The trek south to Corpus Christi via Checotah, Oklahoma City, and Austin
Trading a Lake for a Gulf
Wendy and I waited out the first days of Winter Break 2015, declining to make hotel reservations until several days before we had to head out for Christmas visits with relatives. This allowed the weather forecasts to tighten up enough to steer us clear of our tentatively planned retreat to a favorite resort, Sugar Ridge on Beaver Lake in the Ozarks of northwest Arkansas. A strong El Niño pattern would be bringing days of rain to the region, in what would eventually develop into widespread flooding to end the wettest year in our young state’s history. I’m used to the showers of the Ozark woods, but they are not much fun in December; we both prefer water below and beside us to having it come down from above.
I knew that Wendy would not want to take a literal flight to escape the widespread precipitation; she was already trepidatious about our jetting to the Pacific Northwest for our honeymoon next summer. So I determined we should drive south, far south, to the Texas Gulf Coast, even though it meant that after Christmas in Oklahoma City we’d be facing a ten hour drive southward instead of four hours eastward. Two years prior we had enjoyed a Winter Break in San Antonio, liking our stay there so much that we had abandoned plans to drive onward from there to Corpus Christi. It was the time to retrieve that ambition.
The trip necessarily began with Christmastime visits to our parents. We visited Wendy’s mother first, enjoying lunch at the 69 Diner in Checotah. Christmas Eve found us snuggled in at our favorite hotel in Oklahoma City, maintaining our tradition of reading short stories to each other for the occasion. I selected Oscar Wilde’s Nightingale and the Rose to read to my partner, who dearly loves those flowering bushes. Wendy selected Dorothy Parker’s The Waltz for me, with its amusing contrast of inner and outer voices.
Stormy Southward Trek
The day we embarked for the coast was brooding and wet, as forecasted. We rolled southward down Interstate 35 past the slumping slopes of the Arbuckles, winding through Fort Worth, thankfully avoiding the tornadoes that would later sweep through the metro area. Our closest call was a series of loud tornado warnings from our iPhones as we hurriedly made our way past Itasca, successfully dodging a storm cell that was bearing down on the interstate. We then relaxed with some tasty burgers at Dave’s Burger Barn in Waco.
Interstate traffic had been quite heavy throughout our trip, but it reached stop-and-go levels south of Waco as we approached Temple. The stress was sufficient to convince me to divert onto the far more placid, if less direct, route 95 to the east. We were amused to find ourselves driving through Granger, Texas (I checked, but there is no Wendy, Texas…yet. It’s a big state with a long future ahead of it.) It was too dark and too late for us to gawk much, and we finally diverted west again to secure a room in Austin before we faced the drive onward to the coast.
We have friends in Austin who kindly took us out for dinner and fellowship two years earlier, so the next morning we considered trying to meet up with them. But the exhausting drive the day before and the prospect of hours more of travel to reach the coast, along with the proximity to Christmas, convinced us otherwise. We decided that we were better company with each other than becoming disheveled intruders into what might well be holiday family time. We did relax a bit with lunch at Bucca di Beppo, with its amusingly irreverent atmosphere. They fortuitously played our song as we waited for our food, cementing their status with us as a romantic interlude.
Having decided to continue to avoid the interstate for the drive to Corpus Christi, we needed to head eastward. That provided the opportunity to route ourselves along Mount Bonnell in Austin and make a brief stop to enjoy the expansive views, both north and south, of the Colorado River from the small park up top.
We heard varied accents from the brave souls who joined us on the chilly and windy crest. We were glad we had stumbled on the more gradual western trail climb to the top, rather than tackling the long flight of stone steps on the east, which we used for a rapid descent.
Our Journey to the Body of Christ
We then headed southeast on Austin’s highways for our journey to Corpus Christi, which is named after the Feast Day of the Body of Christ. At one point, Wendy suggested we turn onto Route 183, but I vetoed that and stuck with Route 130 for a bit longer, with the rejoinder, “Yeah, but look at the speed limit!” Part of that route has a limit of 85 miles per hour; Texans tend to think big.
We did finally leave 130 behind, at Lockhart, where we were struck by the imposing and beautiful edifice of the Caldwell County Courthouse. It peeked out over downtown at us and demanded that we pull in at the town square and gawk at its creamy limestone, red sandstone, and Second Empire profile.
The remainder of the drive to the coast was rather monotonous, but I was happy to trade an interstate packed with aggressive Texans for a relaxed drive through small oil towns along sleepy roads.
We traveled southeast from Beeville to reach the long 183 bridge between the Corpus Christi and Nueces Bays at sunset. The colorfully lit Harbor Bridge welcomed us into Corpus Christi, where we would spend a couple of days in a lovely room at the Omni hotel on the bayfront.