Starting Over in Austin, Texas

Written in October, 1996

(This was one of my trips that contributed to the Camping With Your Dogs web site)

I fell in love with Austin back in May 1996, while on a month-long road trip. I was determined to move there. And as circumstances would have it, I returned, by plane, in September of 1996, to find a home there. In just one weekend, I found an apartment, far south of the center of Austin. And then I sat in the Austin airport, awaiting my flight to Dallas, where I would pick up the connecting flight back to Oakland, and then start packing up to drive back to my new home and begin a new life. Boarding was called, and I waited a bit because, why rush to get on a plane? The line was long, and as an avid people watcher, I turned in my seat to get a look.

And there was Michelle Shocked, waiting in line, her guitar in a fabric case slung over her shoulder.

I turned back around and stared straight ahead and tried to decide if I should be a total nimrod and say something to her, or ignore it because, after all, she's just a person, getting on a plane. I couldn't believe she was here. I had seen her in concert just four months before, while on that month-long cross country trip.

And, as I always do when seeing someone famous whom I really like, my heart was beating really, really fast and I was blushing all over. I did the same thing when I used to work in theater and talked to someone who wasn't just famous, but was someone I really admired: I would hide it while I talked to them, then I'd run to my room and scream into a pillow. I reallyl hope I never meet Alan Rickman or Harrison Ford. I'll die of cardiac arrest or explode from trying to be cool.

So, in a blur, I'm walking onto the plane. And she's not in first class. She's back in coach, about five rows behind my section. I find my seat, and see there's not anyone coming down the aisle, as the front of the plane seems to be bottle necked. I figure, what the heck. I get out of my seat and walk down the aisle a few seats, approach her and say, just to make sure,

"Are you Michelle Shocked?"

And she looks at me a little puzzled and says yes.

And I say something totally dorky like, "I just wanted to tell you that I saw you in Raliegh in May, and it was the best concert I've ever been to in my life."

And she graciously and sincerely said thank you.

And I went and sat back down in my seat and looked for a pillow.

I returned to Oakland, and a few weeks later, all of my belongings were packed, and all of my goodbyes said.

It was time to leave, and I went to pick up a U-Haul trailer. To my horror, I discovered that my truck would not pull the larger trailer that I needed. Back at my house, as I tried to negotiate parking with a smaller trailer attached, I hit the neighbor's truck. And upon walking into the house and looking at all of my things, I realized I had much more stuff than the trailer's capacity. And I wept. A lot. Which I did a lot even before the trailer incident

A friend of my ex's, Jenny, arrived just as I broke down and she propped me up over the next two hours with lots of ideas and encouragement. Though using Starving Students Moving Company turned out to be an AWFUL idea (do not EVER use that company!! It is the WORST), the idea of using a moving company was a good one -- although expensive, it did stop my weeping for a bit. All of my stuff was packed already, since I had thought I would be putting it into a trailer, so it was all ready for movers I had never even planned on using.

On Saturday, October 26, with lots more tears, with a lump in my throat at leaving my beloved Northern Carlifornia, and great fears at moving to a city I hadn't even spent a week in yet, I hit the road for Austin, Texas. Wiley and Buster are amazing travelers, and know when they are going camping as opposed to just across town, because their beds are put in the back seat for overnight excursions. While traveling, they stop being their anxious selves. They are patient, they appreciate rest stops, and they love getting back in the truck after stops more than anything. I hoped they would weather this trip in their usual wonderful way, and they did.

It was terrifically windy for most of the first day, and I was really disturbed to see almost a dozen dead coyotes along the way on the side of the road (not altogether, however). We took ISH 5 South (I wanted to take the much more scenic US 99, but was running 3 hours late), then whatever the connecting road is to ISH 10. Along the way I also saw many, many U-Haul trucks heading in the opposite direction, to Northern California -- many were towing cars as well, but one was towing a jacuzzi.

I had intended to camp at Joshua Tree National Park/Forest/Monument/Whatever my first night out. I made great time until Pasadena, which was gridlock city., and, as a result, night had fallen by the time we got to the road that leads to the city of Joshua Tree, where two signs greeted us with "Welcome to Gram Fest 96."

Gram Fest. Oh, DAMN. It's tonight. I read about it on the Internet a month ago and forgot about it. And now, here I am, in town. For the first annual Gram Fest.

Gram Fest was a celebration of what would have been the 50th birthday of Gram Parsons (actually, his birthday is Nov. 6). Like any good punk rockin' honkin tonk girl, I am smitten with Gram Parsons. I wanted to camp at Joshua Tree because Gram loved the place, and it was on my way. And here I was in town for the first annual Gram Fest, without even planning for it.

Unfortunately, a lot of people were in town for Gram Fest, and at 9:30 p.m., there was no room at any campsite or hotel. I had to drive to the nearest next town, about 10 miles away, and by the time I had the dogs and myself settled in the Yucca Inn, I knew that the first annual Gram Fest would go on without my participation.

I sat in my room dejected about the whole thing -- not even getting to camp my first night out, and missing what was a fabulous, unforgettable event, I'm sure.

I awoke the next morning early -- and with the time change, it was really early for me -- from continuous dreams about Gram Parsons and Gram Fest. I had dreamed I was there and got a t-shirt commemorating the event. I decided it was an omen. So it was back to Joshua Tree, but then what? I stopped at the Joshua Tree National Park/Forest/Monument/Whatever info booth/gift shop to make inquiries. The surfer guy running the place was most helpful. "Aw, dude, it was greeeeeat. You shoulda just stopped in -- it was sold out, but maybe you coulda got in anyway." Sigh. I asked him about t-shirts, and he suggested I go to the bed & breakfast next to the performance hall and ask for the show promoter, "'cause he's staying there. Everybody's staying there."

Back in the truck, back to the B & B, with the "closed" sign on the door, which I took to mean no entry. It was 8:30 a.m. I started writing a cheesy oh-please-oh-please-send-me-a-t-shirt note, which I intended to stick in the door with a check, but then three people went waltzing inside. So I did too. It was a small, casual kind of place, and several people -- obviously music promoter types -- were all sitting around the front room with hangovers, waiting for breakfast. I told the first person who met my eyes why I was there, he found the show promoter, and off we went in search of the box of t-shirts. I got to see the promoter's office, which is right there in the inn and has lots of pictures of and clips about Gram everywhere. He also took me inside the music hall -- small, intimate, old-fashioned, lovely. He told me a video tape of Gram Parsons at various shows and interviews had played at some point in the night. He really wanted me to get to see something, since I had missed the event, and I was so touched and grateful.

The promoter guy went on and on about the show, said "it was magical" with this glazed look in his eyes -- hangover, good concert, or both? He also said I indeed should have stopped by the night before and tried to get in. For about an hour after that, I felt regretful, but upon reflection, realized it would never have worked unless I had left on time from Oakland, and even then, with all of my stuff in the truck... and who's to say I would have talked my way in to a sold-out show the night before? My trip was turning out to be a great adventure anyway, so I stopped regretting. I got my t-shirt. I also met the author of the Gram Parson's Web site, who I had e-mailed weeks before to compliment the information therein. He remembered me, and seemed happy to meet a cybersoul face-to-face.

The next day, it was back to ISH 10. The Eastern part of Southern California is hauntingly beautiful -- skip Disneyland next time you are out and go there. We skipped the General Patton Museum (oh, darn) and headed into Arizona. We continued to make awesome time. I decided to stop early -- around 4 p.m. -- and camp outside of Tucson at a state park that sits on the side of a mountain. It drizzled and I panicked as I frantically tried to get my new tent up for the first time in my life. And, surprise, I did get it up well before the downpour.

The dogs did NOT like the tent. They had never slept in such before -- previous camping trips, they always slept in the truck. They wanted back in the truck post haste. But I was more stubborn than they, and I won. I put my jacket completely over Buster so he could generate the necessary body heat to make it through the night warm enough. Wiley lay alert in his bed waiting for me to relent. I read Jane Austin's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE for a while (there's something about reading an English novel of the 1800s while camping that just puts all life into perspective), then went to bed as soon as the asshole in a nearby camp site turned off his camper generator (have I told you lately how much I HATE those things?). In the middle of the night, I awoke to the chatter, then the howl, of coyotes. The tent was illuminated by the full moon, and I looked over at Wiley, who was sitting in wide-eyed wonder. But he never made a sound, not even a slight whimper. He seemed fascinated. I know I was. Buster slept through the whole thing.

Day three saw us into New Mexico, a state as lovely as Arizona, but for different reasons. I was determined to camp a second night and determined to get off the Interstate. I headed up US 70, a lovely highway, particularly right after the Apache reservation, but before and totally excluding Alamogordo and White Sands (nothing like tax-funded monuments to death machines; offends me more than anything the NEA could ever do). At White Sands, I got stopped by the border patrol, and I swear, when the officer asked me if I was a citizen, I almost impulsively said "Si!" I didn't have to have my truck searched -- the guy made a comment about my KY BBLL license plate, and when I explained it stood for Kentucky Basketball, he waived me through.

I stayed at Bottomless Lakes State Park, just outside of Roswell. It was totally dark, totally cloudy (no moon), and, believe it or not, I got the tent up just fine. It was really warm when we all went to bed, but it was REALLY cold that night -- Buster was crunched up as close to me as possible all night.

The next day revealed us to be in a lovely place, next to a small lake or a big pond, depending on your language, and cliffs behind us, and rolling brown plains before us. The camp sites are all secluded from each other, and all were empty, so the dogs got to run around off leash, and I got to take two hours to leisurely eat breakfast, walk around, say "Buster, NO" about 12 times, and load the truck back up. We were back on the road at 8:30 a.m., and I was feeling rather awesome about my first camping trip with just me and the dogs.

I was a day ahead of schedule, almost two, and decided I had plenty of time to see both of Roswell's UFO museums (thank you, Gregg, for the original suggestion). The UFO Enigma Museum opened earliest, so I went there first. Not only were there two other couples ahead of me, there were also three members of the Korean UFO Investigation Society there taking pictures of the outside of the building, the parking lot, the street, the door.... I signed my name into the guest book, which was a spiral notebook, and took in part of a video, the life-size recreation of the UFO crash scene that took place outside of Roswell, and the extensive display of newspaper clippings claiming alien contact. I bought a postcard and a refrigerator magnet, and as I left, I past three uniformed men from the nearby Airforce Base coming in. Hmmmmmm.

Then it was on to the International UFO Museum. Located in the center of town, it's much more slick and, not taking the crash quite so seriously, therefore not as much fun as the Enigma Museum. But still worth my time, particularly the many "private investigation rooms" to be found there. Wonder if they rent by the hour. The gift shop woman says she doesn't sell stuff to Rachel, Nevada anymore (see my May travelogue) "'cause they don't pay their bills." I overheard a guy enter the lobby and say, "Hi, I'm looking for agent Scully or agent Mulder?" The receptionist laughed, but I'm sure she hears that one all day. The whole place was run by elderly women -- some women join a Women's Auxiliary like the Lioness Club in their old age, but in Roswell, things are different, I guess. Again, I bought a postcard and a refrigerator magnet.

The drive out of Roswell, again on US 70, was lovely. I pulled over to let the dogs walk, and realized to my horror that Buster was in total agony. He could barely walk. He'd reinjured his back leg (he does this about every other year). I drove like a mad woman to Portales -- Buster laying in my lap and shivering from pain. I walked into the Portales Community Bank and ask a teller for the address of the nearest vet, and, yes, I was nearly crying. I was crying by the time I got to the vet. Luckily, the teller was great, the vet was great, and we were off again in no time.

Love the sign that greets you at the Texas border -- "Drive Friendly, the Texas Way!" That means get a big hairdo or a cowboy hat and ride people's bumper.

We stayed at a Motel 6 in Amarillo -- I didn't think Buster should be subjected to an immediate night of camping, however disappointed I was to be in a bed instead of my tent for a third night. It was still getting rather cold outside at night. Since we were a day ahead of schedule, I decided that, the next day, we would drive to a park just outside of Austin and camp one more time, if Buster was better. I watched TV for a while, and by the tone of the numerous TV ads, which all touted candidates who had "Conservative, Traditional American Christian Family Values," realized I was very far away from the San Francisco Bay Area. I started doubting my move... but I was better by morning.

With spirits high, we headed down Highway 87 the next day. It was still terrifically windy, as it had been during the days for most of our trip. The coyote body count continued to soar. I even saw two full-grown dogs, still with collars, together on the roadside, dead. I don't even want to know the story behind that.

Just as we approached San Angelo, the temperature soared for the first time the whole trip. And the humidity was as bad as it gets. The dogs were not handling it well. We stopped for lunch at a Sonic (the only fast food restaurant in Texas besides Dairy Queen) and after we were out of town, I dared to turn on the air conditioner. For 15 minutes, the dogs and I were fine. Then my truck lost all power and limped to the side of the road. It was like I was out of gas, but I had just filled up! Complete and utter denial kept me from panic.

For the next hour, every five minutes, someone pulled over to see about me. The first who stopped said he would call a tow truck for me, but after an hour, when no tow truck arrived, I decided to try again with the next person who stopped. Lucky for me, it was a woman, Beth, also driving a Blazer, who loved dogs and had a cousin in the next town, Eden, who worked at the Chevy dealership. We all piled into her truck and off we went. Eden's population is around 1,000, and not only is there a Chevy dealership, there's a Deer World, fulfilling all your hunting and taxidermy needs.

Beth told me Jody was a "distant cousin", adding "Wisht I had really gotten to know him before his wife did. That there is his son. He got kicked in the head by a horse when he was three, and he ain't been right since." I'm making fun of Beth, but I must say she was totally generous with her help and I really appreciated her kindness.

We had to wait for the tow truck, which was out on a run. It returned, with a car in tow, and the driver hopped out -- he looked to be about 14. Jody went over and spoke to him and laughed. The drive looked in disbelief. "I was repossessin' a car?! Why didn't you tell me I was repossessin' a car?" Jody replied, "'Cause then you wouldn't have gone to pick it up!" Everyone laughed.

The driver, Mike, unloaded the car, and then we loaded into the truck to go fetch mine. I engaged Mike in conversation as best I could, given that my car was a good 20 minutes away, but he was really shy, and had a giggle that made him sound like his voice was changing. We got to my truck just before nightfall. The dealership was closed when we returned, but Jody was still there, and they went to work. About a half an hour later, a guy looking like the General Manager came out from the showroom. He said he was the last one out, and added, "Oh, Mike, your wife called." Wife?! "I told her yewed just left with a reel purrty girl with two dogs and a broken down truck." Everyone laughed. Guess my dogs and my truck make me a real catch in Texas. Probably Kentucky as well.

The truck problem turned out to be a simple and cheap one that did not involve my air conditioner -- it involved burnt wires. As I prepared to go on my way, Jody said, "I'd give you directions to the only motel in Eden, but I wouldn't send my worse enemy there. Drive on to Brady." So, I did. I had really wanted to camp one last time, but no such luck. I considered myself lucky to have had problems work out as they had, and was still happy about the trip thus far.

There are many towns just outside of Austin -- Fredicksburg and Mason, to name but two -- that are quaint and gorgeous and very Germen, with lots of "Hunters Welcome" signs. I would have stopped to look around, but I was anxious to get to my new home. And that turned out to be a huge mistake, given that I've been held in my home for 10 days like a prisoner, except for trips to Target, various bookstores and CD stores to buy things I cannot afford.

Why am I stuck here?

The movers were supposed to be here with my things on Thursday, just after I got here. They got here Sunday. Starving Students, WORST moving company ever, would not return my frantic phone calls trying to locate my things until I left a very mean message on someone's voice mail about the complaint I was filing with the Better Business Bureau. I had to cancel two job interviews because of this fiasco, because I had nothing to wear and because I was afraid the movers would show up while I was out. Do NOT use Starving Students moving company. They are based in Los Angeles, California, and they SUCK.

And to add to the stress of living in an empty duplex in a new town and state for the last 10 days, with no friends and no employment opportunities yet, my truck is sitting three miles away up the road at a gas station, the clutch having gone dead yesterday (Saturday). So I'm totally stressed out. Please write soon. I need reassuring words. NOW.

Written in October, 1996, in Austin, Texas

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