It was time to say goodbye to the state of Tennessee, which over the past week Id grown to love. My next destination for the following week was Austin Texas, to get there I would head be headed south and then east which would take a two days. The first stop would be Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which Id estimated was 620km in distance, the second stop Houston, Texas.
The drive included hugging the Lower Mississippi criss-crossing over the river four times between the states of Mississippi and Arkansas. The total distance of the Mississippi is 3730km making it the second longest in the USA, and my route was would cover around 15% of it. This involved driving over a variety of bridges, crossing from State to State, and the bridges were lengthy. The river was busy with a lot of commercial shipping carrying what appeared to be agricultural products. I stopped off in a diner in Arkansas somewhere, had a coffee with my good friends Bill and Hillary Linton, and then continued my drive.
I drove through a few small towns which appeared run down, there were many abandoned houses and closed down businesses. There were few people about and little activity such as people shopping. There were however a lot of casino advertisements on billboards enticing me to more affluent areas by the River. I pulled into the car park of one of these casinos, a paddle ship sitting on the river and appearing to be permanently moored. I decided not to look inside; it didn’t appear to be busy, mind you it was during the day so maybe this would change in the evening. I thought it was kind of strange that such run down communities would have such ornate casinos but I guess make the best with what you have. The Mississippi is a beautiful drive and a beautiful river, lots open spaces, green fields and trees. Creedence Clearwater Revival “Rolling Down the River” came on the radio, so I put the pedal to the metal in my Mustang and continued onto Baton Rouge,
After roughly an eight-hour drive, I found myself in Baton Rouge. Most people would probably continue onto New Orleans and I thought about it, however, I’d been there previously and New Orleans deserves more time than one evening. As Id seen so many casinos, I‘d decided on booking a casino in the Downtown area, which was reasonably priced. I am not a gambler so I headed out after check-in and walked down to the Mississippi River to watch the sunset, beautiful. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to take in the tourist attractions (and it was heading into the evening). The highlight was viewing the USS Kidd, a floating World War 2 memorial moored on a dock.
I was hungry so walked along the river into the Downtown area. It was quiet, and there didn’t appear there was much activity. I headed to the first bar, and it changed immediately my first impression of quietness. I came into a courtyard area with hundreds of people dressed in running gear drinking beer. The first person I asked what was going on was an Australian which was unexpected, the Aussie jogger was more surprised than me to meet an Australian. I found out he was living there and worked in politics, Baton Rouge is very political, apparently. He introduced me to his American friends who presumed we’d met before and were mates “Because both being Australians we had to know each other”.. Apparently these hundreds of joggers got together once a month, go for a run, and then drink too much, nice. Needless to say whatever quiet evening plans I had in mind quickly changed….
The next morning I went to the restaurant; the booking included breakfast (I love the USA). I loaded up on a healthy nutritional breakfast of eggs, cheese, sausages, bacon, grits, coffee and a tub of yoghurt. This was most appreciated as I had a steaming hangover from my unexpected evening with my new jogger friends. I then checked out and was on the road again to Houston via the city of Galveston. This was not the most direct route to Houston, but one of my new friends from the previous evening said it was a more interesting drive. I‘d also had decided I wanted some beach time and what better way to deal with my hangover than a lovely swim in the Gulf of Mexico. I headed west, and at the first opportunity turned off the interstate towards the Gulf.
The Gulf stank (so much for swimming) when I reached the coast there was a pungent sulphur smell which was not good for the hangover. The sea had a reddish hew and appeared full of seaweed and there weren’t many people about or wildlife. It was shocking; I got onto the Google and looked it up the Gulf and found out about the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill and its horrifying effect on the local area. The catastrophe occurred in 2010 and the environment devastation was ongoing. This was not the way my beach was meant to pan out.
With the air conditioning on and windows up, I continued my drive along the coast and made it to Goat Island on the Bolivar Peninsula. I don’t like to say inappropriate things about the places I visit, but it was difficult to enjoy the outdoors. I could tell the area was was once affluent with large holiday homes and resorts scattered about the area, but most were boarded up and no longer appeared to be in use. With the reddish sea, seaweed, effects of oil spills and lack of wildlife it makes it a hard destination to look for positives, I am glad I did as it was confronting to see the environmental impact of oil rigs on the ocean shore. At the end of the island, I caught a ferry that connects the island with the city of Galveston itself. I drive through town quickly which was a shame as there were a lot of really impressive old mansions that looked interesting. My beach day was ruined and five hours of this strange smell was enough; it was onto Houston.
I was back on the Interstate and the traffic coming into Houston was like a high-speed video game, very congested and traffic flowing almost bumper to bumper, driving at 120km per hour. There were roads zig-zagging all over the place on top and below each other, from the left and the right at the same time, it was bloody confusing with traffic everywhere, EVERYWHERE; it took a lot of concentration to make my turnoff. Id never been on such a hectic road system, being peak hour I guess didn’t help, I found out later that I’d just experienced my very first American Interchange. Battered and bruised and thanks to my GPS Navigator Id brought with from Australia, I made it to my accommodation for the evening. An old Victorian designed mansion that had been converted to a hostel in the Montrose area. I checked in, had a shower, got in a power nap and then met a few backpackers. I went with them into Montrose, had pizza, and then called it a night as I was knackered.
The next morning, instead of heading downtown to look at the attractions, I decided on doing some clothes shopping. As indicated in a previous blog at the time the AUD dollar was equivalent to the US Dollar, this made US clothes insanely cheap compared to my hometown of Sydney. First, I looked for an antique shop to go and purchase a suitcase, much cheaper and also a piece of memorabilia (and cheaper than a new suitcase) and then headed to the nearest mall. I’d picked a few cowboy boots and checkered shirts in Nashville, but now was the time for other items such as trainers, jeans, t-shirts, collared shirts and such. The mall was seemingly endless, and there were people everywhere. This was much bigger than most mall’s in Sydney and it was the first one I’d visited. There were also people handing out free body spray and aftershave, so not only did I pick up some bargains, I smelt great too.
After hours of shopping I headed back to Montrose, I was told this was the “hipster“ area of Houston with plenty of dive bars, restaurants and art galleries. I had enough time in the afternoon for a cultural activity so I chose an art gallery, the Menil Collection. This is a private collection of 17,000 exhibits donated to the city of Houston on behalf of the Menil family who had passed away. As a bonus, it has free entry, which was a major plus after all the money Id “invested” in clothes earlier. The collection covered a wide variety of art forms and periods and includes works by Picasso, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. I had no idea about the collection previously but feel fortunate to have viewed it, it’s just lucky what you find sometimes.
My shopping and cultural efforts completed for the day, I then headed to a few dive bars. If you don’t know “Dive Bars” are an American colloquialism for a neighbourhood bar where local people come to meet. Often the bar may be run down and usually offers cheap drinks. I went to a few bars, met friendly locals who remarked on how well dressed I was ;). I then headed back to the hostel. It was a shame really that I had to leave so soon, Montrose appeared to be a pretty cool suburb with lots to do, and I hadn’t even visited Downtown Houston. My time was limited however, I was headed for Austin, Texas, and the next leg in my Road Trip.