May 02, 2005

after a decade away

I'd say the weekend in Houston was a success. The beginning was a little rocky, in that I finally managed to find what seemed like the very last parking space in the airport's humongous East Economy lot and then got to wait forever for Southwest Egg Rolls to go at the airport Chili's. Fortunately I had allowed enough time for parking and had checked in online, and the egg rolls were actually fairly tasty. In compensation, the flight to Houston was blissfully empty and I actually got a whole row of three seats to myself, so I was able to lie fetally and doze a bit. That was also fortunate, because I got to the hotel after midnight (only having gotten a little lost: I got off the freeway at the right place but couldn't quite figure out how to get from the feeder road - Houston has feeders alongside all freeways - onto the street, so I took the long way around).

I wanted to get to the boathouse before 7. I'd been in contact with their scheduling person and had been told I probably couldn't get into a boat (they have a regatta next weekend) but still wanted to go say hello to any oldtimers around. As it turned out, no one got to row that day; the wind was high and there were whitecaps washing over the deck. I spent some time talking to rowers new since my day and peeking around the boathouse, and then got to talk to a couple of old friends. They didn't know I was coming, but both recognized me right away, and they haven't changed much either. (Their daughter, who I knew from when she was remarkably untemperamental six-year-old, is now a junior in college.) I've had dinner in their house and they've celebrated New Year's at mine, and in fact after we sold our house Rudder lived in their old one (for sale at the time) for a month before moving out to join me here. It seems incredible that I didn't keep addresses for all of these people, at least for holiday card purposes, but somehow I didn't. We went off and had (at a Starbucks that wasn't there a decade ago) and then I went back to bed to rest before the party later on.

I was at that party from 11AM to 8PM. It wasn't particularly raucous by company standards; as someone commented, in the old days there had been parties that led to divorces. But it was a good gathering, with a few hundred people there including all but a few of the ones I'd wanted most to see. There were a few spouses who had swapped around, a lot of kids who had grown up, a few people who looked much older and a lot more who looked pretty much the same. Everyone seemed as happy to see me as I was to see them. I don't care how many beers the person has had, it's still nice to hear, "You can't believe how good it is to see you!"

I stayed until the bitter end, on the theory that I'd rather help clean up than sit around a hotel room, and of course the others who stayed were the same ones who were at all the parties back when. It was odd, though: as glad as we were to see each other, I still felt a little out of it, because of course I don't have the daily topics of conversation people who see each other more frequently have built up. Still, a good time, and a wonderful turnout for a reunion that had been planned on the spur of the moment two months ago.

The couple I'd met at rowing on Saturday called around and got a few people together for breakfast on Sunday. That was happy and sad: besides the couple who set it up, one old friend hasn't changed at all except to get a little grayer, and our old housemate and his wife (for whose first meeting and subsequent courtng we were present) haven't changed themselves but have a houseful of daughters (I'm sure three of them keep the house full), but an older couple (who also met via rowing) have had a lot of serious health issues, and he especially seems much older. We'd all always said those two were a perfect match; he is always nice and she has a veneer of sweetness covering more sweetness that goes to the bone. That hasn't changed, at least, and I think he was thrilled to be around a bevy of beautiful women (I am speaking here of the former housemate's three daughters). I got everyone's address and managed to snag the check because I'm obnoxious that way.

The former housemate and family invited me to go for a spin on their boat, so I did get to see all around the lake, and got better acquainted with the daughters. The little one was shy and stayed on her parents' laps, but the older two wanted me to hang out with them in the front of the boat - "it's bumpy up there!" Windy, too, but we did backbends across the cushions when the boat was going slowly and the middle girl (6 or 7, I think) pretended to surf. Fun. I'd had to go check out of my hotel room beore meeting them at the boat and when I showed up the older girl presented me with a sign with my name on it. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do with it, but I don't want to throw it out.

I spent the afternoon exploring the new Kemah Boardwalk area, riding a few rides and then eating an insanely spicy Cajun Shrimp boil at the Flying Dutchman - the rides and hotel and shops are new, the Dutchman and a few other restaurants are longtime landmarks. After that I walked a few blocks over to see all the new shops full of tchotchkelehs (not my style, though I briefly contmplated buy ing a Hawaiian shirt for my mom), then drove by my old house. It hasn't changed much, except for a new back fence and some different plantings. I was delighted to see that the used bookstore in an old house nearby is still there, but unfortunately it was closed on Sunday. I did treat myself to a stop by Half-Price Books, since the one in my area moved away. They are run individually, I think, so the Clear Lake one has a much different feel than that had had - more of a used bookstore, not so light and bright but with more crannies. I've always liked it. (Note: Clear Lake is the big lake there, and also what the whole area around the Johnson Space Center is called.)

I finished with a visit to the Space Center, the JSC's Disney-designed visitor center, which was a mistake. The only real changes were a huge playset for the 5th-grade-and-under crowd, and the prices are even worse than they were: $4 for parking (the only place in all of Clear Lake, that I know of, to charge for parking), $17 to get in, $5 for some fried mushrooms. It did feel right, though, to finish the weekend by looking at all of the pictures of all of the astronaut crews, and while I don't cry at movies much, I do still tear up at their Imax film, To Be an Astronaut. I skipped the tram tour of the real Space Center, having seen it all and being short on time. If you're in the area and have some spare $$$, it's probably worth seeing. Once.

The trip to the airport was smooth; the plane home was more crowded so I ended up sitting beside a small but imperious lady of 19 months and her mother. Happy and secure children are promiscuous with their touch; she had no problem leaning on me, standing up in her seat to flirt with the man behind us, and grabbing at my book. I averted one tantrum by letting her play with my tape measure - it retracts! (But it's plastic, not metal, and with no sharp edges.) That kept her busy for some time. She liked me; she even kissed my cheek once, and softly touched my chin a few times. (See "promiscuous" above. It's tricky for an adult; I could put an arm around my friends' six-year-old when she leaned on me, even though I hadn't met her before either, but of course I didn't want to reach out to touch a stranger's child.) Her mother was doing her best to get the girl to wear her seat belt when necessary, and there were a few crying jags due to overtiredness, and of course it's impossible to reason with a less-than-two-old about why she should sit still during takeoff, or eat her own crackers and not everyone else's, or not rest her feet on a stranger. But she was very cute, and reasonably well-behaved for someone entering her terrible twos. She entirely charmed the man behind me.

And then, I got to come home to Rudder. SO all in all, it was a weekend full of high points.

Posted by dichroic at May 2, 2005 03:11 PM

I'm so glad you had a good time! The daughters on the boat remind me of being that age and riding the prow of my mother's water ski boat. Of course the best was when I got to drive, but the bumps and the spray up front were darn good too. I'm not surprised people recognized you right away, I don't imagine you've changed much since your Houston days. If I'm to judge from the pics you've posted, time has treated you kindly, my friend. Welcome back! ~LA

Posted by: LA at May 2, 2005 05:42 PM

Sounds like a wonderful trip!

Posted by: Melissa at May 4, 2005 10:23 AM
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