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Randy's Ramblings: Trip down South cures ramblin' fever

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opinion River Falls, 54022
Hudson Star Observer
715-386-9891 customer support
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

I'm recently back from a solo road trip to Texas.

I needed some time off and wanted to visit my daughter in Galveston. My sweetheart couldn't make the journey because of work and other obligations.

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Her limit on car rides is about four hours, the time it takes to get to the family farm in Green Lake County. Consequently, I hadn't been on a real road trip in quite a while, and the open highway beckoned.

I left I-35 at Kansas City and took Hwy. 71 down the western side of Missouri. My first day's destination was Muskogee, Okla.

To get acculturated, I played a Merle Haggard album with "Okie from Muskogee" on it during the last hour of the drive.

I found myself in the Caucasian minority at the Days Inn I checked into. Not that it was problem. The African-American desk clerk was friendly and the other guests didn't seem mind my color.

It's good to be in the minority sometimes -- to see how that feels. I just wasn't expecting it to be the case in Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA, "a place where even squares can have a ball."

I walked to the Chavas Mexican Restaurant a block away for a dinner of authentic flaming fajitas.

As another songwriter from northern Minnesota wrote, "The times they are a changin'."

Nevertheless, they do "still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse" in Muskogee. And what a courthouse it is. It's no wonder that Haggard included the grand Greek Revival temple of justice in his song.

The next day, I traveled the Indian Nation Turnpike through the rolling grassy plains of eastern Oklahoma to Texas.

I saw the real East Texas by getting off the interstate and taking state highways through exotic cities like Paris, Nacogdoches and Lufkin on the way to Galveston Island.

An hour north of Houston, I discovered why Texans talk about rainstorms like they're some big deal. The tropical downpour came in blinding sheets, prompting me to pull to the side at the first wide spot in the highway, and hope that the run-off didn't wash me away.

Galveston prides itself as a mini-New Orleans.

It has its own Mardi Gras celebration complete with a year-round Mardi Gras arch over a street in The Strand, the old downtown. My first-born tells me the revelry rivals that of the Big Easy, too.

Olivia has taken to life on the island, with its heat-induced, slow-motion pace, devil-may-care attitude, weathered mansions and shotgun-house slums.

In true wannabe fashion, Galveston had its own Hurricane Ike in 2008. The storm destroyed or damaged countless homes and did a reported $2.2 billion worth of damage to the island's port, infrastructure and University of Texas hospital.

Like New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, parts of Galveston are still badly damaged. The rebuilding continues.

Olivia suggested that I write something about Galveston. Something nice, she added with a wince.

The unmowed cemetery with aboveground crypts is just another attempt to imitate New Orleans, she said. The unlit neighborhoods, pothole-infested streets and carjackings don't bother her. You have to know when and where it's safe to go.

The island does have its appeal.

The palm tree lined Broadway Avenue and its mossy mansions; the beaches, hotels and restaurants of Seawall Drive and The Strand historic district with its canopied and elevated sidewalks are well worth the trip.

My visit to an off-shore drilling museum on an old oil platform was timely. It was interesting to see all the equipment and learn how oil is pumped from beneath the Gulf floor.

The realization that there are few thousand holes in the floor unsettled me. There'll be more blowouts, I suspect.

And despite Galveston's reputation for waywardness, a young Mexican-American running a cash register at the Kroger's supermarket brought my wallet to the service counter when I left it behind. Not a dollar or card was missing.

I was near tears when I thanked the clerk for the act and gave him a modest cash reward that he hesitated to accept.

"God bless you," I said to him, to which he replied, "God bless you, sir."

I crisscrossed Louisiana on my way to the Civil War battlefield at Vicksburg, Miss., on the way home. I saw my first cotton fields and dozens of plant nurseries that supply northern big box stores with shrubs and seedlings each spring.

I nearly melted in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Oakdale, La. The temperature was around 95 and the heat index topped 110.

I visited the impressive monument to Wisconsin soldiers who served at Vicksburg; then followed Johnny and June Carter Cash to "Jackson," Miss.

Graceland, Elvis Presley's home in Memphis, Tenn., and the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum at Springfield, Ill., do an excellent job of chronicling the lives of the two American heroes. There are similarities in their stories, strangely enough. Both rose from humble origins, died sadly too soon and are still loved by millions.

People sometimes talk like the South is the place to be with its mild winters, low taxes and low wages.

But my rambling gave me a renewed appreciation for Wisconsin and my adopted hometown of Hudson.

I didn't see any place more beautiful than here. And you get what you pay for when it comes to infrastructure and services.

Then there's life-sucking heat and humidity down there. A Wisconsin winter doesn't seem as bad to me after sampling a Texas summer.

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Randy Hanson
Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.
(715) 426-1066
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