The choice of Corpus Christi's only America's Best Value Inn as a venue proved an interesting one—interesting in the sense of "not your typical convention experience, even for Greenies with relatively low expectations." But it's not as if GPTX could afford one of the fancy downtown hotels. As I've frequently stated in this space, we don't have millionaires lining up to give us their money.
Other than Laredo a few years ago, Corpus is the southernmost location ever for a GPTX state meeting. In this year with no statewide election, the Party wanted to go someplace new, a smaller city with a possibility for outreach. The State Executive Committee decided on Corpus, despite the lack of any organized Green Party in the state's eighth-largest city. We were hoping to draw Greens from the Rio Grande Valley counties and Laredo/Webb County, but alas-alack, that roll camp up snake-eyes. Despite having a Green elected to Laredo City Council (in a non-partisan race), the Webb County chapter has quite disintegrated, some of its leading lights having moved elsewhere.
Last week, when anyone would ask about weekend plans, I told them, "Going to Corpus." To a person, their eyes would get wide and their mouths would make an "Oooooh" shape. It's an exotic locale. People immediately think of beautiful beaches and plentiful seafood. If I'd said, "Going to Cancún," I'd probably get the same reaction. But from what we saw of Corpus, I could have just said, "Going to Victoria" (Texas, that is—not British Columbia). It wouldn't have looked very different.
If you've traveled some in these United States, you may have noticed that America's Best Value Inns are proliferating like mushrooms. Mostly, the parent company buys existing budget motels rather than building new ones. According to the wiki, ABVI has more than 1,000 locations nationwide. On the way down to Corpus early Saturday morning, David Wager and I saw ABVI's all along the way, in bustling metropolises like Rosenberg, El Campo, and Refugio. Corpus, a city of about 320,000, has but one ABVI, a former Travelodge in the Refinery Row off I-37 on the west side of town.
If Corpus is known as anything other than the birthplace of Whataburger and Eva Longoria, it is known as a tourist destination. It's near the beaches of Mustang Island and the Padre Island National Seashore. It has a port and serves as the retirement home of the USS Lexington. Its fishing and shrimping boats bring in megatons of seafood every year. The city is less widely known for its petrochemical plants (mostly manufacturing fertilizers).
The ABVI on Corn Products Road is not a tourist hotel. It serves the business needs of the petrochemical industry, which does not mean that visiting executives stay there. (They might, but I doubt it.) The place sports a lived-in look, because it totally is lived in. Just as thousands of oil field workers live at the motels in Odessa—renting by the week, or just staying five days and returning to their homes elsewhere for weekends—plant workers live at the ABVI in Corpus, as well as the Valstay Inn & Suites next door.
The physical facility at the ABVI was sufficient for our needs, but it had some problems. The air conditioning in the lobby and the adjacent rooms, including the business center and nearby restrooms, was completely out of service. The staff were able to make do the old-fashioned way, with open doors and fans. The wind blows pretty constantly in Corpus, which helps.
The Valstay, where Wager and I lodged, showed signs or past glory, such as the spiral staircase in the lobby leading to what used to be a loft bar. The place could use a serious face-lift. Ceiling tiles in the hallways are sagging. The pool needs a good cleaning: It wasn't disgusting to behold, but it was choked with detritus from the palm trees and other vegetation. Walking through the courtyard requires some deft footing and ducking between the hanging palm fronds. There is a circular trampoline on the grounds, but its safety screens are shredded as if a very large and angry cat just attacked it. There is also a basketball hoop with a half-court surface that...yeah, use your imagination.
Please understand that I am genuinely uncomfortable in luxury accommodations, and that I have nothing against the people who live at these cut-rate motels (as long as they don't blow smoke in my face and their dogs don't bite). I've happily stayed in substandard hostels more than once. But I do like facilities that actually work and that guests can use. When it comes to lodgings, I'm a fan of adequacy. (Hey Kayleen: Remember that Rodeway Inn in San Antonio? The one where the ceiling collapsed on those poor guests in the room below ours?)
Jason's Deli catered Saturday lunch for the Annual State Meeting. I'm not fond of Jason's but at least their fare is consistent. They did provide a couple of varieties of vegetarian sandwiches, plus chips, salad, and fruit plates, so I was happy with that.
For Saturday dinner, we adjourned to the only eatery within reasonable walking distance of these hotels: Jalisco, aka Taquería los Altos de Jalisco #2. Jalisco has about a dozen locations in Corpus. By comparison, there are 20 Whataburgers in the city limits, but the nearest was about 1.5 miles away. No one expressed any complaints about the food or (friendly) service at Jalisco, but the vegetarians among us had to bite a bullet or two. The menu there is auténtico, which in Tex-Mex español means "old-school." The refried beans there have actual chunks of bacon. The rice is cooked in chicken broth. I didn't even ask about the tortillas. My meatless vegetable quesadilla at Saturday dinner was tasty. The cheese enchilada plate I had for Sunday lunch, when I was falling-down hungry after a long meeting, was a hearty puddle of grease.
For Sunday breakfast, not satisfied with the self-service waffles available in the ABVI breakfast room, we headed into town and found Price's Chef Diner on South Alameda Street. Price's has been in business since 1940, with waitresses that have probably worked there since it opened. The bench in the tight-squeeze booth we sat in first did not have a level spot to rest my butt, with padding so thin I might have fallen through if I'd sat down harder. We moved to the counter, where I found a fly on its back in its death throes. I put Señor Mosca out of his misery with a napkin and ordered a (Texas-shaped) waffle anyway, along with two scrambled eggs.
Price's is located in a district west of downtown where seemingly every storefront has some combination of peeling paint, busted fascia, missing letters in its signage, grubby plate glass, or other signs of distress. In other words, it looks like any of hundreds of small Texas towns as yet untouched by yuppification. Even the paint on the roof of the Whataburger we passed was a sickly shade of artificial orange sherbet. Wager and I drove through several such districts as were searched for an auto parts store that sold motor oil for his finicky BMW.
As noted in the previous entry, the social and orientation luncheon for new State Executive Committee and National Committee members took place at The Astor on Leopard Street, not far from the Selena Museum (which was closed on Sunday). Again, we found above-and-beyond-friendly service, a physically dangerous building (trip hazards between the main dining area and the add-on, restrooms with dodgy plumbing and layout), and food that at least looked safe to eat. Nobody complained anyway.
On arrival at The Astor, I had already eaten the enchiladas at Jalisco, and I still wasn't feeling all that well, so I didn't order a second lunch. When not feeling well, I have a tendency to make bad decisions: The margarita on the rocks that I ordered was watery and sticky, as one might expect, but the glass itself was sticky as well. I don't know whether some of the drink had sloshed onto the stem or the glass just hadn't been washed well.
Neither breakfast nor lunch went down really well Sunday, mostly because the previous night Wager and I had decided to visit the Rebel Toad Brewing Company downtown. This came at the recommendation of TC, a former soccer teammate who lives there. The plan was to join this former teammate for a brewski or two, but he found an excuse. TC begged off when I asked him to meet us at ABVI, saying something about not being able to come out that far west. Really? We were five miles from downtown, no more than twelve miles from where he lives. I think he meant, "I can't bring myself to drive to that ugly-ass part of the city."
I'm sad to report that Rebel Toad was a bit of a disappointment. They had four of their eight brews available on tap, so I ordered a flight of those four. None of them was anything to write home about. The wheat ale was fairly drinkable, but the blonde was completely lacking in body, the porter too sweet, the IPA tongue-coating and not even pleasantly bitter. None of them was adequately carbonated, which might help balance out the sweetness of the porter and the heaviness of the IPA. It made me wonder about Rebel Toad's choices of yeast.
All Rebel Toad makes is ales, and I really shouldn't drink ales other than the really light ones. I've known this for years, but I still enjoy the taste of a good strong ale. Adalbert's Naked Nun or a Chimay trippel is like catnip for me. Top-fermented brews mess up my system and give me a hangover without even giving me a proper buzz first. So even the 20 ounces of ale in that flight made me feel altogether ooky most of Sunday. It might have been better just to bring a six-pack of Modelo Negra back to the room and watch some tube...except that the TV reception was fuzzy at the Valstay.
I hope some day that I can return to Corpus, visit TC in his environment, and see the city's better face.
And, of course, relax on its beautiful beaches.