Houston, we have a problem


Published: August 30th 2017

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Those of you who follow our travels by seeing our Facebook or Twitter entries will know by now that our travels have been altered substantially by the impact of Hurricane Harvey which has hit the South East coast of Texas.

When we arrived in Dallas on Thursday 24th August our intention was to have a couple of days there, then on to Austin, for the street food, San Antonio for The Alamo then into Houston around Wednesday/Thursday this week for a baseball match on the Thursday and a visit to Space Centre Houston which is stuffed with space related artifacts that we were really keen to see.

As we arrived in Dallas, Hurricane Harvey - HH - was developing in the Gulf of Mexico and was forecast to hit the Texas coast SW of Houston around Corpus Christi . All the forecasts had it as a category 2 hurricane, possibly a 3, which would make it the worst to hit the US since 2004. By the time we awoke on the morning after it had hit, it had been upgraded to a category 4, not seen in the US since the 1960s. In the end it landed

DSC03081just NE of Corpus Christi at a place called Rockport. They endured 130mph winds and quite a lot of damage.

However, although the eye of the storm was over Rockport and so 200 miles away from Houston, the hurricane rotates anti-clockwise and so Houston is regarded as being on the 'dirty' side of the hurricane. This means that HH is dragging rain laden storm front after front out of the Gulf and dumping apocalyptic quantities of rain over Houston. Furthermore, now that HH has reached land it has practically come to a standstill, and although at its heart it is now just a tropical storm, rather than a hurricane, it has still been dumping rain over Houston now for around 3 days or more non-stop. Even as we type this, on Tuesday evening here, in the last 3 days or so Harvey, now listed just as a tropical storm, has moved only a few miles to the east of Houston.

Each motel we have been at has cable TV. We can't believe how many hours of live coverage we have been watching on The Weather Channel. Some random facts from the last fews days

There are 2.5m

DSC03083people in Houston, plus a further 6.5m under the storm, the 4th largest city in the US. In total 9.6m are under flash flooding warning in the area.

Rain levels so far this month, essentially these last few days, have already been greater than the largest ANNUAL total on record in the area. The highest figure we have seen has been 51 inches, so far, for this storm. They are expecting most areas to have a further 12 to 15 inches over the next 1 to 2 days. Some of the weather reporting channels have had to change the colour coding for their charts to reflect the rainfalls. It is described as a 1 in 500 year event.

They are saying that it will take years to clear up, and at the moment is has shifted a little such that they now have flooding in New Orleans, again.

To the west of central Houston there are two major reservoirs that are now overflowing their miles- long earthen dams. There are no significant concerns about their dams but, they released water into a vast area of fields, grassland etc such that that area is under 30 feet of

DSC03091water and there are concerns that the banks surrounding that area were not designed to hold back these amounts of water.

Going back to the end of the previous blog. So, we did the Book Depository Museum, it was now Saturday 26 August and ovenight Paul has booked another two nights stay in Dallas and we got our current motel to cancel the place we had booked in Austin - they are the same chain. Our revised plan for the day was to visit the Fort Worth Stockyards, once one of the largest cattle processing yards in the US, with 5.5 million head of cattle passing through annually. This is now a nationally historic district decked out with 'western' saloons, shops selling western gear, belts, stetsons. ..... anyone for a $400 stetson? Twice a day they drive a small herd of longhorn, and by longhorn they really do mean long horns with a span of over 6 feet.

As the market and selling patterns changed the Stockyards slowed down in the 1980s and is now essentially a tourist attraction. Within this is The Coliseum, built in 1908 it holds around 3000 people (though when Elvis appeared there, and

DSC03086they presumably covered the rodeo arena, there were 7000 there.) It was the world's first indoor rodeo and they still hold championship rodeos on Friday and Saturday every week. We had tickets. We have been to a couple of rodeos before on our last US trip. They are a great example of the US at its rabid right wing best. The last time we went to a rodeo, about 7 years ago, Pip wasn't going to stand up for the American anthem. Paul pointed out that that might provoke a lynching and so she thought better of that. This time, in the current climate, there was no thought about not standing!

The rodeo was fun. These guys - it is mostly guys - are nuts. You surely have to be short of a brain cell or more to think that riding a mad bull or a bucking bronco is a good way to make a living. And as for the treatment of the calves during the roping contest, well.......

Sunday, the floods in Houston and surroundings are getting worse. There are limits to how long we can realistically ride this out. So decision made, we bale and head

DSC03087back out of Texas towards Memphis where there is plenty we didn't do when we went there a few days ago. The motel is very good about it, allowing us to cancel and refund that final night.

We made the jump to Memphis in a single day, rocking up to an on-spec motel close by Graceland. On the way, interstate all the way, we saw dozens of various emergency vehicles travelling in the opposite direction. It was very clear, if we didn't at that stage know already, that a major disaster was fully developing in Houston and surroundings.

Graceland, home of Elvis Presley of course, and now an international tourist attraction. When we turned in our immediate impression was that they had turned the house and gardens into a mighty theme park with hanger sized buildings. It wasn't until we had paid and got the map that we realised that Graceland and its grounds were actually on the other side of the road and so relatively untouched. A short shuttle bus ride takes us to the house, which turns out to be far more modest than expected, and also much less 'blingy' than we expected. Also, rather than

DSC03096being in the country, its 13 acres are actually well within metropolitan Memphis, with neighbouring houses just the other side of the fence. The arrangements for touring are excellent. We are each equipped with a programmed ipad with narrative, pictures and lots of additional info.

After nearly 90 minutes touring the house we then are returned to those hangers where there are thousands of Elvis memorabilia items. There is his car collection including the 'pink cadillac' and also a red MG. There are displays of his costumes, a selection of some of the 1.5 million catalogued items in the collection, his two planes have been bought onto site and an enormous wall of old records that his estate have earned since his death. We read recently that he is still earning around $40m last year!!

Frankly, we actually quite enjoyed it all.

On the way back to our motel we called in at a local Enterprise rental depot. On the way over from Dallas an 'oil change needed' warning had come up on the car so we obviously thought we should get it checked out. At the depot the initial reaction was that it might not be

DSC03088necessary, but when the guy came back from checking the car he wrote something down out of sight from us and there was an exchange of looks between him and a lady assistant. We were then asked whether we really had done 3800 miles since taking the car, 19 days ago. We assured him we were aware of that!

Today, after a 30 minute oil change stop we caught up with the other three museums we wanted to see here in Memphis.

First off, a Gibson Guitar manufacturing plant. The Memphis site makes hollow and part hollow guitars and they have hourly guided tours. Fascinating to see these being hand built. In the attached shop , cheapest we could find was around $500, the most expensive $7000, but they were all too big for our hand luggage!

Next on to Sun Studio. You can't believe how small this original place is. Just a front office, the single studio then the control room. It was here, of course, that Sam Philips famously recorded Elvis for the first time. Except, that is not what happened. When Elvis first turned up Sam Philips was just leaving for a holiday. It

DSC03109was actually Sam's assistant, Marion Keisker, who had been taught how to use the state of the art one track recording and cutting system, that first recorded him in 1953. He did a ballad, 'My Happiness'. Sam hated ballads. That was why he had moved from his previous employers to set up his own studio.

It took a year of badgering until Marion was able to persuade Sam to give Elvis a try. He was called in for recording in 1954 and many tracks were recorded none of which met with Sam's approval. Whilst Sam was taking a break Elvis broke into an impromptu song that had Sam rushing back into the studio. The song was one of Sam's favourites, 'That's All Right', July 1954, which was Elvis' first hit. The rest, as they say, is history. Sam only had Elvis for around 2 years until he sold him on to RCA, for $35000. He needed the money to see out a debilitating law suit he had lost for recording a song owned by another company.

So many artists started at Sun - Ike Turner recorded 'Rocket 88' in 1951 regarded as the first Rock and Roll record.

DSC03113It featured a speaker with a broken cone which is supposed to have inspired the distorted sound beloved of R&R. Jerry Lee Lewis, who had Sun's biggest ever hit, 'Great Balls of Fire'. Carl Perkins, Blue Suede Shoes. Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, BB King, Howlin' Wolf..... Such an historic place and still in totally original condition, though with much improved recording equipment in the control room.

On the wall is a very famous photo, called 'The Million Dollar Quartet', showing Elvis, Jerry Lee, Johnny and Carl when all happened to be in the studio together. They stayed there for 4 hours, just jamming, but Sam couldn't record it because by then, December 1956, Elvis was contracted to RCA. After Sam died in 2003 on going through his estate it turns out that Sam did record it after all!

To finish today we went on the the Rock and Soul Museum, curated by the Smithsonian Institute. This traces the links between blues, R&R, soul and other Memphis music up to the 1960s. Again, so much information, well presented.

We are now feeling very 'musiced out' 😀.

Tomorrow we are moving on, back to Monroeville so

DSC03131we can visit the Mockingbird courthouse, then on into Florida. Just in time by all accounts as Harvey is headed this way and will drop 4 to 6 inches of rain on Memphis on Thursday/Friday.

There really are no adequate words to describe what is happening in Houston.


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Source : https://www.travelblog.org/North-America/United-States/Texas/blog-993782.html

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