I still had some time to spare, so I headed out southwest of downtown on S. Main to take a gander at the Astrodome, once deemed the “8th Wonder of the World” when it was completed in 1966. I was recalling a trip two years earlier on my way to “Nuawlins” (Cajun talk) for Mardi Gras when I pulled off at the dome’s construction site, and somehow managed to freely wander around the one-of-a-kind structure, even without a hard hat. I gawked up at the awesome skeletal span of the dome, but what really blew my mind were the enormous air-conditioning units (each the size of a small bedroom) spaced at approximately 150-foot intervals under the second deck. I remember cringing at the possibility that the majority of Major League Baseball would eventually be played in an enclosed, climate-controlled “arena” on the abominable artificial turf. I wept for the future generations of baseball fans. Thirty-five years later, my trepidations proved to be unjustified – blue skies above and natural grass below eventually prevailed with the rejuvenation of new open-air ballparks.
As I was leaving the construction site, I looked back at the infrastructure of the dome’s complex and realized what really piqued my interest was visually capturing the pure essence of the structure, or in the parlance of the layman, “the guts of the building” – a much more intriguing sight than seeing the “finished product”. To further illustrate my point, I recalled back in 1991 seeing a mammoth Mormon church under construction in La Jolla (an elite section of San Diego) with its exterior blanketed behind a gantry of scaffolding erected for applying the glossy marble finish. The Mormon Church was renown for sparing no expenses when it came to erecting their edifices. I photographed the monument to Brigham Young and later used the photo to do a 24 by 18 inch ink perspective, never having any interest in seeing the “final solution”, which most likely had a very cold and austere appearance.
I should apologize for digressing a little, but sometimes I felt like moments from the past were pertinent to what was happening at the present. To get back what was going on, I headed west on Loop 610 for three miles and then north for another six until exiting at Woodway Drive, and after a few turns, I easily found Lewis’s small, yet commodious apartment. We relaxed and chatted while sippin’ his smooth Tennessee bourbon, and then ordered out a large pepperoni pizza. While waiting for the Domino delivery dude, I asked Lewis, “How does Mary take to you being away from the ranch five days out of the week?” He replied, “She takes it pretty well, seein’ we still have a sizable income from ENRON. In fact, she rather enjoys the solitude (from me), and besides, she has all her lovable animals to keep her company.”
It just happened to be first Tuesday in November in a presidential election year, so we entertained ourselves watching election returns. Lewis always loved talking politics, and being a staunch conservative, he was rooting for George W. Bush to win over the Democrat’s nominee Al Gore. We had some heated “talk ’till you’re blue-in-the-face” discussions over issues such as abortion and gun control. Lewis was actually a law consultant for the accounting department at ENRON, which prompted to say, “Louie, you could have had a bright future in politics, but then, you would have been a complete failure because you’re too honest a person to ever be a politician.” He blushingly thanked me for the compliment, and I, in turn, thanked him for an unforgettable extended weekend reunion. Before retiring to Ol’ Blue, I said, “You’ll probably be at your desk by the time I get up, so we might as well get our ‘goodbyes’ out of the way tonight.”
It was another pleasantly cool and cloudy morning as I pulled out of the apartment parking lot and backtracked to Loop 610 where I headed north for a few miles until merging with westbound U. S. 290. It too had been transformed into a quasi-interstate for about seven miles until reverting back to a simple four-lane divided highway. Several miles farther I passed an exit ramp to the Sam Houston Tollway, another encircling loop around the city, which I guesstimated to be about 12 miles from the city center whose imposing skyscrapers were now mere specks on the flat horizon. The on and outward expansion of the country’s fourth-largest city seemed to have no boundaries whatsoever.
I cruised through the little burgs of Waller, Prairie View, and Hempstead listening to some cool jazz megahertzing from a local FM station out of Houston. I stopped for gas in Brenham where the price per gallon was still at a constant $1.42. I continued west on what had now been reduced to a two-lane highway, which was okay with me, as I was able to enjoy a leisurely drive on a practically non-trafficked road passing through the bountiful Central Texas farmlands. There were a number of inviting roadside picnic areas along the way, reinforcing the fact that the Lone Star State led the nation in the number (per square mile) of these most pleasant wayside venues.
Thirty-two miles down the road, I stopped at the town square in Giddings to admire the Lee County Courthouse, an 1897 temple of justice built of red brick in the Romanesque Revival style. I had water colored the edifice back in 1992, so it was one of the “chosen twelve” that adorned my 1994 Texas Courthouse Calendar. I recalled my daughter-in-law Karen telling me of her fond memories of romping around the courthouse lawn when she was growing up in Giddings. A stone plaque on the front lawn commemorated Lee County as one of the locations where the Wends, a Slavic people from eastern Germany, settled. Ve-e-ery interesting!
It was just a short 50-mile drive to Austin, during which I passed no less than half dozen more wayside picnic areas along the highway. It was unbelievable! I stopped at the Holiday Inn near the junction of Hwy 290 and I-35 to call several old friends, one of whom was Jan Walner, an ex-high school classmate. After getting directions to her place of employment, I drove west out of town to a suburban shopping complex where I easily located THE STORE, a retail outlet replete to the rafters with an amalgam of household trappings. When I found Jan doing her casual floor walking, I said, somewhat in awe, “I can’t believe this place is so crammed with so much ‘stuff’. I feel like the proverbial ‘bull in a china shop’ in here. Is there somewhere we can go for a talk before I break something?”
We retreated to her office, a tidy ten by ten interior cubicle, where we had a most enjoyable conversation. We reminisced about our double-dating days when she and Franz (my adopted German brother) smooched in the back seat of my folk’s ’53 Olds. Then I asked her where she was living, to which she replied, “I just recently bought a house out in Lakeway, an upscale lakeside enclave with MacMansions all over the place, but I settled for a low-keyed ranch-style house. It bothers me somewhat that all the houses are enclosed behind drawn drapes – no front porches for interaction between neighbors.” I said, “You’re very perceptive, but unfortunately the MacMansion has become the status quo of MacResidential MacDevelopments.” I then added in jest, “You know, the reason for the ridiculous steep-sloped pitch (of the roofs) is so that all the snow we have in Texas won’t pile up on the roof.” Her wry sense of humor appreciated that remark. After exchanging hugs, I left with good thoughts after having seen a dear friend.
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