Gary Gardner (grgardner) wrote,
Gary Gardner

"Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea waves crashing...

While I watch the cannons splashing, I clean my gun, and dream of Galveston..."

It's no secret that I love country music.  One of my earliest favorite songs that I can remember is Glen Campbell's hit "Galveston", about this Texas coastal town where I'm spending this first night on the road.   Mom had it on an album and I remember playing it over and over again on our big stereo in the living room.   I knew that on this trip to the South I'd need to come through.   The song was written by Jimmy Webb, a great songwriter, and was, according to his bio, about a soldier in the Spanish-American war. When Campbell released it in 1969, many folks assumed it was about a soldier in Vietnam, and was considered by some to be an anti-war song.   The Country Music Association has named it one of the top-ten all time great country songs.
The bike had made it to Houston a few days before I did, and was waiting at Allied Van Lines in the far North end of town.  I picked her up on Tuesday.  It was raining when I headed out, and I was not looking forward to riding all the way back to where I staying in the rain.  After inspecting the bike and putting the windshield back on and adjusting the mirrors, I backed it off the platform, signed the paperwork and suited up in my rain gear.  While the rain was tapering off, it was still drippy and the roads were all wet and I'd need to wear it to stay dry.   I put the key in, turned the ignition and thumbed the starter, and nothing...  I tried it again...grrrrrr...grrrrr...grrrrr....just the sound of a sputtering starter with not enough juice to start it.   Curses.  So with help from the loading dock crew we did a push start and she fired up and I rode off.

Hitting I-45 back towards downtown Houston I figured my aging battery (the bike's, not my personal one), needed replacing, and I  I'd get back to my friends house and find a Harley dealer and buy one and slap it in myself.  Fortunately along the 20 plus miles I had to ride back I found a dealer just off the freeway (naturally as I was passing it in the middle-left lane so I had to ride to the next exit and double back.)   I rode into Mancuso HD, afraid to turn the bike off for fear I'd have to push it again to start her, and where they were kind enough to move the little Latina girl blocking the door and put me up on the lift right away to go over the entire electrical system.
Sure enough, the battery needed to be replaced, and they put one in for me.  It had of course stopped raining, cleared up, and stayed dry since I left the shipping company.  This is only because I was in the hot sticky rain suit.  The roads had dried off too, so I stowed the rain gear and got back on the bike and headed back to my base camp.   The weather, while humid, was nice on the bike.  Cruising along at 60 mph and 80 degrees was very pleasant.   Houston is a huge city, it sprawls somewhere smaller than LA, but bigger than Phoenix and, forgive me for saying so, was not impressive.   And while I enjoyed time with old and new friends, its not a city that a siren calls me back to.

Because Houston is so large, and relatively close to Galveston, it takes some creativity to find a back road to get there.  I had one suggestion from a friend, and I modified it after studying the HD Road Atlas a bit.   I headed south and while still in the giant metro area, passed a nice new HD dealer so for kicks and giggles (and a t-shirt for the collection) I exited off the freeway.

As soon as I entered I got a typical southern "Hello! how can I help 'ya!" from Tracy who's nameplate at the receptionist desk read "Director of First Impressions".   She offered me a bottle of water and asked what she could help me with.  We got to chatting, and as usual, as soon as I mention where I'm from the reaction tends to be "long way!" or something to that effect.  I said yeah, and I'm headed to Galveston today, and she offered a route that wasn't one I'd thought of, and it turned out to be the right one.   Her title was most accurate -- what a great first impression.

The beauty of her route is it got me off the freeway and on to Texas state roads much quicker, and it ended up being about a 150 mile trip through the small towns leading towards the Gulf Coast -- "Guy", and "Braizeon", "Pleak" and "Freeport".   You can sure tell its an election year.  I always like seeing election signs -- it reminds me that despite it all, we do have a say in what goes on, even when it doesn't feel like it sometimes.
Damn if it didn't feel great to be on the road again.   The roar of the bike, the wind in my face.  It clears my mind, and my creative juices started flowing again as I thought of things to write about.  It's a long way back home, but I've got a long time and I'm psyched.  At Freeport the road climbs up a massive bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway (the vast marine highway that runs around the Gulf and is used for both shipping and recreation).  The land is so flat you can see for miles, with huge refineries and petro-chemical plants dotting the horizon, the grass and marsh of the coast stretching inland.  High atop the bridge and coming down below me was the Gulf itself, stretching off into infinity.   The breeze was cooling and wonderful on my bare arms and it smelled like the sea.

At the bottom of the bridge I turned left and up onto Galveston Island.   This is a narrow strip of sand between the Gulf and Galveston Bay, and has some of the feel of the Florida Keys.   It's lined with lots of vacation homes for Houstonites to escape to, and they are all built high in the air on stilts so as not to flood when the hurricanes strike.   I don't know if I'd want to live in an area where my home was built knowing it was going to get walloped by a hurricane every year or so.
The gas light came on in a little town called "Jamaica Bay", and so I pulled in to fill it up.  Gas down here, this close to the Gulf and the oil supply and a zillion refineries is sitting at $3 and change unlike the nearly $4.25 back home.   I was also feeling hungry and when a nice older guy and his wife pulled in next to me and he noticed my Washington plates and said "long way to ride" I laughed and he said he rode a Softtail Custom but living in Galveston he'd not ridden it "nearly as far".  So I did my usual question "is there a good place to eat around here?"  He suggested a place right up the road, and so off I went with a wave.  

There were a number of cars at a joint called "Nate's" that was up on stilts just like the homes and overlooked Galveston Bay.   The waitress in her Texas drawl welcomed me and sat me at the window and handled me a menu and said "sweet tea?"   She read my mind, and I said a big glass as I was parched from the road.  She brought me a pitcher - bless her heart.  

Lunch was incredible to say the least.   Crawfish and Crab Ponchartrain, which was crawfish tails, crab meat in a "Ponchartrain" sauce over "dirty rice", and Key Lime pie for desert (and that pitcher of sweet tea).   Truly one of the joys of the road is finding good hole-in-the wall eats, and this lived up to it.  My friend Kendrix asked me in Houston if I'd ever had crawfish, and I said no.  I'd seen folks eat 'em and they kinda scared me.  He said the true  "mudbug experience cannot be wholly appreciated, unless you embrace your inner barbarian and start tearin' off some heads! You haven't had crawfish until your hands are stained, your mouth burns, and the hollow crawfish corpses sit before you like a morbid trophy."   Fortunately for me, the crawfish in my lunch were already diced into meaty pieces, and I was more than happy with that.

The road I was riding on turned into the main road along the top of Galveston's seawall and was a joy to ride as I went through town, with the ocean to my right, and the town to my left below me, like riding along the dykes in Holland.  My hotel is right on the seawall, my room faces out over the Gulf, with a patio where I sit to write this.  

At sunset I rode down the seawall and found a funky little beach side shrimp shack, had a couple of pounds of fresh shrimp in pico de gallo and of course sweet tea to drink.   I don't often wish to stay in a town more than a day or so on a big trip, but Galveston is tempting for sure.   As the song says, "Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your seawinds blowing..."

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