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I just wrote out this whole thing and WordPress deleted it. Curses! WordPress, please give me back an hour of my life, or at least let me be as witty as I think I was the first time I wrote those.

The route: Fly to Houston, drive to San Antonio for a night, come back, fly to Atlanta, drive to Birmingham for a night, come back.

Driving from San Antonio to Houston, I pulled over at a gas station/food store called Buc-ee’s, with enough billboards on Route 10 to rival “South of the Border,” and, for the first time in my jerky-loving life, I could not handle the jerky.  If it can walk, it can be shot, skinned, and dried out in central Texas.  I bought a piece of elk jerky and loaded up on sweets mostly, like a skewer of marshmallows dipped in chocolate then nuts then covered in icing.  I scarfed that thing up.  Maybe a hundred miles later, I pulled over to pick up a pick-me-up (I’m partial to Tab Energy, but it’s so hard to find in east Texas), and the store clerk was like, “Honey, you having a rough day?  You want a scratch-off?”  I was like, “Yes, today IS a rough day, how did you know?  I never do this, but I’ll take a scratch-off.”  I got a dud, of course, and I kept on driving another hundred miles until I pulled into the Rice University parking lot where I was to meet for an appointment.  I checked myself in my rear-view mirror and… I had chocolate all around my mouth the entire time!  No wonder the clerk thought I was having a rough day.  I can’t feed myself.

It gets more embarrassing.  In Houston, I stayed at the new Zaza, and I cannot recommend it.  My room was very small, and it was just not as excessively sexy as the Dallas one.  I enjoyed the hotel restaurant, especially my “inverted sushi roll” of rice topped with crab seviche and avocado.  Most of the way through my meal, an attractive man approached my table, and we talked for about five minutes before he finally asked if he could sit.  His story held up–he was a former Seal, in his early 30s, traveling and working in the energy sector.  He was also devastatingly handsome.  There were muscles under that suit.  I tried to pull a move I’d seen George Costanza do on Seinfeld, where he pushed the chair opposite him out from the table with his foot to suggest that an attractive lady take a seat.  Unfortunately, I pushed the chair straight into his family jewels.  Neither of us should have tried so hard–it didn’t end well.

I was disappointed in Birmingham.  I travel for the great American downtown, but people told me I should have stayed in the suburbs.  I just would never choose to stay in a Doubletree that shares its parking lot with a Blockbuster and CVS.  But they were right: downtown Birmingham is evacuated of small businesses with storefront window displays, lacking in public works and garden projects, devoid of signage directing me to any of the myriad historic sites from the Civil Rights movement and before.  I opted to stay at the Redmont Hotel in downtown Birmingham, and glad I did.  I enjoyed a spacious, quaintly decorated room with a great skyline view, even an old-fashioned bathtub with bubble bath salts.  I dined at the historic (and supposedly haunted) Tutwiler Hotel, in its restaurant Icon.

I began with their spicy green tomato soup with shrimp and bacon, for which Icon had achieved local fame, and deservedly so.  For my second course, I had a duck confit “ravioli” special.  When it arrived, I found myself staring down a square of overcooked pasta with greasy, fatty duck on it, sitting in a pool of grease, with congealed fat.  Confit is greasy, I know this, but it’s usually not so globular.  When given the opportunity to trade it in for something else, I did.  Exchanging a dish means opening myself up to the possibility of a replacement with an extra dash of spite, and that might have been the case with my curry coconut mussels.  They were very good–that is, the ones that were cooked.  About half were coral-colored and irredescent, and the other half were gray and slimy!  At that point, my apathy level was quite high, and I ate anything that seemed remotely cooked.

(It is so frustrating to re-write everything!  WordPress, WHY?!)

Atlanta.  I went to Atlanta for a friend’s wedding, a large Jewish wedding with more than 300 guests, lots of fun.  But it’s too private to write about.  I will, however, write about my evening in Atlanta before joining the wedding party.

When I arrived, I decided to go to the Georgia Aquarium.  I received discount admission because I went only for the last hour and a half until close, and it was a really enjoyable walk-through.  I spent a while at the touch-tank, where I got to pet rays and small sharks.  I then spent a while at the hand-washing bin.  Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is still the best I’ve ever seen, but I was glad to have another vicarious experience of the rendez-vous scene in Closer.

You’d think that paying to look at fish would make me less interested in paying to eat one, but such was not the case.  For dinner, I went to Aquaknox in Buckhead, a sister to the chi chi Las Vegas seafood restaurant.  Rather than do my usual faux 3-course routine of a soup or salad course then two appetizers, I ordered a real entree of John Dory with sweet corn broth and lobster succotash.  John Dory is a deep-sea fish, a very cool-looking fish, and also a very delicious fish.  What made the meal really shine, though, was the bartender who was serving me.  He was an older gentleman, and in spite of it being one of the first Fridays of the restaurant’s opening, he was calm.  All around me, impatient servers and diners, all young with spiked hair or too much eye makeup, spat orders at him.  He took it in stride, and when he had time, he seemed to enjoy chatting with me about food and wine.  He brought me an amuse-bouche, slipped me stuffed olives, gave me tastes of wines he thought were interesting as he poured them for other customers, and ended the meal with a complimentary glass of chocolate tawny port.

Toward the end of my meal, a woman my age sat next to me, waiting for a friend to arrive.  She seemed restless and self-conscious, and she checked her phone frequently.  It made her genuinely uncomfortable to be sitting there with nothing to do.

“I could never do what you’re doing,” she said.

“What am I doing?” I asked.

“Eat out by myself.”  She added, “You’re so brave.”

“You should try it.”

And she gave me that look, that distinct look that says, “You’re weird.” 

“If anyone should be embarrassed in this conversation…” I thought, but I bit my tongue and sipped my free wine.

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Christmas at the Alamo.

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Christmas on the Riverwalk.

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Santa on the Riverwalk.

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Buc-ee’s.

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Jerky at Buc-ee’s.

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Up close and personal with elk jerky.

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Zaza.

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Zaza room.

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Inverted sushi, minus the ex-Seal.

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Zaza art.

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Talladega Motor Speedway.

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Redmont Hotel, Birminham.

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Birmingham.

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The soup.

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The “ravioli.”

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Christmas in Birmingham.

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Dulcimer musicians in a Birmingham mall.

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World of Coca Cola, next to the Georgia Aquarium.

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Jellyfish!

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Beluga whale (cringe).

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Tunnel under the shark tank.

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In good company with Mr. Dory.

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Aquaknox.

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