I mentioned in my previous blog that the next topic would be my interview with Mutzie. Well, slight change of plans, y’all. This blog will be about our latest road trip to the Valley, and the next blog after this will be Mutzie’s interview. I wanted to take a little extra time with Mutzie’s interview so I’m sliding this one ahead in line. Trust me, it’ll be worth the wait. We had a lot to catch up on, and I want to present the best of our conversations.
Many of y’all know that one of my sisters (Victoria) and her husband live just a few miles from Cindy and me, and my mom lives even closer. My other sister (Melissa) lives in the valley, about a six hour drive away. For those not familiar with “the Valley,” I’m referring to the common nickname for the Rio Grande Valley. Note: This does not make my sister a “valley girl.” That’s the other valley….in California. So anyway, a few months ago Cindy and I were talking to my mom about taking a road trip to visit Melissa. We would make a long weekend of it, taking a Friday and the following Monday off, to allow us ample time for a relaxed visit. It’s a little ironic, actually, in that this road trip is what inspired our Thibodaux road trip. Once I realized that Thibodaux was actually about a half hour shorter of a drive than Weslaco, I knew we’d be making that trip as well. We did the Thibodaux trip first, then went to Weslaco two weeks later.
The twin spires are visible from my sister's house.
image courtesy of Wikipedia
Being born and raised in south Texas, the valley conjures images of orange orchards, palm trees and wide expanses of farm land. As a young lad, I’d accompany my father to Harlingen to go dove hunting. Ever since the late 80’s, thanks to my friend John Myers, I’ve looked forward to having some pretty awesome breakfast tacos at El Pato’s any time our travels took us to the Valley. El Pato’s is a chain of restaurants in the Valley that epitomize the breakfast taco. I’ve written before about my love for a good breakfast taco, whether it’s actually for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s become a tradition of sorts for us to have our first breakfast in the Valley at El Pato’s. I don’t even need to worry about “second breakfast” if I eat here.
El Pato (#9) in Weslaco
El Pato’s specializes in custom tacos. You ask for specific fillings, and they add it to a homemade flour tortilla. My favorite tacos are the bacon, bean and cheese (what I refer to as a “BBC”) and their carne guisada tacos. My standards are impossibly high for carne guisada, and I’m very picky about where I order it. Not only does El Pato’s meet that standard, they actually set the standard for restaurant-made carne guisada. Depending on whether or not we have lunch planned somewhere, I’ll usually order a BBC, carne guisada and a chorizo and egg taco for breakfast.
The condiments bar
We knew it would be hot in Weslaco. Hey, it’s August….in south Texas….of course it’s gonna be hot! Our main objective of this trip was just to hang out and visit. I took our game Pandemic and the On The Brink expansion so we could introduce Melissa and Finn (Victoria’s son) to the fun and excitement. Cindy and I spent the Saturday in between our two trips playing Pandemic with some friends of ours. One of them, incidentally, is from another city in the Valley. Small world, huh? This was the first time I got the chance to play the Bioterrorist character. My character got eliminated somewhat early in the game, so I had to be content to just watch the other three play. I learned a few important lessons, though, and put them to good use when I played that same character again while we were in the Valley.
The trip down was pretty uneventful, other than some heavy traffic due to construction on highway 77 south of Kingsville. I’m glad to see that Hwy 77 is being expanded, but the growing process is always painful. It’s bad enough that we’ve had decades of construction on the Gulf Fwy, and to have to endure more construction along our route was a bit frustrating. Ultimately, though, we arrived around 4 and were happy to be there. Once we got settled and had some dinner, we watched the opening ceremony of the Rio summer Olympics and played a few rounds of Pandemic. This was the first time that mom, Finn and Melissa played. It took just one game for Melissa to become completely hooked on it!
Melissa: I like this game!
We finished around midnight, and made plans to play again before heading to dinner on Saturday. On the way down to Weslaco on Friday, I thought it might be fun to have dinner Saturday evening at King’s Inn in Riviera, south of Kingsville. King’s Inn is a local landmark, and we’ve been going there for special occasions since I was in junior high. From Weslaco, it’s almost a two hour drive, but was worth it. Mom hasn’t eaten there in many years, and the last time Cindy and I were there was 2010. Finn has never been there, so we figured it was a good time to go. We piled into the car and off we went.
Cindy, Melissa, Mom & Finn
There is no real menu at King’s Inn. Basically, everything is served family style, and the food is ordered by the pound. For example, we ordered two pounds of fried catfish, and a pound each of fried oysters and shrimp. Fries are included, but we also ordered some onion rings. They make theirs with sweet onions, which makes for some very tasty rings. They are also famous for their “seafood sauce.” While other restaurants call it tartar sauce, for years the staff would only refer to their version as seafood sauce, and would remind guests that “we don’t serve tartar sauce here.” I was surprised, then, when the waiter referred to their product as “tartar sauce.” When I commented on it, he laughed and said “A lot of the old school waiters still call it seafood sauce.”
While our dinner was enjoyable, I could tell how this wasn’t the place it was back in the 80’s and 90’s. The higher prices and smaller portions of onion rings and fries definitely reflect the changing times. I’m not sure we’ll make it a point to go back there, even for special occasions, when we can find other places that are just as good for less expense. As we were driving back, Melissa commented that we’d get home in time to play at least a few rounds of Pandemic. I guess she likes the game. We played another three games or so, and again didn’t get to bed until close to one in the morning.
We slept in Sunday morning while Finn took mom to the church he attends and where he plays in the church band. Sunday was a good day to stay inside, out of the wretched heat, and watch the Olympics on TV. For dinner, we decided to make some tacos with beans and rice instead of trying to grill something outside. It was just too hot to enjoy grilling or even eating outside. I’ve found that mixing ground beef and ground pork, roughly half and half, make the best taco meat. We mixed in some finely chopped chipotle peppers with adobo sauce into the meat which elevated the flavor to pleasant, smoky taste.
Having finished dinner, Melissa was eyeing the Pandemic box, so I started setting up the board again for another session. This time, in addition to playing with the virulent strain version, I opted to play the bioterrorist character again. I learned some valuable lessons the first time I played that character, so was ready to cause all sorts of trouble on the game board. Since Melissa was still learning the game, I took it easy on them and didn’t cause too much trouble. Then again, I didn’t have to try too hard. They got into a bind with the red disease and had the luck of the draw tuned out even a little differently, that part of the map would’ve blown up and they would’ve lost shortly thereafter.
An outbreak waiting to happen!
Even though I wasn’t playing too aggressively, I had my character infect enough cities to keep the others hopping from place to place. I was just a few cubes away from winning when they miraculously discovered the final cure and won the game. They had actually discovered the cure for the purple disease, the one which the Bioterrorist uses, early in game. Had all the purple cubes been removed from the game board, it would’ve been “eradicated” and my part finished (like the previous week). I kept infecting enough cities spread all over the map to keep myself in the game.
4 cubes away from winning!
After that game, I rejoined the team and we added a sixth epidemic card to the deck and quickly realized why we shouldn’t get complacent. We had won the previous two games with five epidemic cards, one game in less than twenty minutes. We lost the last game, with six epidemic cards, in about the same time. Most of this is really due to the luck of the draw, and this works both ways. We called it a night after that, and all of us were ready for bed.
Some people think a crowing rooster in the morning evokes memories of a simpler life and equate it to “the good ol’ days.” Nonsense! Apparently the next door neighbors have a rooster and he decided to make his presence known Monday morning around seven. He sounded like he was right outside our window, even though that window as on the second floor. I was NOT ready to wake up that early, especially after getting to bed after midnight again. Cindy and I managed to ignore it, for the most part, and sleep until a little after eight. We got up, showered and packed the car. We had breakfast at El Pato’s (one last time!) on the way out, and made good time until we got to Victoria. An 18-wheeler had a wreck which required ALL traffic to exit and take business 59 around the accident site. Luckily this didn’t add too much time to our trip and soon enough we were back home. I googled the accident after we got home and was happy to see that the driver wasn’t badly injured in the wreck and there were no other injuries or fatalities.
Two road trips, two weeks apart, with a LOT of Pandemic play mixed in. We all had a blast and are looking forward to heading down there again. Hopefully by then I’ll have the State of Emergency expansion for Pandemic to add yet a few more layers of fun.
Coming up next, my interview with Mutzie. I promise I’ll post that one next, and not bump it again.