2019 Christmas Travel Log Days 2-6

We didn’t actually travel for four of the days but no point in being a stickler with details. Monday morning was spent waiting for a certain toddler’s bowels to catch up with the normal trajectory of her little electrified body. Travel seems to upset all kinds of schedules even in adults and is harder on her. The afternoon involved playing golf and getting nails done and shopping. Dad and I played golf at La Paloma since Tascosa is closed on Mondays. There was no room in the car for my clubs so I rented some there and shot 78 with them in my first 18 since June. Golf is kind of fun when you aren’t terrible at it. It was a beautiful 65 degree day in Amarillo in December so just being outside was the best part. The women went and got their nails done and did some shopping. We had dinner with an old friend of my dad and a good neighbor that night, pork chops and roasted veggies and good sides.

Tuesday morning, I headed out for true last minute shopping. We were 70% prepared this year and even had presents wrapped before arriving. However, I needed a few stocking stuffers and a couple of gifts for mom and dad. Bed, Bath and Beyond is always an easy place to find things like that. It wasn’t particularly busy yet at 9 AM but those who were there all seemed to be in my predicament, that of the lazy or unprepared or over scheduled. Males outnumbered females 3-1 or so. There is a certain look in the face of men buying Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve morning. You make eye contact and there is an momentary acknowledgement of shared guilt and then a furtive glance back to the As Seen On TV Egg Boiler you’re seriously considering giving your significant other as a representation of your undying love. One briefly contemplates the apparent lack of meaning that led you to wait until 24 hours before the deadline. But Nietzsche was right, staring into the abyss only brings the monster closer home so you put down the egg boiler and buy something far more expensive as a replacement for the time you should have spent getting a meaningful gift. And you hope your significant other doesn’t read existential philosophy.

Later in the morning, we went to Westgate Mall to get our annual picture with Santa taken. The place opened at 10 and we got there by 10:30 and didn’t have too many people in front of us. Have I mentioned that Wobbles has been training in a jihad camp recently to become a terrorist? It’s an after school part of her Montessori training I think. Maria would be so proud. The main base of the training involves strengthening her negotiating tactics. She’s already infinitely better at hostage negotiations than Dwayne T. Robinson ever was. Today’s negotiation was that if she got her picture taken with Santa, she could then run around the mall instead of going home to take a nap. I should also mention that the child may be a vampire because she has a serious aversion to cameras and pictures these days. So after a little discussion, I had won a hard fought agreement on the terms. She of course then shot the hostage.

Speaking of hostages, as an aside, you have to pick the package you want to pay for before any pictures are taken. Of course, you do. They specifically set up packages to funnel you to the BEST VALUE OF ALL TIME package which after brief negotiations with the terrorist’s mom, we bought. Coincidentally, it’s also the most expensive. We were then let in to the cattle pen holiday picture center and Wobbles got her first glimpse of the fat guy in the red suit. Imagine if you had negotiated some terms with a 45 pound catfish while the catfish was still in the water and then you picked said 45 pound catfish up and started carrying it like a sack of potatoes to the place where you were going to filet him. Yeah, good luck. Luke 13:28 was invoked and all agreements were thrown out the window. As we walked towards Santa, it became clear he had been on the job since December 1st, possibly without a bathroom break and definitely without a new union agreement in profit sharing. His thermos was straight Dewars and, it being the 24th after all, was counting down the hours until he could go home and kick his puppy. The wailing and gnashing of teeth of the slippery 45 pound catfish in my arms increased exponentially.

Rapidly giving up on our traditional holiday plan A of a cute picture with Wobbles in the lap of an angry drunken Santa, we agreed to stand behind Saint Nick. The photographer and her assistant were squeezing the same squeaky Nemo doll they had successfully used on the much less experienced 18 month old in the session immediately before us to focus his attention on the camera. They didn’t stand a chance. Wobbles clung to my neck with the tenacity of a lamprey. I finally ripped her off and put her in what I call “The Marionette of Death” grip where it looks like she’s essentially a puppet who has come to life to destroy all our best laid plans. Which of course resulted in this.

Thankfully, she didn’t manage to concuss Santa or leap from my arms and tear his eyes out. That would have been an awful lawsuit to settle. Speaking of settle, we then had to pay $49.99 for the privilege of having Wobbles nearly kill Santa Claus.

A much needed nap for everyone was in order. After the nap, things were much calmer and involved baking, decorating a gingerbread house and making homemade eggnog. We had a good dinner of steaks and veggies, went a good Christmas Eve service at 8 PM and called an end to a very full day.

gingerbread house

Christmas Day was a celebration of wonderful family and an overt sacrifice to the God of American Consumerism. With a three and a half year old in the house who can speak somewhat broken English and understand that she gets presents on Christmas, we all over bought. It took 3 hours to unwrap everything. Once presents were complete, we prepped for visitors by making cookies and fudge, finalizing a gingerbread house and setting up tables for card games. Lots of cousins descended at 3 and we visited and played crazy bridge for 3 hours. It was a good day.

Thursday was mostly relaxation day. We went to see the new baseball stadium in Amarillo. I couldn’t quite get in my head where it was downtown. After that, we went to the park to run off energy and learn new skills. That night, Gram and Granddad babysat while we went out with some good friends. Wobbles was still up playing hide and seek with Gram at 11 when we got home so a good time was had by all.

freds corner grille

Friday was packing up and driving home. We stopped in Childress and Vernon on the way home which broke up the trip nicely. It was terribly foggy almost all the way to Wichita Falls so a difficult drive. We ate at Fred’s Corner Grille in Vernon which is a neighborhood corner burger store that looks like it’s been there 50 years. The chili-cheese burgers and tots were good. In warmer months, I would have liked to try a shake. Worth taking 5 minutes to get off 287 and find it. Old men sitting around drinking coffee on a Friday afternoon, locals from down the street coming in for a burger.

Overall, a good time. I’m thankful that 2019 was a good year. Hoping 2020 involves more outdoors time and I’m looking forward to what it might bring.

Expenses

  • 12/26 $6.70 Toot ‘n Totum: 2 bottles of Ozarka, a perrier Citron, a bag of Cheezits and a 32oz coke.
  • 12/24 $51.94 Party Stop: 1 bottle of Bulleit bourbon for eggnog and a 12 pack of Community Brewery beer
  • 12/26 $32.75 for 14.895 gallons of gas at $2.199 a gallon
  • 12/27 $17.29 for 8.42.5 gallons of gas at $2.049 a gallon
  • 12/24 $7.48 Braum’s: A pound of butter, 1/2 gallon of 1% milk and 2 loaves of Buttermilk bread
packed car
jewelry box

2019 Christmas Travel Log Day 1

We left at 10:05 on Sunday morning which given the target time of between 9 and 10 was a success. However a trip to Walgreens set us back 45 minutes, for traveling supplies and a gift the three year old had spied weeks ago and kept reminding us that Santa was going to bring it to her. I assume at some point she’ll have more expensive tastes so I’ll treasure the rewards of shopping at Walgreens for Christmas.

Once on the road, we made good time and it was a beautiful day for driving. Wobbles, who wasn’t going to take a nap because she is a big girl, fell asleep at 11:25 and was asleep until Wichita Falls where we stopped for gas and lunch.

Since they completed the 287 overpass in Wichita Falls, there is nowhere convenient to just pull off and eat unless you like your sandwiches served by Subway in a Love’s Truck Stop. Which I do but we decided to have an actual lunch instead. The Back Porch Draft House is on 82 about 3 miles from 287 and convenient. It’s a small sports bar with a few other locations but fewer than Cheddar’s which was our goal in finding a non-chain spot. It’s not exactly classic Americana road trip stuff but is clearly appreciated by all the locals. The burgers are good and they have 23 oz beers including a few local brews, always a plus.

Alternate entertainment

Once back on the road, it’s 3 and a half long hours from Wichita Falls to Amarillo, made longer by the not-nap nap happening before lunch. We entertained ourselves with Sesame Street songs, coloring books and decorating the car door with Paw Patrol stickers.

It was a beautiful West Texas winter day, 60 degrees and sunny with long vistas of the prairies only occasionally broken by the increasingly frequent wind farms. M wondered if I was against them after commenting that they clutter up the landscape. My feelings for wind farms are blasé. It’s not my land and not my vista. I assume they are a net good, surely more environmentally friendly than the regular coal trains that one also sees on the tracks to and from Amarillo. But then tell that to the hawks or the bats or the whatever else that get knocked out of the sky by them or the landowners with neighbors who put up hundreds of them. Coal plants are surprisingly unseen and therefore easier to forget but the wind farms are right there, everywhere, as you drive along. Like the oil wells of my childhood, they are now part of the landscape and I suppose nature will adapt.

Towards the end of the drive, the skies filled with geese. The winter wheat fields of the Panhandle are perfect places for them to stop over on migrations though I think many of them are resident at this point. One of these years I’d like to come up and do a goose hunt.

We arrived in Amarillo at 5:00 PM with plenty of daylight. Six hours in the car is the limit for Wobbles (and everyone else in truth) so she was thrilled to jump into the arms of eager grandparents. We unwound for a bit and then went to the Amarillo Botanical Gardens for the last night of the Christmas light show there. Get there early if you ever go, all of Amarillo likes to attend. The entire gardens are strewn with Christmas lights, flashing PVC structures and Santa Claus projected onto a wall directing a symphony of holiday music. It’s a very human experience, in part because of the universal joy holiday lights seem to impart on the human soul and in part because you’re rubbing shoulders with 500 of your closest friends as you stroll through the park.

The remainder of the night involved getting an overly tired, recalcitrant three year old asleep in a different house without anyone having a stroke.

light panorama

Expenses

  • Gas: Exxon in Wichita Falls 14 gallons at $2.10 / g: $29.61
  • Lunch: Back Porch Draft House Wichita Falls $59.26
  • Snacks: 1 bag of Goldfish, a Perrier and a Coke Zero at Walgreens $7

Turks And Caicos Trip 2018

My employer’s semi-occasional trip to the Caribbean was this past weekend when we whisked off to Turks and Caicos for four days. This year, Harper had aged out of the “kids under 2 get to go” rule and so we had our first trip in two and a half years sans Wobbles. This was exciting and terrifying, lonesome and relieving all in one. We left on Thursday from DFW. When we got to the airport, we learned that there had been scheduling problems with the 767 we were supposed to fly on and that it was still in Italy. For a replacement, Atlas Air had decided to send us on one of their 747s which was big news. The plane sat 460+ people and since we only had around half that, there was plenty of room to go around. Alas, it wasn’t as James Bond-ish as I had hoped. There was an upper deck but it was just seats, no disco ball, no gold lame wallpaper. It was mostly just flying on a REALLY big plane. As a plane junky, I’m glad I got to do it but it wasn’t overly different than a 767.

Upon arrival to the T&C airport, we disembarked in a rain shower and proceeded through customs and immigration which for a Caribbean country went pretty smoothly. However, waiting for taxis to the resort was less so. There, the natural tendency towards inefficiency kicked in. It’s always shocking to first time travelers to these countries how different attitudes are towards getting anything done. As we stood in the taxi line for 30-45 minutes in the fall Caribbean heat, I was reminded of David Foster Wallace’s essay on cruise ship travel, highly recommended. Travelers, largely (and large, sometimes extra) American and European stagger off planes into the humidity of the tropics and expect to be whisked away to the lovely all-inclusive air conditioned resort enclave, the brochures of which they have been staring at longingly for weeks. Instead, they are met with the “taxi line” where four empty vans sit across the parking lot while a bunch of people with no apparent logic try to figure out what nine people out of the line of a thousand should get on the next van.

My first inclination is to attribute this to an intention to manage the experience whereupon the workers mean to keep people in the heat and misery so that when one gets to the resort, one is struck by the wonderful contrast and therefore thinks the resort actually is paradise. However, this would require coordination amongst multiple entities and frankly, coordinating multiple entities in the Caribbean is an impossibility. So I have to assume the taxi-line phenomenon is just an artifact of “island time” writ into employment. Nothing seems to happen with alacrity on an island there. In fact, alacrity is an oxymoron of sorts. Things can happen quickly or things can happen cheerfully but nothing can happen briskly and cheerfully. Return travelers know this going in yet still, the American tendency towards “things must be done NOW” is so ingrained that after 15 minutes of standing watching nothing happen, it becomes almost impossible not to take over the process.

Thankfully, the interminable wait eventually ended and we did arrive at Beaches Turks & Caicos which is a semi-walled resort on the north side of the main island. Here we checked in, were handed rum drinks and sent off to various rooms throughout the compound, all of which had the AC set on the Ice Age setting. Driving from the airport, it is fairly apparent to anyone with a sliver of observational skills (which is about a quarter of the van as everyone else is staring at their phones) that air conditioning is not a universal luxury on the island and in fact, almost no buildings seem to have it. Yet here, every room of the sixteen thousand or so rooms all have their thermometers set on “Turn the sweat dripping off the Americans into icicles”. Self awareness kicks in (I assume) and I am struck by this juxtaposition. The people of the island, who I might remind readers lived through a category 5 hurricane just the year before that devastated the island, have none of the luxuries we are affording ourselves of. Compounding the contrast is the fact that almost all of the tourists are white in shades ranging from Scandinavian Pale to New Jersey Mafia Gold to Italian Bronze, sponsored by Glidden while almost all of the workers are black. Knowing that many of the workers go back to homes at night with exactly none of the amenities we are enjoying makes clear that the majority of the money ends up in the coffers of some monolithic development company in one of the aforementioned very white countries. it raises a certain amount of touristic guilt. Making things worse, Turks doesn’t seem to be the kind of place you leave the resort much (though some intrepid people did) and so most money spent is not shared with the islanders.

So just as DFW noted in Shipping Out, there is something unbearably sad about the place, a place where rooms go for upwards of $2000 a night in the high season which is about 1/15th of the per capita GDP. While the experience is not nearly as structured for pleasure as it might be on a cruise ship, it is still quite controlled. Which is not to say it isn’t a very relaxing place to be especially if you are into having all the food and drink you want at pretty much any time you might want it. We ate 3, sometimes 4, meals a day. Occasionally, we had multiple entrees at the same meal because, well, it’s included. Diving was included which is the best part of the trip. Regardless of the rest of the experience, time spent in the water on a pristine, protected reef, is amazing. The dive boats were crowded this time but not overly so. We saw several large sharks, a big ray, turtles, barracuda, lobsters and a whole host of Caribbean fish. Grace Bay is a protected area and it shows. Just snorkeling off the beach resulted in seeing four sea turtles and tons of fish. It’s a marine paradise.

While on the trip, I read Goldeneye: Where Bond was Born. It’s the story of Ian Fleming’s time in Jamaica, a similar island paradise with similar political and cultural history (they were both British colonies, Jamaica achieved their independence in the 60s while T&C remains a British dependency). Jamaica was a rich creative source for Fleming but he lived there in drastically different circumstances than the ones under which we visited T&C. He bought a few acres on the north coast with a beach that had been only reachable by boat. He built a very spartan, masculine house where the ideas for Bond would be embellished and worked on in an ascetic atmosphere (though he still had a staff of 3 or 4 and plenty of fancy parties to go to. He wasn’t much of a party goer though).

During that time period, the rich of the Western world were discovering the Caribbean in general and Jamaica in particular. The country was undergoing many of the issues that I discussed earlier in becoming a resort destination. American hotels were being built frequently and the charms of colonial Jamaica were being lost. Many of those charms may seem nostalgic under close examination but there is no doubt that visitors at that time were forced to interact with the people of the country in ways that visitors to T&C are not. When one is whisked directly from the airport to a walled resort, it is easy to ignore any thorny cultural or political problems. I do recommend the book if you are a Bond fan or if you are interested in the history of the end of the British Empire. It struck me as being not dissimilar to what America may very well be going through today. Our exercise of empiric powers was never quite as overt as the British but there can be no doubt we have had our fingers in places throughout the world. When the British Empire began to crumble after WWII, many people such as Fleming (and Noel Coward, heavily discussed in this book) longed for the old times of the Empire, times when relations between races and peoples were more clear cut, less ambiguous and the native peoples didn’t make so much noise about independence and self governance. It is fascinating to read about Fleming’s experiences during this time period.

If you have the opportunity to visit Beaches Turks & Caicos, I do recommend it if you have a taste for extravagance and pampering. It is not a real experience in any meaningful way but for a brief time, you can experience what it is like to be rich and waited on for everything. Many of the guests are what one might consider nouveau riche. They bring entire families to a destination by plane where upon arrival, everything is handled. Dinners are all the same, regardless of location, not because the food is the same but because there are no real choices involved. Activities are structured and there is no real danger of having a terrible time. If you don’t like the food, order something else. There are no consequences, no searching, which I suppose is appealing to some people. But consequences are often the spice of life, the genesis of stories you tell as a family for years to come. In 12 months, I will remember nothing of the food or drinks I had this weekend. But six years later, I still remember the muffuletta from Frank’s after walking through the French Quarter in the late August heat of New Orleans in search of the restaurant. There was nothing pleasant about trying to find it, sweating in the New Orleans tropical weather, making wrong turns, etc. But then the cold beer, the attitude from the waitress, the sandwich itself, the time spent with a new found love of my life. All of those things are what make experiences memorable. Getting served two entrees because I couldn’t decide what I wanted while the staff probably went home to eat things they had to? Only memorable in its American ostentatiousness and gluttony.

It was odd to me this year to come back from the trip so unrelaxed. Much of that is due to other circumstances like owning two houses and the ongoing insanity at work. But I believe it’s also because I want real experiences now, not manufactured, all you can eat extravaganzas. Our daily life is “all you can eat” in many ways. Everything is already out our finger tips and visiting a place that provides that same thing in spades is boring in many ways, maybe all ways. I terribly enjoyed the ability to read for hours on end without too much interruption but that could have happened anywhere, in a campsite in the East Texas woods or at a small VRBO place on the Texas coast. I love the salt life, the diving, the beach and incredible blue waters of the eastern Caribbean but there are probably other ways to experience all of that.

As always, we wonder if this is the last trip for OT and there are plenty of signs it might be. It will be the last one for many of my coworkers who will move on to other places of employment. It is wonderful to work for an employer to provides this amazing perk but much like my ongoing ambivalence and confusion about my continued usages of Amazon, the trip causes me some level of anxiety, a certain amount of wallowing in American style guilt and a regular examination of the consequences of traveling to these locations without once venturing into the town to experience something less tourista and more local. I think our next family trip will likely be a trip to the coast but a coast that requires us to deal with consequences and contingencies and I am looking forward to it.