The last day of my excursion in Houston began at 8:00AM. Woken by my trusty iPhone playing "Fly Me To The Moon", I took my time getting up and ready to depart; mostly because I knew this would be the last time for a long time that I would be living on my own. I went around my small temporary apartment, checking and double-checking everything and everywhere to ensure that nothing was left behind. After one last look around, and stuffing my cooler with my frozen water bottles and remaining cherries, I bid goodbye to my bachelor pad of 24 hours. It was actually a very nice room, and I could easily see myself living in an apartment like that, if it only had an oven; a man gotta have his Wal-Mart 16 inch Take and Bake pizzas, after all.
I decided that I wanted to take one last good tour of downtown, specifically Discovery Park. So I set a course in my GPS and piloted Jiro on the Houston highway one last time. The trip was pretty much flawless; only three wrong turns which were easily corrected. As I came down the off-ramp, I came face-to-face with Minute Maid Ballpark. It is a beautifully designed red brick and green girder support building and home of the infamous Houston Astros. I gawked at the stadium as I drove past, immediately making a note of its location for later photography sessions. After about 10 minutes, I finally found a place to squeeze Jiro in, with at least 2 feet on both sides of wiggle room for pulling out later. Parking was free, so I left Jiro there and set out on foot through the park. There were spots for dogs, a large kiddies fountain which looked inviting in the 90+ degree heat, a small pond for racing remote controlled motorboats, and a lot of green spots for picnicking. Along the path, vendors were starting to setup their stands for home-grown veggies and snowballs.
After a few minutes' walk, I arrived at the ballpark. As dazzling as the building looked from inside Jiro, it looked 10 times more so in person. The green on the girders really stood out against the solid red brick building with signs all over announcing that this is a baseball stadium and, more importantly, this is where the Houston Astros played, and you had better respect it or suffer the wrath of the fans. Much like the stores and shops in the area surrounding NASA was themed around space, the area in and around the ballpark was themed for baseball. Everywhere you looked, there was something involving baseball, be it a nearby hotel called "The Inn At The Ballpark", or the large, brass baseball fountain made to look as though thrown by two brass ball players across the street. I have a feeling that I would've appreciated it a whole lot more had I actually been a baseball fan. But, as I have told several people before, my sports interest is reserved strictly for the Bayou Classic, Super Bowl, and only just recently, the New Orleans Saints; anything beyond that, and my eyes glaze over. After wondering around the ballpark snapping pictures, the song "Astros" by Vic Mignogna (anime fans will know exactly who this is and die-hard fans will know this song and why I picked it during this photography session) blasting in my ears, I then set off on my walking tour through the town, snapping as many pictures as I could of buildings, architecture and landmarks. It was only when I crossed the street, stepping on a train rail, that I realized that I had one more thing that I just had to do before leaving. Something that was at or near the top of my list of things to do while this trip was in the planning stages. Something that I would kill myself over if I didn't do it; ride the MetroRail.
I made my way to the train platform, looking around for a place to purchase a ticket. There was a small machine with a large screen sitting at the end of the train platform. I punched in how many tickets I wanted and blinked as the price appeared on screen; $1.25. Wow. Talk about cheap. In addition, you could purchase a ticket (or tickets) using cash or a credit/debit card. Awesome. I pushed in a fiver, and picked up my ticket and change, which included three gold dollar coins; talk about getting more for your money. I felt a little like Harry Potter waiting on the Hogwarts Express on Platform 9 ¾. About 5 minutes later, up comes, not the scarlet red engine associated with the boy wizard, but a slim, silver bullet train. The doors opened, and I was greeted by a breeze of cool air. After about two minutes of seat jumping to give me the optimum view of the area, the train blasted off. It was a shock how fast it was running; the schedule said that it would take all of 30 minutes to go across town, but if you remove the stops that we made (About 10 in all) we could've made it in 20. As we rode, we stopped at different districts, each one with a distinct train platform; the Houston Zoo platform, for example, was decked out in Safari style with different animal paintings scattered about. After about 15 minutes, I became aware of a gentlemen cursing and screaming at...well...the empty seat in front of him. It was a heated argument. This continued until we reached the 2nd to last stop, where I disembarked to make the return trip back Downtown. One of the riders noticed my puzzled and slightly confused expression and said sympathetically, "He does this all the time. He must not have taken his medication today. They actually put him off the train several times." All the same, I kept a watchful eye on him as I bought my ticket for the turnaround trip. Fortunately, by the time the train got there and all throughout the return trip, he was silent. Evidently, he won the argument.
When I arrived back at my originating stop (where I got off with an older gentlemen wearing a bright red Astros baseball jersey; no argument where he was going), I made my way back through Discovery Green after passing the now packed Minute Maid Park where die-hard baseball fans were lining up to get in. Before going back to Jiro, I stopped by the Snowball stand I passed earlier, now fully erected and open for business, selling the icy treats for $3. It was there I ran into another fellow Louisianan who, while we waited in the scorching sun for the vendor (a nice older lady with a not-so-nice ice shaving machine) confirmed my theory that Houston "hot" is WAY different than Baton Rouge "hot". After what felt like an hour in the broiler known as "Texas in Summer", I finally retrieved my grape snowball and made my way back to Jiro. It was then that I got one last lesson in Texas driving. Where there was once a 2-3 foot gap between the back of my Jeep and the car behind me, there was now less than a foot of room between my back bumper and the front bumper of a Toyota 4-Runner. My mind raced as to what the heck I was going to do; did I DARE try to maneuver Jiro out? Or do I just hang around and wait for the owner to return so he could free my 2000 pound baby boy from his vehicular prison? The sun was searing my skin, sweat was pouring down my face, and high noon had arrived; time for the showdown. I did a few mental measurements of how much maneuvering room I had to do, and a game plan formulated in my head; a complex combination of reverse gear and forward gear, coupled with the most wheel turning I've done since I was given my license was required, but it could be done...it HAD to be done..."Failure is NOT an Option".
I climbed into Jiro, gave a quick prayer, started the engine, and put him in reverse, my foot easing off my brake as I turned the wheel sharply. After three seconds, I stopped, popped him into Drive, and slowly inched forward as much as I possibly could before hitting the brakes. I popped Jiro into reverse again, and slowly edged off the brake, inching in reverse until I noticed the 4-Runner give a slight tremble. I hit my brake, and put Jiro back into forward, inching ahead once again. Oh...my...Lord...PLEASE tell me I didn't... I climbed out the Jeep calm, cool and collected and walked to the back, looking nonchalant but insides twisting. Thankfully there wasn't a mark on either vehicle. I heaved a sigh of relief as I made my way back to Jiro's driver's seat. It was just then when a family, obviously out for a good day trip, walked past. The guy asked me "Hey! Do you need our help backing out?" My reply was quick and sharp; "YES! PLEASE! THANK YOU SO MUCH!" And so, with the entire family helping me, I inched in reverse, stopped, and then popped the Jeep in drive. "Can you get out now?" he asked, with genuine helpfulness in his voice. I turned the wheel sharply once again and slowly inched forward; Jiros' front bumper clearing the back bumper of the car ahead of me by INCHES. With a cheer, several horn blows, and a wave to my helpful family, I drove off in freedom, making the block one more time to ease my mind that I did not, in fact, damage the imprisoning 4-Runner. All was good. It was after this that I plugged a course in my GPS to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, accelerated onto the interstate, made one last stop for gas, and bid the big and beautiful city of Houston, Texas farewell...for now, at least.
So now, here I am, back at work, getting back into my regular routine of answering questions, dealing with customers, making it through each day with my own unique blend of humor. The experience of those 48 hours; the sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes, the feelings, are now a part of my life forever and it's something that I won't soon forget.
Now to plan NEXT YEARS trip. :-P