Austin to Houston is an easy and mostly pretty drive in the springtime. Stopping for lunch at a park on the Colorado River, just outside of the tiny town of Columbus, TX, we arrived at our Houston RV park by late afternoon. The park, called an RV resort, is a large, fenced, paved lot with a recreation room, a computer room, a grill station, a laundry room, and a very nice and clean bathroom facility.
Our first evening, we met Nancy, a semi-retired high school English teacher who, after traveling around in her van for awhile, decided to take a long-term substitute teaching position in Houston. She’s taught here before and is glad to be back in Houston, what she calls “a great, big, hard-working city.” She’s living here full-time for the rest of the school year, when she’ll decide if she wants to re-up for another year. She might want to stay here at this park, she tells us, since it’s a simple and inexpensive way to live (with no plumbing, she uses the resort’s facilities). But she says she also feels “detached” and misses having a social life. She was invited to a potluck at the RV resort and liked most of the people but said she still felt like an outsider. Many of the other semi-permanent residents like herself are here from North Dakota to work oil and gas jobs, she says, so they don’t have all that much in common. At one point during the potluck, she says, the host had to stop everyone from talking about politics because he said, gesturing toward her, “not all of us here are for Trump.”
We’ve stayed in only a few places like this, which are more expensive, have many more rules (no children unaccompanied, anywhere) and feel a little like living in a small community of condos on wheels. But there is free popcorn in the rec room and a fishing pond, where G managed to hook a turtle (it was unharmed), so we were content to be there.
So, what movie do you watch when you’re in Houston with plans to visit the Johnson Space Center the next day? Well, Apollo 13, of course, which we’d picked up at a discount DVD store and had been looking forward to watching. The kids were initially skeptical. They are not big fans of any movies made in the 1990s or before, although due to our occasional antennae connection to a channel called MeTV, they have become huge fans of M*A*S*H, Hogan’s Heroes, and Laverne and Shirley. Anyway, they ended up loving Apollo 13 and we felt good and prepared for our next day’s visit to the Space Center. We have managed to stretch out spring break for more than 3 weeks now, so we are happy about anything resembling a planned educational experience.
At the Space Center, we took a tram to see the Astronaut Training Center, checked out some simulators and exhibits in the main hall, and watched an IMAX film narrated by Patrick Stewart and highlighting Serena Aunon, a medical doctor, engineer and now NASA astronaut. There are only a few female faces on the walls of the Space Center (Sally Ride, Valentina Tereshkova, Mae Jamison, Christa McAuliffe) so it was nice to be introduced to the impressive Dr. Aunon, who hails from nearby Galveston, TX. We also learned that some of the most famous quotes associated with NASA, and in particular Apollo 13, are not accurate. “Houston, we have a problem,” for example, is a pithy variation of what was actually said. And “Failure is not an option,” often attributed to NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz during the Apollo 13 rescue mission, was never actually said at all. Less dramatic but more compelling are the quotes about the scope of space and the fragility of our human existence that are posted on the walls. “Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious,” wrote Carl Sagan, “If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”
We were glad to see the Space Center (although the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Centers at home are better), but we were even more excited for the next night, when we drove into the city to meet up with friends at their hotel and then shuttle over to the NRG center for the NCAA Championship game. We had crossed Houston off our list, actually, until Gloria and Rick (first of Spooky, Snowy Tahoe and then of Rose Bowl) hooked us up with tickets for this final game between Villanova and North Carolina. It is something we never would have done otherwise. The pomp and popularity of this collegiate event is astounding; everything imaginable is adorned with the university logos, and the stadium, meant for football, is so large that people were renting binoculars to view the game from their seats. Our seats, which were great and required no special viewing equipment, were near Villanova fans in what was a decidedly UNC-favoring crowd (there were Jordan jerseys everywhere, as well as Michael Jordan himself). So we were leaning for Villanova even before they announced that three of their players were from Maryland. We cheered for Villanova throughout, throwing up our hands (and in the case of Elian his seat cushion) when they hit an amazing buzzer-beater shot to win one of the best basketball games we’ve ever seen. Even better that the shot was made by Kris Jenkins, a player from DC’s Gonzaga High School who was coached by an old friend from Silver Spring. Gg said she felt badly for the other team and we were sorry we couldn’t buy the UNC championship t-shirt for a former student who’d asked us to get one if UNC won, but we were all very happy for the winning team, and grateful to add the Final Four to our BigTrip experience.
Now, we head to Louisiana to see what Cajun Country and this bayou business is all about…