Thursday, July 16, 2009

Travel Orts

I made a brief stop last month to see the Ellis County Courthouse in Waxahachie, not far south of Dallas. Texas has some grand old county courthouses, many dating from the late 19th-century golden age of courthouse construction, but I've never seen one more ornate.

I visited the fine Witte Museum while in San Antonio, and it had an exhibit about the development of public parks in the city from the 1800s on. That meshed nicely with the book I was reading on the trip, a biography of Fredrick Law Olmsted, though he didn't work on any of San Antonio's parks. I was especially interested in reading about the evolution of the much-beloved Brackenridge Park, which is behind the museum.

The museum also had an exhibit about wild west shows -- the sort of late 19th-century/early 20th-century extravaganza that made Buffalo Bill Cody and other showmen famous. Lots of posters, and not just about Buffalo Bill's show, but some of his competitors as well, whose names and claims to fame now exist in dusty obscurity. Here's a fast fact: in the '30s, Tom Mix launched a wild west show, or maybe a circus with wild west elements, called the Tom Mix Circus; but the time had passed for such entertainments, and it failed.

The Witte, incidentally, was where my family and I waited in line to see a moon rock in 1970. They had one on display, about the size of a small, squarish gray golf ball. We probably waited an hour to see it. "We waited to see that?" my brother Jay complained. In hindsight, I suppose he had a point. Pretty much every planetarium and science museum has a moon rock now, and people walk right past them.

I exited I-10 in Flatonia, Texas, for two reasons. One, I've always liked that name. Two, I wanted to find a mail box. I found one, along with a nice-looking cemetery.

I drove on US 90 from Flatonia to Schulenburg, where I got a milkshake at a Whataburger -- an authentic Texas experience, if you ask me. Near the Whataburger I saw a sign for a store called Double Shot Guns and Liquor. Now that's a winning combo.

On I-10 just outside of Katy, Texas, I saw an odd truckload by the side of the road. It took a moment to figure out what it was: a load of windmill blades, tied together, bound for the green-energy revolution, I suppose -- transported there by diesel.

I timed my transit through Harris County, on I-10, which takes you right through the heart of Houston, to compare it with my driving experience in Austin. It took me only 50 minutes during a mid-day Monday. Sometimes traffic slowed, but it never stopped.

Also of note in the metro Houston area: There are a lot of billboards advertising the services of various shysters who say they want to help out with your "Ike claim." Such is the lingering effects of that storm, which the National Hurricane Center calls the third-costliest in U.S. history.

En route to Louisiana, I detoured into Beaumont to see Spindletop. The small open-air museum at the site was closed, so maybe I missed something special. Otherwise, considering how important Spindletop is in the history of Texas -- of the oil industry -- of mankind's quest for energy, the spot is hardly worth stopping to see. There's a replica derrick and an obelisk with a star on top, as you see at other historic spots in Texas. That's it.

In Lafayette, I saw more than one group of convicts taking care of the roadside. Convicts in orange (for traffic safety) and black-and-white convict stripes (for tradition). Not quite like the chain gangs of old, I suspect, but I wouldn't want to be out there in the hot sun with them.

The main route north out of Baton Rouge is US 61, named the Scenic Highway in town. What does one see on the Scenic Highway? A lot of chemical plants -- several miles of them. Impressive, really, but that's stretching that "scenic" concept beyond recognition.

I passed through Philadelphia, Mississippi, hometown of my father's family. One of the places I saw there was the town cemetery. I have relatives there, in this case my paternal grandparents and some of my uncles and aunts.

The last thing I saw on the trip wasn't actually Superman (see July 10). I spent about ten minutes in Effingham, Illinois, standing under this enormous cross, which is nearly 200 feet high.

The cross was made with some 180 tons of steel and is able to withstand very high winds, according to various sources. Each of the Ten Commandments has a display at the base, forming a ring around the structure. Metropolis' Superman statue would look puny next to the Effingham Cross.

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At 10:23 PM, Anonymous Jay Stribling said...

Hi Dees,

A friend and I just got back from a trip to Lancaster PA, driving from Jackson MS. We saw three of these giant crosses along the interstate highway up through the Shenandoah valley.Two were with smooth covering like your example, and one without the covering, with the girders exposed.


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