Lemonade

Friday was reserved. From months out, the fifth of September was claimed, set aside for a special event due to the receipt of an adorable postcard bearing the likenesses of our friends Monique and Nathan, a young couple we know through Christina's role as Monique's Undergraduate Adviser in Zeta Phi Beta. They planned, at long last, to wed. Certainly, they were already hitched in the eyes of the state (and Facebook), but before friends, family, and the church? Not so much.

Rather than tie the knot locally, Galveston was the destination wedding's destination. We'd never been to the island, and so planned to make a weekend of it, staying an extra night to see the sights, and taking advantage of a deal from Southwest Airlines that made spending the time and gas money it'd take to drive there seem like sheer folly.

As the date neared, complications arose. The wedding was canceled, for one. A glance at Christina told me that this was not sufficient reason to also cancel our trip. We kept our reservation at Avenue O Bed & Breakfast for a few more weeks. We blinked, though, at the point when Hurricane Gustav had a probability cone that included Galveston Isle and the deadline for a full refund on our lodgings coincided.

After Gustav took it out on Louisiana instead, we made new plans, getting a room at Grace Manor, just off The Strand. With plans set and now unavoidable, I discovered the joy of online check-in before we headed to the remote lot at the airport. Once shuttled to the terminal, it was smooth sailing from there to Houston Hobby, to the rental lot, all the way to the island.

Grace Manor is an imposing structure, even among its imposing neighbors. The long red front stair leads to a grand front door, secured by what Barbara, the helpful and enthusiastic (but not cloying) owner tells me is a lock and bolt in the Huguenot style; that is, it turns backwards. It sits at the southwestern corner of Postoffice and 17th behind a green iron fence and lush tropical gardens. Our home base for the weekend was the Bird of Paradise, with beautiful blinds and copious amounts of room to move about.

[caption id="attachment_157" align="aligncenter" width="720"]Christina in the Bird of Paradise room Christina in the Bird of Paradise room[/caption]

The first night, we located some toothpaste, as TSA regulations had left us dentifrice-less, then dined at Benno's on the Beach, enjoying immense crab cakes, spicy shrimp, and the most awesome potatoes of all time. Planning to hit the beach at some point, we strolled down Seawall until we found a surf shop. We didn't go far though, as there was one practically next door to Benno's. We left shortly thereafter with a tiny sunscreen and two beach towels. The rest of the night was spent exploring the Strand...what little of it was open, anyhow. We strolled and perused tourist traps, casually gathering ideas about what we wanted to see the next day. We wound up at MOD, where we had a cookie and took unfair advantage of their awesome premium iced teas (with free refills, hewing to standards of southern hospitality even in the midst of massive hipness).

We woke early, even without an alarm. The only criticism I could level at our B& B experience is the late hour of breakfast. Not that we were starving, but we were quite ready to start our day, trying desperately to make the best of the opportunity to sleep in, but instead tossing restlessly like kids told to go back to bed on Christmas morning. The French toast was awesome, though, and to have a selection of desserts for breakfast is truly an indication that one is on vacation.

We worked our way southward along the Strand, popping into whichever shop caught our fancy. I was in the market for a hat to shade my shorn pate, while Christina was looking, as ever, for an elusive pair of shoes to fit her specifications. We both had struck out by the time we reached the far end of the district, finishing the browsing spree in a great antique shop that featured very pricey antique Texan cartography. It was a little past noon when we entered the Galveston Railroad Museum, a destination I had discovered only days before.

[caption id="attachment_158" align="aligncenter" width="720"]This is not 38. This is not 38.[/caption]

Many, many, locomotives and passenger cars awaited our inspection. But first, we had a train to catch. There is a brief ride available on Saturdays aboard a Missouri Pacific caboose coupled to a diesel loco, down a siding along the port and back again. We got a good look at the grain loading system for ships, as well as scores of flying insects busily propagating their infernal species while in mid-air. Get a room, already! A lucky young lad (who, I might observe, arrived AFTER we did) got to ride in the cab of the engine and work the train's horn. I did my best not to shoot any dirty looks his way.

We lunched on gyros at a Mediterranean cafe, followed by heaping cones from the ice cream parlor across the street, which we licked as we walked back to the room. The next tour was Christina's suggestion, a multimodal exploration without leaving the tour bus, or, in this case, tour DUKW. We caught the Duck Tour of Galveston on Seawall, and enjoyed an hour long loop of the city, including an excursion on Offatt's Bayou, where the tour guide let it be known that the replica steamboat Colonel is in fact just a gussied-up diesel barge.

[caption id="attachment_159" align="aligncenter" width="720"]A Pretty Lie A Pretty Lie[/caption]

On Barbara's recommendation, we tried a Tex-Mex place around the corner from the Manor, The Original. The enchiladas we had were nothing to write home about, but the salsa was extremely tasty; modestly spicy with a strong cilantro flavor.

We retired for a nap before the night's activities started. When we left the house, we crossed paths with another couple just coming in. We took little heed of their warning that the island's mosquito population was out in force. After all, we had sprayed down with OFF that morning...surely that application was still effective, right? Not really, no; as the still-healing bumps on my leg even now will attest. We pulled into Moody Gardens just after sundown, and got directions from a young lady bored to the point of doodling behind the counter at the Information Center. She drew us a path on a map, a line showing us how to get to the star party I was eager to attend. By the time we arrived, though, my dear wife was almost at wit's end from being bitten. A few minutes and nary a skyward glance later, that end had been passed, and we beat a hasty retreat, calling it an early evening.

I realized that between packing and driving back to Houston, that we would have no time on the beach. Ever the romantic, often to the point of schmaltziness, I suggested we visit the shore in the cool, uncroweded morning. Ever the nerd, often to the point of insufferability, I consulted the US Naval Observatory's table of sunrise times for the continental US, which listed a sunrise time of 7:00 am for Galveston. Sure enough, we were up by 6:30, out the door by 6:50, in the cool predawn gray, flying down 19th St toward Seawall. There was just enough time to park and make it down to the sand before the solar disk broke the horizon.

[caption id="attachment_160" align="aligncenter" width="720"]Sunrise over Russell Sunrise over Russell[/caption]

We walked along the beach, watched seagulls, sandpipers and pelicans, as well as intrepid surf fishermen, until the sun was warming up, and it was time to head back for breakfast. Mmm, quiche and mimosas! After a very long and rambling chat with the other couples, in which I let Christina talk while I enjoyed breakfast dessert, we packed up and headed out.

We returned to Moody Gardens, this time for an indoor attraction: the aquarium. We trekked from ocean to ocean, up ramps and down, watching aquatic critters of all sorts swim about. One chinstrap penguin in particular caught our attention, swimming ungracefully at the surface of the water near the glass, as if attempting to put on a show for us. And a memorable show we had, as he demonstrated in vivid yellow and white chunks the manner in which the denizens of the antarctic answer the call of nature, thereafter performing a flip and swimming back through the dissipating cloud of penguin poo. It may have been this encounter with avian cheekiness that prevented us from ordering the Yard Bird from the menu at Leon's World's Finest BBQ. The brisket was great, but turned out to be the least impressive offering we sampled; the spare ribs, downtown link, and homemade link du jour were all extraordinary. I'd also suggest any visitor with room to spare try Leon's Stepped-Up Rice, full of jalapeno-y goodness and the individual-sized sweet potato pie.

On the way back to Houston Hobby, we took a detour to Johnson Space Center, as Christina had never visited. It has changed a bit since my last visit in high school; the Saturn V is now enclosed in a big steel shed, and spiffied up a bit as well. There's a playscape in the visitor center, as well as a large food court. They even have a new control room, the old one abandoned and restored to its moon-landing era appearance shortly after I last saw it. We endured the numerous kiddoes on the tram tour and perused the artifacts before we continued on our way to the airport.

[caption id="attachment_161" align="aligncenter" width="720"]The Biggest Rocket Ever. The Biggest Rocket Ever.[/caption]

Once in the care of the rental agency, the gears turned smoothly to return us home. Shuttle to terminal, terminal to plane, plane to terminal, terminal to shuttle. I had planned the trip to maximize our time to explore, so we returned home with only an hour or so before we had to hit the sack to be rested for Monday. After a busy summer and the stresses of a new school year, we were happy to have turned what seemed like a lemon into one last refreshing round of lemonade.

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