houston, we have a problem
We left Naples Thursday afternoon aiming for a Friday afternoon arrival in New Orleans. Carla’s brother Eric was along for the ride and found himself stuffed into the M3’s back seat for the long haul around the Gulf Coast. Except for my first time setting foot in either Mississippi or Alabama, the drive was uneventful. Carla’s friend Kevin was good enough to let us stay with him for the weekend, which worked out perfectly. He lives in a beautiful part of Uptown, which allowed us to get a taste for the local lifestyle away from places like Bourbon Street. We were also lucky to arrive in New Orleans on Friday afternoon, leaving us a full weekend in the city. The first thing I learned about New Orleans after pulling into Kevin’s place is that it’s allowed (and practically encouraged) to walk around town with an open container of alcohol. We complied, and walked past rows of beautiful and well-restored 19th century homes to a popular neighborhood taco truck. I was struck by how many people were out walking the sidewalks, talking on street corners and enjoying their front porches in this neighborhood of yards and houses. There were even full front yard parties spilling out into backstreets. Around the taco truck there were groups of people sitting under trees, eating, drinking and talking to their friends or neighbors rather than hustling to the next destination.
Saturday was spent enjoying an unbelievably rich Southern brunch including fried chicken and gravy (with grits), looking at houses during a long walk in the Garden District, and walking around the French Quarter with drinks in hand. While Carla and her brother went on a ghost tour of the French Quarter I sat near the river and read. The river park near the French Quarter is an interesting combination of parents taking their young kids for a walk, couples watching the sunset behind downtown, groups of young people jamming on drums, and drunks reeling out of the Quarter to sleep on the first patch of grass they find. We came back to Bourbon Street late that night to take part in whatever happens there in the early hours of Sunday morning. Eric had a 7am flight to catch, meaning we had to stay out until 5, which we did. At 5:30, sick and exhausted, Carla escorted Eric to the airport and I went to sleep. I was pleasantly surprised by New Orleans. The city’s charm is its slow pace and casual hedonism, while remaining culturally apart from the rest of the South.
We headed for Texas Sunday afternoon via the Louisiana bayou. While there wasn’t much to see from the road, the thick swampy forest looming on either side and the long stretches of bridgelike raised highway reminded us that we weren’t on solid ground. We made it to Texas that night and pushed through Houston the next morning with San Antonio and later Austin as our goals. The morning was going perfectly when, just out of Houston on I-10, I pressed on the gas and the car did nothing. I downshifted to 5th, tried again, and the car still had no power. This was clearly bad. We pulled into the right lane and pretty much coasted to the first exit, which was a small town 15 miles past the suburbs called Brookshire. Carla did some fast Google Mapping and Yelping to find a mechanic that was a) nearby and b) at least somewhat honest. We pulled the M3 into Brookshire’s Best Auto Repair at 1pm, walked up to the man relaxing in the garage in front of a big fan, and said hello. Needless to say, we were worried. An abrupt and serious engine misfire could be a countless number of things, some costing thousands of dollars and days to install and some involving $50 and an hour of labor. We didn’t know how much of our trip would have to be skipped and how much of our budget would be blown on this mishap.
The owner of the shop, Curtis, turned out to be about the nicest guy in Texas. However, the situation only got worse. His mechanics spent a good hour and a half digging through the engine compartment and reading codes only to come up with “misfire on 4 cylinders.” They couldn’t find anything wrong and ultimately referred us to a BMW specialist in Katy, about 15 miles to the East. Curtis, saint that he is, wouldn’t take a dollar from us because he couldn’t find the problem. Thankfully the car was able to limp over to Katy, where we pulled into C&B European Auto Repair for a more thorough diagnostic. They spent another hour without finding the problem before closing for the day and asking us to bring it back bright and early the next morning. The owner Craig was also a good guy (we were 2 for 2) and pushed us to the front of the line because we needed to get back on the road as soon as possible. It turned out neither San Antonio or Austin were in our itinerary that day. I was feeling pretty terrible about our plight that evening until I sat down by the pool at our super 8, got out my book, smoked a cigar, looked at the palm trees and decided I had first world problems.
I won’t bore you with the details but late the next morning the mechanic rushed into the waiting area and basically said “Eureka!” It was a part that went bad so often that it had actually been recalled but my car had never had the replacement. However, the symptoms are usually different so nobody thought to test it. That afternoon we were back behind the wheel, nervously pressing on the gas and making sure the car “felt” fast again (it did), before pulling into Austin.
We stayed with Carla’s friend Cassi in South Austin while spending a couple days checking out the city. The first comparison I thought of was a hot, spread out Williamsburg where people have pools and nice apartments instead of bedbugs. We spent a 100 degree afternoon at the Barton Cold Springs, where heavily tattooed Texans soaked up the Wednesday sun. That night Cassi had her weekly team karaoke competition downtown, which is tough to put into words. Of course we had a blast. It took place in a gay bar and featured Cassi’s team’s full-costume rendition of Lady Marmalade from Moulin Rouge, a modified hip-hop version of Aladdin’s “Never Had a Friend Like Me,” and a silently acted out synopsis of the Wizard of Oz (in full costume) set to Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky.” Keep Austin Weird. We took a dip in Cassi’s pool the next morning, which was already hot, and headed toward the mountains for the next chapter in our journey.
// road trip to date: 26 states, 1 federal district, 4 canadian provinces, 9,800 miles