By SHELLEY NASH
October seemed like the perfect time for a trip to the Lone Star state. Just when we are on the edge of our seats here waiting for the weather to turn ugly, Austin, Texas, offered the promise of blue skies and sunny days.
I bought the plane tickets in July. Then Sept. 11 happened. Fear filled the world and suddenly, flying the friendly skies no longer had a ring to it for a lot of people.
My flight path to Austin was Medford to Seattle, Seattle to Houston, Houston to Austin. People repeatedly asked me if I was afraid to fly and the answer was always the same no.
There was never a point throughout the entire month preceding my Oct. 12 flight that I was fearful. And I wasnt alone the planes we flew on were full. With our luggage carefully stowed and our trays in their upright positions, we were on our way.
The purpose of the trip was two-fold: my mother was visiting her friend, Becky Wolf, from high school, whom she hadnt seen in more than 30 years, and I was meeting Becky and her family (Mike, Drew and Audrey) for the first time.
We arrived in Austin around 7:45 p.m. and were met at the airport by Audrey and Becky. The first night was spent eating chili prepared by Mike, which was quite good. Kudos to the chef!
Our arrival in Austin Friday night was heralded by a lightning storm. I was almost worried that perhaps wed brought Oregons fall weather with us, but the next day was sunny and warm.
That first weekend, we slept until we felt like getting up. What a luxury! I havent been able to do that in nearly three years. I had forgotten what it feels like to be rested.
We also ate ribs, again prepared by Mike. I dont think youre allowed to visit Texas and not eat ribs.
Although we had come to see Austin and its sights, we left town Tuesday and travelled 85 miles to San Antonio, which is probably best known for the riverwalk. The riverwalk is a tourist area that boasts shops, restaurants and a mall all with great views of the Olmos River.
We ate at Italia with my friend, Dalia, who had her wedding reception there in December. Eating lasagna in Texas seemed wrong somehow, but it was still good.
A short stroll along the riverwalk helped us work off lunch. It was a warm, inviting day, perfect for walking and chatting with an old friend.
Visitors to the riverwalk can learn a great deal about the history of the city and the riverwalk by taking a boat tour. We did not take the tour this year, but when I was in San Antonio in December, I rode in the boat. I highly recommend the tour to visitors because it is fascinating.
Our next stop was the home of Jim and Clara, my great-aunt and uncle. I met Jim and Clara when I was very young, but I didnt remember them. Finding them became an adventure all its own.
They live outside San Antonio and not being acquainted with the geography of the area, we called ahead. They gave us directions like most people do who have lived in an area forever: You just drive the highway until you see the gas station, then you turn at the big chicken and go six driveways down until you see eight barking dogs.
We never did find those barking dogs. Instead we stopped at a Texaco station where a very kind stranger gave us user-friendly directions.
We were able to find the general area, but my mother, who was driving, could not find the sign that marked the driveway. The silver lining is that we had a great tour of San Antonios back roads.
About two hours into looking for the sign, we finally spotted it and visited with Clara and Jim. We made our way back to Austin that night vowing to use http://www.mapquest.com next time.
Now that we had made it out of the jungle that is San Antonio, we gave Austin the once over. I got three driving tours at different times from Mike, Becky and Drew. I saw the 307-foot tall clock tower on the University of Texas campus. Charles Whitman shot several students from the top of the tower in 1966.
The university campus is large and I would suggest not going there during the school day. The traffic is heavy, which makes navigating the campus quite difficult.
Downtown Austin offers several attractions in addition to the clock tower. For those interested in government, the state capital is a must see. Although a state trooper was guarding the gate, I was allowed to wander the grounds.
The governors mansion is a few blocks from the capital. It is a beautiful building surrounded by modern, downtown architecture. Its quite interesting to see a mansion with columns situated in the middle of traffic and modern buildings.
From March to early November, Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin has some special visitors from Central Mexico no, not illegal immigrants. The bridge is home to bats that can be seen flying out at dusk.
The bridge is not the only place where flying creatures are found. Austin can be a rather noisy city thanks to small birds that look like crows. I was sure I had entered the set of a remake of Alfred Hitchcocks The Birds. They were large in number and very loud.
In a church near the Wolfs home, I was treated to an experience most visitors to Austin probably wont have: Virtual Hell.
The program is an interactive drama production. I walked with a group of people through several small vignettes in which actors dramatized scenarios such as domestic violence and drug abuse. In the end, I encountered hell and was rescued and taken to heaven by an angel.
Members of Audreys church created the sets, rehearsed and put the program on in two weeks. I was impressed with it given the small amount of time they had to put it together.
I am told that other churches in various cities put on similar programs. I would highly recommend attending one if it can be found.
Overall, I enjoyed my week in Austin and October was the perfect time to visit. Its never a bad time to reconnect with old friends and I was glad to get to meet someone who shaped my mothers childhood.
Thanks for the hospitality Becky, Mike, Audrey and Drew. I look forward to seeing you all again before another 30 years passes.