes that we could get it working as we left for lunch at Peter Piper Pizza.

Peter Piper Pizza is the Chuck E. Cheese’s of Texas, except they use old K-marts instead of dinky retail spaces. We ordered a couple of pizzas and some tokens for the games in the arcade. Davy and Alec spent their time collecting tickets while Steve and Dan pumped tokens into Area 51 and completed all three levels. After all the money they spent, Davy and Alec redeemed their tickets for a deck of cards with one hundred dollar bills on the back and about 25 plastic rings! On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a pawn shop that we spotted before lunch. No guitars or harnesses this time but plenty of videos and DVDs. We bought a couple, including a long awaited copy of Bloodsport for Wayner, and headed back to the hotel to take in the sights of San Antonio.

We finally got downtown at dusk to see the Alamo on the left, but we were a half hour too late to take the inside tour. Nevertheless, we snap some photos of the exterior and read about the battle on the historical markers surrounding the entrance. We circled around through a mall and found ourselves at the start of the Riverwalk, a picturesque series of restaurants and shops located right beside the river. We could have taken a boat tour of the Riverwalk but we decided to walk it instead.

The basement of the Alamo!
Beam me up scotty!

The weather was gorgeous and the scenery was very festive for the holiday season. None of the restaurants catches our eye so we hiked over to the Tower of the Americas. The Tower of the Americas is a Space Needle like tower that is the highest building in San Antonio. Atop the tower, we were able to see all the lights of the city and spot the location of the Amtrak train depot where the boys would be departing from tomorrow.

We're just really tall
A man made river! Who knew?

Hiking back to the Riverwalk, we settle on the Kangaroo Court Restaurant for supper. Wayner, the only authorized driver of the minivan, finally got his chance to imbibe at dinner but the pitcher of cheap blue margaritas the group ordered just doesn’t do the trick. We spent the time after dinner playing hearts on the restaurant table and enjoying the sounds of the live entertainment. Once we got back to the hotel, Alec and Dan fix up the computer and Benny and Steve began to call the Walmarts in town looking for one that was open 24 hours. We find one not too far away and load up to get some food for the train ride. Alec elects to stay behind and chat on ICQ. A large amount of food is purchased for the trip, and Benny got his laxative too. It tasted pretty bad. We returned to the hotel close to 1:30 in the morning and took some time to clean out and organize the minivan because the next day was going to be hectic. The boys had to be at the Amtrak station at 8:30 and Wayner had to return the minivan to Houston by noon!

Monday January 6th, 2003

Wayner got things going early by rising at 6:30 and starting the shower cycle. Everyone knew time was short and did his best to rush through the morning procedure. We waved goodbye to our hotel and loaded ourselves into the minivan for the last time. The Amtrak Station was easy to find since we saw it from the Tower the night before. Distracted by the big Army helicopters on hand for the All-American football game, we take a circuitous route to the station but still make it in plenty of time. Wayner, helping the others with their baggage, boards the train, questioning the level of security that the Amtrak staff is providing. Hurrying back to the minivan, Wayner wished the rest of the group a safe trip back and hit the road himself.

Super-Liner, The Texas Eagle!
Welcome Aboard!?

We had originally planned on leaving the minivan in San Antonio but after we found out that this would cost us an extra three hundred dollars we had to change our plans. Fortunately, Wayner, who was holding off on purchasing his return train ticket was available to drive the minivan back to Houston where he would then fly to Minneapolis. This trip from San Antonio to Houston was going to be a tight, as it was already 8:50 and the minivan had to be in Houston by 12:05 (which already factored in the one hour grace period). At close to 220 miles, Wayner had time for nothing else except driving. Piloting the minivan at speeds of eighty to eighty five miles per hour on the interstate with only a single gas stop, Wayner made it to the Houston Enterprise dealer at 11:50! Catching a shuttle back to the Houston Airport, Wayner hung out the rest of the afternoon before catching a 5 PM flight to Minneapolis. Traveling through Atlanta, he returned to Minneapolis at 11 PM where Doni and Raygor picked him up and escorted him home.

January 6th, 2003 – Alternate Ending – Amtrak Ride to Milwaukee

In a un-Amtrak and un-Airtran like fashion, the train leaves promptly at 9. However, the way the train routes are set up the train actually backed up for several miles out of the city going south, before it can start going forward again toward Chicago. The train started out mostly empty again and the four guys shared the last car with only two or three other people. Benny started up a little conversation with the car attendant, and then they all took advantage of the quiet, rocking ride to fit in some pre-noon napping.

After their nap they enjoyed a lunch of saltines and sausage, which they cut with the six inch serrated blade knife they brought on in the cooler. After lunch it was time to explore the train and the people on it. We found our car was like most of the rest of the train: Empty. We checked out the lounge car, and played some cards for a bit, but left to avoid the weird grumpy gay guy attending that car. The observation lounge was showing City Slickers, so we decided to watch. That was when we met the strange kid with the headphones and the jolly ranchers, and his partner in crime, the medium fat chick that talked a lot and was spoiled. Her talking eventually drove Alec to return to his seat half way through the movie, while the mastichists remained. Shortly after, we met the bald guy, who was part of the Texas Harley Davison gang, banditos. Sitting next to him was a graduate student from Boston, visiting his parents in Texas. Lots of conversation ensued, the interesting coming from the bald guy, and uninteresting coming from the girl. Davy got good information on the purchasing and availability of stolen motorcycle parts, along with a cost breakdown. The bald guy’s openness to speak of his criminal history impressed everyone. Our three friends left soon though, getting off around Dallas that evening, the rest of us returned to our seats for some more napping.

Those cheap cards came in handy!

We dined in style in the dining car late that evening. Davy, Dan got the pasta, the grad student got the Fillet Mignon, while Benny and Alec ordered a double kids order of chicken fingers for about the same price. Take that Perkins! We played hearts into the late night as the train roamed through many small Texas cities, stopping occasionally. At about 1 we all said good night and returned to our seats for some sleep. On the way back to our seats, the train had filled up considerably, with most people laid down and asleep in their seats at that hour.

Like Wayner said last year, no one really sleeps well on the train, but we made due. We also learned that adding accommodations like a sleeper car don’t cost that much more, since they pay for all your meals along with it. We will have to do that in the future.

Tuesday January 7th, 2003

When we woke up, we were in Arkansas, but no one was in a hurry to do much of anything. We sat around quite a bit, and stared out the window at the beautiful landscape. Meanwhile, Dan slept with his 6” x 9” Amtrak pillow named Pillow cuddled against him, managing the façade of sleep into the mid afternoon hours. Around Springfield, Illinois, the train paralleled the highway for several miles, and we made up time for the delays we had encountered earlier in the trip. The train was rapidly passing all the vehicles on the interstate, estimating our train speed at 85 mph. This put us into Chicago Union station on time, just before 4 pm.

We caught the 5:10 pm commuter train from Chicago to Milwaukee, and time passed way too slowly, as everyone was eager to get home, spending the last 32 hours on a train. Milwaukee couldn’t come too soon, and at 6:45 we were standing outside their station downtown, trying to figure out how to get back to the airport where their car was parked! A bus sign was found, and just at the last minute, when it seemed a bus would never come, one came. It was a quick ride to the airport, and we unloaded the bus, and loaded up again on the shuttle to the parking lot. As this was happening, Benny realized that he left his carry on with all his checks, camera, and souvenirs on the city bus. Cursing all the way to the Pontiacacacac, he calls the city bus number and finds out the only way to get his bag back is to go back to the airport stop and wait for the same bus to come back again. The wait was surprisingly short, and to his immense joy, the bag sat on the bus unharmed. After taking the intense ridicule, they all set out for Point in good spirits.

Arriving in point just before midnight, everyone gets dropped off, and retreats to their own comfortable beds that they don’t need to share, and their own blankets they will never lose. :)

Moral of the Story

  • A nickname like “The city that never sweeps” is probably for good reason.
  • Even a motel listed by the Visitors Bureau can be a shit hole.
  • If you talk to anyone in Mexico, expect to pay a dollar.
  • Decide what you want to order before the third time the waitress comes around!
  • If the menu is in Italian, it is best to pick at random.
  • The best way to shut up Alec is to buy him porn.
  • If you accidentally steal from a hotel, don’t try and return it.
  • The best time to hot tub with thirty-something moms in SPI is New Years.
  • An obvious Wisconsinite in Texas wears shorts on a 60-degree day.
  • Open a restaurant where you are supposed to throw peanut shells on the floor.
  • When one door closes, another opens; Likewise when a K-mart closes, a Peter Piper Pizza opens.
  • Sprint may not have service in Linwood, but every remote Texas location has 4 bars.
  • The best place to hide drugs in your car is in a Super 8 parking lot.
  • Dance like no one is watching, work like you don’t need the money, and flirt like you don’t have a girlfriend.
  • Sing like no one is listening, smoke like your lungs are pink, and drive like you’re going to Tany’s on a Saturday morning.
  • If you lay porn on the dash, you can drive and “read” at the same time.

And finally……

  • Chicks dig neck beards? No. Tany does!


Dan tries to be an artist, Steve tries to walk (lush!)
The off-season, at night!


The Riverwalk
Another year, another trip, another mini-van!


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