Through Hell and Half of Texas

“If I owned both hell and Texas, I’d rent out Texas, and live in hell.”
-General William Sherman, United States General during the American Civil War, during his famous March Through Texas.

“Going back to Houston Houston Houston…”
-Dean Martin

“Houston… it was named after Sam Houston. What’s he famous for?” I asked my friend Dave G. on the way to the airport.
Dave, who was a Canadian from Sudbury, but who had lived in the city for eighteen of the past nineteen years, shrugged his shoulders.
“I dunno… probably killing Mexicans and Indians and shit.”
Dave had been a lawyer and was now an investor in the oil industry, so I didn’t take his knowledge of Texas history too seriously. I made sure my facts would be reliable, so I looked it up on Wikipedia. Seems old Sam wasn’t quite the murderous racist I had imagined a Texas hero to be : he had actually been the only American ever elected to the office of Governor in two states, (Tennessee and Texas), as well as being made an honourary member of the Cherokee Nation and to top it off was the only southern governor who had voted not to secede from the Union prior to the Civil War. That’s one version anyway, and I didn’t know if this entry had been written by one of old Sam’s descendants.

Dave had brought up the possibility of playing hockey in Houston after I had mentioned to him that I was contemplating a hockey holiday in Scandinavia for ten days in October.
“How much is that going to cost you ?” he asked. I guess that a career as a lawyer, then an oil financier and eighteen years in Texas had taught him to cut right to the chase.
“Five thousand dollars,” was my reply.
“Come to Houston,” he advised. “The plane ticket will cost about $500, you can stay at my house for free, we tailgate in the parking lot after every game without the cops asking us what the hell we think we’re doing, and after the tournament you can rent a car for a couple of days and visit San Antonio, Austin and Galveston.” I had just read on the internet where Glen Campbell, who had famously sung about Galveston, was deep in the throes of Alzheimer’s. I can’t sing, but I suspected that I was in the beginning stages of that same affliction, so at least we had something to talk about if I ran into him in that town. Half way through the conversation, we’d probably forget what it was we were talking about.

Dave had spent a good part of the past 31 years working on Wall Street and in the oilfields of Texas, but he was well aware that I was a retired pensioner. I told him that was why I could never buy him a post-game beer. My wife Brenda knew that I was eagerly anticipating my trip to Europe when I mentioned Dave G.’s alternative.
“Texas sounds like a good idea !” she said assertively. Looks like Swedish meatballs were off the menu, now replaced by crawdads.
“Okay, book your flight,” Dave advised. “There aren’t any direct ones from Ottawa. We usually go through Charlotte or Washington.”

Usually it was my wife Brenda who was the driving force of my sometimes ill-fated travels. I carried the bags and drove the car. Now I was handing over control to my new-found friend Dave, whom I had just met in the past year through playing hockey. If I may use a big word here, his lifestyle can only be described as peripatetic. Raised in a small town outside Sudbury, he had attended law school at the University of Western Ontario, worked at former Prime Minister John Turner’s law firm of McMillan Binch in Toronto, (“ABC, boys… always be closing,” the great man always reminded his young recruits during his luncheon peptalks) moved with his wife to Sydney, Australia when he decided he no longer liked law, took off to work on Wall Street and live in Brooklyn and then to Houston. His three sons held a variety of passports, and spent their time between Houston and Ottawa. I guess some people are just destined to cut a wide swath through life. Mindful of his Canadian roots, he had bought a big house on Clemow Avenue in Ottawa’s Glebe neighbourhood, which had stood empty while undergoing renovations for two years. Even the well-heeled residents of the Glebe were in awe. Rumours swirled that it was the captain of the Ottawa Senators’ Daniel Alfredsson’s purchase, where he would reside upon his retirement as a player. I shared this urban myth with Dave and his wife Liz one afternoon in their resplendent kitchen. Liz, ensconced in Houston for the past eighteen years, had never heard of Alfie.
“The flight’s leaving October 2nd at 7:30 a.m,” Dave reminded me. I’ll pick you up at six.”

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