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Archive for June 13th, 2010

Dog’s Country: The journey so far

Today –19 days and 1,750 miles since our journey began — Ace and I pull out of Houston, destined for Bandera, Texas (population 975) and points west.

We’re over budget, sick of fast food and a bit weary and leery of cheap motels — though thankful for the air conditioning they have bestowed upon us. I don’t want to say our most recent motel was a fleabag, but both Ace and I are scratching more than usual, and I know for a fact that at least one spider and one roach were still there when we left.

On the other hand, it did have a crack security squad — one 61-year-old man who left Baltimore after a nasty divorce 16 years ago and circles the parking lot at night in a beat up old van, at least until next April when he plans to retire. As you might guess, he’s now an official Friend of Ace, and by the time I left, I almost had him talked into going to the shelter and adopting a big but friendly dog to assist him in his job duties.

Searching for inexpensive dog-friendly lodgings is a pain — even with the convenience of websites like Bringfido.com and dogfriendly.com. Before heading to Houston we perused both, only to find most motels listed in our price range had weight limits and required non-refundable deposits.

Question: Is it really a deposit when you don’t get it back? I think not. It’s a fee, giant motel chains, and you should call it such. Non-refundable deposit is a contradictory term.

Normally, we stay at a La Quinta, knowing that almost all of them allow dogs, with no fee and no weight limits. This trip though — frugal trek that it is — we’ve opted for Motel 6’s (generally dog friendly and slightly cheaper), and have stayed at a few motel 5’s, 4’s and 3’s, at least on a scale of 1 to 10.

We found our last stop on Bringfido.com — where it turned out to be one of the few whose rate was actually what the website listed. It turns out their “as low as” price and the motels actual prices were most often two different things, leading me to waste hours on the computer.

It’s a good thing John Steinbeck didn’t have Internet, or he and Charley wouldn’t have covered nearly as much ground.

Our goal when we left Baltimore — well mine at least, Ace doesn’t really care — was to spend no more money on the road than I was at home. Less than 20 days in, though — and despite 12 days of free lodging mooched from family — we’ve spent close to $300 total on motels and about $350 on gas, our biggest expense.

We probably should start using that tent rolled up atop my car, which has yet to get unrolled. Before leaving New Orleans, we looked into the possibility of volunteering to help rescue and clean up oily wildlife, especially after we heard trailers were being provided for volunteers. But my phone calls didn’t get returned and the websites I checked all were accepting only trained wildlife rescue professionals.

There’s still some hope of meeting my goal of spending less than $1,000 a month on the road. We’ve finagled some free overnight stays this week, which you’ll be hearing more about in the week ahead.

By the time you read this, we’ve departed Houston — after a planned stop at the Millie Bush Dog Park, west of the city. Assuming my Internet connection works in Bandera, and all else goes well, you’ll be seeing our report on Houston’s dog parks tomorrow.

It’s not so lonesome in this old town

Well it’s lonesome in this old town
Everybody puts me down
I’m a face without a name
Just walking in the rain
Goin’ back to Houston, Houston, Houston

You can go home again – whether you’re Thomas Wolfe or Dean Martin —  just don’t expect it to look even vaguely like it once did.

That’s the case with Houston, where I spent my puberty – from 1965 to 1970. (It was a long puberty.)

Since then, Houston has spread even more than I have. Its rich have become richer, its poor have become poorer, its hot has become hotter, its freeways – weren’t there just two? – envelop the city like a mound of spaghetti.

And the Astrodome, that behemoth “modern-day” marvel where I would watch the lowly Astros — the eighth wonder of the world, they called it — now sits empty and unused, an antique that’s dwarfed by even larger Reliant Stadium. (I vote for making the Astrodome the world’s largest dog park.)

I drove by it yesterday on my way to meet an old friend – more than a friend, really. Houston is where my parents got divorced. While I’d spend summers with my father – here, and there, and then somewhere else – from 12 on, I grew up mostly with my mom.

I don’t know if she made a conscious effort to provide me with a male role model, but a co-worker at the Houston Chronicle, the newspaper’s editorial cartoonist, ended up being just that.

He cartooned under the name C.P. Houston, though his real name is Clyde Peterson. And as many of my memories that have faded away, I can still semi-clearly recall sitting in his office and watching him conjure up biting editorial cartoons, tennis outings during which we would sweat buckets, Astros games that we’d usually leave disappointed and – yes! — professional wrestling, even, with its absolutely good guys and totally bad guys and never anybody in between.

All that was 45 years ago, and what little we have stayed in touch has mostly been through reports relayed by my mother. He went on to get married, have children, then grandchildren, and test the waters of retirement.

I don’t know if I’m a part of him, but I’m pretty sure he’s a part of me, to digress back to one of the songs we mentioned yesterday. He – at a time in his life that he probably had far better ways to spend his time than hang around with a snot-nosed pubescent — shaped what I became. (A snot-nosed adult?)

He is honorable, witty and unafraid, a hardcore storyteller, a full-time pursuer of curiosity, the type who, were he a wrestler, would definitely be a good guy, the sort who’s willing to set off on a trip whose destination is to be decided later.

I don’t claim to be all those things, but I think I am some of them, and – not to totally discount genetics or anything – I think he may be a big reason why. (I don’t hold him liable for my numerous negative traits; I think I’ve managed to develop them on my own.)

The point, other than waxing nostalgic, and thanking Clyde the only way I seem able to – at a distance — is this: I think we are shaped by the people who come into and out of our lives, and by our experiences, to a far greater extent than we are shaped by our genes.

Yesterday, in what was probably the second time I’ve seen Clyde since my boyhood, we shared a tale or two, or six, and ate some breakfast, after which we stepped back into the humidity and headed to our cars. As I started up my bright red SUV, I glanced into my rearview mirror to see him pulling out.

In a bright red SUV.

Suddenly, it wasn’t so lonesome in this old town.

To read all of Dog’s Country, click here.