40.

I know, I know: “All the best pics are on Instagram, follow the link, etc.”

(But truth be told, they are.)

So I had my birthday about a week ago. My 40th, as a matter of fact. I suppose that I could have done it in Las Vegas. Then again, I wanted to avoid any police boat situations again. So I chose to go back to Texas for this one.

I’ve learned a few things from my trip, about myself, and travel in general, and wanted to share them with you, o’ gentle reader.

Travelocity sucks. Booked a car for the week for $250, and once we reached the airport and waited a stupidly long line to speak to a representative, I was gobsmacked to find that Dollar wanted a $537 deposit on the car… something that Travelocity neglected to mention. You know, you book something on line, pay the taxes and fees, you kind of expect that to be it. So I called Travelocity, and told them to cancel, which they refused. They wanted to speak to a manager and get a full explanation before they would even consider a refund. Even with the Dollar representative, they needed a full explanation of why I wanted to cancel, and as this went back and forth fighting with both of us, I realized that I was still going to need a car, and told them to hold on a minute until I get this sorted out. To that, they put me on hold, and suddenly had no problem cancelling the car. Better yet, they couldn’t book me a new car as their customer service was based in India, and they were a day ahead of us. So in leaving me with nothing, they wished me best of luck in finding a new car and promptly hung up.

At least I got my money back….

My sister’s house was a much better experience. Hung out with the kids, “educated” my nephew on the fineries of classic video gaming, caught up with my sister…. The next day, we went to the Dallas World Aquarium, one of my old favorite places, and significantly expanded out since last visit. It’s perhaps one of the most impressive aquariums that I have ever been to. So in killing a few hours there, it was time for a brief stop to Northpark Mall to reminisce, and then on route to Corsicana.

Hard to believe it was almost exactly a year since my last visit. I of course had to sample to regional foods of Collin Street Bakery and Old Mexican Inn with a dinner in mind (orange dip courses through my veins), and then a trip to the cemetery to visit my parents. I handled that better… or as well as one can, wanting to visit my parents and grandparents before my birthday. After a few moments, we drove around town.

I found myself at Navarro College where my Dad taught. The main building hasn’t changed since I was a kid, and Jen and I walked around campus. The night was beautiful, and I shared stories of growing up on campus, my own college hijinks, and remembering Dad. For the first time, I felt at home with my little town again. The town is small and a little different, and I’ll never understand the logic of turning Cinema IV into a church (but I guess that goes in line with the first Taco Shop, Fullerton’s Grocery Store, and the original K-Mart), but I spent my time more fondly. I had been, overall, happy there. My family and friends, my first venture into the world of video gaming, too many pranks enacted, and movies watched. The time has passed, but the time was mine.

We drove by Dad’s, then went back to the Dallas area.

The next day was my birthday party. I usually plan these things every year, but outside of the invites and the venue, I let Jen and my sister handle everything. I wanted to be as hands off as possible.

When I pulled into the restaurant, I was a greeted by a lot of friendly faces….

Reunited.

Reunited.

There were a lot of faces, a lot of hugs and laughter, a Star Wars themed birthday party, and to say that I was touched by everyone being there was an understatement. The thing is with that group of friends is that no matter how much time has passed, it all feels the same. We lock into our very comfortable places, and go on like we saw each other the day before.

Gifts....

Gifts….

Reflecting....

Reflecting….

And I needed that.

I looked around the table and couldn’t have asked for a better gift. The sister and missus had outdone themselves. Even my friends went above and beyone. Danny dressed as 2015-era Marty McFly and gave me the Lego Dimensions Back to the Future set. But the presents and the showmanship were fun, though my favorite gift was simply this:

Family....

Family….

A few of us decided to meet in Deep Ellum, as I wanted to relive some of our early hoodlum days. We sat at a little bar, ordered drinks, and just caught up. The in-bar radio played a medley of 1990-era music. It was like we never left.

The old gang.

The old gang.

Jen and I walked around Deep Ellum as the group dispersed. Everything felt… natural. I felt more “me” than I have in a long time, and that’s had me thinking about larger things. During the walk, Jen went back to the car, and as I snapped a picture, a homeless guy came up to me, wanting to give me a shirt he had as it matched my shoes. And so, Cedric the homeless guy wandered off as quickly as he appeared, leaving me more amused than anything that, as far as random goes, I still haven’t lost my touch.

Cedric's Gift

Cedric’s Gift

The next day, Jen and I began our drive to Pensacola. I wish there were epic tales to be told, but the truth is that it was just a long drive. However, if you ever find yourself passing through Natchitoches, Louisiana, I highly recommend Lasyone’s meat pies. It probably explains the church across the street, as those pies were sinful.

But we made it to Florida that night, and after a meal at Flounder’s and a brief walk on the beach, we got ready for the next day.

My birthday was here.

We got up, went to Toys R Us (What… I had gift cards)….

I ran with the birthday theme.

I ran with the birthday theme.

Had oysters for breakfast, went back to the beach, and Jen dropped her other gift on me.

Parasailing.

I believe I can fly....

I believe I can fly….

So I took to the air, and soared over the bay. They dunked us in the water at the end, and that was awesome.

As we got ready for the next adventure, the “neighbors” in the hotel noted that I looked happy, and wished me happy birthday. I told them about my time growing up in Pensacola, and how I loved this town. “You know, if you come here enough, you one day find that you’ll never want to leave again.”

I paused for a moment, taking the comment in. Other thoughts have been contemplating. And while this is not saying that I’m doing anything either way, I do find that in time, I tend to go where my feet take me.

For dinner, my sister’s other gift was used: Dinner at the Fish House. I’ve watched an Emeril special where he went on and on about the place’s grits a ya ya, and those things are stupidly good. I ruined that plate, with a key lime pie for dessert.

As the sun set, we returned to the beach. Jen and I walked hand in hand watching the sun go down as the clock turned me 40. I couldn’t have asked for a better or more perfect day. We went Downtown for a while, and then went to bed early to watch the sun rise.

Morning in Pensacola.

Morning in Pensacola.

No filter needed.

No filter needed.

We explored Fort Pickens, ate at McGuire’s Irish Pub (where you can staple a dollar to the ceiling to add to the already over a million dollars stuck there), and then on to New Orleans.

We wandered Bourbon Street, drank absinthe in a pirate bar, and watched street performers. As October was looming, Halloween items were already filling the streets, and mini parades were throwing all sorts of goodies onto the streets.

The next day was shopping, eating, going to this amazing place called Dooky Chase’s for fried chicken (go ahead and chuckle at the name. Their chicken and gumbo are to die for). All I can say is “Damn”.

As night drew near, we booked a vampire tour. While Interview With the Vampire is mentioned, the tour focuses on the real bloodsuckers and psychopaths of New Orleans: Some crazy, dark stories are covered.

IMG_5553

Including this place:

Ursuline Convent.

Ursuline Convent.

The Ursuline Convent. This gave the most relatable story that I heard (minus the author’s personal side story at the bottom), but holy crap, that’s a story to get your skin crawling and the imagination flowing.

Fun tour, though. And our guide was fantastic.

Our vampire storytelling guide.

Our vampire storytelling guide.

The next day led us deep into the bayous and swamps of Louisiana. The bus ride had some issues, as these European (German, from what I could make of the accents) were incredibly rude and talking over the tour guide as we made our way to the docks. When we got there (after a 45 minute drive), they were furious once they realized that they got on the bus for the wrong tour, and couldn’t go. I nearly fell off the boat laughing so hard, as karma is fun!

But we cruised out for adventure.

No Bayou Billy in sight.

No Bayou Billy in sight.

And those swamps had a few gators lurking about, trolling for food.

They apparently like squeak toys.

They apparently like squeak toys.

I even got to hold one of the little ones.

Rollergator in training.

Rollergator in training.

The rest of the day was spent shopping, eating and drinking. I ate some gator for dinner. Does that make me a bad person?

In any case, it was time to drive back to Texas the next day, where we joined my sister’s family and Toby for some Texas barbecue, and then a trip to a specialty Gamestop.

With the last day having arrived, we cleaned our rental car, and after our good-byes, made our way to the airport. Another travel tip: Don’t ever trust MapQuest’s mobile app. It decided that the car rental place was in a residential neighborhood, and after correcting that hot mess, we made it to our plane with 10 minutes to spare.

So, back in Vegas, and all that comes with it. I’m still unpacking. I’m still sorting out travel stuff, and I have a few new stories that I want to write. This trip was very creatively inspiring to me, so I want to actually sit down and write something a little unique. I was very grateful for my family and friends and Jen. They put on the best birthday that I have honestly ever had. When I hit 40, I wanted to define what it was going to mean for me, and I wanted to do it on my terms. “Set the tone”, as it were. And maybe I expect a lot from my travel plans, but the results are never disappointing. I feel better than I have in a long time, and I have a lot of people to thank for that.

So… “Thank you”. I am truly grateful.