Grey Misty Way
It is 6 am on the morning of Pax and here I sit in my hotel room dressed and ready for the con and trying to knock out my routine early morning blog post. Right now my plan is to try and be at the convention center around 9 am because I assume at least on the first day there will be lines to get in. This also gives me time to iron out where I will park and such, and to find some serious caffeine on the way there. The hotel I am staying in offers a free hot breakfast each morning, so I am most definitely going to partake of that. Yesterday was a pretty trippy day as far as travel days go. We left the house around 7 am and ended up pulling into our hotel shortly after 8 pm. So while the actual drive time was only around 8 hours of that… we meandered our way, had dinner with friends and wound up here about thirteen hours after we began our journey.
As far as travel days go yesterday was a dreary one. From the moment we left the Tulsa Metro area we were hounded by light precipitation and walls of grey clouds. When we entered into Texas this shifted over into a wall of mesmerizing rain and a constant struggle to keep the windows defogged. At this point I am simply older than I used to be, and can only really drive for about two hours at a time before needing to stretch my legs. Our first stop was on the far side of the Tulsa metro area in Okmulgee, the second at a tiny casino gas station near Atoka, and the third was in McKinney Texas at their Half Priced Books. My wife and I have a love affair with that store and it is like a siren calling to us whenever we see one. We opted to take a break, eat some lunch and maybe just maybe we would miss the noon traffic in the Dallas metro area. It was shortly after lunch that I had the surreal experience of being retweeted by the Texas Tourism bureau along with Half Priced Books based on a comment I had made. Note the photos are actually from the Austin store… not the McKinney store. It had probably the best selection of games I have seen in a HBP be they video, board or pen and paper.
The Power of Google Navigation
For the most part our plan worked and we did not encounter significant traffic until a stretch of road between Waco and Temple Texas. After making another pit stop in Waco to stretch our legs, we noticed google maps was trying to route us down a different path on the outskirts of temple. Sure enough the traffic had ground to an absolute halt, and the navigation showed our current route in a deep red color indicating slowdown. It directed us off to a shoulder… and other than the fact that Texas construction is completely confusing we would have cut around the entire accident. For the longest time I have complained that Oklahoma is in a constant state of construction… but at least ours looks like active construction. When there are five foot tall weeds growing among the concrete elements and the sandbags holding up your temporary signs are covered in grass… something tells me it has been like that for far too long.
This was the story of Central Texas… constant construction with little rhyme or reason as to why. I would hate to live in that area because it seemed like every other bridge was “out” with two vehicles stacked on top of it. Now I swear by Google Navigation however because in each case of a wreck or slowdown it provided us an alternate route that pretty much cut us directly around what was going on. We got into Austin around 6pm which was just about perfect considering we were meeting friends for dinner. The place they suggested was Stiles Switch a BBQ joint on North Lamar. The one standout from traditional BBQ fare was the fact that they served their chopped brisket in an almost meaty gravy, ladling it out into bowls instead of onto the plate directly. They also had something that they called a Frito Texas Pie, where they essentially made the standard Frito Chilli Pie but with this chopped brisket instead. The food was amazing and the corn caserole and mac and cheese that I had as sides were to die for. The only slight disappointment was the “spicy sausage” mostly because I didn’t consider it all that spicy… and it was a beef sausage which I have never been a huge fan of. I would most definitely stop there again if we were going through Austin for some reason.
Monument to Excess
During our trip we kept seeing these billboards with a cute animal character on them saying “Buc-ee’s” was only X number of miles away with a slogan of some sort attached to each. After about the fifth of these we hit the phone and Wikipedia and looked the place up. According to wikipedia… “The New Braunfels travel center is the largest convenience store in the world at 68,000 square feet. The store features 120 fuel pumps (60 at construction, 60 more added in late 2013), 83 toilets, 31 cash registers, 4 Icee machines, 80 fountain dispensers”. After reading the description we checked our route to see if we would in fact be going through New Braunfels… and it turned out that it was roughly the halfway point between Austin and San Antonio… so last night as we passed it we stopped. The description cannot do justice to the insanity of this place, and I attempted to take photos to show off the scale… but it is just unimaginable in person.
The convenience store is larger than most grocery stores, and has this “Bass Pro Shops of Convenience Stores” feel too it. Inside they have everything you could imagine from what looked to be over twenty flavors of beef jerky, to an entire wall of every candy you could imagine, to many freshly prepared foods like brisket sandwiches sliced in front of you. All the while I am roaming around this place I am thinking to myself.. how much money are they losing on this building. There is no way they can ever have even half of the bays full of cars gasing up, not to mention the size of the storage tanks… or the cost to fill them. This is easily the least practical store I have ever seen in my life, and while it is awesome that something this insane exists… it also seems like the sort of place that could bankrupt your entire company. There what felt like a couple dozen employees working there, most of which sitting idle waiting on customers. I am guessing the novelty has worn off.
I was extremely slow getting our hotel reservations for Pax South. Early on when I looked I noticed that everything around the riverwalk area was pure madness. There was no way I was going to pay $150-200 a night especially if I had access to a vehicle. So in early January I spent an afternoon looking at various hotels and their ratings and finally settled on a Country Inn and Suites out by the airport. For normal folks the airport noise might bother them… but since we live in the approach path for Tulsa International… we are used to it… in fact I find it a slight bit comforting. Everything I had seen online made it seem like the place was going to be awesome… free wifi, breakfast, seperate sitting room, shuttle bus that my wife could abuse during the day… but man it has turned out to be so much nicer than I expected. The photos just do not do it justice, because essentially we have two rooms one with a couch, desk, television, chair, and bar with a fridge and microwave. Then we have a second room that is our bed, dresser and closet, giving a kind of neat division of space and allowed me to get up and shower this morning without waking up my wife.
So while I am about six miles from the convention center… I feel like it is well worth it. When we got checked in last night we dropped off our stuff and went roaming around looking for a grocery store or something like a Wal-mart. At the front desk… they had cookies… warm gooey doubletree style cookies. Granted we have only stayed one night but I think we knocked it out of the park on the accommodations. I am just about to wrap up this post and check out the hot breakfast, and hopefully it will live up to being just as good as the other aspects have been. Last night we managed to find an HEB which is a chain we do not have in Oklahoma. If the customers were any indication I am guessing we are near a fairly high rent area… which is strange to me… considering in Tulsa our airport is essentially nestled in the slums. Being from Oklahoma I still cannot get used to seeing Wine in a grocery store… but for the rest of the country that is likely a pretty standard sight. I will admit right now I am delaying wrapping things up because I am more than a bit nervous. Hoping this convention goes extremely well and I meet a lot of cool people. Stay tuned for some convention news tonight!