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REALLY #notwhatiplanned

4 Jun

W-a-y back on Feb. 8, I left y’all hangin’ with a truncated/not-at-all-finished report written on Day 17 of my Epic Homeless Vagabond Couch-Surfing Across the USA Road Trip: #notwhatiplanned.

I didn’t plan to leave you hanging.

But if I did, I certainly didn’t plan leave you hanging for *that* long.

But if I did, I for sure didn’t plan to have to return to precisely the same place and time where I left off in order to (re)start telling the road trip tales, because surely there would be better places to start.

And I shurasshit didn’t think that after lo these 3 months that Baytown, TX would remain the crowned champion/King of All Road Trip Stories.

But here we are.

That is the truth and the truth must be told.

Last week, Zolie began telling our road tales by trying to answer the two most-common questions asked of us: What was your favorite thing? OR What was the best part? She listed her things/parts (namely, naps) and alluded to the fact that I (CZ) have “a pretty good answer for What [my] Favorite Story is,” and she was 100% correct.

The “Baytown, TX Day 3 Story” is, and forever will be, THE highlight of the road trip — at least for me; and maybe for you, too, Dear Reader. Of course, I realize it’s risky to start telling the road trip tales from the highest level of awesomeness (where do we go from here, right?), but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Ready?

Begin…

So, in case you didn’t know: Baytown, TX is a shit hole. There ain’t nothin’ there, ‘cept petroleum, petrochemicals, and refineries for and warehouse of same. It stinks, quite literally, and figuratively, too. But I was excited curious to check it out because it’s the hometown of one of my favorite people on this planet and his family still lives there (in the nice part of town, which consists of ~3 blocks, but their truly lovely home is right in the heart of the niceness and I was very pleasantly surprised to be able to pick a bag-load of delicious, apparently non-cancer-causing, blood oranges and grapefruits from their backyard trees and even snap an appealing photo of the sun as it set over the bay and refinery stacks, but I digress…)

IMG_3225IMG_3149In any event, with the exception of my friend’s parents’ home, Baytown is utterly lacking in apparent charms. So OF COURSE I stayed there for 4 days .

I already told you most of what happened during days 1 & 2 (review this post if you need a refresher). We may circle back to review the National Museum of Funeral History in greater detail in a future blog post, but for now we are going to focus exclusively on Baytown Day 3.

It began as so many days did during my road trip: With sub-freezing temperatures and me swaddled in 6-layers of cycling gear in an attempt to follow whatever nefarious orders my Coach had set out for me. As those who followed JustAdventures on Instagram know, I *really* enjoyed taking pictures of Avengelyne (my bike) in beautiful settings that we encountered during our rides.

There ain’t nothin’ beautiful in Baytown, but there IS stuff that is iconic. I figured that would have to work, and it did:

Avengelyne in Baytown, TXAvengelyne avec Petroleum Pipelines.

I LOVED how totally post-apocalyptic/dystopian this shot looked. I was so enamored with the scene that I decided to take a selfie here, as well, which I converted to B&W and posted on Instagram with the following caption:

IMG_3169Look, mom! I got some #Baytown #MickeyMouseEars!

An IG follower who has a much keener eye for detail than I do shared the following comment: Wait. The[re] is a pipeline for Alcohol? Where does it lead and why aren’t we there?

To which I replied: I think it may lead to [Don’s] Texas Bar, which is just off to the left of this picture. I don’t think they’d be very welcoming to a girl wearing a bright-pink #Rapha vest + a full @machinesforfreedom kit though, so I’ll just plan to head back on over there after I go on this afternoon’s boot-buyin’ adventure. Stay tuned!

And, in fact, I *did* go on a successful boot-buyin’ adventure and I *did* head back on over to Don’s Texas Bar.

And that is as far as my planning took me.

As soon as I actually pulled into the bar’s parking lot, however, it dawned on me that no matter WHAT I had planned, whatever would end up happening in Don’s Texas Bar would be #notwhatiplanned.

Mustafa among the pickupsObserve closely, if you will, the vehicles in this photo, from top-left to lower-right: American SUV, American Truck, American Truck, American Truck, German Sport Convertible.

Which one is mine?

Which one may not really belong?

That was the first sign that this may not be my typical West L.A. bar.

Next, that door you see to the right of my car? Nailed shut. The door ’round back behing the Don’s Texas Bar sign? Locked. There was another door tucked in among the trucks, but it looked shut-and-locked, too. I could hear music inside though, so I figured there had to be SOME way in. I pushed REAL HARD on that door (thinking it would be locked, too) and it immediately FLEW open and I stumbled in, dumbfounded and surprised.

Not as surprised as everyone else in there though. It was just like a scene out of an old-fashioned Western Movie where everyone sittin’ at the bar immediately stopped talking, turned to the door, and looked at me with eyes agog. You could almost hear them thinking: IT’S A GIRL!

Oh my. This was #notwhatiplanned.

There were 10 seats at the bar, making a 5×5 “L” shape. The two nearest to the door were unoccupied. Also unoccupied was the entire rest of the bar:

Don's Texas BarWell, now, *this* was awkward! Where’s a single gal supposed to sit? At a table all by myself, or take one of the rare (possibly coveted and/or heavily guarded) seats at the bar with 7 gentlemen and 1 very large lady?

Now it was my turn to stare agog. Think, CZ, think! What are you supposed to do in this situation? My mental machinery ground to a halt. I had no idea. I was stuck/stumped.

After what felt like many minutes a voice sharply hollered: “Lil’ missy? You kin jest g’wan ahead an’ sit there [points to the end stool]. Steve don’t come on Saturdays.”

Steve don’t come on Saturdays. There is so much awesome baked into that statement.

Oh! I said, Thanks!

As soon as I took my seat, however, a *new* dilemma presented itself: WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO ORDER?

Steve don’t come on Saturdays and they don’t have Belgians on tap, either. In fact, they don’t have ANYTHING on tap — That much is clear.

IPAs? I don’t think so.

Hefeweizen? Ha!

Um…. I stammered, Can I get a Bud?

Judging by the bar patrons’ continued stunned silence and the bartender’s raised eyebrow, I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t supposed to ask for this, but no brawl broke out and a cold beer IN A KOOZIE was, nevertheless, promptly placed in front of me.

Koozie KlassNow that’s classy: Beer served IN A KOOZIE! I think I may really like Don’s Texas Bar!

As much as I loved this beer presentation, however, I didn’t exactly feel comfortable here. As soon as the first sip hit my system, I thought: How quickly can I knock this thing back and GTFO without them getting offended?

I decided it wasn’t worth the risk. I would just practice some mindfulness meditation and bide my time and hope for the best. After about 6-7 rather uncomfortable minutes (and ~1/4 of the beer) one of the guys asked where I was from.

CALIFORNIA?!

What are you doing here?

How did you get here?

How long are you staying?

You DROVE here? BY YOURSELF? And you’re staying IN BAYTOWN FOR 4 DAYS?!ย  WHY?!

And contrary to my normal tendency to clam-up when confronted with a group of strangers, I shared the whole: #funemployment #roadtrip “bashed my head / retired from law / going back to school to become a doctor / still ride my bicycle all the time / traveling with my dog / staying with friends all around the country” story, by which time the entire bar was, once again, agog and I was (a) done with my beer and (b) comfortable with being able to leave on a high note.

Peace-out gentlemen, it’s been fun, my work here is done, and I have a good tale to tell.

But, no.

#notwhatiplanned

When I asked to pay my tab, the bartender just kinda laughed at me and pointed to these two white vegetable twist-tie thingys that now sat in front of my empty beer koozie.

What’s that? I asked

Dale and Al each bought you a beer. These are yours.

I don’t understand.

We use these twisties as markers. Someone buys you a drink. We give you one of these and you can trade it in for a drink when you’re ready.

My turn to be agog: You mean to tell me I have 2 more free beers to drink?!

That’d be the gist of it, yes.

#holymonkey #notwhatiplanned

I was a little quicker on the uptake this time, however, and I didn’t have anything planned for the rest of the afternoon, so, hey, why not? Free beer! If it’s free it’s for me!

By then I had remembered that Shiner Bock was a Texas beer that I enjoyed, so I ordered one of those.

The bartender gently let me know that they don’t carry Shiner Bock (I later learned that that’s an *AUSTIN* beer, not a “real” Texas beer — Austin is where all the crazy left-wing hippies hang out. No self-respectin’ Texan would ever order a Shiner Bock; you’re better off ordering a Bud…), but they did have some other kind of Texas bock and would I like that instead?

Sure! That sounds great!

At which point a deafening silence once again fell over the room.

After a beat, the guy to my left gently put his hand on my arm and drawled: Lil’ missy? You sure you wanna do that? That there bock’s pretty strong. Maybe you’d better have the lager instead? He used a question mark at the end of his sentence but he really wasn’t asking, he was clearly instructing.

Nah. That’s OK, I like bocks. I’m sure this will be great!

You sure now? [threatening undertone / bartender backing slowly away from us]

Yup. I’m sure. Thanks for the suggestion though! [false breeziness in my tone]

The bock got placed in a new koozie and handed to me like it was a recently unpinned grenade. I took a sip. The room held its collective breath. I smiled broadly (and genuinely): Damn, that’s a real good beer! I do believe I know what to do with my other marker now! Thank you, gentlemen! Cheers to you, Dale and Al, and all the rest of you, too! God bless Texas!

Whereupon I received my *first* marriage proposal of the night: Z! You really are something else! Come all the way from California to Baytown and you like [whatever-the-fuck / I can’t remember the brand] bock?! You are like a dream come true! I’m sure you’re taken, but if you’re not, will you marry me?

I politely declined his offer and fell into amiable conversation with pretty much all the fellas in the bar. Other than a potentially rough patch where things started to turn toward the political (I maneuvered us out of that), we all seemed to really enjoy each others’ TOTALLY ALIEN ways of life. They had lots of questions about California, and being a lawyer, and brain health, and rehabilitation protocols. I was enthralled by their ability to be so clearly HAPPY despite having never left their county (let alone the country) and I was truly impressed when one of them took me on a tour of some pipe-fitting operations. That stuff takes hard work and discipline!

I finished my third beer and was making to use the lady’s room before I paid my tab and skedaddled. I had been wearing a thin overcoat, which I unzipped and placed on the back of my bar stool as I stood and rounded my way toward the loo. I happened to be wearing this tshirt at the time:

BaconBaconAlthough our conversations had be quite wide-ranging, the topic of My Love for Bacon never came up. And, to be honest, I had actually forgotten that I was wearing this shirt in the first place and so I was kinda startled when Al shouted:

HEY Z! [long, pause] You know what?! [even longer pause while he eyed me up-and-down and gathered his thoughts…] You’re MADE LIKE BACON!

[I was rendered not only agog, but also flabbergasted and momentarily speechless]

Um. Uh. Gee, Al. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to take that…. Is that a compliment, or….?

What?! C’mon! HECK YEAH it’s a compliment! You know: …… you’re made like bacon….

And as he s-l-o-w-l-y uttered those last 4 italicized words he raised his eyebrows in a hubba-hubba manner, placed his hand up in the air, tomahawk-style, and then waggled his palm in a multiple-S-curve motion to indicate that I was, apparently, curvy/sinuous in the manner of a wavy piece of bacon.

MADE LIKE BACON!

BEST COMPLIMENT EVER!

BAYTOWN, TX #ftw!

And if *that* had been the end of this story, it would have been more than enough, but instead after I got back from the bathroom there were TWO MORE vegetable twist-tie drink markers waiting for me (WTF?!). And at some point I got *another* marriage proposal (from a guy who came in late and after everyone else explained to him who I was and why it was “OK” for me to be sitting in Steve’s seat). And then, even later, *another* guy offered to “kick his old lady” out of their trailer for me if I wanted to stay in Baytown longer.

And then there was the guy who was so enamored by my California-nativeness (he lived there for three years back in the 1950s) that he kept feeding quarters into the jukebox to play EVERY SINGLE SONG that had the word California in it and eventually I caved-in to his constant requests for a spin around the “dance floor.”

And somewhere in the middle of all that, it dawned on me that I maybe oughta return some of this warm hospitality by picking up a round for everyone, myself, although I was not at all sure how that would be received given the unwritten (and totally unknown by my) rules of Texas hospitality. Still, I thought it was important to try. After all, these dudes had already bought me FIVE beers and proposed marriage to me twice and offered me housing AND gave me the best compliment of my ENTIRE LIFE … the least I could do was buy ’em a drink.

Kim, I’d like to buy a round for everyone, how much would it be?

For everyone? That’s 8 people, but if you’re buying for the whole house, then you also get one for yourself for free, so … 9 drinks …. that’ll be …. [I quickly tallied it up myself: that’d be like ~$70 bucks, at least, in L.A., but this is Baytown, so probably it’ll be more like $40 or $50 — still more than I have budgeted for the day’s spend, but given all these great stories, it’s totally worth it….] …. that’ll be $17.50.

I quite literally spit my beer: $17.50?! For everything?!ย  DAMN! Maybe I will move into Jeff’s trailer! Texas is the best!

Baytown, TX: #notwhatiplanned and so much more than I ever could’ve dreamed.

Best Day Ever!

PS: In case you’re wondering (and/or worried about my liver), I wasn’t able to use all of my twist-tie markers. Don’s Texas Bar has a solution to that problem. They just write your unclaimed makers on the white board. Although this photo shows me (Z) with only “1,” by the time I left, it was at “2.” So the next time I’m in Baytown, I know that I’ve got 2 bocks waiting for me.

Baytown Bar Tab/Tally

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