After entering Texas by spending one unremarkable night in Beaumont, we were on our way to Austin. As we entered Austin on a cloudy day that threatened rain, we crossed a very high bridge into the city and met our first reminder that we were traveling in February. What we thought was rain turned quickly to sleet. Thankfully, the road temperature was warm enough that it melted on impact sparing us a slippery ride towing forty feet of vehicle.
We were quickly introduced to Austin traffic. A true tangle of changing lanes and aggression. Route 35, the main interstate running up the center of the state and through Austin, is set up like most of the major highways in Texas. The highway is sandwiched between access roads called Frontage Rd. in every case we found. To access the sea of businesses that exist right off the highway one must brave Frontage Rd. And to get from one side going north or south to the other side in the opposite direction you must take an exit and then carefully transverse the highway through a snarl of traffic and aggressive drivers.
We thought we were following GPS but became confused and mistrustful of what the nice lady was telling us. After getting off the highway it told us to take a left and it appeared we were being sent back to where we had gotten off. We called the RV park and said we might be lost. The gentleman said he understood that it was confusing. As he was going back over where we had been, I saw the sign for Austin Lonestar RV up ahead on the right. The gentleman then said he saw us and to pull in on the right. Due to construction and cones cutting off the left lane, Eileen had to get out and move a construction cone so I could swing the behemoth into the entrance. The park was sitting right on the access road.
Austin Lonestar RV Resort is a Sun property. Sun resorts exist in many places across the country. They are one of many companies that are transforming an evolving industry. As more and more baby-boomers are retiring and choosing the RV lifestyle, and younger couples and families take advantage of opportunities to work remotely and escape the grid, these companies are expanding their existing resorts by buying up existing campgrounds and RV parks and building them up and adding the amenities that will attract people and entice them to spend a little more money for the “luxury”.
There had been obvious upgrades to the park as most of the public spaces were in newly constructed or renovated buildings. The main building containing the registration office also had a game room, TV room and a gym that was equipped with new machines. There was a good size pool and jacuzzi. The laundry room contained all new machines and the bath and shower building was brand new offering nicely equipped, private bathrooms and shower rooms.
Although the park offered internet access that was serviceable, they did not offer cable access. We are finding that to be the norm in many parks along the way. It seems that the cable companies have awakened to the fact that many parks were used to setting up systems that allowed for them to pay a base price and then split the signal off to several sites. They have realized the lost profit potential and are now requiring parks to set up separate boxes for each site and charging a per box fee. Parks are struggling to figure out how to handle that requirement without costing themselves additional money. There is probably a sizeable initial installation fee that they are not willing to pay up front. This is short-sighted thinking. They could charge guests a per-day fee that incorporates both the installation cost and operating fees and still make a profit. If it will make money, they will figure it out.
On our first full day we decided to visit the LBJ Presidential Library. The library is housed on the campus of the University of Texas which is a sprawling campus that eats up a great deal of the city. Revisiting LBJs life and presidency was moving, inspiring and nostalgic. Johnson ascended to the presidency as a result of one of my most vivid memories as a child and a seminal moment for many modern Americans.
A Speaking Amitron – A Little Creepy Actually
I can still remember sitting in my second-grade class at Fox Elementary School. We had just moved back to Hartford from Ohio. An announcement was made over the loudspeaker that school was letting out early. I do not remember whether they told us that JFK has actually been shot or not. I went home and watched in black and white as Walter Cronkite announced JFK’s assassination. I, along with the rest of the nation, watched our national nightmare in real time on television. I still wonder how that may have affected a generation of Americans, especially children, moving forward. It is probable that the sweeping cultural changes that the country experienced over the next decade can be traced to the trauma of that event.
It is now known that LBJ and JFK were not the closest of allies. LBJ was clearly a choice for the ticket to balance out the northeast elitists, and Catholics, with a strong southern voice. It is surprising that after the assassination brought LBJ to the presidency, it became clear that it may have actually been LBJ that was the true champion of the poor, the oppressed and under-represented. The amount of powerful and transformational legislation that was passed during the six years of his presidency is mind boggling. He was responsible for the war on poverty, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Act, as well as environmental legislation.
What we learned that really impressed me more was the beginnings of his professional life and how that likely shaped his politics. He graduated from college with a degree in teaching and began his career teaching in poor schools in southern Texas that were primarily populated by Mexican-Americans. There are several examples in his writing and actions displayed at the library that evidence his dedication to and care for his students. Obviously, his understanding and compassion for the those who were oppressed, and their rights and opportunities, were seeded as a result of that experience.
We came away from our visit to the library with a greater appreciation for LBJ as a president. His legacy is obviously colored by the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War. He was vilified at the time for escalating the bombing in Cambodia and Laos, and delaying our exit from the conflict, but behind the scenes he was very conflicted over being in Vietnam, and like others did not see a viable exit strategy at the time. One of the interesting features of the library is the many personal phone calls that can be listened to at phone stations throughout the museum. LBJ recorded most of his phone calls and many are with cabinet members where he voices his frustration in not having an answer about how to end the war.
It says a great deal about modern war as well. Vietnam would be and was the second war that the United States had participated in after WWII where we were not to be a clear winner. The Korean War, for all intents and purposes, has not ended to this day. And we clearly lost the Vietnam War because we were really fighting communist China again.
The lessons of fighting wars far from home against enemies that are not easily defined and shifting have been lost on us. We are now entering almost two decades in Afghanistan after many years in Iraq as well. Through this lens it was a bit easier to appreciate the dilemma faced by LBJ at the time.
After that moving and enlightening experience it was off to more mundane survival tasks. We had not been near a Whole Foods since our quick stay in Tallahassee. We had been told there that if we ever got to Austin, we had to check out the Whole Foods. Well, which one? There were several of them. We must have chosen the right one. It was not only massive and diverse but it had a brewery tasting bar in the middle of the store. It seemed like every person in Austin had chosen to shop that day as well. We stocked up on all of the essentials not knowing when we would encounter another Whole Foods.
When we were reviewing our stops in Texas, Eileen had asked the question aloud, “I wonder how close we will come to Waco?” Why Waco? If the reader has not experienced the wonder and fascination of many with the show, “Fixer Uppers” on HGTV, and the stars Chip and Joanna Gaines, then the question means nothing. On the other hand, if the reader is familiar with the hoopla over Chip and Joanna, Waco is the motherland.
Chip and Joanna Gaines have built an empire and their show has partially been responsible for promoting and exploding that empire. For the non-ordained, Joanna is the style expert and Chip is the remodeling and construction expert. Together with their now five children, they have an infectious rapport and relationship. In short, they work with a couple and give them a choice of three houses and a potential budget for renovation. They then renovate the chosen home over the course of a couple of weeks implementing Joanna’s plan and decorating schemes sometimes in conjunction with local artisans. ( I will defer my rant about house-flipping shows and how they have created dangerously high expectations for younger millennials searching for houses)
In connection with the show, they have converted silos and connected buildings in downtown Waco into a cash bonanza. The product line is called “Magnolia” and the property is known as the Magnolia Silos. The property has a large area where shoppers can buy many of the products developed, found and designed by Joanna and her team. The property also has a courtyard and omni-present food trucks. And the bonus is a bakery where Joanna’s baking recipes come to life and are sold. They also have another site where discontinued items are sold, a restaurant, and they just bought another building in Waco where the bakery will be expanded.
Admittedly, I was curious about the place after watching the show with Eileen, and before that, with my obsessed daughter, Sarah, who worships at the altar of Joanna. I was not sure I was curious enough to drive an hour and forty-five minutes, but I do realize that many of the experiences that Eileen and I have had on this journey have been more of my initial interest than hers and I owed her this small diversion from our intended path.
On the show it appears as if the main focus of Chip and Joanna is the redesign and renovation of the house and that the Magnolia line and properties are secondary. When you arrive, you realize it is the other way around. The show helped explode the Magnolia line, and the line is clearly the primary focus. We found out how lucky we were that we had decided to visit on a weekday. Apparently, and we saw definite signs of this, there are waits as long as a couple of hours, to get into the main property at the silos. Evidence of the organization that moves the mass of people on weekends was clear. We had no trouble at eleven a.m. We found parking in the parking lot and went right in. They do have a couple of Waco police officers on duty to protect against unruly potential decorators or sugar addicts seriously jonesing a cupcake.
The Shopping Area at Magnolia Silos
Eileen was obviously more interested in the store than me. After seeing a couple of displays of flower arrangements and kitchenware I was done. While Eileen perused the vast array of Joanna’s collection, I retired to my only place of interest – the bakery.
The bakery was a study of fine baking and efficiency. The staff (and by the way so many staff it clearly dispelled the notion of the mom and pop business – Target would be jealous) had clearly recognized that the immense interest demonstrated in baked goods could quickly become a nightmare without some order. As you enter you immediately are at the end of a continuous line that must begin at opening and exist at closing. You are offered an order card and a golf pencil. You check off the items and quantity you desire and whatever drink you want. The line moves very quickly until you reach the front desk where your card is taken and the information in inputted into the computer. You pay and move to the end, passing all the goods that make you regret your initial choice and where your product is handed to you in very stylish packaging that promotes the brand. Joanna would have it no other way.
The Constantly Busy Bakery
We left shortly after that having been there just a little longer than it had taken us to get there and definitely not as long as the entire trip. Nonetheless, it was worth it to experience a paragon of American ingenuity and product development. You couldn’t help but admire what the pair had built over time.
All in all, we enjoyed our experiences in Austin. We definitely had no affinity for the traffic, but the city is beautiful and we enjoyed the park and what was available in the area. We did not have a chance to experience the nightlife or music scene for which Austin is famous. There’s always next time.