Goin’ Back to Houston

“I’ve been through hell and half of Texas.”
-Janis Joplin

“If I owned both hell and Texas, I’d rent out Texas and live in hell.”
-General Philip Sheridan, Union General during the Civil War commenting on the Texas countryside during the famous Union Army march from Georgia to the sea throughout the last months of the war

Like father, like daughter. Rachelle surprised me by deciding at literally the last minute to make Bishop’s University her choice for higher education for the next four years. I had made the same decision a mere forty two years earlier. Three weeks into her stay was the official Bishop’s Homecoming weekend. She e-mailed me with her cryptic message: “Homecoming was great. Too bad you missed it. There were a lot of senior citizens here you would have enjoyed talking to.”

No doubt. We could have enjoyed our warm milk and oatmeal but would have probably fallen asleep just before the pubs would be opening. Maybe next year…if I’m lucky!
The reason I had to pass up what could be my last Homecoming reunion was because of the unlikely event of a hockey tournament in Houston. Yes, that Houston, the city built on a floodplain and which was hit by six days and six nights of non-stop torrential downpour. “Has the arena floated away?” I asked my friend Jim who lives half the year in that Texan city and the other half a few streets from me in Ottawa. “Nope… they assure me the arena is in fine shape and the tournament is on,” came Jim’s reply. “I’ve also invited Nick and Chris and they’ve already booked their tickets.”
“Yeah, well, the last photos you showed me on your phone the highways looked like the Ottawa River.” Jim shrugged. “My wife Barb and I have booked a flight on United. And you have a spot on one of the teams that are in the tournament.”
Jim knew he had me there. It sounds absurd that a 61 year old man wants still another play session, but whenever an invitation is extended for an out -of-town tournament I start pacing around the kitchen table, figuring out how to juggle appointments, chores, dog-walking and any other commitment I may have in order to find room for another playdate. I believe psychologists label it the Peter Pan Syndrome.
United breaks guitars. That line became famous a couple of years ago when, I suppose, United Airlines broke the guitar of some musical dude. The first part of the trip would be easy. We were flying Air Canada to Washington D.C. and I was given permission by the woman at the check-in counter in Ottawa to just tape my two sticks to the strap of my hockey bag.
Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

Indeed. That full speed was easier done without the load of my hockey equipment and sticks which had not followed me onto the proper plane when we stopped over in Washington. No big deal, I was told at baggage recovery in Houston. “We’ll take your address and your equipment will be delivered to the house by nightfall.” Yeah, I thought. That’s what they told the guitar guy as well.

The rented car that Jim, Liz and I were driving from the Texas airport to their home in the Heights was stopped at a railway crossing. Jim was already in giddyup Texas mode. Despite the warning clanging of an approaching train Jim must have been a Pony Express driver in a past life. “Go, Barb, go,” he urged his wife on, who was fortunately at the wheel. Barb was made of saner stuff. She held her ground, indifferent to the impatient honking from behind. Jim’s impatience, however, had obviously inspired those foolhardy souls from the other side of the tracks. They obviously had a meeting to make, a bar to get to, or maybe just wanted to get back on the job, keeping the Texas economy great. Three cars made it through the flashing red lights, along with one plumbing truck, memorable to me because of the lettering on its side panel. ‘A flush beats a full house.’ Amazingly they also avoided the barrier arms which were now lowered. I had not observed a better job of turning and swerving- by- obstacles since I had last seen the Ottawa Senators hockey team race around pylons during an on-ice practice session. Toto, you’re not in Ottawa anymore. On each of the rail cars were written the words: No humping. No packing.
If any of you can figure that out, please let me know.

Perhaps because of the stress of our drive home, we stopped in at a bar to mend our shattered nerves. The sign outside read ‘The Hunky Dory. Steak, wine, whiskey.’
It was probably after my second beer that I made my way to the washroom. I was stopped in my tracks when I looked at the wording on the door which read, ‘Gays Restroom.’ Jesus, I thought to myself. Texas has come a long ways. Well, why not, I thought to myself. I’m as progressive as the next guy. I was pushing the door open but upon a second blinking of my eyes I was able to read the actual lettering of ‘Guys’ Washroom.’

Nick and Chris arrived the next day, their hockey gear with them. Luckily, my equipment was delivered the same day and so we were set to play. Chris wondered about my decision not to just walk on board the plane carrying my two sticks. “They’re so short, you could have just walked on board using them as canes,” he snickered, not entirely inaccurately. Thank God for teammates. They keep you humble.

So maybe the west was won, but not by me, and my team didn’t win the tournament either.. The week was over soon enough and once again it was time to fly, you guessed it, United, back to the Great White North. The flight from Houston to Washington, in these days of economical airlines, was not deemed long enough to serve anything but soft drinks, sodas to our American cousins. And I didn’t want to order a beer, having remembered what that did to my eyesight earlier on in my adventure. “I’ll have a Coke,” I advised the young flight attendant. (I understand that they’ve been called flight attendants for at least three decades now.) She seemed distracted by another customer. “Did you say a ginger ale?” she inquired again.
“No,” a Coke,” I reminded her mildly. I can be surprisingly patient at times. She nodded at me, smiled, and handed me a ginger ale.
My hockey sticks didn’t make it to the Ottawa airport that night either !

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2 Responses to Goin’ Back to Houston

  1. Ken Mehew says:

    Well written Dave. It’s hard to think of you being 61 years old already. On the other hand it’s hard to think of myself finishing my first three quarters of a century in December. Keep writing and I will keep on enjoying.

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