One of the benefits of spending my week driving all over Texas has been the short break I took stopping off in Waco. I’m sure the majority of you associate Waco, Texas with 90s cult leader David Koresh, but I associate it with college. For those interested though, you can still visit David Koresh’s compound. A friendly man with a shotgun named Andrew X98 will happily give you some informative pamphlets regarding their religion.
I’m pretty sure every freshman visits that compound at some point, unless they chicken out.
Anyway, I had some time to drive around campus and my old apartment to see how much has changed. It kind of felt like visiting an upgraded movie set of a show you used to star in: new buildings everywhere, new restaurants (how did Waco get an In-and-Out burger before Houston?), and even a mini mart walking distance from where I used to live. Considering it sells beer, wine, and liquor too, I’m sure I would have been a regular.
Short on time, I grabbed lunch at an old favorite. Viteks used to only be open for lunch, but has since expanded their business and building. If you ever find yourself in Waco, be sure to get a gut pak (or even a half of one is plenty). It might not look like much, but it’s an amazing styrofoam box of BBQ and for me, nostalgia.
When I started traveling for work with my first job out of college, I was always sent to the places no one else wanted to go. Of course, I did not have a problem with that; I was happy to be going anywhere at all. However, this means I’ve been to some interesting small towns across the state of Texas. One trip took me through East Texas in November, and the drive actually made me feel like I was in a northern state. I enjoyed the winding two-lane roads and some fall colors all the way up to Tyler, where my flip phone unceremoniously died. After scrambling to find an AT&T store, I purchased my very first iPhone and made my way up to Sulphur Springs. I arrived after dark, worked my event, and as a Hilton brand loyalist, I continued north to the closest one I could find: the Hampton Inn in Paris, Texas.
Since I reached the hotel so late and had a new phone to learn how to use, I didn’t explore any of the area that evening. However, I had researched ahead of time and discovered that as would be expected, an Eiffel Tower replica existed in the city. But this was not just your average replica. No, it was fashioned as an oil derrick, complete with a Texas touch.
I’ve since read that Paris, Texas was in a competition with Paris, Tennessee to have the tallest Eiffel Tower replica in their respective cities. Thus, the red cowboy hat was added to make it taller than the one in Tennessee. Both were eventually dwarfed by the replica on the Las Vegas Strip, which happens to be half the size of the original Eiffel Tower.
I was only able to spend one night in Paris before moving on to my next spot, so I set my alarm early in order to have time to see this replica in all its glory. For those of you with iPhones, please know that I set my morning alarm on my phone for the first time with the “alarm” tone, and I about fell out of my bed when it first went off. My half asleep brain thought it was the fire alarm. It did its job; I was wide awake after that.
When I checked out of the Hampton, I decided to take a little piece of Paris home with me. They sold bobble versions of their Eiffel Tower, and the bobbling red cowboy hat road shotgun with me for the rest of my trip. The best part is that now I can tell people that my work has sent me to Paris. I’ll let them assume which one.
With my Facebook and twitter feed full of news about the eclipse, I feel like I would be remiss not to mention it here. After hearing non-stop about the eclipse for the past few days, I really hadn’t made plans to get the viewing glasses necessary in order to not burn my eyes out. I thought I might pick up a free pair when I went to get my eyes checked; they had ordered 1500 glasses for patients to pick up for free, but ran out in three days. We were not in the direct path of the eclipse anyway, so I figured at most, I would step outside and see if it was any darker and let that be my eclipse “experience.”
It turns out that our director had ordered a bunch of extra glasses and was passing them out for our viewing pleasure! The glasses themselves are only good for looking at the sun. If you wore them any other time you would walk straight into a wall. They also include instructions to use them only for three minutes at a time. Getting to see the moon eat a chunk of the sun was fun, but I don’t think I would be able to stare at it for three whole minutes. It’s hot outside.
I will have to wait until April 8, 2024 to see another solar eclipse, and this time the path of totality will cross Texas. While I would have loved to take a road trip to St. Louis or Southern Illinois as an excuse to see this one, I think a quick drive to central Texas will be much easier to pull off. We might even have to go to Fredericksburg as an excuse to day drink some wine in the darkness. But the market for eclipse viewing glasses will be hot again; they apparently expire after three years. Figures!
For those of you unfamiliar with Texas, you may have heard that everything is bigger here. That includes our gas stations. Behold!
These billboards pop up every few miles when you’re driving on any major highway in Texas, up to 200 miles away from the Buc-ee’s location at which you will have to stop, because they have impeccably clean restrooms and creative advertising.
In addition to clean restrooms and gas (those two go together, no?), you can really find everything you never knew you needed in a Buc-ee’s. Beef jerky, brisket, sandwiches, fudge, beaver nuggets (similar to a seemingly endless bag of larger corn pops), and an eclectic array of home products. At the Buc-ee’s in Wharton, Texas, I found a beautiful framed piece of burlap embossed with flowers and a watering can. It was hanging above the toilet, and could have been mine for $10.95. I only regret not purchasing it because when people asked where I found it, I could have seen the look on their faces when I told them it was a gas station bathroom.
I went with the most reasonable thing I could find in this pile of beavers: the key chain.