Holiday Road – Part IX

There’s been a bit of a gap between posts, and a few of a different topic. So I’ll remind you of the scene – we made it to Amarillo, with another night of parties and drinking, though your’s truly managed to control himself, unlike other nights.

Our day was going to be a long, long drive. One of the longest on the trip. Starting in Amarillo, we would drive across a lot of Texas to end up in Dallas. That meant we had to get up early, downstairs (for those of us on the top floor) quickly, and into the bus in a snap. So, of course, I woke up late. I had set the alarm, the responsible drunk person that I was the night before, but in a state of tiredness, turned it off once it went off. I lay there, in my bed, contemplating getting up … and then fell asleep again. Half an hour later (leaving myself half an hour to get ready), I startled myself awake and looked around. Father (my roommate, if you remember) was still passed out/asleep from his big night before.

I raced out of bed, and thought the best way to wake Father up was by turning the T.V, on. I switched it over as I passed, went through the saloon doors to the bathroom, and did my thing. Coming out, Father was still bleary eyed, but with enough sense to get ready without needing a bin held under him. Eventually we were both packed and ready, and lumping out bags downstairs.

There we found a few other people wandering about. By far I was in the best condition – a few women were hung over, another was reeling from the effects of drinking 8 cans of Red Bull (which is as bad as a hangover, let me tell you), and a few blokes were seated in the shade, sunglasses on, not moving a whole lot. I couldn’t help but smile, and chuckle to myself. I recalled Vegas, and how I felt then, and how I was glad not to be feeling that once more.

To pass some spare time that we had as people struggled out their rooms, I took some photos, wandered about, and then sat with my bag and conversed with some of the people I had socialised with the night before. Slowly stories began to come out – about people throwing up in rooms that weren’t their own, people not remembering how they got home, and people still under the effects of alcohol after continuing to drink once they got to their hotel room and into their own, personal stash. Sometimes I just shook my head (because there was nothing else to do), and other times I laughed.

Eventually we were all packed up. I’ve noted in my diary “ready for the 2nd longest driving day. A lot of the people in a bad way”. I don’t think I heard the bus quieter than it was that day. And then, just to spite everyone, David (our tour manager, remember?) decided to blast the day-song rather loud. The day-song is a song that was played every morning when we got on the bus. It was Greenday’s “Holiday”, and it’s a rock song. So you can imagine how well that went down.

A quick and cheap breakfast stop before leaving civilisation for the sparse lands ahead. My diary notes nothing extraordinary. I sat beside Keegan again, we watched some more Family Guy, but most of the trip was given over to those who wanted to sleep. People took up all sorts of positions, even laying down on the path between the seats. As people dozed off, I began to regret not having a bigger night of my own. Those people who were in a state like mine were spread too far away to make conversation with. Others were asleep, trying to get asleep, or in no mood to talk. The trip was made a little longer with boredom that set in. I tried to take refuge in the scenery, which began to look the same as the hours wore on. My MP3 player was good, but that’s only providing a soundtrack to the boredom. I’m sorry that I don’t have too much to report on this trip, but it was, really, a long drive to recovery.

Then, finally, we got near to Dallas. People were woken up to the wake-up song, which you can probably guess its role. That song was “Whoomp! There It Is!” by Tag Team, and was a funny little rap song that caught on pretty quickly. David gave us a little spiel about Dallas, and its significance. And then he turned to a topic that I had much knowledge about, and much reason to go to the city: The JFK assassination. He explained the politics behind it, the various conspiracy theories, and other details that were quite helpful for us all. He told us that we all had included tickets to the 6th Floor Museum, which is a museum on the 6th floor of the old school book depository dedicated to all of JFK’s service, and then his assassination. I’ll write more on that when I go to it.

As we get into the city, we get a driving tour of it. We pass Texas Stadium, drive the route that JFK took, and pulled up at a little park where there is an artwork celebrating the ranching past of Texas. It’s about 20 solid steers and 2 cowboys riding after them. It’s a very impressive statue. We were warned not to climb on the statues – not because they were important or anything, but it was a very hot day. Heat plus solid metal cows, plus everyone wearing shorts or a skirt could make for a very nasty experience.

We wandered around these a bit, got some fresh air and stretched our legs, some photos, and were off to our hotel. It was a very hot day, and we were eager to get to our rooms to shower and change. The nights activities were exciting (for me at least), and I was keen to at least freshen up form the drive. However, things were not quick. The hotel had somehow managed to mess up not just one or two rooms but the whole ~30 rooms that we all needed. That was something strange, I thought. How do you mess up a booking like that? David was ropeable – a bit of an overreaction, I thought, but perhaps he had had a bad night’s sleep or something.

Eventually, after we were told to all get off and sit in the lobby (I think a ploy by David to get things moving with management), we were led to our room. I’m a tad fuzzy here because our keycards didn’t work either when we first went up to get in our room, or it was the second day. I’m going to work that it was on the first day, and we needed to go downstairs and get the reprogrammed. The poor (and attractive) lady behind the counter must have thought we would react like David, and was extremely apologetic. Of course, I smiled, said it was no problem, and bid her a good day.

Father and I were into the room, and had a couple hours to spare. I washed off and then raced down to the laundry where I wanted to wash some clothes. While I had washed some not long before (Cortez, 3 days before), I hadn’t washed everything that time, and things were building up. I thought if I could get on top of it all, I wouldn’t have to wash things again until we made Florida, where we had 3 whole days there – more than enough time to do all the washing again, which would last me to New York, where I would be for 5 days consecutive.

I had to buy washing powder, as I had used mine in Cortez and not replaced it. “Never mind,” I thought, “I’ll use this machine on the wall that dispenses it.” It was only a dollar. I put 4 quarters in, pushes the button and … nothing. I banged and slammed the machine, and still nothing. Again, with an exasperated sigh, I lumped by bag of dirty clothes over my shoulder (because I didn’t trust people to not steal my stuff – my dirty clothes of all things!) and trudged downstairs. And, once again, I had that poor (and attractive) woman at the counter apologising profoundly at the problem, and she gave me a box of powder. And, once again, I smiled and told her it wasn’t a problem and bid her a good day.

I made my way up to the laundry again and thanked my lucky stars that there were still machines free. In fact, no one was using them. Maybe they knew that the powder dispenser was dodgey. As I was loading up, another Contiki person walked in to do her washing. We made a little chat, and then she went to get some powder too. I warned her it was broken, and she’d have to go downstairs to get. Off she went. I finished loading up, noted that it would be done in 25 minutes, and went back to my room to pass time.

25 minutes later, I was back and changing things over to the dryer. I didn’t have enough quarters, and had to go get some by feeding a dollar into a vending machine and pressing the cancel button. A handy tip, if ever you find yourself in that situation. Invariably, there will be a vending machine on the floor that you are on. Anyway, I loaded up the dryer, noticed it would take 20 minutes to do, and returned to my room. I believe I was 4 stories about the laundry, which was on the 14th floor.

Looking out our window, you could see the sprawling Dallas through the handful of high rises that make up the city. It’s not a very tall city, but it is rather big. There aren’t a huge amount of tall buildings, but it does make for a spread out cluster. Our hotel was less than 5 minutes from the school book depository, which resonated in me for some reason. I would be sleeping within earshot of that damned building.

The night’s activities that excited me may come as little surprise to people who know me even a little. We were going to a rodeo! All my Akubra-hat wearing would finally pay off! I had brought a special cowboy-esque shirt with me from Sydney, put on my most cowboy jeans, put on my shoes that look like boots if I wear pants that are a little too long (like the jeans I was wearing specific, and threw on my perfectly fitting hat, and I looked the part. With Father, the tour group who was going congregated down in the lobby. Most people were excited to go – the guys to see some western action, the ladies to see the cowboys. Father was a little put out – he’s a real country bloke; a stockman, a real cowboy, not like the dandies we would see; responsible for 1200 heads of cattle. He really didn’t like these ‘cowboys’.

We bused it to the outskirts of Dallas were we unloaded at the Mesquite Rodeo (somewhat famous). Some of us had signed up for the pre-rodeo dinner. It was a good feed – you got a plate and were let free on a couple of carts that had salads and meats. They gave you a whole kransky sausage, a slice of steak-ish meat, and you could get your own coleslaw, salad, eggs, and corn. They also had this wonderful BBQ sauce to go – it had a very unique taste, and an appropriate amount of zing to it. For dessert, you helped yourself to the tray of peach cobbler could get some cream, and wash it all down with some Coke, or buy  beer. Every one of the locals who walked through the gate lined up to get into this food. It was a really good feed, like I said. I felt like it was another of those cultural experiences that was quite rewarding.

Finishing up, I made our way to the Contiki section. A few of the people, who didn’t get the meal, asked if it was worth it. I downplayed it, knowing that I never want to hear how great something is that I opted not to get or do. They seemed relieved that they didn’t pay the extra whole $5 for it (I think it was $5, but it certainly wasn’t more than $10). People started trickling in from our group, and eventually the show was starting.

If anyone has seen Borat, and I’m sure you all have, you will know what an opening of a rodeo is sort of like. It’s a serious and solemn thing – there’s a parade, then a showing off of the celebrities, then a special cowboy’s prayer, then the anthem. If you aren’t clapping or standing, taking off your hat or bowing your head, you could get in some serious trouble there. A couple of people in our group stood for the anthem, hands by their side, but left their hats on. They got stares, whether they saw them or not. I had the presence of mind to take my hat off, because I certainly didn’t want trouble from those around me.

The night was full of all sorts of events. There was bull riding, calf roping, chuck wagon racing (my favourite), and then this thing where the cowboys plonked their 4, 5, 6 years olds on the back of sheep and let them go wild. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen – these kids, holding on for dear life to the wool on these sheep with these crash helmets on, and the sheep would dart out of the holding pen with then on. And it would run, and the kid would lose grip, and the kid was too afraid to let go, so they’d slip to the side, and eventually off. I’m sure I have some of it on video which I will upload. It was great.

Some of the things were a lot of hype, and little delivery. Example: Bull riding. People would be on for 5 seconds sometimes, if even. They get points for 10 second or more, so do the math. I think 2 over the whole night lasted 10 seconds or longer. When they stayed on, it was great. When they came off, these was an anxious and excited murmur though the crowd as we waited to see if the bull would charge the rider. Only once did something look like it might get interesting, but even that died off, and the bull turned and trotted off.

The rodeo was a good ~3 hours, and it was sort of late when we left. There was the chance to go out drinking again, but I opted out. I can’t give you an good reason why I didn’t. I was tired from the night before, there was Internet access at the hotel I could use for free, there were a handful of other people who said no (which didn’t mean I was singled out), but most of all, I think it was a one thing in particular. A degree of homesickness had set it. It’s a little hard to explain. I was having fun, and I didn’t want to go home. But it was coming up to 10 days since I had spoken to any one of my family back home. I was missing my friends, and I was missing someone in particular back home. As much as my holiday was to get away from the routine and the hoopla back here, I couldn’t help but want to speak to someone just to say hi. Like I said, I certainly did not want to go back, but I wanted to talk to someone back home for 5 minutes just to hear from them. A strange feeling to explain.

So I ended up going home with 5 or so people. We decided to check into McDonalds to try and get some ice cream – but their ice cream machine was broken. Funnily enough, a woman and Pilot (Anthony, who is a pilot, remember?) both had encountered this problem already on the trip. They were rather put-out. I shrugged and headed home, and found myself a free computer to use. I used it to check some emails, chat to the one friend who was online (Dean), and then drop a line on my blog, and comment on Ninglun’. That was around half an hour’s work. The rest I spent catching up on Australian news, then U.S. political news. After an hour, some people were waiting to use it, so I hopped off and went back to the room.

There I had some ironing to do, of the clothes I had washed. The novelty of ironing wore off, and I quickly fell into line with my mother – hating the task. I did the best quick job I could, hung everything up, and then crawled into bed to watch the end of another showing of Ocean’s 13. I clicked over to C-Span afterwards, and watched it until Father came in. He had had an easy night, and was eager to get a good night’s sleep this time. He readied himself as I asked questions about the activities for some afterwards. He said that the mechanical bull at the bar they all went to (we were told it was there, but it didn’t spike my interests enough to go obviously) was popular, but the people operating it interpreted all these Australian’s interest in it as not having ever seen a bull period! Father was put out by that, and then by the abundance of “cowboys” (the way he said it, I have to put those “” there) and the women’s fascination with them.

Turning out the lights, and climbing into his bed, the last thing I heard Father talking about was these cowboys, and how much he disliked them. I had to respect him – they were playing up their lifestyle, and a lot of them probably had nothing to do with the farming life: They just dressed the way because it was popular. And here was a real stockman, a real guy with real stories. I was glad to have had a chance to meet and talk to him. I think it was one of the few times I thought that the old line of “Going to a different country, you learn more about your own” rang true.

Thomas.

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