The Great Southern Escapade, Day 6: Lord Buc-ee smiles over a family reunion

The next few entries of The Great Southern Escapade will follow our Christmas weekend in Houston. We spent most of the time relaxing with family, so you won’t read about anything as grand or adventurous as traipsing drunk up and down the streets of New Orleans or getting caught in the blinding rain while drive through Virginia. But still, read along, won’t you?

Becca and I woke up at about 7:00 in the morning on Christmas Eve to a sunny sky over New Orleans. We got ourselves motivated quickly and went over to Cafe du Monde for another round of beignets and coffee. We sat and listened to the band in front of the cafe play for a bit, taking in our last helping of concentrated NOLA culture for a while. The drive to Houston wouldn’t be long, and there was no bad weather in the forecast, but we felt we needed all of the good spirits with us as we headed west.

We went back to the hotel to pack up, and at around 9:00 we were on our way to Texas. For lunch we stopped at the original Don’s Seafood in Lafayette, LA. Lafayette is a major hub of the Cajun and Creole population in Louisiana, so it only seemed right to stop and have some grub there. Could we have found a more local place instead of a chain? Sure. But it was the original Don’s, and the beignets were starting to wear off. No regrets, though: The charbroiled oysters were phenomenal with the grated Romano cheese and garlic butter, as were the gumbo and crawfish bisque.

After lunch, we got back on I-10 and crossed into the great state of Texas. You can almost feel the bigness hit you when you cross the border. The widest part of the interstate passes through Texas, as we noted when we passed the sign for Exit 880, the easternmost exit in the state. I’d never seen an exit number that high, and the sight of it made me realize that we’d made it halfway across the country. We weren’t as far from Brooklyn as we could get, but it was further than we’d ever been before, at least together.

As we passed through Beaumont, we saw the cheapest gas we’d seen all week: $2.55 at a H-E-B. But a king would soon shatter that record. For our friend Steph from San Antonio had told us tales of a mystical land called Buc-ees, a truck stop in Baytown, which sold everything from gas to giant Dr. Peppers to brisket sandwiches to throw pillows, coats, and cowboy hats. Becca and I hail from the Northeast, home of Wawa, king of truck stops. But friends, Wawa holds no candle to Buc-ees. Wawa quivers before Buc-ees. We must all kneel and pray before Buc-ees. Behold: Your new god.

O rex mi, desere me. Longe enim profectus sum ut acciperem benedictionem tuam. Pasce me, et indue me, et confitebor nomini tuo, quocumque ambulo. Amen.

It’s been a while since I took Latin, but I think Google Translate did that right. Anyway, look at that absolute unit. The Buc-ees Beaver greeted us with outstretched arms, and as we walked into their marvelous institution, we became overwhelmed. The amount of options! Snacks, drinks, sandwiches, groceries, home goods, Texas-themed clothes and tchotchkes! It’s almost easier to answer what you can’t find at Buc-ees over what you can. For example: You can’t find guns. You can’t find adult toys. You can’t find, uh, nukes. But you can find pretty much everything else.

We stocked up on plenty of snacks for the road – jerky, slushies, candy, praline pecans – and headed over to the gas pumps. I don’t know how they made this possible. Maybe it’s because they offer so many other goods that they don’t depend as much on gas to make a profit. Maybe they’ve worked dark magic at the altar of their beaver god. But folks, unleaded regular fuel at Buc-ees on December 24, 2021 was a paltry $2.16 per gallon.

Two dollars and sixteen cents. Do you remember when we all balked at that price for a gallon of gas? Now we praise whatever god we can when we don’t have to shell out more than three bucks.

After our final marveling at the grandeur of the Buc-ees, we drove forty minutes west to Houston, where we pulled into the apartment complex of Becca’s sister. They live right near NRG Stadium, and I had to give a shoutout to the Houston Texans, who on Christmas weekend had a rough 3-11 record. (The Texans got their last win of the season while we were in town, on Sunday 12/26 against the Chargers. I’d like to think that we brought them good vibes.)

Look at this happy family reunion, by the way. Of course, I blocked out our niece’s face in order to protect the children.

Remember, Becca hadn’t seen her sister or niece for five years. I’d never met either of them. My interactions with them were either through text or FaceTime. So to finally get to meet them in person was a little bit emotional. It seemed like the family was complete. Lord knows Becca’s met almost everyone in my immediate and extended family: Parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins…

We settled in and spent time catching up about the trip and life before figuring out where to eat around Houston. Our first few choices ended up closed either due to the holiday or COVID, so we ended up at Trulucks, an upscale seafood joint that has several locations around Texas and the country. Of course, we realized that we had not dressed for Trulucks, as everyone in the place was in attire that I’ll describe as “semi-formal”. Regardless, we took our table and ordered a ton of delicious appetizers to share: Crab cakes, lobster bisque, fried calamari, meatballs, garlic mashed potatoes. Everything was delicious. Becca’s niece showed me her entire collection of keychains which she got from Claire’s. It was a lovely meal.

After dinner, Becca’s sister took us around the Braeswood and Rice Village neighborhoods to show us the Christmas lights. Houston’s suburban areas go all out for the holidays, despite the blistering heat and the lack of snow. Every tree, roof, lawn, and driveway was lined with colorful Christmas lights and decorations. Some were quite tasteful. Others would make Santa fly right over their chimney. “This ten-foot-tall inflatable lawn decoration of me is too garish,” he would say. “No gifts, not even coal, for this household.”

We got back to the apartment and wrapped up our gifts before settling in for the night. As we tucked in for the night, I reflected on how nice it was to take a few days off from hitting the road to spend some quality time with family. After all, we’d driven almost two thousand miles in five days, put our stomachs through the ringer, and we still had half a trip left ahead of us. I was excited to get to that second act, but I wanted to enjoy our time in Houston as much as possible. After all, I had almost five years to make up, and I didn’t want to rush it.

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