Not From Texas

Am I going crazy, or is that water tower smiling at me?

Posted in Things by Jennifer Peebles on April 8, 2011

This happy fellow smiles down up on Texas Highway 71, somewhere in the Smithville/Alum Creek area, though I could be wrong about that. I didn’t take down the GPS coordinates. You can see many more smiling water towers at this link.

Happy water tower

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Touring Houston by kayak: The 39th annual Buffalo Bayou Regatta

Posted in Birds, Environment, Houston, Places by Jennifer Peebles on March 14, 2011

There’s a lot to see in Houston, but one very cool way to see the city is by kayak — and that’s what I did Saturday, taking part in the 39th annual Buffalo Bayou Regatta.

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Qik – lining up for Buffalo Bayou Regatta by Je…, posted with vodpod

Bank of America Center

My favorite building on the Houston skyline, the Bank of America Center, with its stair-like roof.

Buffalo Bayou is the largest of several bayous that drain the veritable swamp on which America’s fourth-largest city was built, and the regatta route began in the suburbs and ended at Sesquicentennial Park in the heart of the downtown theater district, behind the Gus Wortham Theater building.

The towering skyscrapers of Houston sure are neat to see from the vantage point of the bayou water. This was my second (or maybe it was third — can’t remember) kayak trip on Buffalo Bayou, but it was my first-ever time in a kayak race (even though I was in the not-really-racing category) and at 15 miles, it was maybe twice as far as I’d ever tried to paddle in one day.

The starting line was where the bayou flows under San Felipe Street, near the intersection with Voss Road, west of downtown proper. It was fun to watch the competitive kayakers and canoers make the mad dash down the banks when the starting horn blew, scrambling to get in their vessels and get going.

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Launching the canoes at the 2011 Buffalo Bayou …, posted with vodpod

Buffalo Bayou is, at different places, beautiful in its own way and also yucky. It functions as Houston’s big ditch, and in to it Houstonians have thrown old tires, Whataburger Styrofoam cups, paper, a zillion of those flimsy plastic grocery bags, cans, shoes, broken plastic lawn chairs — and that’s only the readily identifiable solid matter that I could spot. Lord only knows what kind of liquid pollutants are in the water. (A den mother for a scouting group that was ahead of me at the very end of the race, as we wound our way between the massive concrete supports for I-45 and I-10 above us, kept telling her scouts, “Breathe through your mouth and not your nose.”)

Litter

Someone messed with Texas: Litter washed up on the shores of Buffalo Bayou.

But if the bayou is yucky, it’s yucky because we humans made it this way. The bayou itself probably wasn’t that yucky before we put trash in it. So the regatta is another reminder of how it’s important to dispose of litter and to refrain from putting harmful chemicals in the water or ground, because it all eventually ends up in the bayou (and later the ship channel and Galveston Bay).

It was fun to try to pick out the landmarks visible from the bayou as we went along. After about an hour or so, two ladies just ahead of me said they were sure the traffic noise we heard was coming from Interstate 610, Houston’s manic-paced inner ring road. But we were really nowhere near that close to downtown; the traffic noise turned out to be Chimney Rock Road, which regatta volunteers had thankfully marked with a vinyl sign hanging off the overpass. (The bridge at the 610 Loop is much, much wider, and traffic noise is a lot louder.) We went under the Waugh Drive bridge and heard all the bats in the crevices cheeping.

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Contestants lining up for the 2011 Buffalo Bayo…, posted with vodpod

We saw a few people near River Oaks sitting out on the porches of their super-swanky homes, waving to us and cheering us on, and got occasional waves from people walking and biking on the park trails along the bayou. I saw one cool bird, a lone egret who flew away when he decided too many humans were coming at him in wildly colored plastic boats. No turtles this time, though I had seen them in the bayou on previous trips.

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Going under the big bridge, 2011 Buffalo Bayou …, posted with vodpod

It took me nearly five hours to finish the race — my assigned race number was 519, and although I don’t know if they had 500 participants this year, I sure felt like I had come in about 519th place. By the time I got to the finish line and two big men from the Port of Houston Authority helped pull me out of my kayak at the wharf at Sesquicentennial Park, I was dog tired and sunburned badly on my forearms, my shoulders were killing me, and the hot dog vendor had given out of hot dogs already. But I had a good time, and I hope to do it again next year.

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2011 Buffalo Bayou Regatta slideshow, posted with vodpod

Let’s rodeo, Houston! (The videos)

Posted in Animals, Houston by Jennifer Peebles on February 28, 2011

A follow-up to my post from yesterday: Here’s some video from the 2011 Houston rodeo parade.

Video 1
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Video 2
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Video 3
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Let’s rodeo, Houston

Posted in Animals, Houston by Jennifer Peebles on February 27, 2011

They came, they rode, they paraded. We saw.

It’s that time of year again: Time for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which means that it’s time to kick off the rodeo season with a big parade.

Tons and tons and tons of horses, tons of cute kids on the sidewalks, more cute kids on horses. And lots of City of Houston street sweepers to clean up the mess the four-legged parade participants left behind. In fact, the biggest cheer my part of the crowd gave all morning was to the white-T-shirt clad Texas A&M Corps of Cadets members who marched behind the Corps’ mounted cavalry carrying shovels, pushbrooms and a couple of wheelbarrows to clean up what the unit’s horses deposited on Travis Street.

Here’s a slideshow from my flickr account.

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Houston rodeo parade 2011, posted with vodpod

Houston rodeo parade slideshow

Posted in Uncategorized by Jennifer Peebles on February 27, 2011

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Houston rodeo parade 2011, posted with vodpod

Fill ‘er up … with oats

Posted in Animals, Birds, Places by Jennifer Peebles on February 19, 2011

Things you see in Texas that you probably don’t see in other parts of the country: A guy pulling into a Shell station. On horseback. Seen Thursday outside Luling, Texas, as I was on my way to San Antonio.

Saw a ton of hawks on the way there and back. I’ll try to do a separate post sometime on Texas’ copious amounts of birds of prey.

 

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Houston in the deep freeze

Posted in Environment by Jennifer Peebles on February 10, 2011

Dang, It's Cold

 

We don’t get a whole lot of cold weather down here in Houston. But we’ve sure had a good bit of it lately.

We’re having one more serious cold snap here tonight. Temps are forecasted to get down into the low 20s tonight.

They’re also predicting record power usage here tomorrow, which makes me think there will be more “rolling blackouts” down here tomorrow. But I’m hopeful that, even if I lose electric power sometime, I hope I’ll still have running water. If not, I still have 10 gallons of water in milk jugs in the back of the truck left over from when the water pipes froze last week.

I went outside this afternoon to wrap up the exposed pipe on the side of the house — the one that froze last time — and within five minutes my hands were numb. It was sleeting. The pipes outside and the the plastic wheelie thingy that holds the garden hose were encrusted with ice.

Glad I wasn’t standing there then …

Posted in Places by Jennifer Peebles on January 24, 2011

Part of the Bob Hall fishing pier near Corpus Christi, one of Texas’ most famous saltwater fishing sites (even I’ve fished there!), collapsed today into the Gulf.

The Caller-Times reports that they’ve been working on building an expansion that includes a pavilion, and something gave way while concrete was still being poured.

Another former Nashvillian describes her relocation to Houston

Posted in Uncategorized by Jennifer Peebles on December 18, 2010

Reading Cathy Parsons’ piece on the Houston-based Culture Map site about her move to Houston made me laugh — I, too, was bumfuzzled by Houston’s expressway “frontage roads” and U-turn lanes when I first got here. After two years, now I use them all the time.

Pickle juice snow cones

Posted in Food by Jennifer Peebles on September 3, 2010

What is it with Texas and snow cones that taste like pickle juice?

No, you non-Texans out there, I’m not making this up.

I’d never heard of such a thing until maybe three months ago or so. After making my first-ever visit to The Alamo on a 98-degree day in San Antonio, the snow cone man’s little cart on the Alamo Plaza was calling my name. He must have offered 14 different flavors — I picked lime, and boy, it was hands-down the best snow-cone I ever had — but I noticed that his hand-written flavor-listing offered one called “pickle juice.”

I thought he must have been kidding on that one.

But this week, I was informed by no less an authority than the Galveston Daily News that the best-selling flavor of snow cones on the much-vaunted Texas City Dike before its destruction by Hurricane Ike in 2008 was — yes — pickle juice flavor.

So, the Alamo Plaza snow cone salesman wasn’t kidding after all.

I Googled the term “pickle juice snow cones” only to find that they’re everywhere in Texas.

I’m a huge dill pickle lover, myself. I even like those dill pickle-flavored potato chips that Lay’s makes. But I never knew until I got to Texas that people ate pickle juice snow cones.

Clearly, I’m going to have to do more research on the origins of this trend. (And if you know the origins, please post below in the comments or e-mail me off-line.) And I hope to get to the reopened Texas City Dike, one of the state’s most popular coastal fishing sites, this fall, and I’ll have to try one of these-here pickle juice snow cones.

My review will follow, of course.