We arrived at the fringes of Corpus Christi yesterday afternoon around 4:30, locating our newish hotel situated in an industrial district near the Coastal Bend State Veterans Cemetary. All along Interstate 37, our route into the city, chemical and/or petrochemical plants dotted the landscape. As I looked at area maps, vague memories surfaced, triggered by street names long since forgotten: Leopard Street and Up River Road, among others. This part of Corpus probably wasn’t part of Corpus when I left forty-six years ago. But the street names and the odor from nearby plants and the heavy, salty air dredge of memories. I think parts of Up River Road were used as a drag strip, not for dragsters but for street-legal vehicles that probably hadn’t even been upgraded by their teenage hormone-laden owners seeking to demonstrate their manhood by operating a piece of machinery they had no part in building. Teenage logic malfunctioned in those days.
After checking in to the motel, we decided to take a drive. We wandered up Leopard, past ragged houses and abandoned businesses and commercial strips that looked like they might have life left in them yet. I thought, “I doubt these places even existed forty-six or more years ago, but most of them have reached the end of their useful lives.” That thought startles me as I think that they are far younger than I. We reached Padre Island Drive, a street name that I recognize as something closer to me in memory. We lived not far from South Padre Island Drive, but SPID as I think it’s now known is a long stretch of freeway now. Back in my days in Corpus Christi, it was a divided road, but I don’t think it was a freeway. Maybe it was in process of upgrading, but my memory says it was simply four lanes, divided by an enormously wide median strip.
We drove past many street names that I recognized, but what struck me most was the extraordinary dense commercial activity on both sides of the road, the further south we went. I’ve been back a few times since I moved away, but every time I marvel at how “built up” SPID has become. Though we did not intend our little drive yesterday to serve as an errand, it became one as we neared Staples Street. My wife had looked online before we left Hot Springs Village, Arkansas to see if Houston (one of our stops on this trip) had a Half-Price Books store. She found, in her searches, that Corpus Christi had one on Staples at SPID. So we found it and took the bags to the buyers, who offered $10.50 for a group of books and said they could not buy the others, but could take them and donate them to libraries. My wife accepted both offers and we left in search of dinner.
Because it was already after 7:00 p.m., we opted to seek out something close so as to avoid driving in the dark in unfamiliar territory. We chose a restaurant, Taiwan, one of many restaurants in the enormous mall/strip center in which Half-Price Books is located. My wife opted for a Filipino dish that was interesting, if not particularly good (in my taste-buds’ opinion). I ordered something less adventurous. In my view, neither were worth a return trip, nor were they awful. Shopping center food for the masses. After dinner, we stopped in to the H.E.B. so I could buy a six-pack of Shiner Bock. Our room has a refrigerator, so I could keep them cold.
Darkness fell as we drove back to the motel on I-37. We made an early evening of it, inasmuch as I got virtually no sleep the night before. I got a fair amount of sleep last night, but I was awake off and on during the night. But I got enough that I feel fine about wandering around Corpus today to see my old stomping grounds.
This evening, we’ll participate in a launch party for a book, Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology, which includes one of my short stories, On Open Water. I expect it will be fun. I’m one of thirty-seven writers whose work appears in the 170-page book. Some of us, me included (I hope) will read short snippets of our pieces. The works range from short fiction to selections from novels to poetry to memoir and, perhaps, more. Though my connections to Corpus Christi are few and none are as strong as they once were, now that I have no family nor close friends in the city, I’m glad I was invited to submit for the book. And I’m glad to have a reason, albeit not a truly compelling one, to make a road trip to Corpus. Unfortunately, I can’t make this trip as long or as expansive as I’d hoped, because one of my brothers just had major surgery and may need me to help him as he recovers, so I’m off to Houston tomorrow. But this little respite is good. I’m glad I made the trip, though I’ll only spend just a shade more than a day in and around Corpus.
I suppose I’d better get to it if I’m going to wander the city to see the place I used to call home.