Monday, April 16, 2007

Were the Dawsons bigger in Texas?

The last family vacation we took with all four of us was to San Antonio, Texas.

This was another vacation centered around Dad's annual training commitment to the Army Reserve. This time around, Dad was assigned to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. This was also the opportunity for the Dawsons to invade visit Texas. Dad had visited once already (Fort Hood, TX), but "the girls" hadn't.

This invasion happened in the summer of 1980, with Ruthi ready to go into high school as a sophomore, and me preparing for sixth grade (not sure what that meant exactly other than annoying others).

Of course, it was a road trip. Dad didn't ever want to pay for the whole family to FLY down there, so we drove.

Yep. Two adults, one teenager, one tween-ager, all in one four-door 1978 Matador. What were my parents THINKING??? (Besides the fact that we didn't take that many vacations for a REASON...)

One rule of the road when we drove on vacation - we had to stop by 6 PM or so and find a hotel. Before 6 PM rolled around, though...we were STUCK in the car with each other for hours upon hours.

Interesting memories:

  • The continuation of "You're On My Side"...a.k.a. invasion of personal space. Two growing girls in the back of a late '70s American Motors product usually means you're going to hear this cry AT LEAST once a day.
  • The front of the car had bucket seats that reclined. There are all kinds of wonderful things one can do when you're a resident of the back seat and you wish to torment those who sit in the front.
    • You can insert your legs in the space between the two front seats. Cross them neatly at the ankle, and make sure the socks you're wearing are at least two days old and sweaty. Alternate "sharing the scent" between the driver and front seat passenger. Trust me, they'll thank you for it later.
    • You can also brace your feet behind one of the bucket seats and push. Hours of fun...especially when Mom and/or Dad scream, "Knock it the hell off or I'll leave you at that watermelon stand in Arkadelphia!"
  • By the way, just so you know...when you have a student driver in the family, the WORST time to have them practice is on a freeway during rush hour. My mom used my magic markers and one of my sheets of paper to make a "student driver" sign. Ruth lasted about 15 minutes before we had to pull over - Mom was freaking out.
But we did get to Texas without killing each other. (Yeah, I was shocked too.)

When we got to San Antonio, we stayed at a campground outside of town. We rented a nice trailer from an Air Force colonel. It was pretty huge as far as trailers go, and Ruthi and I even had our own "room". It made me think of a pod on a spaceship or something. We each had our own bed, and even a little portable TV to watch. Mom and Dad's bed converted from the dinette area. We even had our own bathroom! This was living for a housecat like me, but to be honest...I actually went outside once in a while to swim. (I know, this doesn't fit with the image of anyone who actually knows me, but hey...)

San Antonio was lots of fun. While Dad toiled at Fort Sam for "Uncle Sam", the three "ladies" went sight-seeing.

One day, we explored downtown San Antonio and the Paseo Del Rio (Riverwalk). There were many cool sidewalk cafes and shops. It was picture perfect...the river was an emerald green that was not to be believed. I remember stopping at an Italian restaurant, and Ruthi and I had hot naked spaghetti (garlic butter, parmesan cheese).

That same day, I remember two bums in a park tried to give me their pet pigeon to hold, and it pooped all over me. Maybe that's where the whole "Sudiegirl is attractive to homeless men" thing started. All I know is that I was not thrilled at pigeon poop, even from a place as exotic as San Antonio. We rode double decker buses too, and went to a brewery and some museums.

Dad got to come along in the evenings. One night, we all went to the Riverwalk for dinner and such. Back then, Ruthi didn't like Mexican food all that much so whenever we ate Mexican, Ruthi ate...a hamburger. I discovered that in San Antonio, they put CHICKEN in tacos! This blew my little 11-year-old mind, so that's what I ordered wherever we went.

We did go to a talent show at the theater on the river (can't remember its exact name, but the stage was on one side and the seats were on the other). They were having some kind of city-wide talent show that night, and I think the contestants were mostly teenagers or younger kids. It was fun to see them, and some kid named Ricky apparently brought his WHOLE family and several busloads of friends, because when he came out it was just one big ROAR of applause and cries of "Ricky!". We cheered for Ricky too just for our own safety if nothing else. (Oh, and Dad got free beer because he cheered the loudest. Lucky stiff...)

One thing they had on the San Antonio Riverwalk was the opportunity to reserve "party barges" (f0r lack of a better phrase).

During the talent show, this party barge would come through at regular intervals, complete with mariachi band. Everything stopped on stage while the barge floated by (out of respect, I'd wager). Once the boat went past, they'd start again. The leader of the mariachi band apparently had a bit too much to drink in the course of the evening, because his performing gained more flourish each time he passed by the theater. I don't know which show was better, to be honest.

Other memories of San Antonio:

  • I saw my first real Georgia O'Keefe painting there. I also snuck under the velvet rope and touched it. Georgia O'Keefe has always been one of my favorite artists, and I swear I felt a little smidge of electricity when I touched the painting.
  • We went to the zoo as a family, and Mom chewed out a man who was ready to assault an ostrich or some big bird with a glass soda bottle. Why? Because his little "angelic" boy was poking the bird with a stick, and the bird fought back and pinched the little boy for doing so.
  • Ruthi refused to eat Mexican food. (Not sure why, but hey...) At any rate, we went to a restaurant that boasted "the fastest kid goat butcher in San Antonio". They were very serious about their food. When Ruthi asked if they had hamburgers, the waiter was very incensed...he pointed out the window and said, "McDonalds is across the street." I ordered chicken tacos...I didn't want to go to McDonalds.
  • Our family fell in love with the Lone Star Beer commercials and the "armadillo".
    • Our favorite commercial of all time was the one where a cop stops this car with a man and a woman inside. He warns them about the armadillo that somehow KNOWS when a car has Lone Star Beer in the trunk. The (male) driver blows him off, saying, "I know all about the armadillo". Then you got a few seconds of the announcer talking about Lone Star Beer, and THEN they go back to the same car...but it's mauled beyond description yet still drivable. All you hear is the woman in the car haranguing her husband, saying, "I know ALL ABOUT THE ARMADILLO! I know ALL ABOUT THE ARMADILLO!" Classic stuff.
  • We toured the breweries, the Spanish governor's mansion, and the Alamo.
Finally, we had to bid TX "adieu", so we traveled back home. We went through the Ozarks. The big hit? Silver Dollar City, or as I like to call it, "Hilbilly Heaven".

I'd never been to Silver Dollar City before, and I'm proud to say that the urge has never returned since that fateful day. I know we dressed up for one of those old-timey tintype photos. We also rode some indoor roller-coaster called "Fire in the Hole". The finale of the ride was that the roller-coaster would DROP while a voice from a speaker screamed, "FIRE IN THE HOLE!!!"

"Fire in the Hole" profoundly affected my mother, but not for the reason you might think.

You see, on long car rides like this, my mother could get a bit snippy and find things to bark about. The only time we got peace was when she fell asleep in the front seat of the car. However, then she'd SNORE. Not a ladylike snore either...we're talkin' some SERIOUS, hard-core snoring. She could put buzzsaws to shame. Anyway...

The day after our Silver Dollar City visit, Ruthi and I decided we were tired of the constant haranguing. We joined forces (fairly rare), and decided to get the old lady back.

Let me set the scene...picture your typical mother of two little angels like Ruthi and I, zonked out in the front seat of a late '70's car. As mentioned, the front seats were bucket seats, and reclined with the pull of a little lever on the right hand side. It wasn't a gentle recline, either...more like a drop that could really spook a person.

Ruthi and I knew this.

So Mom's in the front seat, snoring away after giving us a good verbal thrashing. Ruthi and I had been plotting since our previous rest stop that was a good hour away from us by then, and we assumed our positions. I think I was in charge of the recline handle, and Ruthi was handling pulling the seat back for further impact.

On the count of three, I pulled the handle and Ruthi pulled the seat back while we both screamed "FIRE IN THE HOLE!" Mom screamed, and Dad almost went off the road.

Of course, we got in trouble. However, Dad couldn't keep a straight face while telling us that what we did was wrong. We kind of counted on that, actually...

But it was SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO worth much so, in fact, that we did it a couple more times. After a while, we didn't even have to pull the lever...we just yelled "Fire in the Hole" and Mom sat straight up.

So that was the last BIG trip we took together. As Ruthi and I got older, our schedules got busier and it was hard to schedule trips like this. But I think the Texas trip was my favorite, hands down.

Now, if I could only find some good chicken tacos...