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Houston, we have a problem…

March 24th, 2015

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Okay, so here it is, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the final installment of our Texan Adventure. It’s taken me a while to get here so let’s hope I can still remember how it all went down.

Our final day in Texas dawned just like the rest of them, overcast and dreary. We had hoped to wait out the weather, surely if we gave it a few days the sun would decide to come out. I mean we were in Texas… I was starting to feel like that one chic in the Swiffer commercials – “Sun where are you?!” We still had hopes we would find it on Galveston Island. I mean, it’s an island surrounded by ocean, isn’t the sun a requirement?

So we carried on and our little two vehicle caravan set out for the coast under a drizzily, gray sky. We went with the traditional arrangment, our original crew loaded up in the Durango, and yes, mom was once again crammed in the way back seat, and Kris and Steve and the girls in their vehicle. It was a little over a three hour drive and we made in with minimal bathroom breaks which is good for our crew. The closer we got to the ocean the more it smelled like… petroleum?? What? Where was the clean ocean breeze that my Air Wicks air freshener advertised? Must be a different ocean. The smell was of course eminating from the numerous oil rifineries dotting the horizon line.

As we crossed over the causeway onto Galveston Island I made the first of many “interpreter” phone calls to the pickup ahead of us. “Dad wants to head straight to the Coast Guard base to see if we can posibly get a tour.” “Roger that.” was the military-like response from the Newman’s. “Now we just have to figure out where it is.”

Dad gave out some general directions and the next thing you know we were pulling up to a guard booth. Manned by what appeared to be a pleasant young Seaman, Seaman Recruit, Seaman Apprentice (truth: I just Googled those rankings because I had no idea what they were called, the Old Man would be sorely disappointed) I’m not sure what her rank was but to say she was not happy to see us would be a huge understatement.

Dad, in all of his exuberance to show off his old stomping grounds, hopped out of the passenger side with his Veterans ID card in hand to give her proof of identification. Immediately we hear, “Sir! Stop right where you are and return to your vehicle!” Dad, being close to entirely deaf (in part due to his years spent as a Radar Operator aboard a Coast Guard ship), didn’t hear her and kept advancing. “Sir! Return to your vehicle IMMEDIATELY!!” He heard that one, and threw up his arms as if to say “Whoa… sorry,”

“I said, return to your vehicle!” She bellowed once again. Kris was sitting in their pickup yelling “Don’t shoot! He can’t hear you! Don’t shoot!” Meanwhile, Kelli, Marc and I were just flabbergasted. And Mom couldn’t really tell what was going on from her little Hobbit hole in the back seat.

I mean I know its a different world out there these days but did we really look like we were going to storm a Coast Guard base? We wouldn’t have the slightest idea of what to do with all those big ships, we were from Nebraska for cripes sake.

Once Dad “returned to his vehicle” she came to the drivers window and he tried to explain to her that he had been stationed there in the ’50’s and was hoping to show his family around the base. This did not improve her mood. She informed him that civilians were not allowed to just go on base and walk around. He realized that, he explained, he was hoping to just drive through.

Well, there was no one available to give a tour because it was Saturday, was her response. Hmmm… I thought civilians weren’t allowed on base suddenly they offer tours. She was just so rude, you would think that after seeing his Veterans card she could have at least thanked him for his service or something. Instead she informed him that nothing would look the same to him anyway because the entire base had been almost entirely wiped out back in 2008 by Hurricane Ike.

Well, so much for seeing the old stomping grounds. We made a sharp U-turn and left our friendly, neighborhood Coast Guard Seaman, Seaman Apprentice, whatever behind. As we drove off, Dad said she was full of it, he and mom had stopped at the base a few years back when they were taking a long, round about drive home from visiting Kris and the guard at the gate had been perfectly friendly and let them drive right through and look around.

We pulled over to the side of the road so we could discuss the next stop on our tour of Galveston. No sooner had Kris and Steve pulled up beside us when a cop car pulled up on their other side. Ok, we get the point, we aren’t welcome. Moving on. Well that was a fine start to our day.

Dad suggested that we head down to the coast road so we could at least get a good look at the ocean. This was one of the first things we spotted…

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Pleasure Pier. It looked pretty new, all shiny and clean, I assumed that was thanks to Hurricane Ike as well. We passed it by and continued down the road. Through a series of texts and phone calls between vehicles we decided that we were all hungry. Marc was adament about getting his fill of seafood while we visited the coast. We decided to head back to Pleasure Pier, check it out, maybe let the girls ride a few rides, and then find us some seafood.

No sooner had we crossed underneath this welcoming sign…

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and stopped to snap a shot of this awesome carousel…

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when we heard a loud clap of thunder and a huge bolt of lightning was spotted directly behind us. It was as if the statue of Marty Moose was standing in front of us saying “Ayuck, sorry folks, parks closed. Ayuck, ayuck.” Then the rain came. We quickly ducked inside the Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant to figure out what to do next, and of course use the bathrooms. We decided to head back across the street and get our cars out of the parking lot in hopes of not having to pay for an hours worth of parking when we were only gone for like 15 minutes. The parking lot was next to yet another seafood restaurant so we ultimately decided to just go in and eat.

After some of us enjoyed a seafood lunch (not me, not really a fan) we headed to Moody Gardens. Moody Gardens was one of the sites that Steve had researched the day before. It was made up of three huge glass pyramids…

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one was an aquarium, one was an indoor tropical jungle and the other contained a display of the human body. But the selling point for me was the special holiday display, a giant tent filled with ice sculptures of… wait for it… Bikini Bottom! Yep, you read right, Sponge Bob on Ice. We headed for the aquarium, and the very long line of people waiting to buy tickets. While standing there we slowly began to deduce that it was going to cost us $60 a person per pyramid. What! You’ve got to be kidding. Of course if we had been on our game we would have bought tickets online the night before and saved a whole lot of cash. But since we weren’t, on our game that is, we decided to pick just one pyramid.

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But what about Bikini Bottom you might ask, well once again, being off our game, we hadn’t noticed the tiny little disclaimer saying it was like zero degrees inside that tent (duh, it’s full of ice sculptures) and we should be prepared to dress warm. Well, because we had all been hoping to drive into the sunshine once we hit Galveston none of us had our winter gear along. So long Sponge Bob. So we picked the aquarium. But Saylor had a problem with that. She had already been to the aquarium, in fact her Girl Scout Troop had spent the night there, so we ended up splitting up, Saylor, Kelli and Marc headed for the jungle and the rest of us did the aquarium…

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which, I’m sad to say, was a huge disappointment. When you’ve grown up taking semi-regular trips to the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, anything is going to be a disappointment. I mean it reeked of fish, imagine that, an aquarium that smells like fish. I’ve never noticed a fishy smell at the Scott Aquarium, another point for Nebraska. But Kam, being a kid, enjoyed it so that’s all that counts. I played the part of an old person and found a bench in a dark corner near the sea lion display and proceeded to nod off for about an hour or so.

I did however enjoy the palm trees…

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We all met up outside to decide what to do next and the jungle crew said they couldn’t help but compare this one to the one in Omaha either and it came up short. We decided our next stop would be the Pirate Museum which was on board and actual pirate ship. Of course before we left, the girlies wanted to hit the gift shop at Moody Gardens, becuase that’s what kids do at places like that, buy souvenirs. Kris told us to head for the pirate ship and they would meet us there. Roger that.

So Marc looked at a “You are here” type of map outside of the aquarium and was convinced he knew exactly how to get there. Who were we to argue? He must have decided to take the long way around because after driving one way and then the other and flipping several “I’m just a country boy from Nebraska” U-turns we finally came upon this…

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now I was never in the Coast Guard or anything, but that doesn’t look like a pirate ship to me. But the Old Man was intrigued. We decided to give it a look. I texted the other crew and tried to explain where we had ended up and they said they would find us. We had stumbled on Seawolf Park which was the home of the WWII submarine the USS Cavalla and one of only three destroyer escorts in the world, the USS Stewart. This was right up Dad’s alley. “This could possibly make up for the incident at the Coast Guard base.” I thought to myself. Mom elected to stay in her little Hobbit Hole in the car while Dad, Marc, Kelli and I set out to do some exploring.

The sub had been completely restored and was open for touring. You had to climb a bunch of steps to get to the top of the sub and then you had to climb down a ladder into the sub. “Thank goodness Mom decided to stay in the car.” I thought. Once I made it down the ladder this is the first thing I looked up and saw…

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I think that’s where the periscope was located? Actually, I just thought it would make a cool picture. Up ahead was one of many porthole size doorways you had to scrunch down and crawl through. I wasn’t sure if I would fit but I did and found myself peering into teeny-tiny little rooms that served as Officers Quarters and a Communications room. As I crawled through one tiny doorway after another I started snap, snap, snapping away at all the amazing dials, knobs and levers that made that incredible vessel seaworthy…

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Eventually I crawled through yet another porthole into the crew’s living quarters…

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I was starting to feel claustrophobic and could only imagine what it must feel like to actually be underwater.

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While Marc and Dad were discussing all of the technical aspects of the engine room, turbines, motors, nuclear reactors… I managed to capture one of my very favorite photos ever…

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he turned his head and just the exact, right moment.

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Finally I spotted a ladder that would take me back up to fresh air and I scurried up it.

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That was enough tight quarters for me. Next we checked out the USS Stewart. Restoration was still in progress on the Destroyer Escort so we could walk around on deck but only peer into the interior rooms through windows. It was still pretty cool though.

As we finished up our tour we noticed the “Love Boat soon will be making another run…”

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so we stood on the dock and waved at them like we had seen others do every Saturday night during our childhood. We could see all the passengers on deck celebrating their upcoming adventure, “Where’s all the streamers and confetti?” I asked Kelli, “Aren’t they supposed to throw streamers and confetti?” “Uh, that was a T.V. show.” she replied. “Well, it seemed like a good idea to me.” I said.

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“Set a course for adventure. Your mind on a new romance…” I continued to sing as the ship disappeared off into the distance..,

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leaving behind some suspicious pelicans. Let me tell you, they are not as friendly as all the Disney and Pixar movies would have you believe.

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The sun was starting to set so we decided it was time to start searching for our missing party members. We eventually found them on the other side of the bay, they had actually found the Pirate Museum. We decided to head towards home and find a steak and seafood resturant somewhere on the outskirts of Houston to eat at. Ahhh…. the best laid plans.

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We headed through downtown and were soon heading back over the causeway, this is where the real adventure begins. All of a sudden Marc, who was driving said, “Oh crap… a warning light just went on saying the right rear tire is down to 16 lbs. of pressure.” Of course it was, that was the tire Dad had repaired before we left for Texas. “Oh boy… now it says 14 lbs…. now it’s at 12…”

I started dialing to let Kris and Steve know we were going to have to pull over because we thought we had a flat tire. We limped along until we made it over the causeway and Marc took the first exit which lead us to a little round-a-bout area with a small triangle of grass in the middle which is where he parked the Durango.

He leapt out of the drivers side and ran around to the rear tire. “#$%^&*#@!” we heard from outside. “Yep, flat as a damn pancake.” The rear hatch was thrown open and he started rummaging around. “Praise God…” he said, “It’s an actual full size tire!” Whew, that sounded good to me.

The rummaging continued as he worked to get it loose from it’s hiding place under the vehicle. This is when the swearing began in earnest. “Blankity-blankity-blank piece of Chinese plastic!” (I think he was referring to the Durango) “Dammit, it’s a damn donut!” “How in the heck are you supposed to get this thing out?” “#@$%^&* blankity-blank-blank!” It was exactly like the flat tire scene in “A Christmas Story”, the one where Ralphie helps his swearing father change a flat tire and says “Fudge!” Except he didn’t really say fudge he said the queen mother of dirty words.

The entire time the guys were trying to work that spare loose the car was filling up with mosquitoes. “Great,” I thought, “We’re all going to end up with West Nile yet too.”

Finally it was free. Then the search began for the jack. Remember, the folks had only owned this vehicle for a few months so no one was familiar with it. Once it was time to jack up the car, Kelli and I decided to do our part and go stand outside in order to “lessen the load”. Since Mom was still wedged in the back seat her contribution was sliding across the set to the opposite side of the flat tire.

Lickity split Marc had the donut on and we threw the flat in back of Steve’s truck and were soon back on the road. But we needed to find another tire. We still had a three hour drive ahead of us and who knew if the spare would hold up.

It wasn’t long and we came upon the same Wal-Mart we had stopped at for a bathroom break earlier that morning. It was about quarter til five so we headed straight back to the Tire & Lube Department. Locked up tight. The sign said they were open until 7 p.m. but there was not a soul to be found.

While we were sitting there debating what to do we noticed a wrecker truck pull up, he obviously thought the same as us, if the sign says open til seven you stay open till seven. Marc decided to drive back around to the front entrance and go in and try to buy a tire. Kelli and I started working our phones Googling everything we could think of in search of an after hours tire dealer in the area. Why hadn’t we stopped that wrecker and asked for suggestions?

Marc of course parked us in the loading zone while he ran in to the store and we soon had a Wal-Mart cop sitting behind us with his lights flashing. He just sat there. Blinking. When somebody wondered outloud if we should maybe move the car I said, “What’s he going to do? Throw us in Wal-Mart jail?” So we continued to sit and wait and he continued to sit and flash his lights.

Kris and Steve drove up to see what the plan was and at the same time Kris and I spotted the wrecker truck trolling the parking lot. They decided to run him down and find out where we could buy a tire. It wasn’t long and they were back. Kris said that when they asked him for the names of any tire dealers in the area his response was, “You Google it?” Wow… why didn’t we think of that?

Finally Marc came back. They would sell him a tire and we could then drive across the parking lot to Sam’s Club and they would install it for us… Yay!… but… they didn’t have our particular type of tire in stock… Boo! But Sam’s might have it. So we headed to Sam’s.

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At least their Service Department was open. We were soon greeted by a young man wearing a “Biggie 49” stocking cap. We ladies sat in the car and watched as that stocking cap wagged from side to side indicating that the tire was beyond repair. Soon the guys disappeared with “Biggie 49” into the service department in search of a new tire. This is when my worry-warting began. The next day was Sunday, and we HAD to drive home on Sunday. My backup at work had flown to Florida that morning for a week’s vacation and there was nobody else able to do my job. If I didn’t show there would be lot of blank pages in Tuesday’s newspaper. On top of that, I was getting text messages from back home saying they were dealing with blizzard conditions so we had that to look forward to as well.

The guys were soon back… with no tire. Being the good Midwesterners that we were I saw Dad try to give “Biggie 49” some cash for all his trouble but the stocking cap wagged back and forth once again. He wouldn’t take the money but suggested we go a few miles down the road to a Dodge dealership that just might have our magical tire on hand.

We soon found the dealership, which, praise the Lord, was still open… but everyone in the Service Department was gone for the day. Marc did his best trying to get the salesmen to help us out but they seemed very unconcerned about our predicament. After a good 20 minutes, Marc returned muttering some more “Blankity, blankity, blanks!” under his breath.

“Fine. They won’t help us so we’ll just go to that Ford dealership across the way. They always have a big selection of tires no matter the brand.” Marc’s a Ford man by the way.

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The Ford people did prove to be more helpful. Meaning they actually tried to help. They, of course didn’t have our rare and magical tire either but they tracked one down. The only problem, it was a good 30 miles out of our way and everything depended on us finding an after hours tire guy willing to install it for us.

My worry-warting continued. As we sat waiting at the Ford dealership Kris poked her head in the car, “How are we doing in here?” she asked. “Is Kerri freaking out?” To which Mom and Kelli quickly and loudly responded with a “Yes!” A little too quickly and loudly in my opinion. “Where’s your Worry Doll I gave you?” Kris asked. “It’s stuck to the visor of my car so that I can rub it each time I set off for work in blizzard conditions.” I responded. Kris had given Kelli and I these little cornhusk like dolls you were supposed to rub whenever you were worried. Mine lives in my car to assure safe travels. All of a sudden Kelli reaches over and hands me something… it was her Worry Doll. “You obviously need this more than I do.” she said. “Fine,” I said, “I’ll take whatever help I can get.” Rub…rub…rub…

The guys were once again back in the car. The sales guy had given us an address and phone number for both our magical tire and an after hours repair guy. Steve had the info and knew the way so he took the lead. Marc soon began pestering us for the repair guy’s phone number. “Steve has it.” Kelli said. “Well call him and get it.” Marc said. “Steve know’s where he’s going Marc you just have to trust him.” Kelli said. It was at this moment that Mom starting singing “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” from the backseat. This broke the tension in the vehicle and we all got a good laugh. After a little bit Marc said “Kerri, did you text them for the phone number yet?” “What?” I said. “Did they send you the name and phone number yet?” he asked again. I stuttered around… “What do you mean? i never texted them. I thought we were trusting and obeying Steve to get us to where we need to go?” This struck Mom and Kelli as hysterical and they laughed so hard they couldn’t breath.

Marc explained that he needed the number because it was pointless to drive all this way on the spare tire if the guy couldn’t meet us there to do the repairs. So I texted Kris for the number and Marc gave him a call. Marc explained the situation and the guy agreed to meet us there. Whew! Something was finally going right. I relayed the message to Kris and Steve and when we were about four blocks from the tire store Marc’s phone rang and it was the guy saying he didn’t have the right tire after all… translation… “I really don’t feel like leaving my house, party or bar to come and change a tire for some losers from Nebraska.” Arrrgghhh!!!! Marc let some blankity-blankity-blanks go once again and I did some serious rubbing.

We regrouped in the tire store parking lot and decided to just head for home and see how far we got. But we needed to stop and find somewhere to eat along the way since it was now closing in on 9 p.m. Once again we followed Steve until he eventually turned off at a small strip mall area that housed a Mexican restaurant called “Mama Rosita’s” or something like that. Kris said they had never eaten at one but they were worried we would run out of restaurant opportunities if we drove any further since it was now almost 10 p.m.

We headed inside only to be greeted by very loud, Mexican music. Great, it was Mexican Karaoke night. They were singing and boot scooting all over the place. We asked for a table as far away from the music as possible. Suffice it to say, none of us were in a Karaoke type of mood.

While waiting for our food I noticed Kelli fiddling with her phone. Soon she asked me how many miles I thought we had driven since changing the tire. “I don’t know. Why?” “Well, I just Googled “How many miles can you drive on a donut tire?” “And…” “What did it say?” I asked. She just sat there. “What did it say Kelli, I can take it.” “It said 80.” she replied meekly. “80!! 80?? We’ve already driven double that and still have like 200 more miles to go!!” I reached for Kelli’s Worry Doll and started rubbing away. “It does suggest that we try to ‘lighten the load’ in any way possible.” she said with a weird look on her face. “You’re not suggesting you and I cram into the tiny back seat of Kris and Steve’s pickup.” I said. “Well, the Girls would be considerably lighter…” she trailed off. Rub, rub, rub. Speaking of the Girls, they were in no mood for Mexican food so they ordered the standard chicken fingers off the kids menu. All of our food left much to be desired and to add insult to inury this was placed on the table…

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FANCY TOMATO KETCHUP!! SERIOUSLY!!?? They didn’t even try to disguise it in a Heinz bottle. That was the last straw, the absolute last straw. We all finished up our crappy Mexican food and Kelli and I crammed ourselves into the back of Kris and Steve’s pickup for the long ride home. For the first 40 minutes we were constantly checking our rearview mirrors for the Durango’s headlights but soon started to relax when we didn’t see them pull off the road. We had to stop for one bathroom break and some gas but managed to limp back to Leander on our donut.

The next morning Dad and Marc were up with the sun and headed to a tire dealer and lo and behold, they stocked the elusive, magical tire that we needed. Soon we were loaded back up and on the road headed home. Now all I had to worry about was the blizzard… rub, rub, rub…

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