The day started with the stuff of bad poetry—blues skies, rays of sunshine, chirping birds, a spring in my step. Iambic pentameter or not, the morning proved ideal for hopping in my car, rolling the windows down, cranking the radio up, and hitting the road. The destination for this glorious-day road trip: Bryan-College Station.
I’ve found that most of the poetic language used to describe the Bryan-College Station area involves words like “whoop” and “maroon,” or phrases such as “how many Aggies does it take.” But since I neither went to school in this land of Aggies, nor does my blood bleed burnt orange, the interpretation of this trip will involve none of that—just words that speak to an appreciation of wildflowers, world leaders, and wine.
From my home in Austin, I headed out east on U.S. 290. The roadside was dotted with reds, oranges, yellows, and blues—the palette of wildflower color and indisputable evidence that springtime in the Hill Country is arguably one of the loveliest convergences of time and place in all of Texas. I detoured a bit from the U.S. 290-Texas Highway 21 route I’d initially planned when I saw a road sign. “Fifty-nine miles to Brenham,” it read, and although it was mid-morning, I thought to myself, “Ooh, ice cream!” Brenham, after all, is home to the Blue Bell Creameries, and I knew that if I could make one of the facility tours, I could also get a free scoop or two. Sadly, this stanza in my expedition was soon shaped by another sign, one awaiting my arrival at the creamery; it said, “No tours today.” So instead of eating ice cream, I strolled through Brenham’s quaint downtown, packed with antiques shops, book stores, gift emporiums, and banks.
Back on the road, I continued along wildflower-laden 290 until I reached Texas Highway 105, which took me past the birthplace of the state (Washington-on-the-Brazos) and onto Texas Highway 6, which is a straight shot into College Station, otherwise referred to as Aggieland. I wasn’t interested in touring Texas A&M, but I did want to see the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which is on A&M’s campus. Lucky for me, numerous signs within the city limits led me right to 41’s doorstep (so to speak). As its name suggests, the Bush library and museum is both a house of research and a house of showcase. Giving refuge to more than 38 million documents (some personal, most professional) and 60,000 artifacts (campaign buttons, the swivel chair from his days in the Oval Office, a large section of the Berlin Wall), this archive was built for research geeks and everyday tourists. In addition to roaming through the standard museum display, which traces every Bush chapter, from Yale baseball player to Desert Storm president, I also enjoyed the temporary exhibit “Fashioning Art: Handbags by Judith Leiber.” It’s not every day you get to see a bejeweled purse entitled “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil Monkey with Crystal Rhinestones (1992).”
After immersing myself in presidential history for a couple of hours, I decided it was time to explore Bryan-College Station. What did my journey teach me? It’s impossible not to feel some semblance of Aggie spirit in town, and there’s nothing that can’t be colored maroon. I eventually took the suggestion of a local guidebook and made a visit to the Messina Hof winery. For $5, I got to peek at the vineyards (owners Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo own forty acres in Bryan and another several hundred in Halfway, Texas), the bed-and-breakfast (one lovey-dovey couple on the tour attested to the loveliness of the Romeo and Juliet room), and the Vintage House restaurant, and witness the machinations for peeling, crushing, fermenting, barreling, and bottling grapes and their juices. But all of that was just an appetizer; we were here to taste the fruits of Messina Hof’s labor—the wine. Our gracious guide not only let us sip from four bottles (one dry, one semi-dry, one red, and one dessert), but also showed us how to do so properly. From sniffing to swirling to gurgling, we were veritable wine tasters by the end of the affair, and a rather giddy bunch at that, especially after a few sips of the private-reserve port. I was glad I’d booked a room at the historic LaSalle Hotel in downtown Bryan. In the morning, I was back on the road, back to the wildflowers, and back to thinking in bad poetic verse.