As some readers will know, I journeyed 2000 miles across the southern USA in late September, mainly to play in a National tennis competition, but also to see some more of the US. The drive took my three friends and I through the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and New Mexico, before we eventually arrived at our destination, Arizona. The trip was full of adventure.
We began our road trip early, 5.30 am, and after eating lunch with family of my friends, we spent the first night stop in New Orleans. We found our hotel, The Hilton, in the city centre, unloaded our bags, and opted to pay for valet parking, as it worked out only a few dollars more than doing it ourselves.
It was only when we reached the checking in counter that we were told that there are three Hiltons in New Orleans and we’d gone to the wrong one! Luckily we were given a free glass of wine and managed to catch the car before it was driven off to the park!
After finding the right hotel, we unloaded our bags, drank a celebratory glass of Jim Beam, and ventured out into New Orleans. We headed straight for Bourbon Street and took in the ambience. After eating a meal, watching the street from a balcony, and experiencing some live jazz music, we headed back to our rooms, tired but fulfilled.
We hit the road again early the following morning and it didn’t take too long before we hit Texas. Driving through the Lone Star State would take up most of the second day (and a large chunk of the day after that too!). We arrived at our next stop, San Antonio, late afternoon and headed straight for its most famous building, the iconic, Alamo Mission.
I wasn’t sure how the boisterous Texans would present their most famous building, but it was all rather tastefully done and it was great to take in some history.
Afterwards, we checked our bags in at the hotel and headed to the River Walk, an attractive downtown development running along the San Antonio River. We ate some Tex Mex food and ordered quite possibly the biggest margaritas in the world. We opted to imbibe the drinks through straws, but had we brought our bathing costumes, we could quite easily have dived into the limey-tequilerish beverages and swum around in them, such was their size.
West Texas Birthday
The population and the vegetation thinned out as we drove deep into West Texas the following day. There were some large, crazy rock formations and the first hills I’d seen for three years (Florida is pretty much totally flat!)
It was also, by a strange coincidence, my birthday that day. It was decided that the anniversary of my arrival into the world should be celebrated with me drinking shots from a plastic cup in the shape of a cactus every time that we stopped, whilst a collection of hit songs from the year of my birth, 1965, was listened to when we were on the road.
Unfortunately, the cacti shot cup leaked more bourbon than it held, giving the interior of the car, as well as my clothing, a whiskeyish flavour – perhaps not a good thing, given the strict Texas alcohol/driving laws.
We ate lunch in El Paso and caught a glimpse of the Rio Grande, the security border fence, and the hills and shanty huts of Mexico.
New Mexico Customs
New Mexico turned into dry desert plains and mountains. The bourbon and pop music led me into a satisfied relaxed state. Then, in the middle of nowhere in particular, all vehicles on the road was funneled into a self-described “customs post”. This caused some anxiety, as my green card has lapsed whilst the USCIS process a replacement. They did send me an official letter saying that my permanent resident status had been extended a year, but I’d left it back in Florida, not expecting to cross through any customs posts. There were officials with dogs flagging down vehicles, presumably looking for illegal Mexicans.
Despite my faultless immigration status, my concern was that we would be delayed for a long time - but to my relief, after removing our ponchos and sombreros, we were waved through without any problems.
(Okay, I made that bit up about ponchos and sombreros!)
Tucson at last!
The last stretch of the journey through New Mexico and Arizona seemed to drag a little, especially after the sun went down and there was no scenery to see. Arriving in darkness, it was difficult to know what to make of Tucson. We wouldn’t see its dry desert splendor until the following morning - the rocks, huge cacti and stunning mountains in all directions.
We would have a couple of days to rest up and do some gentle exercise, before it was time to play some serious tennis.
It should also be noted that during the last leg of the outward journey, the cap of my family-sized mouthwash bottle had come loose, leaking its contents into my suitcase. Despite rinsing out my clothes, I would spend the remainder of the trip exuding a minty aroma wherever I went.