As noted in last week’s Vol. 1, I recently embarked an extraordinary road trip with my two favorite people on the planet, and during the course of this week-long vacation, I was made privy to fifteen vital, life-altering lessons about life, love, music, and madness, all of which I’m itching to share with you, my loyal readers.  Screw Tuesdays with Morrie; you can learn urrything you need to know about this insane world and the folks who inhabit it right here at the Buzz.

In Vol. 1, we delved into the first set of those lessons, and without further ado… I now give you Vol. 2:

LESSON NUMBER FOUR: While the food is marvelous, The Rainforest Café isn’t exactly a quiet, retiring lunch locale.


After a couple of hours in the car (a fabulously gorgeous gunmetal-gray 2008 Mustang which quite literally broke my heart to return to Hertz when the rental week was up) with me and Sherry Ann — during which time we discussed everything from the soaps to the unexpected brilliance of Peggy Scott-Adams to Jewel’s maddeningly incoherent comments on “Nashville Star” — A looked as though he was ready to choke one or both of us.  (When she and I share the same space, we have this tendency to forget that other people are around.)  So, to break the trip up a bit (as well as feed our faces), we stopped off at Katy Mills on our way into Houston.  Sherry Ann had been up since 3:30am, or some similar ungodly hour, in order to catch a 7am flight out of Amarillo, and she was understandably starving by the time one o’clock rolled around, and while A and I had dined on watermelon and homemade waffles that morning while catching the “All in the Family” and “Sanford and Son” reruns on TV Land, our breakfast had long since worn off.


The variety of foodstuffs available to us in Katy was staggering, yet A had already declared that, no matter where we went, he was only eating a salad.  (He can be a bit annoying with that at times, particularly when you steal a glimpse at his abs of steel and realize that he was right.)  Sherry Ann was equally nonchalant about choosing a place to eat, so I took the initiative and picked the Rainforest Café.  I had been there once before and thought the food was pretty good, and neither of my compadres had ever darkened the door, so I figured it would be fun.


I’m not sure fun is quite the right word, but it certainly was, umm, interesting.  As the hostess guided us through the massive dining room toward our table, we were dazzled by the overwhelming sensory explosion by which we were instantly enveloped — so dazzled, in fact, that Sherry Ann dispatched me to the car to fetch her camera (because, of the three of us, she was only one who was smart enough to remember to pack hers).


If you’ve never patronized this joint, passing through its hellmouth is quite literally like being swallowed whole into an equatorial junglescape.  Upon entry, the first thing that caught our eye was the ridiculous floor-to-rafters glass aquarium in the center of the room, which was loaded not only with all manner of colorful aquatic life, but with some poor sap in full scuba gear cleaning moss off the tank’s rocks and trees and trying unsuccessfully to dodge said aquatic life, all of which seemed to be mistaking his extremities for fish flakes.


In the room’s back corner stood the Atlas Shrugged-themed fountain, with a bronzed hulking he-man using the Earth to develop his deltoids as water cascades along the length of his rippling, bemuscled body.  At once, it’s tacky and terrific.   (And every face in the room eyed A and me askance when I dragged him over to the thing so that we could take each other’s picture while standing before it.)


And, of course, there are trees everywhere, each and all of them loaded with uncannily lifelike birds, snakes, and apes emitting uncannily lifelike sounds.  Toward the end of our meal, the hostess seated some poor woman directly beneath an enormous orangutan which didn’t stop “hooo hoooo hoooo”-ing for the entirety of our stay, and we proceeded to spend the remainder of our stay both mocking her and empathizing with her plight.


Which probably confirms what you must be thinking:  Notwithstanding its genetically gifted waitstaff — our server was a soulful, dreamy blue-eyed stunner named Sergio, with whom Sherry Ann and I both blatantly flirted in an unsuccessful attempt to ascertain his preferences — and its masterful sense of aesthetics —- this place, with the greenery and the birds and the waterfall, is a marvel of art direction — this is certainly not the restaurant to choose for a peaceful, midday meal.  Every ten minutes or so, the ground starts to rumble, the trees start to shake, the “animals” begin to bellow in disorganized unison, and you can’t help but fear you’re moments away from becoming an innocent casualty in some impromptu jungle uprising.


Of the three of us, A was the clear winner:  he only had a measly Caesar salad upon which to politely nibble.  Sherry Ann and I, on the other hand, both went the Hungry Man route — me, with a ginormous penne pasta dish, and she, with some kind of two-hands-required bar-b-q wrap.  By the time our food arrived and we had already lived through a handful of these primal, barbaric outbursts — and, believe me, they’re horrifying no matter how braced you are — I was so terrified of choking on a chunk of Italian sausage that I ended up taking more than half of my dish home in a doggie bag.  Indeed, we were all so rattled by the time we paid our ticket and high-tailed it the hell out of there that we had to walk around the mall for half an hour just to calm our pounding pulses.  (Oh, and also, for dessert I desired a cinnamon-soaked Wetzel’s Pretzel, which required a half-mile hike across the shopping center, during which time Sherry and I regaled A with more tales of small-town mischief and merriment.  You should have seen the look of priceless befuddlement on his face as Sherry Ann explained with intricate delicacy how she ended up attending five high school proms!)


the Mustang

the gorgeous gray car we tooled ’round in all week




a lovely fake toucan perched inside the Rainforest Café



other fauna

what’s a good jungle without a plastic zebra and a miniature teal rhinoceros?



sherry menu

Sherry Ann, studying the Café’s menu as though it was written by Chekhov



me and adonis

me and Adonis, sittin’ in a tree…


LESSON NUMBER FIVE: Shower at the Holiday Inn Express, win a tailor-made heatstroke at no extra charge!


The final leg of our journey into Houston was fraught with anxiety, as construction-based foes and traffic-generated woes joined forces to temporarily forestall our forward progress and to fry A’s barely-existent patience — although he daily drives a stretch of I-10 from downtown Los Angeles out to Santa Monica (a stretch, mind you, that is a hundred times more congested and more maddening than Houston’s comparable length of that exact same highway ever thought about being!) and does so with a smile plastered across his beautiful face, this silly little five-minute bottleneck we encountered threatened to make his head explode.  But after fumbling our way through a phalanx of freeway interchanges and Pole Position-trained drivers, we successfully made our way downtown, whereupon — in a crackerjack flash of top-shelf decision-making prowess — I had a room reserved at the Holiday Inn Express, exactly one block away from our concert’s venue, the Toyota Center.  (Having utterly no desire to fight post-show exit traffic, and having no clue where anything in Houston is other than the evacuation route, I found this to be a fabulously painless solution to our lodging issues, as we could walk to and from the concert and let the rest of those crazy fools fight the bumper-to-bumper insanity.)


A sweet guy by the name of Gabriel checked us in, and because I am a member of the hotel’s rewards club, I evidently qualified for a complimentary gift bag, with which Gabriel took a curiously energetic measure of pride in awarding me.  I waited until we were successfully in the room to inspect the bag, wondering the entire time what exactly it contained; the excited look on Gabriel’s face — Sherry Ann later swore he was making a pass at me — led me to believe he was giving me a gold Rolex or something, but the truth was devastatingly less impressive:  a bottle of Ozarka water; an impossibly tiny bag of Baked Doritos, and a puny pair of bite-size candy bars (Twix and Snickers, one each).  (I seriously pondered tromping back downstairs, hurling the bag at ol’ Gabriel, and asking — and not rhetorically — “Are you kidding me with this?”  But, because I was quite thirsty by this point, I instead twisted the cap off the water, plopped onto the bed, and proceeded to chug-a-lug.)


Sherry Ann and A immediately fell into catnaps, but I was too wired to even consider sleep, so I flipped through channels on the television until I stumbled across my eternal heroine, the brilliantly brusque Judge Judy, and I finished typing up the Buzz’s Kathy Mattea playlist while my traveling companions sawed logs.


When everyone was conscious again and it was time to begin beautifying ourselves for the evening ahead, it was decided by Sherry Ann — who buttressed her declaration with a bitchy color commentary that doesn’t deserve dignification — that I should be the one to take the inaugural shower.  (She operates under this misguided notion that I’m a diva in the bathroom, which couldn’t be farther from reality.)  And to keep A from discovering how vicious our verbal jousts can get when we’re fired up — isn’t it always a crushing shame to see a man’s innocence be demolished? — I folded like a Dollar General card table and agreed to go first.


I had yet to decide what I was wearing that night — had it narrowed down to a brown button-down shirt and a black polo shirt, with terribly cute shoes to support either option — so, in a move that garnered laugh-filled scorn from the peanut gallery, I scooped up my entire duffel bag and trudged off toward the restroom.


I turned on the shower first thing so that it could be warming up while I retrieved my toiletries, and I got an instant sense that something was off, as the steam begin to envelop the room awfully quickly.  (And the water wasn’t even that hot!)  By the end of the shower (which, owing to the fact that I was on the verge of fainting, lasted the sum total of five minutes), the bathroom had become thoroughly unbearable.  I’m not sure if it was just a dopey design flaw or a catastrophic ventilation malfunction, but when I threw back the curtain and tried to step outside the tub, I was bodyslammed by a brick wall of steamy, suffocating humidity.  (For a second, in the dazing haze that mercilessly attacked my mind, I thought I was back in that damned jungle diner.)  The fog in that bathroom was so unmanageably thick, not only could you not see yourself in the mirror, you couldn’t see the fucking mirror!


I tried cracking the door slightly to let in a bit of cool air, but the stupid bastards who built this hotel put a tall, narrow mirror on the wall immediately facing the bathroom door, thus allowing anybody in the room a birds’-eye view of your naked ass if the door is more than slightly ajar.  So, desperately fighting the urge to pass completely out, I slapped on two swift brushstrokes of deodorant and tore open the duffel bag.


I had already made much of my indecision regarding which outfit I was going to wear to the concert, and moments after they saw what would be the final choice, Sherry Ann and A both asked what tipped the scales.  I played it off as though inspiration had simply tapped me on the shoulder like so many pennies from heaven, but I’m ready to ‘fess up right here on the Buzz:  I chose the black polo shirt, because — and exclusively because — I wanted (needed!) the holy hell out of that room, and when I opened my duffel bag, the black polo shirt was the first piece of clothing staring back at me.


I tossed on a pair of jeans, a white t-shirt (which immediately clung to my body as though it were made of Lycra instead of cotton, and which withered around the collar to such a ridiculous extent that I ended up having to swap it for another one half an hour or so later, when my internal body temperature had dropped back down from its high, a point at which I could have fried bacon on my torso), and the polo, and then yanked the door fully open, unspeakably grateful to regain an opportunity to gulp jagged chunks of conditioned air into my poor, parched chest.  (I kid you not:  the moist, turgid air wafted out of that bathroom in such steady, heaving waves that the aforementioned outside mirror was instantly swathed in a thick sheen of steamy fog!)  It was easily the most thoroughly horrendous bathing experience of my entire life — I’ve never worked up a sweat like that, ever, even when I was trying to! — and as I regained my bearings in the welcoming cool of the hotel room, I warned my disbelieving compatriots as to what fresh hell awaited them.  They may have been incredulous at the start, but believe me, they figured out real quick that this was one instance in which I was not being hyperbolic.


(The story has a hilarious postscript:  a few days after returning home, the hotel sent me an email asking me to take a survey about our stay.  Not having anything better to do at that moment, I decided to accept the offer, and proceeded to let them know exactly what I thought of their asinine and inhumane bathroom facilities.  Not even a full week later, the following letter (complete with a hand-written envelope!) arrived in my mailbox:




The shattering moral of this story?  Squeaky wheels get the grease every time, honey.)


COMING SOON: Why the seven dollar chili dog I had for dinner was worth every last penny, and why my post-shower flirtation with fainting might well have been an omen for the evening to come.

5 responses to “steam that blows the whistle never turns the wheel
(dispatches from a remarkable road trip, vol. 2)

  1. the buzz from J.B.:

    Wonderful write-up! I very much enjoyed both this and the last volume.

    I had no idea that A. was such a big ABBA fan…

    Sounds like a great adventure! I’m a bit jealous. 🙂

  2. the buzz from brandon:

    Re: ABBA — Neither did I, sir. Neither did I.

  3. the buzz from A.:

    I don’t even know where to begin a response to this second installment of the “big gay adventure”!

    First, allow me to clarify that there is never a smile on my face when I am stuck in traffic, whether on the I-10 or on any other freeway or street. However, there is (at least) one exceptional reason why the stretch of I-10 from downtown LA to Santa Monica is a google times better than any other congested stretch of road: it leads to the ocean! Enough said.

    Second, absolutely everything written herein about the Rainforest Café is true; it is one of the strangest places in which I have put my foot. Had I visited one of its outposts at the first opportunity I had ever had, that is, when Mall of America opened sixteen years ago, I may have been scarred if not for life than for a few years at least (just like I was when I watched King Kong at the tender age of seven). I don’t know how today’s little kids actually enjoy such places (or such movies).

    As a side note, perhaps a more appropriate picture with Atlas would’ve been one of our fine and gorgeous writer shirtless, just like Atlas?

    To J.B. (and all): May your friends never cease to surprise you (pleasantly, of course) and may you never lose that sense of discovery!

  4. the buzz from brandon:

    Oh good God, the horrors of a picture of me shirtless being published online would be so terrifying that the whole damned web would crash.

    And, speaking as someone who got scared shitless by the updated version of King Kong at the tender, impressionable age of 30, all I can say to you, A, is, “Preach it, brother man.”

    In closing… ocean schmocean. Traffic is traffic! Wilshire Boulevard’ll getcha to the water just as deftly as that godforsaken freeway will.

  5. the buzz from A.:

    “Ocean schmocean” — I guess that’s the difference at the root of the California/Texas cultural divide! (No need for any more PhD theses on that topic.) As to crashing the web, perhaps we should do an experiment and see? 😉