Thursday, September 27, 2007

David Beebe's Marfa Airstream, part 2 of three

OK, I don't have a lot of time to write tonight, so this'll be part two of a three part series on my home for the 2nd half of 2007 and beyond.
The first step I took in bringing this Airstream back to life was ordering tempered glass from Bobbitt Glass Company. Airstreams usually have plexiglas, but I strongly dislike plastics as glass, sine they easily sctratch and fade to translucent yellow. Most of the plexi on this Airstream was so faded out that you couldn't see through it at all. Some had cracked, and all had been installed by a previous owner with liquid nails. Ugh.
It was a two day project readying the window frames for the new glass, which ran about $250 for the entire trailer. That was not including the front window, which I spent more than a day building out in watertight and load bearing fashion to hole my new desert swamp cooler, the best way to air condition a space out oin far west Texas and inn any desert climate.
The science behind the swamp cooler is strictly air circulation and evaporation. The housing contains a large aquarium pump and lines which lead water to the tops of three large filters (made of straw and moss) along the exterior perforations in the steel. Water is saturating the filters and a high powered squirrel fan draws air through the unit into your space. It's a fresh air only situation, so it works best of you have some open windows. Cool, humidified air (cooled through the addition of water molecules into the air) blows in. The base of the housing has a water input with a float valve that allows water to flow in when needed and shuts the flow off when the basin is full, keeping the cooler from overflowing. This type of cooling does not work in overly humid climates, such as Houston and Louisiana, but sometimes you will see swamp coolers used, minus the water connections, as forced fresh air intakes in commercial kitchens to assist in the drawing out of air up the vent hood. Ami's restaturant in Midtown Houston has two on the Francis St side. I have looked at them and they are used for forced air for the kitchen. Out here in West Texas, swamp coolers are the norm and according to figures off of a swamp cooler manufacturer's website (Iforget which one- they are in Ark and AZ) a swamp cooler operating with 40% humidity can drop the temp in a room nearly 30 degrees. I've experienced that out in the Mojave Desert. That's why I leave the thing off at night and crack the windows. Besides, it's in the upper 50's here at night during the summer.

By far and away the most daunting and important project for the Airstream was rebuilding the floor structure. The floor had rotted out in most places and the frame in the back had rusted to the point of no longer being sturdy enough to handle a weight load. A guy I met through Roller Derby was reading my myspace blog at the time and came over to help with the welding of the frame. This guy, Ronnie, works in the med center as basically a maintenance contractor inside the hospital labs. He has lots of skills and just loves to fool with things. I basically promised to give him some beers and some RC's if he helped me out. He was over in a flash! Once we determined the best way to weld the frame up, I went over to my former employer, Forrest Mfg Co, where I worked as a machinist's assistant and did some welding and a lot of metal cutting back in '90 and again in '95. Butch Gregory, the owner and a lifetime friend of myself and my dad's cut the pieces of steel I brought in for me while I socialized with some of my former co-workers, many of whom are still working there. Butch is a great boss and pays well, so they have very little turnover. It's about a ten man shop, so it's pretty tight knit and the products are simple. They make industrial saws for cutting insulation and other light materials. I really liked working there both times. Talk about learning.
Anyway, my welding skills have deteriorated into zero over the years, but Ronnie has his own welding machine and came over and knocked out our frame repair no problem. It's definitely stronger in the back side that anywhere else now, and maybe stronger than when it was built.
A sort aside on the construction and integrity of Airstreams- the company was founded by a former airplane designer in the 30's and remains privately held. They rarely make any modifications to the design of the trailer unless it's deemed a true improvement over past designs. The trailers are designed to be aerodynamic and light. Bodies, interior and out (at least back in '65) are lined with aluminum and are basically indestructible. Aluminum corrosion is most often surface-only and actually provides a thicker skin of protection from the elements that clean aluminum. Acid and certain caustic chemicals can eat throough aluminum, however, and thanks to the Airstream forums I purchased non-treated wood, as treated wood is a nightmare on aluminum. All the more important that I seal up all those water leaks along the roof and sides, since the new floor structure, like the original, would be made of non-treated plywood.
Once the rear frame was fixed, I went about the process of deciding which original fixtures and partitions were actually salvageable before I was to either tear them out or build the new stuff around them. I took whatever I thought could survive out, with the exception of the interior skin (an off white and white matte finish that is actually aluminum) and threw out everything that was rotted. This included the original "Dometic" (yes, not "Domestic") propane/electirc refrigeraotr, which was the heaviest compact appliance I've ever lifted. It was a good thing, for although it may have still worked, the floor beneath it was about to fall through from its weight. The fact that I was intent on replacing the entire floor sealed the fate of that monster.
Most of the cabinets lining the ceiling stayed in, and I vowed to attempt to rebuild the one I had to remove because its support to the floor had failed.
All of these steps turned out to be a good move, as Roller Derby "Derby Brother" Mike, who redoes trailers and boats, told me it would. "Put the floor structure at the pinnacle of importance and build everything off that and your rig will be perfect." I knew it before, but it was hearing it that sne tme on a mission to make this floor stronger and more air and watertight than ever.
One of the most difficult challenges about redoing an Airstream is that you're not dealing with straight lines. All the floor edges are round, and the angles change. Ronnie suggested I save the old floor panels to use as a template for my new cuts and that was a lifesaver for sure. The same angle difficulties make running conduit along the walls or installing fixtures directly connected to the trailer (built-ins) extremely challenging. Airstream's original equipment was amazingly well-constructed and space efficient, but 25 plus years of water damage plus whatever the trailer suffered before it was exiled to swampland in the Everglades was too much for even such well-built furnishings.
I decided that I would install a vinyl floor (like the original but with my colors) over a double layerd plywood floor. That would be a layer of 5/8" plywood over the frame, running horizontally, like OEM, but with an additional layer of 1/2" plywood running vertically over that so as to strengthen the whole floor, eliminate air leakage and make the underfloor smoother to facilitate the tile application. Over time the floor should stay in one place, regardless of moving the trailer or wood shifting. I used brass wood screws on both layers and countersunk all of them as well. the end result is an extremely solid floor which should prevent cracking of the individual tiles and floor movement de to shifting of weights within the cabin.
Back to the installation of the swamp cooler. I removed the window hardware for the front window, measured out my clearances and built a stand upon which the majority of the weight of a water-filled swamp cooler would absorb. This was built using joist hangers directly onto the toungue of the trailer, where the propane bottles would have rested in the original layout by Airstream. I have opted to discontinue the bathroom, kitchen, all water, and propnae, plus all connections and vents relating to those items in order to make this the easiest trailer to maintain over the long term, plus open up as much space for living as possible. the club building here in Marfa will provide better facilities than any trailer could, inclduing a private bath for the management and any V.I.P. guests and/or bands.
In the meantime, the El Cosmico property, where the trailer is currently hooked up (electric only) has outdoor showers and working toilets. The new Airstream has a fridge, a toaster and will have a microwave after I get mine in my next trip to Houston in mid-Oct.
But I digress.
It was time to tackle the major vent/roof leakage problems this Airstream had- the factors that led to its getting this far under the gun in the first place. All in all there was a minimum of five holes either built into or cut into the roof, all of which leaked. Add on a broken roof air conditioner and three roof skylights on the bery top, all of which were leaking and one of which was entirely gone, leaving an 8X8 hole in the center of the roof for birds, insects and leaves to come on, not to mention lots of Houston rain- not dissimilar to the Everglades, really.
OK, I'm out of time for tonight, but I'll give you a few random Airstream related photos for good measure.
Next episode- completion and transport 620 miles to Marfa.- David

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A brief history of the Airstream- my home

OK, so I've read some of my past posts and my typing is absolute garbage. You wouldn't even believe how often I have to correct just to get it to the barely readable point it's at. So sad- I should have taken typing at Lamar instead of "Data Processing"- where we learned how to do computer spreadsheets (like Excel) and I got my "Advanced diploma" because I made that choice. Bogus. Not that an "Advanced diploma" from lamar would've helped anything except maybe getting a scholarship (if I was a minority) to a community college loosely affiliated with HISD.

Anyway, considering that my home and a huge part of my life right now is the 1965 Airstream Trade Wind that, until yesterday, resided in teh backyard of the funeral home, and now is situated along the tall grass and weed line on the East side of the El Cosmico property just out of town. Just to let you know how small Marfa is, my building is considered to be right on the edge of downtown and I can see the Airstream from here if I look due South down Abbott street.

The Airstream has a long hitory, the good parts we'll never know, but we can deduce the worse end of things by taking what we know in conjuction with the condition of the trailer for the first 2 /12 years it was in Texas.

The official owner of this Airstream is the Houston Continental Club, Pete Gray had always been looking out for a cheap Airstream (good luck folks) that he could convert into a band green room for the club's backyard. One day about 3 years ago a basket case Airstream showed up in the parking lot of the club and I asked what it was there for. Apparently, some regular customer had foolishly bought a totally rotted out Airstream from some cat in the Everglades in FL. After spending about $1000 to get wheels, tires and axles on the thing (not even trailer brakes or lights, which were OEM and would be required for regular usage), plus gas, the H-town dude had no place to store it while he got the money and time together to fix it up. From the get go, I saw it as potentially beyond regular repair- not ruined entirely, but rotted, stinky and always wet inside. Plus, somebody had left a bunch of nasty stuff in it and most of the original fixtures were totally gone, and what was left was moldy and rusty-holes in the floor, ruined wood veneer, the whole deal.
Within about two weeks, some nice drunk idiots had smashed out the taillights and cracked some of the yellowed plexiglas windows, plsu ripped off the doorknob.
After about 3 months, finally some gang showed up and tagged the heel out of the thing all across the the back and the driver's side. At that point Pete Gray told the guy he had to get it off the property. A sob story about how he had spent nearly 3 grand on it, including cost ($1500- very cheap for any Airstream), repairs and the trip to get it from the deep swampland of Florida. Pete, not being one for subsidizing slacker idiots other than a few folks who have lived upstairs from the Continental, called his bluff and said to get rid of it, at which point the guy wanted to sell it to Pete Gray. Pete Gray offered $1000 and the guy didn't bite a all. Two weeks later, $1000 bought it for the club and it was moved into the Continental Club backyard for safekeeping and a planned eventual re-do.
Fast forward more than two years to find myself and Trey Armstrong, manager of the Continental Club, joking about me living in that nasty thing out in the desert.
24 hours later, after I had slept on that joke and taken into account how slowly the Marfa project was going, how much money I could save, plus my aversion to renting apartments anyway, I talked to Pete Gray and worked out a deal- I would fix it up as needed, keep it as long as I wanted, and will eventually return it (in however many years) to the Continental for use as a band green room. In Trey;s words, it actually will probably wind up being the band room sooner than it would have if it had stayed at the club.
Anyway, major renovations to every piece of the trailer were in order. I will go through all that in my next post, but first here are some pictures of the fabulous Airstream about 3 weeks after daily work began in earnest. I have some more detailed pictures in analog, but these'll have to do since I have not yet processed film this year.

The vast majority of the serious damage was caused by leaking from the roof vents. These were vents for the kitchen stove, the gas refigerator (still in place). the bathroom and kitchen plumbing vents, the rotted out roof air vents, and the miscellaneous doors on the sides of the trailer that serve the plumbing, gray and fresh water tanks and appliances. Basically, ny forst decision was to eliminate every single unnecessary appliance, sink and the whole bathroom in order to create a larger area with no chance for long term leakage. This is all since it was immediately evident that the entire fllor and portion of the steel understructure would have to be replaced. This would include welding the frame in the rear where rust had nearly caused the dreaded Airstream "rear-end seperation"- often the end of a trailer's usable life. More pics. Keep in mind, I had already cleaned out the trailer, the rotted furnishings (including the 6 ft bed- way too short for me).

Anyway, tomorrow I'll try to go through most of the steps I took in the 8 week and $2500 process of building this basket case trailer into my home- a happy one, thus far. Here's a few more pics, including a couple on a day that my good Lamar High School buddy Corbett "Clitbit" Bishop visited Houston from his home in Tanzania. He actually compared my Airstream/Marfa adventure to his moving out to Africa years back. I guess compared to JP Morgan we're on the same wavelength entirely.

More tomorrow. you wouldn't believe how much more rockin' this trailer is now. By the way, I got some really good help on the national Airstream Forums. Google it and become a member if you're even remotely interested in joining the Airstream ownership cult- a better cult than Apple or Whole Food,s by the way, and I'm an Apple and WFMI stockholder.- David

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

El Cosmico Festival 2007 Marfa TX (part 2)

Saturday morning of El Cosmico started out for me by dragging myself out of bed, grabbing a cup of coffee from the Brown recluse and picking up Liz Lambert's Parsche Cayenne SUV from El Cosmico to go get Barbara Lynn from teh Midland airport, three hours away sans traffic or weather issues.
It was a slow start, for sure- I was pretty well beat and had had a few more Lone Stars than I though Friday night (such is typical with keg beer for me).
Anyway, getting to Midland was no problem, and the car was fast, plus had a good radio so I could entertain myself by flipping back and forth between AM 1240 (Timeless Favorites) and Marfa Public Radio (lots of music since they don't yet have NPR- wish it would stay that way).
Barvara Lynn's plane was a few minutes early so she was there when I arrived. We loaded up, got some Dairy Queen at her request, and headed down the road. The conversation from Midland to Marfa was great. Lots of talk about Houston, Sugar Hill Studios, and just about every performer I could think of. She has been on stage with everyone pretty much ever (she started performing live in about 1960). She is one of the nicest people I've ever met, especially for her talent level, which is extraordinary.
Highlights included talking about B.J. Thomas, Glen Campbell, Nat King Cole, Roger Troutman and Zapp, Roy Head, Doug Sahm, Huey Meaux, The Contours, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and much more.
So we finally got to Marfa and I drove her to El Cosmico so she could see the weird scene before checking into the beautiful El Paisano Hotel downtown. She was surprised that it was more of a "Woodstock" style festival than she had anticipated, but she could see that people were having fun and that the weather was perfect. Since I was the bandleader for her band, which was me on bass, Conrad Choucroun on drums, and Miles Zuniga on guitar, we scheduled a rehearsal at her hotel room for 7 PM so we could be sure to rock the set and not stink.
Meanwhile, the music down at El Cosmico and the drinking and eating had truly begun. The baseball game I missed ended with Marfa upsetting Auustin and people had a good time. The first act, which I missed, was Rebecca Gates, an extremely cool girl from Austin who took Barbara Lynn back to Midland Sunday, since I was "driven out" for the week.
Amy Cook followed and then Adam Bork, with Conrad on drums and some cameos from Jeff Johnston took the stage. The picture doesn't show the slide show, since the flash blocked it out, but Adam's multimedia, once again, didn't didsappoint. Nor did the music- some of my fovaorite songs and he has such a cool voice.

Tift Merrit followed Adam, but I missed most of her set because I had to get Barbara from the hotel. Once we got Barbara to the stage it was pretty much whirlwind. The set went great- sound was great (thanks Paul Minor!) and Barbara totally dominated! By the end, the crowd had been whipped into a frenzy and was dancing like no tomorrow. This was at about midnight when we finished. Nuts!! Here's a picture of Liz Lambert with Barbara after the set. Everyone was very happy.

L'il Cap'n Travis followed with a barn-burning set and played until the county cope- sheriff and constable- came. Always a sign of a successful party. We rocked it out until past dawn in the Danish hot tubs since I was smart and brought a cooler of Lone Star and some other people had wine and vodka. The camera was spared the water, so no shots, but some other people have 'em. I took a few during recovery/cleanup after Noon on Sunday. That's about all she wrote, except a group of us got together Sunday night for a nice dinner and screening of "Hands on a Hradbody" at Liz'a Bunkhouse noth of town Sunday night. I was shocked I was there, given having vowed to and succeeded staying in that hot tub until dawn (jeff Johnston made it as well, even though some friends of his tried to force him to go to a tent since they were very afraid he was going to drown.)

Oh yeah, after naps in the hammocks and then, at least for me, in the Airstream, Adam, Paul and I pushed an early 70's blown out Dodge truck into his yard that the city had tagged. Wow- it's not just me and the Airstream they're cracking down on these days! You can see we "look great" and were "working hard".

Yes, it was a heck of a weekend. Next year, same time, same place. See you there!- David

El Cosmico Festival 2007, Marfa TX

This year I attended and volunteered at the El Cosmico Festival (2nd annual) on the El Cosmico property at Madrid and Abbot streets on the edge of Marfa. The property is about 5 blocks away from the funeral home/Padre's but is decidedly out in the country, as there is really nothing south of El Cosmico except for some Chinati installations. The giant border partol facility is next to the land, but far away enough so that it's really not noticeable.
I was assigned the job of stage manager, working alongside sound system engineer and provider Paul Minor, but wound up oputting together a band to back up last minute headline Barbara Lynn and also emceed. The festival began on Friday and ran until Sunday around Noon, with Saturday being the really full-on day, complete witha baseball game between "Austin" and "Marfa". I missed the game because I was driving the 3 hour trip from Marfa to the Midland airport and back to pick up Barbara Lynn and get her settled into her hotel room at the El Paisano. The rest of the time, I was pretty much on the scene.
My Friday at El Cosmico started with helping the bands load in and hauling a few items for the bar to get set up. The terrain is flat out there and there are four restored "ghost" trailers (no electricity or water) that are ready to become part of the permanent El Cosmico installation of working travel trailer guest houses. For more info on the vision behind El Cosmico as a business, please visit . The site is a work in progress, at this point, and good things take time, so the pictures you see here are not iindicative of the future look of the project except probably in the funkiness factor. It's going to be a fine work once it's finally ready to lift-off.
Friday night featured some great bands including my favorite Marfa act, the Pleasures of Merely Circulating. There was also a hot Austin up and coming band called "The Steps" that was pretty good. I am biased towards the Pleasures, however, for a lot of reasons, coffee being one of them. Lots of Austin people were already in attendance friday including Jeff Johnston, Conrad Choucroun, Patty Cater, Ann Tucker, Sam Douglas and many more. Here's a pic of Jeff Johnston with a girl from Austin named Courtney, whom I met minutes before taking this shot. Hammocks are a big part of the El Cosmico ethic. Check the landscape and bar area. DSCN0297.JPG">

Note in the picture of the landscape the Danish heating tubs and also the patterns of recycled crushed glass in the gravel. These tubs were the scene of our all-night party Saturday night after the shows had ended and the final beer was sold.
Here's a picture of "The Steps" out of Austin
Here's a pic of "The Pleasures of Merely Circulating"
And possibly the best picture I could have possibly aken of local Marfa bassist/ sound engineer/ drummer/ guitarist/ studio owner Gory
Anyway, several other good groups played Friday, notably a group called "The Savage Trip" featuring Austinite Michael Hall. In the meantime, we were foooling around offstage at the Food Shark, Adam Bork's falafel and hummus truck. I got a nice shot of Krista, Adam's better half and the food genius behind the wonderment of the Food Shark, with this nice Tarantula on her shoulde. Tarantulas are a part of life out here when you're a few yards away from downtown.

Friday night ended for me when the shows were over and I opted to go to a party at a private residence and not the official afterparty of a Ballroom marfa event. Apparetly I missed some great stuff, including the sight of Gory breakdancing and a cameo appearance by Vance Knowles/ Jackie Pepper singing Neil Diamond at the top of his lungs for hours. to make matters even more funny, I woudn up at the marfa rock shop, thinking that was the party and hung out with those guys for a while. Then I went further up the road and stopped at a pickup truck in the neighborhood and had a few beers with a couple of hispanic guys I didn't know. Totally ridiculous. I never found the party and really needed to go home anyway, since I was due to pick up Barbara Lynn in Midland the next day around Noon and would be leaving out before 8:30 AM.

Oh yeah, Conrad entertained me by bringing Dr Grabow into the mix. It struck me funny to see them smoking pipes in the middle of nowhere. Also, a good picture of the Food Shark truck.

Saturday/Sunday next post.- David

Terlingua, Joe King Carrasco

OK, so I didn't finish the Clinton Dr walk posts. Sorry about that- I've been away from the computer. The short story is that we came back via Wayside and Navigation, nearly passed out from the heat and were saved (barely) by some high powered margaritas at ninfa's. Actually, that's when I came as close to passing out as I have in years from cooling down from tthe heat exhaustion. Once I made it out, though, I was fine. We finished off at Warren's. I went back home. The next day I went to the Houston Roller Derby luau at the Alabama Ice House. Pictures were taken there that will keep me out of Houston politics. That being said, I had a great time.
So anyway, I had to return to Houston again the following weekend for Roller Derby and this time I came back from Marfa via a night in Terlingua, TX at one of the nation's finest bars, La Kiva. Joe King Carrasco was playing, which is why I went in the first place. I was in the big Brown Suburban and had me bedroll, a cooler and some clothes. I was also pulling the flatbed trailer back to H-Town so it was a little slow going up the mountains of HWY 170 from Presidio through Lajitas and into Terlingua. Here's a nice pic of the "tepees" rest stop on 170 after your car either makes it or doesn't following a long climb at 15% GRADE. Yeah, hardcore. The last time I did it the Mercedes was down to 5 MPH (diesel). The Brown did better, but I think we were still at around 15 MPH by the top of the climb.
The Rio Grande is as high as I've ever seen it, thanks to the great rains of this year. Check it.

That's the scenic "long' drive from Marfa to Terlingua. I recommend it for any reason.
I got into Terlingua around 5:00 and Joe king had already set up at La Kiva, which is a bar built around a cave on a creek bed in the side of a hill. Yes, really weird. Think Astroworld's "Alpine Sleigh" in a desert setting. It is truly beautiful to see bands there since they play under the stars (and you can really see the stars). Here's some views of La Kiva, open since '82.

The parking lot also functions as an RV park, which is inhabited by permanent residents and also those passing through. Although I was prepared to pay the $3 to spend the night in my truck, there was no one to take my money. it's OK, I spent at least $40 at the bar on food, drinks and tip.
Joe King came on about 9 and the crownd was thin. Steadily, though, people came in and then a tour bus (Green Charters?) came in full of Europeans, mostly women. Nice. They were way overdressed for the desert and La Kiva and mostly kept to themselves, but by the end of the night the dance floor was totally packed with everybody, plus dogs and it was nuts. Bars out here close at midnight, so it was decidded there would be an afterparty at the tour bus. I went over there with some other folks and joined the busload of Europeans, most of whom had drank far too much to stay up any later. However, about 1 AM or so Joe King and his band showed up with instruments and we bagen to play outside the bus. Totally badass. Until 3:30 AM in fact. Here's some pics of him onstage and also in front of the bus

Note the synth sax/flute the sax guy is playing onstage, I've never heard a funnier sounding instrument for "96 Tears" but, my goodness the dance floor was rocking!
So at 3:30 I trudged off to the Big Brown and got up the next morning to head to Houston. I stopped off at the Study Butte store and at at the awesome littel deli that never seems to be open when I go there. GREAT breakfast and great coffee. it saved me for the 650 mile drive back to H-Town that I did that day.

As an aside, I must say that Joe King's guiatr playing when he's playing traditional Mexican corrido melodies is somewhat astoundingly good. He really ought to record an instrumental album or do a soundtrack. I mean, it was pretty much magical under the stars out by that bus. Those Europeans couldn't believe he actually came out after a 3 hour show to play for free for another 2 hours! Ha ha! Totally awesome.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Part II- Walking Lyons, Lockwood, Clinton, McCarty, Wayside, Navigation 9/7

Here's another great pic of Proler Steel's neighborhood enhancements, although the extent of their neighbors is nostly abandoned warehouses, railroad spurs, and overgrown vacant lots. Still no people other than a few Proler employess, who, by the way, were friendly and waved to me.
As we walked down Clinton and left the friendly confines of the Proler zone, we took a right and walked across a very old wooden bridge (you can see the wooden slats beneath the backtop). The bridge is braced with vertical wooden piers that are some of the largest I've ever seen- hence the weight limit of 12 tons. This bridge crosses over a small tributary- looks like a creek, not a bayou, and is relatively clean except for some miscellaneous trash here and there that likely blew into it. across this bridge stands a very old neighborhood of sleepy frame houses- very old and very peaceful. Apparently mostt are owned by a local artist, who lives in the largest at the end of a dead end. Great trees- the temperature was at least 5 degrees cooler in this enclave of civilization. Everyone was at work, it seemed, so still no sign of actual human activity. This is all within 2-3 miles of central downtown but should remain for quite some time, given the availability of countless acreage for townhomes closer in and more accessible.
Meanwhile, we walked back to Clintoon where I was amused by yet another notice discouraging metal looters from yet another abandoned warehouse.
As we continued eastwards on Clinton we were now getting very close to being alongside the real deal- the older part of the Houston Ship Channel. Notable is this abandoned Houston Chronicle distribution warehouse. Close to the Union Pacific N/S tracks and Lathrop Dr. I got a kick out of the rusted off "exit" sign for Lathrop. I was also somewhat surprised that the railroad maintenance firm that has this great sign is still cooking. There was a group of UP workers doing track maintenance on one of the four or five sets of still working, parallel railroad tracks. Rail and shipping, plus the large container trucks that service them is what is happening down in this area. Lots of that, and nothing else except for a few "importing" companies in a newer modular warehouse complex. By this time we are hot- yes we were both wearing black t-shirts, and what little sunscreen I had put on had been sweated off. Oh yes, I should mention, we actually had found our first convenience store on Lockwood and I had an incredibly cold and excellent RC Cola 20 ounce, followed by a Lone Star. At this point, on the horizon is the Wayside Dr overpass and several old steel railroad bridges. Here's the pics

YET- before we get to the bridges we are approaching John mentions that he is smelling the worst smell he can possibly imagine. I didn't think it was that bad. Granted, it was strong. Then, off to our right we see that there's a huge City of Houston wastewater treatment plant. At least 8 or nine dredging ponds open to the sky. later we would see the "cleaned" water being discharged into the ship channel from our vantage point above the Channel on the Wayside Dr bridge/aqueduct.
No condos for this area anytime soon.
OK nerds, especially those of you who might be like me and like things like steel bridges and railroads. We crossed under two old steel railroad bridges, built in the same year and less than 100 feet away from each other, but built by two different rail entities in conjunction with the same local officials. i love the fact that two bridges built in 1927 can still handle hundreds of thousands of pounds of freight per day, every day. The pics are large so hopefull you can read the text on the brass plaques beneath each bridge.

About another mile or so or four lane highway without curbs or sidewalks, known as Clinton Dr and we see an oasis! It's a bar. It's about high noon and we are ready to sit for a minute, have a drink and chill out in a local tavern. As we approach, John notes the color of the building and says, "No that's a modeling studio". We still can't read the sign, but when we can I rejoice that it is, indeed, a bar.
The sun is so bright that when we walk in to the place John and I are momentarily sightless, waiting for our eyes to adjust. Of course, since I am wearing sunglasses I see pretty much right off that bat the group of 16 or 17 year old hispanic girls gathered to the right and the bar, manned by a middle aged hispanci woman on the left. As we walk in, all the men in the place walk out except for a much older cat wearing dark galsses in the corner. As we sit down at the bar, I remark to John that he was right. The place is a whorehouse. Undeterred, we order two Budweisers. $4 apiece and served with a frown. After a $2 tip the mood lightens up. We soak it in for the length of one cold beer being consumed by twom overheated and out of place gringos and get out while we still can. Tension is pretty high. As we leave, all the men walk back in and we are back on the sweltering streets of East Houston. This place is one black west of McCarty on Clinton. Here's the pic.

As we reach McCarty there's actually several other restaurants/nightclubs, all of which look like they are maybe a step up from the aforementioned, but maybe into the same game on the side. After all, this is sailors', Railroad men and truckers' turf. In view in the far off distance on Clinton is nothing but desolation and the 610 bridge. time to make a left on McCarty, which shows much more promise. As we leave the ship channel behind us, we are looking forward to more culture, although the last stop more than made up for what we didn't see earlier. One place we did pass but did not enter is the "Seamen Nightclub" a place of former east Houston fame, back when they used to let the sailors off the ships. John Lomax found an old story in the Press archives about the decline of Clinton Drive, whihc coincided with the drop off in sailor activity. I can't even begin to imagine the debauchery. Here's some pics of some of the haunts in the area we were too early in the day to explore.

Note the sign out front of Los Amigos Lounge advertising "CHICKAS". Love it. A few more notables follow- specifically the transvestites painted on the La Estrella Bar. Also, as we were taking the picure of the "Apartiman for Rent" sign a lady came out of the Harbor Lights Bar to see what we were doing.

Ok well, it's pretty late here in Marfa right now. I guess I'm about 2/3 of the way through with the truly interesting stuff. I'm going to carry the computer with me this weekend and hopefully I'll fiinish this business up. There's more, of course. - David