6/15/2009

Summer Road Trips : Blanco,Tx



Fields of lavender near Blanco, Texas (34 miles south west of Austin in the Texas hill country). The Blanco Lavender Festival, which has changed dates while attempting to catch the lavender actually blooming, was June 13 this year.


The Stagecoach Inn in Salado, Texas

I took my mom to the Blanco Lavender Festival this past weekend, and the story of our adventure proves there is no dull moment, even for a pair of little old ladies, which we are. Sure, it seemed like the quintessential female bonding experience, and in many ways, it was. That stuff just never comes in the form you expect it.
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We started out early Saturday morning and were on the road by 8 am. Normally it's about 4 hours to Austin, driving slow (and I don't), so I figured we'd be there before it got too hot this fine June day. Weather forecasters predicted near 100 degree temps in central Texas......My first mistake was to be tuning the radio dials as I sailed past the 35E vs 35W highway split, and instead of turning onto 35W and leaving DFW through Ft Worth (about 30 miles less distance, and countless hours of traffic, stress and stomach lining less than taking the 35E trough Dallas route). As we approached the downtown Dallas 35 and 20 interchange, we saw that the entire freeway was shut down - on a Saturday morning? Took an off-ramp into south Dallas to avoid sitting on the freeway for hours (my motto has always been, "better to be lost and driving aimlessly for hours, than sitting still for hours") and saw that the cause of the backup was a jack-knifed tractor trailer on the on-ramp to 20, which caused the police to shut down all lanes going anywhere, to clear it. Drove aimlessly through south Dallas for awhile - fortunately all the pimps, whinos, drug dealers and street grifters were safely asleep this early in the morning - and eventually got back on the freeway, heading south.
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By 11 am, we were in Salado ( in spite of heavy traffic from the Belton/Temple area, going southward, as we traced our journey down 35 towards Austin) and I was feeling so cocky I thought there was plenty of time to pull over and have lunch at the Stagecoach Inn in Salado. Mom was a little unsure if we could spare the time, but the food was so tasty and the atmosphere so charming, cool and relaxing, we were later glad that we did. Mom regaled me with stories of her college days at Baylor, where she used to sneak out of her room to eat at the Stagecoach Inn, because she didn't like the dorm food. I think it was the naughtiest thing she ever did. Our lunch break was serendipitously the most fun we had, all day. Because we beat the noontime rush, we were back on the road by 11:45, so temptingly close, and yet, so far. Temperature was starting to climb as we headed south, into the high 90's.
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We had noticed, as we were driving, what seemed like an awful lot of motorcyclists on the road this morning. I have friends who are Harley enthusiasts, and they ride with a club that toodles around back country roads on Saturday mornings. As we drew closer to Austin, we noticed more and more cyclists, and these folk didn't have quite the same "look" to them as my neighbors (he is a dentist, she is a graphic artist - suburban Yupsters). Still I didn't really mind - we can all share the road, I thought charitably- but as we drove through Georgetown, the traffic slowed to a crawl. Now I know Austin is not the charming little town it once was, and traffic is frequently a nightmare. I had carefully avoided weekday rush hour or weekend "get out of town" traffic - this was a Saturday morning, after all. Surely the number of folk on the road wouldn't be THAT bad. Well, it turns out, (I learned this as I tuned the radio once again, this time to an Austin NPR station), this very day and place was home to "the largest motorcycle rally in all of Texas", comprised of members of the Republic of Texas (check out their website someday!) motorcycle "club". By this point the highway was overwhelmed with folks on their motorcycles, coming from all over the state, all weaving in and out of traffic. Traffic made the road a virtual parking lot as we attempted to drive through downtown Austin. Music was blaring, folks were shouting, giving each other the finger- my mother was visibly tense from the scariness ( to a little old lady) of it all. As soon as you would try to steer around the bikers, one would cut in front of you and you had to slam on your brakes to avoid running into him. Blanco is only 34 miles southwest of Austin. We didn't get there till 3 pm.

By this point, the temperature had climbed to 104 (on my car thermometer that measures outside air temp). Our tempers were short; mine from all the stop and go traffic, my mom's from the unexpected frisson from being in close proximity to thousands of rough looking bikers wearing leather, with scraggly beards, tattoos, etc. It turns out that many of the motorcycle enthusiasts decided to take in the Blanco Lavender Festival as well, perhaps on their way to their ROT rally. Maybe the old lady riding on the back of the bike wouldn't stop her whining till her man placated her with some arts & crafts, ice cream and lavender sachets. Whatever the reason, it was an unusually diverse group of folk taking in the flowers, food, arts & crafts at this festival. Popularity for this little festival has grown to the point that there was no parking for miles. All the lavender had already been picked by the time we arrived. The crowd was filled with little old ladies, like ourselves, wearing purple dresses and big straw hats, and also the leather halter top wearing wrinkled old biker broads with sagging boobs and tattoos. Their men sat impatiently on their bikes parked on the square, revving them constantly so that no one could even hear the country music being played at the festival. The exhaust from all those bikes just added to the heat and grit being blown around. Together, we all shopped the festival for tchotchkies and food. Mom and I sampled some lavender lemonade, which was quite tasty. (Most booths had run out of lavender ice cream, hours before.) It was so hot, and so crowded, however, it dampened our enthusiasm for shopping. (Support the arts!) We faded quickly in the heat and started back to our car. The few blocks away that we had parked had seemed like nothing on our way in, but on our way out, stretched for miles. The sun poured down on us mercilessly; I felt like someone who was in the French Foreign Legion trudging through the desert. Fortunately, just as mom was about to drop into the dust, a little old farmer on a golf cart, wearing overalls and a straw cowboy hat, showed up and offered us a ride to our car. Just in the nick of time.


We decided to take a different route on our way home. After careful consideration and some studying of the map, we chose highway 281 through the Texas hill country. It proved to be an excellent idea- full of beautiful scenery, two full wide lanes, not heavily trafficked, where I could comfortably drive my usual 80-90 mpr with no cops to slow us down. I vowed to never head south again but on this particular road. My mother discovered, to her dismay, that the chocolate bars she had earlier crammed into her purse had melted into a gooey mess all over her good handbag. This fact just made the day seem like a near total failure. We got quiet and listened to the radio for awile as we drove. That optical illusion of water puddles appeared on the road, when it shimmers in the heat and sun. By now the number of bikers on the highway had diminished. At one point, late in the day, we saw a lone biker come flying south towards Austin. My mom shouted out at him, "Buddy , you are late for the party ! " as she waved her fist out the car window.

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We concluded our trip with a stop in Clifton, which only took us 2 hours to get to from Blanco, in order to visit my dad who is in a nursing home there. My parents have been divorced now for 30 years, so I dropped mom off on the old timey downtown main drag of Clifton so she could kill time shopping while I saw my dad. In all the trips I've made to that town the past several years, I have never taken the time to stop and explore it - just there and back , check "visit dad" off my list of of the many things to do in my life. Leave it to my mom to find all these adorable art galleries, cute shops, and a really great little cafe, the White Horse Station, where we ate dinner before heading home. Thelma and Louise we are not.

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We got home late, around 10:30 pm. All in all, it was an exhausting, but interesting, day. I discovered, much like Dorothy in the "Wizard of Oz", that I have more lavender growing in my own backyard than there was at the Blanco Lavender Fest, and maybe don't really need to venture that far from home for it, ever again. Certainly not if it coincides with the Republic of Texas motorcycle rally, or a day forecast to be anywhere near 100 degrees.




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