Trees, towns, flowers
Things we notice en route to and from Houston.
During the winter, the trees are bare, but in a way they're more beautiful. Craggy, gnarly, lightning-bolt-shaped branches straight out of horror movies. Arthritic wicked-witch hands that Tim Burton planted in groves, zombie hands poking through the soil under gravestones, giant Nosferatu claws pushing up the lid of the coffin. Soon they'll be covered with leaves and the waving green will soften their shape.
The main roads now bypass around most small towns. Still, you can see the town only an access road away, a strip of buildings, commercial and residential, and you can read the signs. Every small town you drive through or around has some inevitable signs. Almost anywhere in the southern US, you can pretty much count on
The Blue Bonnets and Indian Paintbrush wildflowers come out at the end of March. Any road from Austin east is just covered with them on the side of the road. The profusion is quite surprising to a newcomer. Little patches, big patches. Entire hillsides sometimes. A few seeds take hold and spread over the years and you have a patch.
They do represent something of a road hazard. One, people gawk at them and pay much less attention to their driving than they ought to. Two, people pull off the road anywhere the gawking is good and take pictures. So the shoulder is littered with SUVs in addition to the millions of flowers.
The Texas Hill Country peters out as one drives east from Austin toward Houston. About thirty miles short of Houston, it ends completely and the land is flat, flat, flat. It may not be perfectly level, though. It might tilt slightly to the southeast, descending from Austin, at about four hundred feet, through Houston, finally reaching six feet above sea level at Galveston island a hundred miles further on. But you could roll a billiard ball across it without encountering much resistance from irregularities.
Overpasses rise from the plain twenty or thirty feet, and from the top of them one has a wonderful view of the landscape. The only relief you can see to the east is other overpass humps.
Somewhere east of the Brazos river, there is a road sign for a town: Prairie View. Rarely have I seen such an irony-free sign.
A THREE HAT KIND OF PLACE
On the way back, we stopped for dinner at a solid, homey looking place in Bastrop, the Texas Grill. This is very much a family restaurant. We were there right at the end of prime dinner hour, and most of the groups were clearly extended families from nearby ranches and farms out for a Sunday supper. And you could tell it was an informal place. Many of the men left their hats on. When I hopped out to look at the menu, I noticed three men at tables with their hats still on, and it seemed to me that this is a measurement that one might use to gauge the informality and true Texas hominess of an eating establishment.
Sure enough, the waitress treated us like long lost cousins or new friends, and the service and food were terrific. The specialty of the house is chicken-fried steak. For those of you who have not partaken of this Western delicacy, you take a steak of some description, pound it out flat and thin, batter it up, and fry it. The outside should be hot and crisp, the inside hot and tender. Then you cover it with white chicken gravy which, if it's any good, is rich, thick, savory, a little salty. Well, this one was outstanding, the best we've had since moving to Texas. So here's the capsule restaurant review.
Texas Grill, Rt 71, Bastrop, TX
Friendly family style restaurant with solid,
good food and some very good items.
One dollar sign ($) for very reasonable prices.
Four stars (****) for service.
Three and a half stars (***.5) for food:
chicken-fried steak positively outstanding,
french fries weak.
Three hats (@@@) for atmosphere.
Rick Bob says, Check it out.