Merchants in Houston - Chapter 2

In which your heroine, she of the red eyes (right eye: old waiter-inflicted wound, ref. Chapter One; left eye: infection!), blue legs (ageing mozzie bites and assorted bruises) and every other part of her anatomy a dazzling white from lack of exposure owing to reasons given above and the very wet effect of Grace and her Tropical Depression... In other words, Angela, UK glamour girl extraordinaire, is transported from her comfort zone at the Hampton Inn to the Wild (north) West of Houston and the uncharted territory of the Hilton long stay Comfort Suites; gets familiar with the Dodge Intrepid (the perfectly named vehicle for U S freeway driving) and continues her one woman campaign to liberate the reading lamps of Houston.

Yes, the Merchants have left their old stomping ground on the I10 and moved half an hour's drive further north to the fringes of the 'burbs and (in anticipation of the now imminent arrival of daughter No.3 from New York) into a 2 bed, 2 bath suite complete with fully equipped kitchen, living room and (a Houston "must have") a gas log fire which doubtless I will be forbidden to switch on even if temperatures drop to a bone chilling 79 degrees, as threatened when Tropical Storm Henri hits town later this week. There have already been minor skirmishes over the desired temperature of the air con in our new abode and, more particularly, the frequency of same. Brian may be able to sleep through the noise equivalent of a jumbo jet taking off every 30 minutes throughout the night directly over our bed but I, being just a little more acute of hearing, unfortunately cannot and am therefore less than keen to leap up at 6 am in order to accompany him to the Office (and use of mainline computer) before the Beltway seizes up with the sheer volume of the weekday commute. There are, as you will no doubt surmise, some advantages of the new arrangements, not least the positioning of the Suites actually on the prettily named and well stocked Willowbrook Mall (no car required), an indoor (ie. mozzie-free) pool and a complimentary Manager's Buffet four evenings a week to take the strain off the overworked expense account. Tonight it's Fuddrucker's Classic Southwest burgers. Not to be, really!

The decampment from the Hampton was not accomplished without some difficulty as the shopping course has progressed from induction to near degree level at vertiginous speed (so says Brian who might just scrape a 2:2 if he continues to try very hard). We now have on "lay away" an oak dining suite complete with "Buffet & Hutch" (no, not the 1970's heart-throb cops, this a dresser in Americanese, sometimes also referred to as a "China" which always makes me think of Cockney rhyming slang for some reason), 2 TV "armoires" (but alas, as yet, no TV's), assorted bedside cabinets and a truly enormous seating unit to accommodate various offspring and friends in the Game Room of our (almost) house. A game room is a very large open room, often with vaulted ceilings, situated on the landing area of American family homes where you banish your teenagers (or, in our case, early twenties) and sedate them with large doses of extra large TV's which lurk in afore-mentioned armoires and divert them (offspring, not TV/DVD cabinets or "home theatres" as I believe they are also known) from demanding to be chauffeured to the Mall every few minutes. Back at the ranch, Spike is now presiding over, at the last count, 11 reading/table lamps, 3 Christmas decorations, 1 green glass cat, 1 bread board, 1 pack Spicewood nightlights, and a rattan pouffe (more later). As you see, I am going all out for the A* in eclecticism.

And so to the Dodge Intrepid. I do like that name and it is also a very "sharp" looking car and very "poky" - much favoured by Texan Sheriffs apparently so it was not without some of the eponymous trepidation that I first took to the wheel. I was pleasantly surprised; brakes very firm, steering very heavy, and no need for poky under my captaincy. So on Sunday morning I felt quite capable of a leisurely drive back down to I10 and the "only Ikea in the whole of the Southern States" via the back roads, navigation supremo Brian H Merchant at my side. After about 15 uneventful minutes the unthinkable happened. Navigator Merchant announced that he had MISREAD THE MAP and we were about to hit the I45. Followers of Nostradamus, mark this down. At approximately 9 58 am, Houston time on Sunday 7th September 2003, Brian Herbert Merchant misread the map. Surely, the End of the World is upon us!! It was nearly the end of a beautiful marriage as the I45 led inexorably to the 610 loop and finally on to the I10 where, predictably, we arrived 25 minutes early for the 11 am Sunday opening time at Ikea. Once inside, respective moods were not improved upon learning that the very competitively priced brown leather settee was "temporarily out of stock" and that while we had been imprisoned for 3 hours in the Fingers Furniture Emporium on Labour Day Holiday, trying to pay for the lay away items with several dozen travellers' cheques (these were the days before the bank account), the rest of Houston had been decimating the Ikea rug department leaving behind only one (horrible) carpet of the required dimensions and numerous dark green hearthrugs randomly embroidered with woollen reindeer. Eclecticism can only be taken so far. A reviving visit to the café only brought further disappointment - no meatballs! But after a shared Combo 1 (2 hot dogs plus 32oz soda - very Swedish) we pressed on to The Great Indoors to scenes of triumph and self - congratulation. Not only did we manage to secure "Artcraft" lamp no 62593 for the third time of asking - a truly glorious combination of Art Nouveau stand and shade of Ascot proportions trimmed with crimson silk roses and ostrich feathers and all for an incredible $59 - Spike will be jus' thrilled. And if this were not enough for one morning, on the way out, I stumbled (literally and painfully,) upon the perfect rattan pouffe (or ottoman, as I must remember to call them here) to go with the leather settee that we haven't got, only slightly shop soiled and On Clearance at $159. Even the Shopper's apprentice was getting the hang of it now.

Deciding to quit while ahead, with Brian at the wheel and the newly promoted Chief Navigator at the map we proceeded down the I10 to Katy Grand Parkway and on to the Historical George Ranch, settled by some of the first Texans on land ceded by Mexico and preserved in different incarnations from the 1830's onwards. It was a lovely gentle drive through open fields punctuated at intervals by the odd new housing development (Crystal Lakes, Canon Grove, The New Territory!) and George Ranch well worth the visit. The first of many, I imagine, future visitors take note. So when my dear husband asked if I would like to drive "home" I thought of the quiet, user friendly route down and sweetly replied, "OK Darlin', Ah don't mind if Ah do!" (being still in character from our tour of the ante-bellum mansion house, you understand) For five miles all was well until the demon navigator slyly suggested we "make a right" and cut off the corner and, you've guessed it, there it was the - I59 leading inexorably to the Beltway several miles south of Midtown and nicely full of fellow Houstonians returning from a weekend's sailing at Galveston and Kemah: a route involving no less than 3 toll stops. At the second stop I was encouraged to join the shorter "exact change" queue where I sympathetically watched the driver in front, a young Mexican woman, miss the coin hopper by several inches and shower the ground with dimes and quarters which were, of course, very difficult to retrieve. How embarrassing , I thought, while craftily selecting a whole dollar coin from the co-pilot's cache and congratulating myself on the advantages of long arms. Despite winding the window right down, as instructed, my coin, unbelievably, bounced off the rim of the hopper and disappeared under the bonnet of the now impatiently revving pick-up to my rear. "Just leave it", hissed the Bearded One through clenched teeth, ramming another dollar into my hand. At a cost of great personal discomfort and injury (a very nasty dark blue weal at the base of my armpit, precluding the wearing of any sleeveless garments for at least another 2 weeks - I must look like a refugee from *Golden Acres!) the coin slithered in (just) and we proceeded silently and uneventfully to Willowbrook and the solace of a take-away Cici's pepperoni pizza, each doubtless making their own private resolutions regarding driving, navigation and tollbooths.

Now, I wasn't sure if I was going to share this last little gem with y'all (being what you Brits consider kinda non PC n'all) but on leaving Ye Olde George Ranch via the inevitable Ye Olde Gifte Shoppe, I was uncharacteristically inspired to purchase (yes, that word again) an itty bitty rabbit skin rug for my Beloved to rest his weary, whiskered cheek upon. After all, he's been through such a lot lately, far from home, family and friends. I was really worried about him during the very hot weather and now he's been put on a low calorie diet there's not much pleasure left in life just at the moment. In fact, when I think what that poor little chap's had to put up with, it's the very least he deserves. So William, sweetheart, Mommy's got a nice little present waiting for you in Texas, although I'm sorry to say that Spike has already got his paws on it, not to mention his teeth, which are worryingly close to the ground. Good thing the pouffe (sorry, ottoman) is still in the boot (I mean trunk). What was that about a common language? Talking of which, I've just found out that Brian's official designation here is "alien authorised to work". I rest my case and my pen, so to speak.

*Orthodox Jewish holiday camp in New York state at which Daughter Number 3 had worked as a counsellor for 10 very long weeks.

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