21 November 2011

ode to el valle

Following my mini road-trip, I flew from Lubbock to McAllen, a city in the Rio Grande Valley. I lived and worked in the Rio Grande Valley for five years, and it's where I had left all of my things in storage. I stayed with my friend J.C. while there, and although a lot of my time was spent getting my things in order and from my storage unit and A.L.'s and J.C.'s house into my PODS container, I had some free time to drive out to west Valley, which is the rural area where I spent four of my five "Valley Years." Here are some pics from my drive out west:

Only $8.50 a gallon?! What a deal! There's an Exxon across the highway that was charging $3.15 a gallon on the same day, but this station charges so much because it's actually a drug front and they don't want lots of people showing up there. I wish I were kidding.

The Rio Grande. The left bank is Mexico; the right bank is Texas. This picture was taken from the Roma Bluffs, one of my favorite places in west Valley.

Miguel Aleman, Mexico. This city is directly across the border from Roma, Texas. This bridge used to be filled with cars all hours that the international bridge was open, but because of the drug wars, very few people cross back and forth now.

Cool mural in downtown Roma

I've always loved this sign

Very short bus on the road to my friend's old house on "The Lane."

Huge cactus on the same road

The shack by the river where my friend A.L. used to live. Look closely at the door...do you see how the bottom had to be chopped off so it would fit in the door frame? Hahaha. My other friend S.R. moved in here after A.L. moved to McAllen. We were all surprised, because S.R. usually prefers swankier dwellings. The arrangement lasted only a month or so before the frogs, javelinas, insects, and rats got to be too much for S.R. and she had to move out.

Big Daddy's. Sigh. I have so many fond memories of this place. I know it looks like kind of a dump in this picture, but believe it or not, Big Daddy's used to be kind of classy. When I moved to this small town, there was one bar. One. But people got kidnapped from there on a regular basis, so we avoided it, natch. And then it closed anyway. Another bar opened up my third year living there, and it was a little less sketchy at first, but that soon changed, and that place followed suit. So then there were none. When Big Daddy's opened up during my fourth year living there, it really seemed...different. Not swanky, but not sketchy, either. The furniture and counters had been freshly carpentered and the smell of sawdust lingered in the air. It was nice. It was the one "hangout spot" in town that was open on Friday and Saturday nights, and there were a lot of great pool tables. I don't mean to make it sound like I'm a bar rat, but it's nice to have someplace to go now and then, you know? One of my favorite memories is requesting songs for them to play. Beyonce's "Halo" was big at the time, and I always requested that song. And even though they always reminded me that it was just satellite radio, I still made requests. Good times.

Sadly, as you might be able to tell from this photo, Big Daddy's fell upon hard times and went the way of Los Tepos and On the Rocks. Now it is just another empty storefront in that small town.

I stumbled upon this fancy neighborhood while driving around one weekend. If you look closely at the street sign and you know me personally, you'll understand why I like this neighborhood so much. There's another street in the neighborhood called "Deer Run," which is the name of the neighborhood where my parents live. Weird!

Ah, the Big Red Barn. "Now Open," except not really. This used to be a drive-thru beverage center. It was open for about a week, I think. (Side note: there used to be another drive-thru beverage center in the shape of a ginormous six pack about 20 miles from my town. I never actually went there, but it looked pretty awesome from the highway.)

This painting on the side of an herbal medicine shop cracks me up. It's actually in McAllen, not in the small town where I lived, but I love it anyway.

These are just some of the quirky sights I love in the town where I lived for four years. It may not seem like much, but they are things I saw on a regular basis, and bring back so many good memories of the time I spent there, and more importantly, the people I came to know and love while living there. Sometimes people ask why I love Texas and west Valley so much, and I guess it's partly because it's the first place I lived on my own. It's also the place where:

...I worked harder than I've ever worked
...I became a teacher
...I met the friendliest, most humble, and hardest-working students and people in the world
...I saw proof that with hard work, people can overcome all the odds stacked against them
...I learned that I can make your own fun and have an amazing time in a place where "there's nothing to do"
...I made some of the best friends I'll ever have

I didn't know anyone or anything about the area when I moved there. Originally, I planned to stay for only two years, but I ended up staying for five years. During those years, I really built a life there, and I guess that leaves its mark.

19 November 2011

texas hold 'em

After welcoming the new Teach For America corps members to Delaware, I had to go to Texas to get all of my things, which were in storage there. I had left my belongings in Texas while living in Costa Rica, because it was cheaper than New York, and I wasn't sure where I would be living when I returned to the U.S. Since I had to go out there anyway, I decided to take a mini road-trip and see some of the sights I had missed over Summer 2010 due to my visa issues. While I thought Summer 2011 would be my last summer break as a teacher, I ended up not having much of a summer break because I had to start my new job just one day after arriving in the U.S.! So this road trip was a nice way to squeeze in one last summer break while I still had the chance. Here's a photo summary of my trip:

After flying into Lubbock, TX, I rented a car and drove to Palo Duro Canyon State Park."Home" sweet home

Happy to be back in Texas!

I just love these open roads with nothing around! Welcome to the panhandle.

A few hours later, I arrived at Palo Duro Canyon State Park. My dad had sent me an article from the New York Times about this park a few years ago, and I've been wanting to go every since. At 120 miles long and up to 1,000 feet deep, it is the second largest canyon in the country and is called the "Grand Canyon of Texas." It is amazing! And super hot in the summer.

When I arrived at the park, a friendly woman welcomed me and asked me if I was there to see the musical, Texas! I told her I was there to camp, but that I would be happy to learn more about the musical. She convinced me to attend, so I went that night, which happened to be the Fourth of July. The way the greeter described the show, it sounded kind of cheesy. And don't get me wrong--it was cheesy--but it was also pretty moving, too! When the announcer guy came out onto the stage to get the show started, the audience (many of whom had seen the show before) started hooting and hollering, and at that point, I knew. I knew it was going to be great. (Ha ha, dramatic much?) The opening scene was a lone cowboy sitting on his horse at the top of the canyon, waving a huge flag behind him, and of course, the cheering got even louder then.

The acting was so-so, but the singing and dancing were really quite good. The play was about how the panhandle came to be settled, and told the story of the six flags over Texas. At several points throughout the play, actors on their horses galloped across the natural amphitheater, streaming giant flags behind them, and it really was quite lovely.

The show ended with a special lighted fountain feature. (Usually, they have fireworks, but it had been too dry in the area, and the fireworks would have been a fire hazard.) In honor of the holiday, they added a patriotic light show to the end of their normally spectacular show. This may sound silly, but I seriously felt really glad to be an American and grateful for the chance to live in Texas during that show (I mean, I always do, but the show just reminded me).

The next morning, I hiked a little, but it was honestly too hot to move much.
Hiking along some "shaded" trails. This was the coolest part of the park, and it was over 100 degrees!

I skipped hiking out to Chimney Rock, one of the main attractions in the park, but I got to see it through the long-distance viewer scope, so I felt like I got my money's worth. I also got to see some awesome longhorn cattle up close and personal!

After leaving the park, I drove towards White Sands National Park, and managed to see some funny sights along the way.

Welcome to Roswell! It's on the way to White Sands, driving from Palo Duro Canyon, so I had to check it out. Look below the "Arby's" part of this sign!

Alien Invasion!

There were tons of these cheesy murals painted all over town.

A few hours later, I made it to White Sands National Monument, near Alamogordo, NM. I had seen photos of this place before, and I had always wanted to visit it because it seemed so enchanting. It did not disappoint! I got there too late to go on the ranger-led hike, because campers are required to set up their tents before sunset. I thought that was weird at first, but I totally understand now, because it was very difficult to see the trail markers among all the sand dunes, even in the daylight! After setting up my tent, however, I had plenty of time to walk around and admire the sunset.

This is not the campsite I was supposed to be at, but I couldn't find mine, as the trail marker had been covered by drifting sand! But it worked out just fine :).

Some views just didn't seem real!

I loved the way the sand looked, blowing in the wind. The squiggles on the left of this picture are sand angels some other visitors made in the sand.

The next morning, I drove around the entire monument, and talked to a friendly family, who let me use their track to go sand surfing on. Sand surfing wasn't that great, but I'm glad I gave it a shot. I sold the sled I had rented to them, and we both ended up saving money on that deal.

From White Sands, I headed back to Texas. I had heard great things about Marfa, and artsy little town in west Texas, so that was my next destination.

These signs on the eastern and western sides of Texas crack me up. How can a city in the same state be almost 900 miles away?! Texas is so freaking huge. Marfa ended up being kind of a bust. I guess you have to know where to look, but I didn't see much of interest there, and the motels were crazy overpriced, so I drove to a town about 40 miles away, where the motels were $40 cheaper! The extra driving probably cost as much, but it still felt better to me. And at that motel, I found out about the Marfa Mystery Lights, so I went to check them out that night, even though they only come out about 20% of the time. I guess the force was with me, because they came out that night!

The next morning, I drove back to Lubbock. On the way, I saw a sign on the highway that Stone Henge was in the next town, so I stopped in Odessa. While looking for Stone Henge, I found the Bush family's first home when they moved to Texas. (Just to set the record straight: the Bush family is not from Texas.)

It took a lot of driving around, and a call to my mom to figure out the address, but I finally found "Stone Henge." It was underwhelming, but you'd better believe I was going to see it after driving around looking for it for an hour or so.

By that point, I had to hightail it up to Lubbock to make it to the airport in time for my flight! I'll tell you about my time in the Valley next time.

17 November 2011

back in the saddle

For me, one of the best ways to make transitions smooth is to have very little time between things. If I have too much time to mull things over, I tend to dwell and get sad about the changes that are happening, so it's really best for me to just move from quickly from one thing to the next. I definitely got my wish with my transition back to the United States, as I began my new job the day after I got home! I arrived home on Sunday, 6/19, and began work in a new state on Monday, 6/10. Kind of a crazy fast transition, but that's the way I like it. I am working for Teach For America full time now, so I am not in my own classroom anymore. It's hard to think about sometimes. I was a teacher for six years, and while I know that's not a super-long time, it is the longest I've done anything, except be a person. But I really like my corps members (the teachers I'm working with), and their students are really cute--almost as cute as my former students--so that helps a lot. Out of respect for the teachers I'm working with and their students, I won't talk much about them here, but I wanted to update you all as to what I'm doing now. It's interesting to see a different side to the same mission I dedicated so much time to in the past, and I'm enjoying it so far!