The Great American Road Trip II - 28 - Hog Heaven
We got the call from the dealership around 11:00 and had the same older gentlemen who dropped us off pick us up and drive us over. The car's oil was changed and the water cooling system belt had been replaced. We cautiously got onto the freeway, but all systems were nominal as we took it up to speed.
With a fully functioning car - the first time since Utah - we headed east on I-20 bound for the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Our previous route would have taken us to minor league teams in San Antonio and Round Rock, but this route takes us to the Texas Rangers in Arlington and the independent AirHogs in Grand Prairie.
The landscape became more grassy, with mesquite trees replacing the scrub brush of previous days. The flat prairies were replaced by hills that rolled increasingly, to the point that I now fully understand why they call that region "Texas hill country." The rolling hills built up our elevation until we lost all of it going down a 6% grade on a curve, a section that the usually laissez-faire Texas government actually put up signs about. North Carolina warns you of every little thing on the road whereas Texas - like most western states - only put signs up on the worst of the worst parts of the road.
(At this point my dad said "look at the grass - it's like a plant!" This, we assume, referred to the fact that the grass was not uniformly growing but instead mostly grew in small clumps akin to exceptionally furry scrub brush. That, or he's just being crazy again.)
Before 1:30 we had made it to the outskirts of Fort Worth where we split off on the western terminus of Interstate 30 which took us through the center of Fort Worth - but not before we passed under perhaps eight or nine bridges simultaneously. The traffic was not as bad as anticipated so we quickly passed through Fort Worth and entered Arlington, a suburb situated roughly between the two major cities.
(Side note: If you're in the middle of nowhere, good luck finding a Texas policeman, because there are none. However, in the Fort Worth city limits alone, we saw no less than four policemen with cars they pulled over. People still drove crazy, but it was significantly less crazy.)
We meandered off the highway and finally found parking after about two dozen marked-off entrances to a large parking lot. We finally worked our way in and headed across the street to the gift shop, where we found the pennant section and selected one. Soon we were checked out and headed back to I-30.
A lot of independent league teams are situated next to or near larger metropolitan areas that have major league teams, but cannot have two due to strange and slightly arbitrary zones set up by MLB. While larger cities such as Los Angeles or New York can support two teams, areas such as Dallas/Fort Worth or Minneapolis/St. Paul can only support one team apiece. As such, both St. Paul and Grand Prairie (right next to Arlington) have independent-league teams - both in the American Association, one of the larger and more respectable independent leagues. We'd called the Grand Prairie team office earlier and were promised a tour before we could get a word in edgewise. We got to the stadium and the lady we'd called did not disappoint in terms of friendliness and excitability.
Our tour guide did not have access to various keys that would have been helpful in getting around the stadium - which is exceptionally nice considering it's an independent league team - but she was a staff member who doubled as an usher and one of the few who didn't have a business card. Her excitability cannot be overstated - she reminded me of you when you're hyped up on a high predisone dose.
The Grand Prairie team won the American Association championship in 2011, but their attendance has shrunk to the point that, if all the fans of an average game sat together, they could only fill up perhaps three sections. Apparently the previous general manager had a tendency to give tickets away, and when the current GM stopped the giveaways, attendance plummeted. We gave her some ideas accumulated from our experiences in Sacramento and Vancouver as to possible ways of getting the attendance back up, and she promised to pass them on, but at the same time she expressed opinions intimating that the higher-ups in the AirHogs staff didn't always value her opinions because she was an usher. (She knew more about what needed to be done than anyone else did, though.)
She took us through the parts of the stadium that she could, which included the suite areas which were nicer than the triple-A digs we toured in Sacramento. To get us to a larger suite she climbed over the small rails that divided the suite seats outside and let us in from the outside.
The hallways are decorated with pigs crawling on or flying various vehicles, including rockets, airplanes, and - my personal favorite - a WWII bomber with baseballs for ammunition and bats for rockets. The stadium is filled with little touches, such as baseball seams on stairs. Also, the field is completely made of AstroTurf save for the circles of dirt making up the pitcher's mound and the area around the batter's box. Since independent teams have to make do with whatever money they get from attendance and souvenirs, AstroTurf for everything cuts down costs. (Plus it eliminates bad hops - a definite plus.)
We got a picture of our tour guide holding Yoder the Duck, and she took us back to get us copies of a picture of the team right after it won the 2011 championship, among other pictures. She then took us downstairs to see the kid's playground area before taking us to the gift shop, where we got a pennant along with a hat and a t-shirt for dad. After thanking them profusely, we got back on the road at 3:30, and had no more destinations for the day save for one: a restaurant called Ponchatoulas in the middle of Ruston, LA, halfway between the Texas border and the Mississippi border.
We got back on I-30 through Dallas until the traffic slowed to a halt, but we were able to exit and worked our way to I-35E which took us down to I-20, where we ran into a bunch of Texans with bad cases of road rage. One guy came within about six inches of sideswiping us while other folks raced around trucks without turn signals. Texans are nice to a fault if you talk to them but you wouldn't get that impression if your experience was defined by the drivers. Perhaps they get all of their frustrations out on the road leading to their mellowness in other endeavors.
Traffic thinned out as we bolted for the border. At around 6:30 we stopped for gas in Waskom, the last town of any size before the Louisiana border - and they do not make it clear where the gas station is or how to get to it without ripping your axles in two. After running over a gigantic pothole that I'm amazed didn't do any damage, we crossed over the highway and tried accessing the gas station via an adjacent shop, but there was no connector, so we had to get back on the frontage road to get to the gas - which was badly needed as we had landed on the big red "E" and only had perhaps a half-gallon left in the tank. We filled up and washed the windshield with the help of little hotel shampoo bottles while under the gaze of a bunch of rednecks who practically emanated the sound of banjos.
We got back on the road and within just a few minutes we'd made it to Louisiana, a state I've never been to before today. My mom told us about the history of Shreveport, named for a certain Captain Shreve that, over a period of many years, un-jammed the Red River and the bustling area that became Shreveport honored the man in their name.
I'm convinced that if you take out the casinos, there would be no Shreveport.
We successfully avoided a random bottle of Gatorade that fell out of the UPS truck in front of us as well as plenty of potholes. Unnecessary road construction has been my pet peeve on this trip, but I will say that Louisiana is a state that could use a heapin' helpin' of road work.
(The Frenchness of the state was apparent when we entered: their welcome sign had French in addition to English and they had what I think was some sort of radio antenna shaped like a tall, thin Eiffel Tower.)
Aside from these oddities, Louisiana's scenery is barely distinguishable from rural areas of North Carolina. The only discrepancy between the two is that Louisiana's trees are rather taller and occasionally curve over the highway to the point that it feels like you're driving through a tunnel. There was little wildlife but a lot of roadkill - the most we've seen since the veritable menagerie of Michigan. We mainly saw armadillo and dog roadkill.
We exited in Ruston and navigated the one-way streets and road construction through its quaint downtown and found the restaurant where we saw a large group of people standing outside. Thinking that this was the line to get in, we figured it must be good. As it turned out, they were a party of eleven and we were seated when we walked in.
The food was an odd combination of delicious and nearly unpalatable. I found the gumbo to be ridiculously atrocious, but the fried crawfish and fried pickles were absolutely amazing. We're finally back to the land of proper sweet tea, and although it was not the flavored sugar water I'm accustomed to, it was a good change of pace from the lemonade that's been our standard order throughout the trip.
Tomorrow: Jackson, MS, or Birmingham, AL. We're going to get as far as we feel is possible after we tour the Civil War history in Vicksburg.