June Vacation

UPDATE (8/10/06): That Oil and Gas Park is in Scott, LA. Yahoo Maps finally has good aerial photography, so I was able to pick it out of an aerial photo.

UPDATE (4/25/06): The “decommissioned” “draw bridge” that I mention about 1/4 way down is actually a swing bridge, and it’s operational per this site.

UPDATE (9/30/05): Those corny blue dogs that I mention about halfway down are the work of http://www.georgerodrigue.com/.

This year I spent most of my June away from home. Here are the details.

The first week was Microsoft Tech Ed 2005 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. I took a Delta flight out with a connection in Atlanta.

Tech Ed is a large annual conference put on by Microsoft for people who develop software with Microsoft tools and use their enterprise server products. The conference ran from Monday through Friday.

I stayed at the Orlando World Center Marriott. The place was nice, but it felt like a jail. Even though I could see Downtown Disney from the hotel, I had no way of getting there. The property is bounded by fences, a divided highway, and Interstate 4. I could not get anywhere without using a taxi or other transportation for hire. I would have to walk across I-4 and a swamp to get to Downtown Disney. The Microsoft Tech Ed buses only ran between the convention center and hotels, so they weren’t much help.

This map clearly illustrates the problem:

The hotel is at the end of World Center Dr. It is bounded by major highways on all sides.

Here’s a view of the prison, I mean hotel:

(I took this picture on my cell phone camera as I was leaving for the last time.)

Microsoft rented out Universal Studios for all conference participants for Thursday night. Man, I’ll tell you what: Universal Studios Florida is a waste of time. If I paid to get in during a normal day and had to wait in ridiculously long lines in the heat for their puny, pathetic rides, I would have felt ripped off. The only thing halfway entertaining was the Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue, a cheesy live performance. Interestingly, I felt like I had to walk through a mile of stores just to get from the front entrance back to the parking lot.

Back at the convention center, I noticed a plumbing alteration that I have never seen before:

Notice a pipe that branches off the main drain line? Only a few sinks had this. Is this an overflow drain? If so, why did only a few sinks have this?

Here’s a picture of the outside of the convention center, also captured on my cell phone:

The conference ended Friday, and by 3:00 PM, I was on a direct flight to Houston on Continental Airlines to meet the wife and kid. While on the flight, I snapped some pictures of boats in the Gulf of Mexico:

I also took pictures of offshore platforms, but none of them focused right.

I also got some pictures of the dirt road adjacent to the washed out TX 87:

What’s the purpose of the little loop in the road? To avoid some kind of inlet?

Here is where TX 124, part of the TX 87 detour, meets back up with the still-maintained part of TX 87 near High Island.

The TX 146 bridge over the Houston Ship Channel:

See that peninsula in the distance in the below photograph? Would you believe that used to be an upscale neighborhood? Yup, that marsh was the Brownwood Subdivision of Baytown. It subsided several feet and flooded often due to groundwater pumping. This view is looking southwesterly, and I-10 is crisscrossing the picture along the bottom.

San Jacinto Monument:

Sam Houston Tollway Ship Channel Bridge over the Houston Ship Channel:

This is where the improved US 90 ends in northeast Houston:

Notice that just above the improved US 90’s end is brief road segment that resembles just the access roads around an unused freeway right of way? I wonder if this is part of the future US 90 alignment? Also, crossing US 90 at this point is Beltway 8. The Sam Houston Tollway main lanes are supposedly going to be built by 2007. They need to get moving quickly to meet that!

I landed at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Terminal E, the international terminal. My wife and kid were correctly waiting for me somewhere in that terminal, but unfortunately my baggage claim was in Terminal C! After about an hour and a few phone calls, we met up and departed the airport. We all spent that night at some old friends’ house in Pearland.

The next day, Saturday, we saw my father’s new house and church. I noticed that the sanctuary was constructed of similar materials and had similar angles and designs as Cokesbury United Methodist Church, a church my father held for 10 years. It turns out that both buildings were designed by the same architectural firm!

Nothing too exciting happened the rest of the weekend.

On Sunday afternoon, all three of us piled in our car and headed out to New Orleans, LA. We made a detour through Groves, TX, where I lived in the late 80s. I enjoyed a Papa Levi’s snow cone and saw some of my old haunts. We were only in Groves for about 20 minutes.

Since moving away from Groves, I forgot about this old draw bridge on TX 73 headed towards Orange:

It has been decommissioned, but I think it was operational when I lived in Groves. We rarely went to Orange, so I cannot remember for sure.

Louisiana welcomes us:

One nice stop was at a little park/arboretum just south of I-10 in Scott called the Louisiana Oil and Gas Park. (aerial photo) It was on a curved road segment, located next to some restaurant that was closed, and across the road from a gas station. We fed Alec some homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookies and let him walk around for a while.

Here’s a picture of that endless bridge over the Atchafalaya Swamp. Fortunately for motorists, even though the speed limit lowers to 60 over the bridge, there is nowhere for cops to hide except on the other side of a few bridges. All the crossovers are blocked off. If you don’t like paying the “speed tax,” you have little to worry about on this bridge.

Alec is reasonably happy in the back seat:

That’s one of those goofy sign towers on the swamp bridge in the background.

We stopped by Ralph and Kacoo’s in Baton Rouge for supper. While there I was amazed to see a Winchester Boy Scout rifle! It’s the rifle in the center of this photo:

Close ups:

Between Baton Rouge and New Orleans was another long I-10 bridge, but not as long as the bridge west of Baton Rouge.

We arrived at the hotel at around 10:30 PM. Alec was beyond exhausted. He was so tired that he just slept on my shoulder when I pulled him out of the car. He never sleeps on people, so this was a rare treat.

We reserved a room in advance at the Wyndham Bourbon Orleans. This is a 4 star hotel, but we got the room for really cheap since it’s off-season. Considering parking rates, it was probably cheaper (and infinitely more convenient) for us to stay here than try to stay at an outlying hotel and drive in every day. This hotel is right in the French Quarter, two blocks south of Bourbon St., and immediately north of Jackson Square. It was a great location! For the next two days, we walked or rode the streetcars everywhere.

First we went to the Audubon Zoo. We took the St. Charles Streetcar from Canal to the zoo. (Well, to the north side of Audubon Park where we caught a zoo shuttle.)

Here’s what the streetcar track looked like most of the way:

The zoo was neat, but the stifling heat kept most animals indoors. Lunch was a downright bargain for the zoo. Jennifer and I ate for only $7.50!

After that, we went to Jackson Square and toured St. Louis Cathedral. That was a good stop. We then planned on following an AAA French Quarter walking tour. However, a few blocks into the tour, we realized that we could care less whether a particular building was owned by the 1908 Governor’s cousin’s daughter’s roommate’s ex-wife. Plus it was blazing hot, and Alec has trouble sleeping in the stroller. So we quit and headed back to the hotel for a nap.

That evening, we went to the Riverwalk Mall for supper. The mall was mostly a tourist trap. It was interesting, though, because it is a long mall split on several levels. The mall gave great views of the Mississippi and the US 90 bridge.

That night, Alec was still happy despite the heat:

The next day we hopped on the Canal St. Streetcar (air conditioned!) and headed to City Park. We toured the New Orleans Botanical Garden and Sculpture Garden. The botanical garden was interesting, but I think most of the blooms had already disappeared due to the heat. The sculpture garden was full of typical, weird modern sculptures. One thing I enjoyed was this sculpture:

I enjoyed this because it was the subject of a Valentine’s Day stamp in 1973.

We headed back and got a great lunch at The Gumbo Shop by Jackson Square. The lunch prices were reasonable, and they gave us more than we could eat.

After a respite at the hotel, we went on a 2 hour cruise on the Steamboat Natchez. I wasn’t all that impressed, mainly because the cruise was blisteringly hot. We were on the side of the top level, and there was virtually no wind. They should at least install fans. But near the end of the cruise, we discovered that the 2nd level near the front has a great wind. Dang, I wish we had discovered that earlier! Alec wasn’t enjoying the heat:

After the cruise, I had to snap a picture of one of the the local, dominant bus company’s buses. The company name entertainingly combines two potentially offensive words:

What a name!

After the cruise, we went to the Aquarium of the Americas.

After the aquarium, we returned to the hotel to give Alec more nap time.

At around 6:45 PM, we headed out for supper. We decided to see what was on Canal St. This meant another walk down Bourbon St.:

After reviewing our options, we chose to board the St. Charles St. Streetcar and head to Copeland’s. We were at the restaurant by 8:30. Alec was tired and fussy by this time, so we had to take turns eating for part of the meal. The meal was really good.

After that we headed back to the hotel. We walked down Bourbon St. again to get from Canal St. to the hotel. Two “beading ceremonies” happened in our vicinity, but the crowds were too thick to see anything juicy.

The next morning we had breakfast at Cafe Du Monde. The beignets and coffee were overrated. I don’t recommend their food unless you like greasy funnel cakes. That’s all the beignets taste like.

Walking back to the hotel, I got a good shot of the cathedral in Jackson Square:

I also finally got a picture of this goofy art store a half block south of the hotel. All the store had were variations of a stupid blue dog:

What kind of bonehead runs this place?

Here’s a picture of the hotel:

After that, we headed out of town. We drove north through Slidell for a little scenery (not!), then got on I-59. We took I-59 to Meridian, then US 45 north to Amory, MS where Jennifer’s grandparents live. On the way, we stopped by the University of Southern Mississippi to see their new polymer science building. The facility would have been impressive in a major university, not just in quaint little Hattiesburg, MS!

Here are all our bags. Can you believe we fit all this junk in our Nissan Maxima?

Who says you need a stinkin’ SUV to do a vacation? We fit plenty of stuff in the Maxima and we had a much more comfortable, safe, and efficient ride to boot! (Yes, NHTSA stats show that overall, there are still more fatalities in SUVs than in traditional cars. The supposed safety aspect of SUVs is marketing bunk. Don’t believe it.)

There’s not much to speak of in downtown Amory, but Bill’s Hamburgers still does good business:

This is something you’ll never see in bigger cities:

A closer look shows a Bible with a weekly suggested reading:

Alec gives a devilish look while Great Grandma watches:

He thinks, “I’m making surprise in my pants for Mommy!”

After we were done in Mississippi, we headed back to Texas by way of US 82, I-55, and then I-20. We briefly stopped in Vicksburg. This is the entrance to the old US 80 Vicksburg river crossing:

This is a view of both the new I-20 (left) and old US 80 (right) bridges:

The old bridge also carries a railroad crossing:

40 or so years ago, this used to be a toll bridge. I guess this was the toll collection station? Believe it or not, this bridge still collects tolls from the railway cars that pass through it.

Notice the curves? This is narrow pavement, so it could have been scary to pass by a large truck headed the opposite direction:

Want something better? My flight to Atlanta followed I-20. I got some pictures of these bridges from the air:

The rest of the drive home was uneventful. We arrived home on a Monday.

Wednesday night I dug up part of my sewer pipe. (More info.)

On Thursday I took off for the 7th Annual Chevrolet Nova Listserv Gathering in Amarillo, TX. (Jennifer and Alec stayed home.) This year, we only had 8 Novas show up:

That green Nova in the background is a fine specimen. It is a ’73 and has less than 8,000 original miles!

My favorite part of the weekend was a side trip to Palo Duro Canyon State Park. At the park, seven of us walked the trail to the Lighthouse Formation. We were treated to all sorts of wonderful scenery like this:

Here’s the formation:

A view from towards the top of the formation:

The formation itself is quite tall:

A spectacular treat were walks through trails that were chock full of flowers:

It was unreal! Look how tall they are:

Fields of flowers:

Close up:

Notice how many blooms had yet to open? That field would probably have been even more spectacular a week or two later.

Can’t forget the obligatory stop by Cadillac Ranch.

Did you know this display was moved a few years ago?

We defaced one of the cars with a 2005 Gathering sticker and our signatures:

How cute. A town named Bushland in the middle of Bush Country:

This wouldn’t be a real gathering if we didn’t have at least one failure this year! Shawn, one of the Nova owners, noticed that his car was leaking motor oil too quickly. Here are some people checking it out:

After starting the car, some people noticed that oil was draining off the top back of the block too quickly. It was too even of a drain pattern to be the rear intake manifold seal, so they speculated that it must be the oil pressure sending unit.

A little investigation with fingers caused the oil pressure sending unit to snap off a brass tube. (This guy had a complicated arrangement so that he could have two sending units–one for a gauge and one for an idiot light.) This left part of the tube in the engine block. This tube was probably about to break from fatigue anyway.

This is a major problem. If he started the car, oil would gush straight out of the block.

Fortunately, someone brought an EZ Out to the gathering. After breaking a “Made in India” wrench, Shawn removed the brass piece from his block.

The gauge sender was too fat to fit in the spot without another brass extension, so Shawn just hooked the stock idiot light sending unit back into place.

The guy on the right, Mike, is who had the EZ Out:

Funny story: after the gathering was done, Shawn was on his way back to St. Louis. Just on the other side of Oklahoma City, one of his exhaust valve springs broke in two places! Fortunately, Mike, who lives in Ohio, was about an hour behind him. After several cell phone calls and emails to our listserv, we managed to help Shawn contact Mike. Mike was flat towing a Nova behind his Jeep Grand Cherokee. Mike simply unhooked his Nova and hooked up Shawn’s Nova. Shawn drove Mike’s Nova, following Mike at up to 80 MPH, all the way back to St. Louis. Mike is now known as the listserv’s Guardian Angel. This isn’t the first time he has been a hero at a gathering.

On the way back to Dallas, we noticed that the Hardeman County rest area on US 287 was called a “Safety Rest Area” and had a tornado shelter. It also has slides and an air conditioned lobby. I’ve never seen such a fancy rest stop!

I also noticed a lot of telegraph-style poles near adjacent railroad tracks. It’s the one in the foreground in this picture:

It wasn’t initially clear whether they are still used? I remember seeing these a lot more when I was younger, but I rarely see them anymore.

We also saw the aftermath of a crash that probably ruined someone’s vacation:

It looked like this guy jumped on his brakes and went out of control. He was headed the other direction.

That’s my June vacation! I have never been away from home for that long.

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