Texas Visit

We arrive at the Salt Lick - along with hundreds of other people

Last month I visited Mickey and his family. For some time now Mickey has been scheduled to transfer to Germany. The date has been moved several times but it had been stable for a while. He and his family were going to move in June of this year so I wanted to visit them in Texas before they left. (NOTE: Since my visit last month the Army has pushed out his move date again which has totally turned everything upside down but that is the subject for another post). I had visited him when we first came back from Singapore. Back then he was single and living in the barracks and we spent the weekend on a road trip to Austin and San Antonio. Now he is a married man with a wife, a young stepdaughter, a dog, two cats and a live-in mother-in-law all living together in a house off post. There have been some pretty dramatic changes in his life in the past year and a half!

I had some time off coming at work. Back in February we had did a major network upgrade, replacing all of our old out-of-support-life Cisco switches with brand new HP ProCurve switches. That was a big job. There were lots of problems and I ended up pulling a couple of all nighters. We could only work on some things at night because we had to bring the network down. Anyway my boss said that I could take a comp day. That and one vacation day gave me a four day weekend in March for my visit to Killeen. I left early Friday morning and arrived in Austin by midafternoon. I rented a car and drove to Killeen and got there by dinner time.

I checked in at the local Hilton and headed for Mickey's house. I had looked it up on Google maps the night before so I had a good picture in my head of how to get there. Or so I thought. The ten minute drive took me over twenty minutes but hey, I got to see a lot more of Killeen.

Ava tries out the slide

The house that they are renting is very nice. It's brand new and the whole subdivision is new. They are short on furniture but that is how everyone is when they are starting out. I remember being in the same situation, many years ago. I got to meet Laura, Sara's mom, for the first time. She had to leave for work right away. She is a nurse and was working the night shift. I also met their two cats and dog Daisy. She seemed like a really nice dog. She just liked to climb on the furniture and sit next to some human (usually Mickey) so she could get petted. Reminds me of another dog that I know.

After I finished my tour of the house we went out for dinner. I wanted to know where the best pizza in Killeen was. They recommended Boston's - The Gourmet Pizza. Since I am a pizza afficianado I figured I would be a good judge of whether the pizza was gourmet or not. Turns out that it was right next door to my hotel. After my adventure getting from the hotel to Mickey's house, I knew the shortest route to the pizza place as well as several not-so-short routes to get there. Since it was Friday night it was crowded but we did get a spot. The pizza was good and we had a really nice dinner. Afterwards we went back to their place for a while but I excused myself early so we could all get a good nights sleep. We were planning a busy day on Saturday.

On Saturday morning there were a few places that I wanted to check out in Killeen. Mickey volunteered to go along for the ride. Our first stop was at the local game store, Battlefield Games. Turns out that they only had a few wargames. Lots of miniatures though. That's a pattern that I see a lot but just don't understand. Miniatures seem like a way tougher sell than wargames but there are certainly a lot of people who are active in minatures. They did have a tshirt so I had to get that. Something to wear at my next wargame session in Boise.

After the game store we went to the local Barnes & Noble. I didn't expect much since it's a chain but I found several Osprey Publishing books that I couldn't pass up. Osprey is a British publisher that specializes in military history and has lots of interesting titles. They tend to be short narratives but with lots of illustrations and maps. I got one book on Platea (Greek/Persian wars), one on Pharsalus (Roman Civil War) and another on the Spartacus slave revolt. I had gamed all of those battles. All interesting topics and the books were in perfect condition. The problem with ordering Osprey books online is that they sometimes arrive pretty beat up. I also found a newly published book on military working dogs called Soldier Dogs. I ended up with a sizeable stack of books to take home with me.

Group hug

We picked up Sarah for our afternoon excursion. We drove southwest of Killeen to the Texas Hill Country. These are rolling, wooded hills with several lakes and a number of wineries scattered about. I'm always up for touring wineries and sampling local wines anywhere that I travel in the world. Our first stop was at Perissos Vinyards. It took us quite a bit longer to drive there then expected and then a wrong turn took up even more time. When we finally got there I was surprised that the winery was very crowded. I was also suprised that there was a hefty tasting fee. I'm used to crowds and tasting fees in Napa Valley but it is usually more laid back in less well know wine regions. But with so much population so close, it turns out that the Texas wineries do a pretty good business. The people were friendly though. We met the winery dog. Tasted some wine. It was quite pricey to buy as well. We only bought one bottle - to take back to share with Sarah's mom since she was watching Ava while we were touring.

When we left we continued to have navigational problems. We wanted to stop at one more winery on the way to dinner at a place near Austin. We followed the directions to a small town named Johnson City but no matter how many times we drove back and forth through the town we couldn't find the winery. Finally Mickey called them on the phone and it turned out that the website was wrong. They were several miles west of town. We had to backtrack but finally got there. It didn't work out though. It was a combined winery/restaurant/lodge. They didn't open for tastings until they started to serve dinner, which is kind of weird if you are listed on a winery tasting tour. So we would need to wait an hour to taste wine. We wrote it off as a bad effort. Lots of lost time but we decided to move on.

There are plenty of wineries so we picked the next one in the direction we were heading. Spicewood Vineyards had signs that showed how to get there from the main highway. Even we couldn't get lost this time. I thought that the wine was good although Sarah never finished hers. I think she is not a wine drinker. You can only nurse two swallows of wine so long. Mickey and I went through the whole wine list but I think Sarah only did one. They also featured some local foodproducts and Mickey ended up getting a big jar of really good mustard. I spent time playing with the winery dog. Just like we had seen at wineries in New Zealand, they had a book of wine dogs opened to the page featuring their dog. The wine was good but again they charged for tasting and the wine was pricey. We were content with the samples and asked for directions to our dinner destination. We got two sets of directions from two different people, each of whom insisted that theirs was the best way to get there and was shorter than following the map. Having had enough trouble we thanked them for the tips and then just studied the map and took the main roads.

Mickey tries unsuccessfully to talk Daisy into a swim

For dinner we went to the original Salt Lick restaurant, said by many to have the best Texas BBQ in the state. Since they take their BBQ quite seriously in Texas that is no small claim. There are three Salt Lick locations around Austin now but the Driftwood restaurant that we went to is the original and most popular. They don't take reservations but I wasn't worried. I assumed that we would do our wine tasting tour and be there around 4 pm for an early dinner. But the drive took longer than expected and we had numerous navigational issues which meant we didn't get there till 6 pm. Than meant that about a thousand other people got there before us. The parking lot was so big that they had a cop directing traffic and a shuttle bus that you could ride from your car to the restaurant (we walked). At the hostess station they estimated a half hour (seriously?) wait so we put our names in for a table. Right. It was two hours. But I have to admit that they were really set up for big crowds to be waiting to get in. They had a large garden area outside. They had live music and several stands that sold stuff to people waiting for dinner. There was a place to buy beer and wine. We went there but it was so crowded that we gave up after a while. Pretty bad when there is too long a line to buy something while you are waiting in another line. We had better luck at some other kiosks. We split a box of popcorn and each got a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade. Tasty. The long wait gave me plenty of time to check out their extensive selection of tshirts for sale but I have to admit that I didn't find anything that I liked. For some reason neither the "I Just Got Licked And I Am Totally Satisfied" or the "Our Pits Smell Delicious" appealed to me. Hard to believe, I know.

While we waited I kept going up to ask how far down the queue we were. I asked about every half hour - basically as often as I could without the hostesses getting too mad at me. They kept telling me to stop asking and wait for our buzzer to go off. Except the last time, when they told me they had been buzzing us for fifteen minutes and wanted to know why we hadn't come up. By that time I was grumpy enough that I actually brought the buzzer up and stood there while they typed the code into their machine. No buzz.

Once we got seated our order was taken right away and our food came quickly. The place is really set up like a factory. And the food was absolutely delicious. Of course we only had a few handfuls of popcorn since breakfast so probably anything would have tasted good. But I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Mickey, Sarah and Daisy

When we got home we all watched the program Man vs Food. The host travels to various US cities and visits unusual restaurants, often ones that offer challenges to finish a meal that is impossibly huge, or incredibly spicy, or something. The program on Austin featured the Salt Lick, which was fun to watch after just being there. After that we watched the one on Boise where I recognized most of the places. Then we watched San Antonio, since Mickey and I had gone there on my last visit. One on Michigan featured a minor league ballpark near where Sarah and her family is from. It was fun to watch and see places that I recognized. But a program written around watching a guy see if he can stuff himself eating the largest hamburger, pizza or whatever seems in bad taste when people are hungry in much of the world. Only in America.

Sunday was my last day to visit. First thing in the morning I went to WalMart and got Ava a big stuffed Easter Bunny. It wasn't quite easter yet but they had a large selection. She really liked it when I gave it to her but I wonder how long it survived before the dog and cats got to it.

Our excursion for the day was much closer to home than yesterday. We went to Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area. This is a park area operated by the Army Corps of Engineers (which Mickey is a part of) along the shoreline of Lake Belton. It's adjacent to Ft. Hood, in fact we drove through the post to reach it. They have boat slips, picnic benches, playground equipment and is a nice place for a family outing that is close by. Ava had fun on the playground. Daisy got a chance to run around. My job was to take pictures with Mickey's camera (I hadn't brought mine on this trip). Most of the pictures on this post are from our excursion to Lake Belton.

After that we headed back to Mickey's place for the rest of the afternoon. No trip I make would be complete without some IT work so I spent several hours working on Sarah's PC and then her Mom's PC. Sarah's laptop was fairly new and I got it fixed up but her mom's was a goner. It had BitTorrent, some evil coupon printing malware, and more problems I couldn't even identify. Time for a full system rebuild. I got it started and told Mickey how he could finish it later that evening.

Sarah had to work Sunday evening. Mickey had to be at work at 5 am on Monday. And I had a very early flight out of Austin. I left about dinner time and did the hour and a half drive to Austin. I stayed at a hotel just across the street from the airport so that I would have no worries about catching my flight on time the next morning.

A short but very enjoyable trip.