The Roads Less Traveled

Original Print Date: February 2010

Had the Eagles been blaring “Life in the fast lane will surely make you lose your mind,” the first hour of our trip would have been picture-perfect. We, however, were too busy buzzing on what we can only describe as Super Caffeine and had already completely lost our minds.

We were at it again—another road trip to another fabulous place somewhere in the great state of Texas. Only this time, we knew where we were going, we knew exactly how to get there, and we knew we were running really, really late. This—only, let’s say this part is fiction, to avoid any potential trouble from my police-officer-next-door neighbor—this leg of the trip called for a smooth 90 miles an hour and a radar detector. No lazy sauntering down mist-covered gravel roads, no sentimental solitude or photos of cattle guards; nope, we were two redheads on a mission, and that mission was BEER.

Alison and I were headed to the beautifully infamous Shiner, Texas. We’d spent our college years occasionally swimming in the deliciousness of Blonde, Bock, and Hefeweizen, and had concluded that it was time to pay homage to that which served us so well. We were scheduled to make the 1:30 tour of the small-town brewery, but somehow we’d fallen sorely behind.

So, after a harrowing journey around 1604 and a mad dash down Interstate 10, our minds were spinning and our hearts were racing (and all of this was after only one cup of coffee). What would it be like? What amazing new facts about beer would we discover? And, perhaps most importantly, would we even get there on time to experience it at all?

Peeling into the parking lot, we grabbed the camera and some cash. It was 1:42, and we’d made the world’s fastest trip to Texas’s finest beer-brewing town. As we ran for the front door, the sweet aroma of fresh hops and golden wheat filled our senses. We could almost taste the beauty of what we were about to experience—almost. As we darted up to the Gift Shop, the last trickle of tourists was headed for the brewery’s front doors.

Success! We’d scooted up right on time, falling in with the back of the line like we’d been there all along. It didn’t take much time for us to make friends with the people who were on our tour, and as we ooh’ed and ahh’ed over prohibition-era gadgets and conveyor-belt bottle toppers, we were on top of the world—or at least on the top floor of the Shiner brewery.

Though there were no golden Oompa Loompas, there was a scientific Beer Lab. Yes: a laboratory dedicated solely to testing and tasting Shiner beers. Huge copper drums filled with warm, flat beer ran straight to—get this—a beer fountain. And a story below, some fifteen- to eighteen-hundred cases of beer were being bottled purely for our satisfaction. It was a dream come true.

Back at the Gift Shop, we tried our first of four samples and made our first of many new friends. Neither of us being the shy types, we met people from England, from Arkansas, and, of course, from Shiner—the mayor and a councilman, in fact. They all asked us what brought us to the tiny Texas town, and it was such an amazing feeling to answer, “Work! We’re on the clock!” Their responses were unanimous: “you two ladies have the coolest job ever.” We couldn’t have agreed more.

As the daylight dwindled and our fuzzy heads became clear again, we took in some freezing cold air outside before heading back home. Though we’d earned invitations to visit a bank, bar hop at the Riverwalk, and even to stay in Shiner forever, we still had a couple of stops to make before bringing our road trip to an end. Bidding farewell to the town that had (and forever will!) put so many smiles on our faces, we set out with our last destination in mind: Mecca.

:: Insert ‘screeching halt’ sound effect here :: Wait, what? Mecca? Is that even on I-10?

For those of you who have ever driven to Houston on the aforementioned Interstate, you know exactly what I am talking about. Around mile-marker 599 a billboard reads that there are only 33 miles to go, and from there, the countdown begins. As Exit 632 looms in the distance, bright-red flashing LEDs beckon you to try the best homemade fudge in the land. A fluorescent, yellow glow lights up the sky, and a goofy beaver in a red baseball cap smiles with his two big buckteeth.

It’s heaven on earth. It’s Road Trip Mecca.

It’s… Buc-ee’s.

Home of Beaver Nuggets and spicy peanuts—and, of course, restrooms so clean you could have lunch in them—Buc-ee’s surpasses any modern convenience store. I would vote for Buc-ee’s for president. Bigger than many grocery stores and far more entertaining, there’s nothing else quite like it on earth. Buc-ee’s is the worst place in the world to get stuck if you’re a vegetarian (turkey jerky and summer sausage and breakfast tacos all day), but the best place in the world to get stuck if you’re almost out of gas (and, well, the Passat said it had 8 miles left in the tank when we got there).

If you’ve never experienced the magic of the Beaver, you’re missing out on the hottest restroom break this side of the Mississippi. “Ice, Beer, Jerky—All 3 Food Groups,” their billboard boasts; and to top it off, they make an amazing bag of taffy guaranteeing to stick your kids’ mouths shut.

After picking up said Beaver Nuggets and spicy peanuts, we filled the gas tank, posed for a frosty picture, and made our way back to Boerne. Our tummies were full of goodness, and our souls were too. Of course, it was this finally peaceful satisfaction (and maybe the fact that I wasn’t fully focused on driving way too fast) that invited me to reflect on my day’s amazing journey.

Never in my life did I imagine that a job would take me to a brewery, to Buc-ee’s, and back. Hearing echoes of “You really do have the coolest job ever,” I had to stop and think about it: Wow, I really do. I haven’t been in the “real world” too long—it seems like only yesterday I was living in a dorm room and, well, drinking way too much Shiner. By some mix of fate and God’s sense of humor, I now find myself in Boerne, sitting behind a desk in a little blue house, in my jeans and flip-flops. Somewhere along the line, my job stopped being a job and became a passion. I honestly couldn’t be happier.

Though I joke about it all the time, I truly feel blessed to be in a situation where I work doing something I love—really, how many people can say that? Am I just plain lucky? Or have I stumbled upon the greatest discovery of my life yet? I feel an incredible enthusiasm for meeting new people, for working with clients, for being in the middle of it all. Through stress and swear words and sarcasm, I leave work every day knowing that I couldn’t be happier, I wouldn’t be happier, doing anything else.

 

My Road Trip column quickly grew to be my favorite part of Explore every month. Alison and I would close our eyes, point at the Texas map, and see where our gas tanks could take us. No road trip was quite as memorable (or, now that I think about it, as quintessentially Texas) as our trip to the Shiner Brewery. It was February. It was raining. It was cold. But we were two redheads on a mission, and nothing was going to stop us from paying homage to the brewery that had served us so well during our college years.

And we weren’t the only ones. We threw back beers with worshippers from England, Arkansas, and even the major of Shiner and a city councilman. They all asked us what brought us to the tiny Texas town, and it was such an amazing feeling to answer, “Work! We’re on the clock!” Their responses were unanimous: “you two ladies have the coolest job ever.” We couldn’t have agreed more. – Jeanna Goodrich Balreira


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