After getting some fruity comestibles to munch on (grapes and peaches), I took off south on I-35 for several miles until exiting at eastbound U.S. 190. It was an opportunity to relieve myself from the humdrum of the interstate, and besides, there was “a method to my madness”, that is, to do some train spotting. About five miles down the highway, I hooked a right onto TX 95, which according to my trusty Union Pacific Railroad map (acquired from U.P.’s central office in Omaha) ran parallel to the mainline tracks from Ft. Worth to San Antonio. There was a feeling of serenity about driving along a two-lane highway through farm and pasture lands, keeping an eye on the nearby tracks for any passing freights.
About 15 miles down the road, I pulled into Holland (pop. 863) and cruised up and down the block-long Main Street that was obviously bereft of most of its retail activity. I noticed a middle age couple reclining in front of their small hardware store, so I pulled up alongside the curb and asked rhetorically, “How’s Holland doing these days?” Instead of my anticipated answer of, “Can’t you tell? This town is dead.”, the lady succinctly replied with a hint of pride, “It’s doing okay.” As a means to thaw the icy response, I decided to have some fun with the two. I said, “I know Holland lies halfway between Dallas and San Antonio, and I was wondering who you were rooting for in the NBA playoffs.” They both broke out in big smiles, with the lady answering, “We cancelled each other out. I was for the Mavs, and Vern there, God forgive him, was for the Spurs.” That was a fun time.
Before leaving, I had to ask, “Do a lot of freight trains come through here?” She replied, “Oh yeah, 15 or 20 a day, plus a once-a-day Amtrak whizzing through here ’bout sixty mile an hour.” I hung around town for a while under a shade tree next to the tracks, listening to the sounds of summer of the screeching cicadas, nesting up in the live oaks. Eventually, a combination piggyback and container Union Pacific freight rambled by – I had finally got my “fix”.
I continued south on TX 95 for another six miles until stopping in Bartlett, which unfortunately had a townscape similar to that of Holland, giving evidence that these little towns were on the endangered species list. I had plenty of time left, so I again parked under some shade trees next to the tracks where there was a break in the action – no trains in sight. I got back on Hwy 95 and continued south through another small burg by the name of Granger until eventually stopping in Taylor for my first petrol stop at the exorbitant price of $2.83 a gallon, which actually seemed “reasonable” compared to a gallon going for more than $3.00 a month earlier. Human nature was a curiosity, in that a person would perceive they were getting a “bargain” paying 20 cents less a gallon when about a year ago a gallon was priced at just under $2.00. Funny how the mind works.
Ol’ Blue passed one more milestone as the odometer clicked over to read 218,000 as I hooked up with westbound U.S.79, passing over a long container freight headed towards Bartlett, Holland and points beyond. It was a short 17-mile drive to where I had to regretfully merge with I-35 just north of “Austin City Limits”. My apprehensions of encountering a huge traffic jam were justified by the usual congestion near downtown, which was compounded by the confluence of the upper level freeway with the lower level roadway. It was tantamount to pouring free-flowing liquid into a funnel, only to have it back up at the spout. Ah, yes, only TXDOT (Texas Dept. of Transportation) could come up with a supposedly surefire solution to alleviate Austin’s congestion, only to have their grand scheme back-fire in their face. Way to go, TXDOT!
Once out of the throes of Austin, it was pretty much clear sailing for the remaining 80 miles to the Alamo City with not much to describe as far as knockout scenery was concerned. With the directions to the motel programmed in my mind, I passed the merger with Loop 410 and soon turned off East I-35 at the designated exit 163. I ran into a snarl on the frontage road where traffic was backed up for a hundred yards due to a traffic light malfunction. Needless to say, it was an excruciating wait. I finally arrived at the stop-and-go intersection, but still had to negotiate a left turn through the gridlock into Motel 6. After checking in to my handicapped accessible room, brother Franz appeared out of nowhere just in time to assist me in unloading my small arsenal. Geez, it was great seeing him.
The wedding rehearsal was scheduled for 5:30 that afternoon at the downtown St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, which I decided from the start was not to be on my agenda. After all, Pawpaw’s (my adopted moniker from “The Kids”) role at the rehearsal was only going to be as a “spectator”. I didn’t think they would miss me that much. I said to Franz, “I think I’ll skip the rehearsal. Besides, the traffic out there is horrendous, and I don’t feel like going through that again. Why don’t you go ahead and do your videography (of the rehearsal), and then come back by and pick me up to go to the rehearsal dinner? I need some time to recuperate.” Franz sympathized, and took off to “do his thing” at the church.
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