Road Adventures

Last weekend we took Elena on her first longish road trip–to Houston, for a visit with Carrie, Matt, and Danny. The trip turned into an outright adventure, fraught with misdirection and excitement. Elena slept through most of it, showing that she’s already a true adventurer.
Despite the threat of heavy rain and a radar map indicating a large storm exactly between Austin and Houston, we set out early on Friday afternoon, after lunch. The skies opened soon after we started, and rain beat down on us for nearly the whole trip. We had to switch from podcasts to music, because the sound of the rain on the car roof made the spoken word unintelligible, even at high volumes. Elena took it all in stride, and slept for much of the trip. Jenny theorized that the rain, loud though it was, acted as a nice white noise to keep her asleep.
We arrived during a small break in the storm, and even though Elena was hungry, she woke up without crying, and was well behaved and even smiley while everybody said hello to her, including Danny and the beagles. We were happy to hear that Danny knew her name (“baby ‘lena”), but really he just wanted to play with me.
In the evening, we took advantage of Carrie’s generous offer of child care, and went to the temple. Jenny thought she gave Carrie too many instructions about Elena; she was really just trying to explain the general evening pattern we follow, but it might have sounded more like a rigid timeline and list of instructions. Carrie got the gist and when we returned, Elena was soundly asleep and had hardly fussed while we were gone.
As a side note, we couldn’t find a single ice cream place open while we were out–for shame, Houston! It was only ten o’clock on a weekend night! We ended up buying pints of Ben and Jerry’s, then eating them with Matt and Carrie. They also introduced us to the game of Qwirkle, and soundly beat us as we played late into the night.
On Saturday morning we took it easy as we decided what we wanted to do for the day. The weather remained gloomy at best, so Matt and Carrie recommended that we take a trip to the Galleria mall while they attended a birthday party. I took a brief look at the map, saw that the mall was just off the freeway and decided that there would be signs when we were nearby, so I didn’t need to write down exact directions. That proved to be my first adventurous decision. I was impressed and a little bit scared to see how fast the Houston drivers were going in the rain. Later, Matt told me that they’re used to two-day deluges; they’ve been through hurricanes. When we got close to where I thought the mall should be, we didn’t see any signs indicating where to exit. All of a sudden, off to the right we saw a Nordstrom’s and a Saks Fifth Avenue. We decided they must be a part of the Galleria, and took the next exit. We should have taken the previous one, but were able to wind around through the suburban sprawl and find our way back to the mall.
We walked around the mall for a while, starting on the chintzy side (under which we had parked) with its discount nail salon, tchotchke store, and garish prom dress gallery. In the middle of the mall, not far from the Apple store (where Jenny got mad at me for looking up rowing results while she was talking to me), we stopped at an amazing candy store. We proceeded to the ritzy side, anchored by Nieman Marcus, and featuring not just Tiffany, but also Cartier, along with Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Ralph Lauren, and all the usual suspects. Directly beneath this section we found two things that we were looking for: the food court, where we got pizza, and the ice rink.
After pizza, we watched the ice skating for a while. In addition to the crowds circling the rink, there appeared to be a number of lessons going on in the middle. One little girl skated with her father and learned to do jumps; they seemed like the happiest. Another was trying to learn how to skate in backwards circles, but the blue-jacketed coach kept yelling at her for putting her feet down at the wrong times. Jenny contemplated whether she and Elena should take skating lessons together someday.
On the way back to the car, we decided that we should try to find the nearby Waterwall. Jenny had been there before, but I had only seen pictures on the internet. I hopped on a wi-fi network to look up the location, and figured out how to get there. We drove around the block twice and saw the back side of the WaterWall, but there was no easy place to park. It was raining, and we were ready to head back anyway, so we decided that was enough for us.
On the way back, Jenny received two calls from Carrie. The first was a report that they had been flooded in at the birthday party, and they didn’t know when they would be able to leave. The water receded rapidly, and when Carrie called again they were on the road; she told us that the traffic on our planned route home was bad, and suggested an alternate route. Although we intended to follow her suggestion, somehow we missed the exit and ended up on the road with bad traffic.

In this section, the flood was so bad that not even the four-wheel drive vehicles attempted to traverse it.

In this section, the flood was so bad that not even the four-wheel drive vehicles attempted to traverse it.

The road was packed. Before long, we saw the main cause–there were spots where the access roads were completely flooded. Only the bravest of four-wheel drive vehicles attempted to make it through, and at least one of them was driving on the grassy strip next to the access road, instead of attempting to drive on the road turned lake. I guess that’s why you need a Land Rover in Houston. The traffic on the freeway was backed up because the cars that wanted to exit ran into standstill traffic on the access roads, thus also slowing down the rest of traffic to a near stop. We saw some pretty creative maneuvers, as drivers tried to figure out their best option. A few people tried to exit on the entrance ramps, while others entered on the exit ramps. Most, like us, just stayed in their lanes and hoped for any improvement. The traffic did break up and we made it back without running into any more flooding.
Jenny spent a happy afternoon helping Carrie clean and organize and mostly get rid of stuff she didn’t need anymore. They’re preparing a room for the new baby, and need all the extra space they can get. As I well know, Jenny can be a harsh taskmaster in the ‘getting rid of stuff’ department. Perhaps someday she’ll achieve her dream of being a professional organizer; for now she’s satisfied with tearing up the amateur circuit.
While they were doing that, I was working on some math homework, but also trying to watch the Star Wars marathon on TV. When Danny came into the room and instantly recognized the characters, of course he wanted to watch. But even though he has light saber battles with his dad, Jenny warned me that the real thing would be too scary for a two year old. I relented and turned off the TV. In the evening, after the weather cleared up, we all went for a walk. I tried out the Baby Bjorn tummy pack, which Elena liked better than the one we have. Jenny and I can’t figure out why; the two seem very similar. Maybe Elena is just learning expensive tastes at an early age.
On Sunday morning, we had to alter our route home because of the MS 150 bike ride. It was a good thing that I checked the route–I didn’t know that they could close down long stretches of major thoroughfares for events like that. The longer route was only a minor inconvenience, especially as we had much better weather on the return trip; blue skies, nice temperatures, and Texas wildflowers blooming on all the medians and shoulders.
Tomorrow I head out on a Daddy-only adventure, as I’m helping with a Scout campout. Expect a report from me about that, but also news form the home front. Jenny’s in charge of naps, so she knows how to get Elena to sleep, but I’ve been the one to put her to bed at night. Let’s hope that we can all adjust our routines for one night.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Road Adventures

  1. carrie

    It was so fun to have you come down. I’m glad Jenny felt “happy” about helping me sort through my stuff – I felt a little guilty making her work so hard on a weekend getaway. I continue to make progress, but it’s a little slower without a good nagger to keep me moving. 🙂 We’ve never been able to figure out what makes the bjorn more enjoyable either. Maybe you’re right – just expensive tastes. Danny says, “Hi Mark.”

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