'WE’RE ALL THE SAME'
“Babe, this ain’t traveling.”
“I don’t know what happened. I picked the route you wanted and plugged it in. I don’t know what happened.”
“I wanted to go through Martindale. And Zorn.” I looked out the window at the stale, yellow hills of planted grass landscaped by TxDot, and wanted to utter the choicest words with karate-chop hands I was so mad.
“I don’t know what happened,” she said, fumbling around for her phone.
“We’re on a toll road, babe,” I whined. “Just the fastest path from A to B,” I said, shaking my head, tucking my lips tightly under my teeth. “All efficiency…I can’t stand it.” Was I whimpering?
“It must have redirected us,” she said, sucking a gulp of water down from her straw. She adjusted her sun visor to look in the mirror, and I stared at her, my chin pressed back against my Adam’s apple.
“Yeah,” I said, folding my arms, looking out the window again at concrete and yellow grass. “We were supposed to go right in Lockhart!” I shouted in my head.
We were on our way to Seguin. We’d never been. Started off as a fine day. Texas Tech had just beaten Texas at the Erwin Center, sweeping the series. Oh, how I could have flown away in a daze on that magic broom. Sweep, sweep. The win added a zest to everything. Food tasted better. The sunlight dazzled. And I was sure the beer I was going to have that night would sparkle in its glass with happy bubbles. But evidently, the win didn’t have enough fairy dust to keep me from throwing a tantrum about a missed turn on a road trip.
We had been thinking about adding stories of Day Trips from Austin to our ‘blog,’ so this was trip #1. And already, it was not going to plan. I collected myself, cleared my throat, and said, “Babe, maybe it’s a good thing. We need daylight, right? We don’t know this town.” I’ve learned from dozens of road trips that foiled plans often become happy accidents. That’s what I love about traveling in this state: Course-correct, pick a place, and go. I mean, I can see. I can walk. I can read, right? I’ll go where I please and talk to all the folks I meet. When did travel get more complicated than that?
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’ll use technology. I expanded the map of Seguin on my phone with my finger and thumb, looking for all the “green squares and blue snakes.” By that I mean, parks, natural areas, and waterways. I also knew this was a history-rich town so I had my antennae up for historical markers and sites. And I found one. Sebastopol House. That was our first stop.
On an acre plot stood a poor man’s Monticello made of painted white wood and limestone built in 1856. Well, ‘limecrete,’ actually. The load-bearing walls of the house used this early form of concrete made from limestone, sand, and caliche. We walked along the porch and peeked in the windows at the fireplace, the old writing desks with green felt, and stacks of rocking chairs. We walked across the porch’s creaking boards and felt like we were walking across an old deck on a tall ship. “What was it like living here 166 years ago?” I wondered to myself.
Always on the hunt for old Live Oaks, I walked to the northwest corner of the lot to admire two oaks that, to me, were the real mammoths of Seguin. The tough bark and winding twist of their trunks and boughs mesmerized me like a fairy-tale beanstalk disappearing into the clouds. A tree with such little leaves somehow stretched out before me 70 feet to the sky. I knew in my heart these trees were here when this house was constructed, and I held that picture with me in my mind.
“Where to next?” she said, fists deep into her coat pockets.
“Let’s go see the Juan Seguin burial site.”
We drove down Guadalupe St. and turned into a small parking lot by three flagpoles surrounded by memorial bricks. On the upward slope of the hill lay the burial site of Juan Seguin. We read the inscription etched into the glassy granite. I didn’t know he had died in Nuevo Laredo and was reinterred here in 1976. And I did not know his family line descended from the Canary Islands. I walked across the street to take a closer look at some trees. Again, I was lost in wonder thinking about whether an oak tree was present during the early days of the Republic.
“Well, what next?” she asked.
“Let’s find River Rd. Let’s get a closer look at the Guadalupe.”
We checked our map and headed due south but couldn’t find the turn we needed. We overshot it and ended up at the Seguin Power Plant. Our car dipped low into pothoIes, bouncing back up, as we looked around. I did not want to visit a water treatment plant or utility company or whatever it was, but I saw a bunch of people sitting outside at tables by the water, with children at play. I saw waterfalls and foam crashing down at full steam. I saw a bridge stretched from the Power Plant to a high tower over the cascades. Maybe we can come by later. Bunch of people were parking here, too. I figured it was just a place to come see the water. We turned around.
We realized we had missed the turn because it was under the bridge. We headed down River Rd and parked at the very end of what is a very big park. I could see the elevation drop of the riverbank to my right, but could not see the river. Trees lined the banks and they were all bone. No foliage, just bare branches brittle and stark like skeletons of bark against a blue sky. In my town, these would be Cypress trees, but here, I couldn’t tell. Maybe Pecan, maybe Walnut.
We got out of the car and saw a few people fishing making trips back-and-forth to their cars for more gear. Seems like we all wear old shirts in Texas with the sleeves torn off if we go fishing at the park. We found a path down to the water and got our first glimpse of the River. The water was stagnant, murky blue, like glass blown turquoise. I smiled when I saw all of the lily pads by the bank and the Giant Reeds standing tall like wheat growing by the shore.
“I’m getting hungry. Are you?”
“Let’s get outta here.”
We walked back to the car. The sky glowed like a hot coal lighting up row after row of Pecan trees in the park.
We stopped at the Campbell cabin and Nogales house before stopping to eat. The Nogales house was a one-room adobe shack with a shingle roof built for a German immigrant in 1849. The Campbell cabin was built by an Irishman about the same time. What a long way from home to start a new life. I looked around. This particular square echoed with the muffled voices of Texas’ first settlers. The first post office in Seguin once stood here as well.
The sun had set and a wool of distant clouds blushed with a spill of color, blends of pink rose and lavender, and all was still. I couldn’t get over how fresh the air was. How clean. I felt refreshed. We took a look at the cabins and the doll house and imagined all of the Union soldiers camped here across the street after the war. Eating biscuits. Making coffee. I could hear all of the sounds at camp. Neighing horses. A scratchy fiddle. I could see them trying to ignore the frosty glares of Seguin residents scurrying by who wanted them gone. We also drove by some antebellum homes, beautiful two story houses, Victorian, yellow, and baby-blue.
We hopped in the car and had to stop when we saw the pretty lights hanging from trees in the town square. We walked around, enjoying the colorful fountain, and read the engravings on the Seguin statue. I don’t remember a prettier small town square in all of my travels. Well, by this time, we were ready to grub, so we drove around and found the Aumont, an old hotel, now a bar and apartment building. The sign reminded me of the Alamo Drafthouse signage in Austin, and that old-time font used in the Twenties. I love Art Deco. Looked like they had a rooftop patio bar, so we were game.
We walked up to the entrance to go inside, and out walks a fella in a shirt and sleeveless fleece, pulling a filterless cigarette out of his front pocket.
I’ll just ask him.
“Is there service up top?”
“Well, sometimes. But only for special events.”
“Oh, ok. Know of any good places to have a drink with an outside patio?” “Um,” he paused. He stood in front of us looking down, putting his cigarette between his fingers, ready to strike. “Yeah. You can try the Power Plant.”
“The Power Plant?”
“Yeah. It’s a restaurant with an outdoor bar. Great view.”
“So, that’s what it was. Ok…I guess that settles it…Tell me. What can you tell me about Seguin?”
He smirked, and started to say something, but stopped himself.
“We’re history buffs,” I interjected.
“Oh…well, lot of history here. I’m fourth generation, myself. My family helped build the history museum here. Yeah. You know TLU? That’s all my great-grandfather’s land. Yep. All of it. I live in Ft. Worth, but come down on the weekends and visit. Um…we have a giant parade here on July 4th. One of the largest in Texas. Oh, and there’s the Magnolia Hotel. Old. Used to be a stagecoach hotel. There’s been TV shows come down because it’s haunted.” He smiled and tucked his cigarette into his palm like a coin.
“No thanks on the ghosts for me,” I said.
“Oh!” He jumped up. “And we’ve got one of the oldest bars in all of Texas,” and he pointed down the street. “It’s been closed since COVID, but the owner won’t open it back up.” He shook his head. “Nobody knows why. We’ve begged him. He has family who’ve offered to run it, but he just won’t. Great place, man.” He shook his head back and forth again.
He looked straight ahead, more serious this time, and squinted. “I bet you if you mentioned that owner’s name in this bar, everyone would just get fired up.”
“Must be some place,” I said, and offered my hand. “Thank you so much for giving us some local history.”
“Sure. Sure,” he said, smiling. We shook hands. I later recalled that he and I had the same first name (which we both loathed and did not go by), and apostles’ names for middle names.
I was about to walk off but stopped to look at a shiny, shark-gray Corvair parked by us in front of the Aumont. He saw me gawking and hollered, “That would have been my father-in-law’s. But his daughter didn’t like me much.”
We all laughed and said goodbye again. Vanessa and I crossed the street. We had to go see that old bar for ourselves and look inside. Said there was a two-headed goat hanging on the wall.
After window-shopping at the Oak, we walked around downtown and stopped at City Hall to admire the tall, white walls and steelwork. There was a historical marker in front with more history about Juan Seguin. We walked down a row of bars and I saw a calico cat sipping water from a puddle by a curb in the parking lot. The sprinklers were going off all around us flooding the pavement.
We walked by shops still open on Saturday night, and crossed the street to go where I really wanted to go: the Guadalupe County Courthouse. Designed by L.M. Wirtz and built in 1934-35, it just may be the prettiest courthouse I’ve ever seen. Art Deco-slick and clean. With smooth sandstone and shiny steel, it looked like a Miami hotel lit up at night. Two lavender lights glow in beacon sconces and a beautiful fountain calms with soft streams and purling water. I loved it. The words ‘Justice’ and ‘Wisdom’ are carved in big letters over engravings of figureheads above each door on all sides.
We walked all around and came upon a short section of a wrought iron gate strangely placed. Turns out it’s a section cut from a cemetery fence built in 1883 by German craftsmen and installed here. The sign reminded us that the German Immigrant Trail passed through here from Indianola. I pushed the squeaky gate around in a circle like a beast of burden to make Vanessa laugh.
We headed back to the Aumont to get our car and headed to the Power Plant for grub and a brew. There was a cover band on the patio and we sat by two elderly couples sharing a bottle of wine. Later, one of the ladies at that table got up, whispered to the band, and went around to every table, recruiting every woman, including Vanessa, to follow her to the dance floor to form a circle with instruments in hand. They sang along to Jimmy Buffett as she danced in the middle, spinning herself around. It was obviously the lady’s birthday, and she was determined to make it grand.
Vanessa and I ordered two Bochs and smiled at each other, clinking a toast, as dam water cascaded behind us. I saw a crane in the shadows fly over the water and noticed two curious people walking over the bridge to the tower of the Plant. They entered a dark room and turned the lights on.
We later talked to them as we all stood on the bridge at night listening to the water. They were two, nice young women originally from Florida. One had just moved to Seguin and the other lived in Bulverde and was here to visit her and the town. We laughed and laughed about watching them from our table go inside of that dark room, without permission, slowly trying the knob, opening the door, and hitting the lights. They just had to see what was inside.
I thought to myself, well, that’s what we’re doing here, too, in Seguin. We’re all the same, aren’t we? We’re all just looking around, doing the same thing.