Ed Driscoll

It Was One Year Ago Today...

I realized that I’m starting this Ed and Nina’s Excellent Adventure series somewhere after the beginning.  So I thought I’d tell the backstory so you know what’s going on.  As a result this post may be a bit long. You can skip it, and if the rest of our shenanigans grab your interest, you can come back to see how it started.

My father played football. He was All American in college and played in the East-West Shrine game with Bronco Nagurski. He made it to the pro ranks when football players got $250.00 a game. He wasn’t all that good, and the money wasn’t all that good, and the risk of getting a concussion was that good.  He and football parted company.  I tell you this because I was brought up watching football on TV, and football is an important theme in this story.

I was born and raised in New York City.  I’m talking Manhattan, New York City: apartment houses, subways, concrete, no lawns. Queens has lawns, Brooklyn has lawns – Manhattan, at least where I grew up, has no lawns.  It’s the concrete jungle, maaaan.

After college, a job and then law school, not to mention a stint driving a cab in NYC while in school, I moved to California.

I have a lawn now.  I live in the suburbs, in a track house (albeit highly remodeled). We have a lawn – in fact we have two lawns, one in front, and one in back.  But we can see all of our neighbors’ rooftops from our windows.  Depending on who’s living in the rental next door, we can HEAR our neighbors from inside.  Living on a cul de sac among other cul de sacs, we have lots of back yard neighbors. On warm summer’s evenings, if we’re sitting outside we can hear our neighbors as well as Jimmy Stewart heard his in Rear Window.  You know, the suburbs.  Not the concrete jungle, but not rural.

So here I am, New York City girl living in the suburbs in Silicon Valley.

I became re-singled about 20 years ago.  I met a guy on a CompuServe dating oriented forum.  He lived in New Jersey.  A year later he moved to California. A year later we got married. What brought us together over 3000 miles? Well in addition to lots of other compatibilities – it was football.

Our little CompuServe forum had a chat room. This was way before anyone had heard of “social media” and the www part of the internet wasn’t ubiquitous. But we, the few the proud, the early adopters had a chat room.  On Sundays people would gather in the chat room.  I would occasionally type an expletive. People probably thought I had some rare form of written Turret’s Syndrome. But this guy from NJ was obviously watching the same football game as I, and he knew that my expletive indicated that Jerry Rice had dropped a catch or Joe Montana had been tackled.  So we started to talk in the private chat window that CompuServe also had.

A year later Mr. NJ (aka Ed Driscoll) had moved to California and a year after that we got married – romance growing from me cursing at a football game.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. My husband, bless his heart, is a Dallas Cowboys fan.  It’s a long story – suffice to say, I’m not. But I’m a kind, loving and generous wife. So for Christmas 2003, I bought my husband tickets to the 2004 Thanksgiving Day Dallas Cowboys football game.

We flew to Texas for the long weekend and I decided that in exchange for having to watch the Cowboys play in Cowboys’ stadium with 1000s of Cowboys fans, we’d spend one day driving out in the Texas countryside so I could see something other than Cowboys fans.  To pick a destination I looked on Zagat.com for a good restaurant somewhere out in the boonies.  I found a place that got great reviews. I’m not sure why I didn’t look for their website, or maybe they didn’t have one back then.  And so we set off for a drive in the Texas outback.

Well, the Texas outback for most of the drive wasn’t very outback, well except maybe Outback Steakhouse. What we saw looked like New Jersey or California.  Miles of roads flanked by miles of McDonalds, drugstores (why are they always on 2 or 3 corners of one intersection, like they’re afraid to go out alone?) home depots, Burger Kings etc.

And then it stopped. Not the road but the stores and traffic lights, and we sped along a 2 lane highway with a 70 mph speed limit. That was fun.  We were in a Hertz rental with their GPS which seemed to know where we were even though we appeared to have finally found “out back.”

After driving through a small town (stores but not a recognized national chain visible anywhere), the road got a bit windier and more deserted feeling and …. were those banjos we heard?  Gracie alerted us to final turn to our destination, oh, did I mention we call all GPS systems Gracie (there but for the grace of… we’d be SOL)

We were now on a much narrower 2 lane road, no shoulders, and after the first few houses the outback pushed up against the road and we were positive we heard the banjos playing the theme from Deliverance.  One mile, two miles, three miles and the banjoes were getting louder and louder. Finally after the 4th mile, out of nowhere, we saw an impressive gate indicating we had reached our destination.

We turned into the driveway, only mildly concerned that the GPS now showed nothing… NOTHING but a black hole of NOTHING. But we were here. This one lane gravel driveway had to be theirs, right?  Why did the GPS show NOTHING. Was it mal-functioning? Was there no other road on the other side of the driveway? Did the banjoes interfere with the signal? Lock the doors.

And driveway? A driveway usually connects a road with a structure. Where was the structure?  One mile, one and a half miles, one and three quarters, no restaurant. And to be honest, to our little suburban minds, this was not looking good.  Then suddenly… there in the distance we saw this:

Rough Creek Lodge at magic hour

We were amazed by the restaurant. It was terrific, and we were delighted to find that it was connected to a lodge. So we made arrangements to revisit Rough Creek Lodge the next year…  and the one after that… and then twice two years later, till we had racked up about a month and a half of time there. On each visit we wandered the back roads and came to love the area.

Earlier in 2014 I started to explore buying some land in that area, thinking it might be a good idea to lock in 2014 prices and have a piece of Texas on which to build a retirement home in the future.  As I looked around online I realized we could actually afford a piece of land… with a house on it.  Over the course of a few months I researched land values, water tables, prevailing winds, temperatures (yes, it is hot there in the summer), medical care etc.  I made a spreadsheet.  I made several spreadsheets.  Yes we could buy a retirement home for ourselves and meanwhile use it as a once in a while vacation home.

We planned a trip to Texas for the July 4th weekend in 2014, and late in June I started to research real estate agents. I knew that since we were not buying an expensive property by anyone’s standards, AND we were “foreigners,” and even California foreigners, that we could easily get less than stellar advice.  Any real estate agent would be happy to help us buy something, but I wanted someone who would help us NOT buy something. So I decided to offer someone a consulting fee separate and apart from any possible commission.

I had noticed two agents who had listed a few of the properties I had found on my own, so I was going to call one of them, when I clicked on their Agency’s website.  The agency was owned by a couple and the wife was an active agent. So on no more than 10 seconds thought I called her up, she answered, I made my proposal, she accepted, and we were off.

Over the next few days Deedee Jones pumped me for information about our goals and interests.  She sent over info on some properties I had not found. She was interested not merely in “do you like it” but why are you interested or why are you not interested.  She also talked to me about the whole area from Stephenville to Cleburne, Granbury to Walnut Springs. She was a wealth of information.

There was one property that had grabbed my attention a few months back when I first started looking, and low and behold it was still available. It consisted of two homes on 6 acres. The small house was finished and livable; the larger one needed to be completed, and from the description and pictures seemed to need flooring, painting and an A/C unit. The house had a pretty spectacular great room, but it wasn’t that easy to figure out where the other rooms fit into the space.

It was on a lovely hilly wooded piece of property very near Rough Creek Lodge.  My fantasy was we’d get a couple who worked at the lodge to live in the little house and either just keep an eye on the “big house” and oversee the improvements, or maybe even do some of the work themselves.  Having the second house on the property solved the problem of not wanting to buy a house and leave it vacant 48 weeks a year for possibly several years.  It was a very practical piece of property.  And it was by far the front runner on my spreadsheet of possibly properties.

Anyway – we got on a plane for Texas on July 3, me with my spreadsheet of about 20 properties, 14 raw land and 6 with houses, wondering how the heck we were going to narrow this down if I couldn’t even decide between land or land+house.  I say “I” because Ed was pretty much not going to give it me much input until he saw things in the flesh…or the dirt.

By the time the plane was landing I had narrowed the possibilities to 11 “front runners” of which 5 had houses on them, and 6 were just land.  Then looking at all of the factors on my spreadsheet (distance to shopping, distance to hospitals, price, price per acre, house size, number of bedrooms) I put in an extra column on my spreadsheet for “gut reaction” and found a surprising tie for first place.

Along with the property I’d been looking at for months was another property, a bit far from the lodge for a quick drive for lunch, and I couldn’t even say why my “gut reaction” had placed it at tie for first.

It was 7.4 acres, and pretty darned flat.  That area of Texas basically is either flat and semi-barren – or hilly and wooded.  I assumed hilly and wooded was where we’d end up.  But this property was flat with a few trees around the house. And the house was a double wide. Where we live – single and double wide “manufactured homes” (formerly known as mobile homes or trailers) are found almost exclusively in mobile home parks or whatever the more PC term is now.  But around that part of Texas a lot of the homes are manufactured. And the pictures of this house looked pretty nice, and it had some nice trees around the house. But the real selling point for me… OK, back up a bit.

I research things seriously.   I’m the researcher, the “collect the information” lady.  I am Ms. Spreadsheet.  I make decisions based significantly on very objective and logical criteria.   Ed is logical too, but he’s also more into the aesthetics of things.  So with that in mind, it was odd that for me the real selling point for this other house was that it was, for all intent and purposes – nowhere.   It’s in an unincorporated area – with a name,  but no town.  Well it has a post office, and a church but it does not have a gas station, a restaurant, a 7-11 or a Starbucks.  It’s just deep in the heart of Texas.  There was no logic involved; nothing objective about it.  But I loved the idea of living where even locals would say “where??”

July 4th we got up early… well I got up early and woke Ed up, we had one of Rough Creek’s incredibly delicious breakfasts and set out to see some of the properties on the list. We could only drive by them, but we visited about 5 or 6, and That Other House (as we started to call it) started to pull out ahead.

We also came to a big decision… no raw land.  We realized that we wanted to see if we really could live “deep in the heart of Texas.”  Clearly we could live in a luxurious resort like Rough Creek with swimming pools, a spa, being waited on hand and foot, and a great restaurant. But what about living there… as normal people? If we bought land all we could do would be go visit it and say “hello land.” No, we decided, if we’re going to do this, we’re buying something we can stay in.

We also realized that we would have a problem having a vacant 48 weeks a year “vacation” home and that we’d need to figure something out to keep the property safe and well maintained.

Saturday, July 5th we met our real estate agent.  She was everything we had hoped for.  She gave us HER list of properties which included some we hadn’t known about, and we set out on our big adventure.

Our first stop was the 2-house property I had coveted for months.  OMG!!!, as the kittehs say.  What a disaster. In the smaller, “finished” house, what had looked like hardwood floors in the small pictures uploaded by the real estate agent was actually the thinnest vinyl flooring possible… or maybe it was contact paper. The ceilings were low enough that the fan in the middle of each of the bedrooms would have sliced off the top of Ed’s head… and they were as flush mounted as ceiling fans can be.

But we wanted that property to work. And we wouldn’t be living in the small house… maybe we could find small people to live there. So up to the “big” house we went. Oh dear. The great room was great. But there was no master bedroom.  The bigger bathroom was down stairs (and it wasn’t very big) and the only two bedrooms were upstairs and were tiny. They could not have been combined because a small oddly laid out bathroom was between them. I doubt either could have held a king size bed. And again Ed’s head almost scraped the ceilings.

The kitchen was also tiny. The only way to make the house livable would be to cut into the great room (which was the only good feature) to make a master bedroom, and then you’d still have a house with a tiny kitchen – I mean we’re talking NYC apartment size kitchen, in Texas.

And the floors sloped. OK to be fair, it was one floor in an alcove off the great room that sloped. But it sloped. And the counter in the tiny kitchen sloped.  We decided this house was built by a very short person who didn’t own a level.  And if this much was visible… did I mention this was an owner built house in an unincorporated area without building codes? So if this was visible, could you really trust that the foundation was solid… or didn’t slope?

So off we went to see other houses.  After seeing two manufactured homes it was clear to me that we’d have to assess these properties based on the land, the location, the investment potential but not any possible “wow factor” about the house, because the manufactured homes were pretty much all similar. And sadly most had been decorated by Ed’s mother (did I just use my out loud voice?)

I was just saying this when we drove up to the last house on our list – That Other House. We walked in and Ed and I looked at each other.  We liked it. I mean we actually liked it. Granted we came in from the carport into the large open kitchen which had new white cabinets and appliances installed in more recently than the 1990s. But we liked it. It was bright and open, and it clearly had been maintained really well. Everything was spotless… not clean because we’re selling the house spotless, but the inside of the A/C vents clean, spotless; the storage shed didn’t have cobwebs, spotless.

The elderly couple who owned the place found keeping up the place was too much for them.  And the place, as I said, is 7.4 acres, with a barn, corral, fields and around the house about 6 fruit trees (apricot, plum, apple and peach) a lovely large oak and some flowering dogwoods.  And it was laid out for a couple. It had only 3 bedrooms and 2 baths (some of the manufactured homes of the same size had 5 bedrooms and 3 baths); the large open eat-in kitchen with a separate but open dining area; a large living room and huge closets.

So what’s funny about all of this.  Well that was funny thing #1.  I had liked the That Other House enough to list it as tie for first place with no idea why. The pictures online weren’t that good, and the décor wasn’t our style. I wrote it off as my silliness in liking the idea of saying I’m from Nowhere Texas.  But that we really did like it for objectively logical reasons once we were inside – that was weird, or what we started to call “Funny thing #1”

By the time we left Deedee on Saturday evening we had a lot to think and talk about.  We knew a lot more about the whole area, and what was available.

Sunday we drove around some more, and after a great deal of discussion, narrowed things down to That Other House, and one other property that was also well maintained, on 10 acres, very conveniently located and unexciting.  We arranged to meet with Deedee on Monday to see both properties.  I had discovered the glories of chigger bites and the itching plus adrenaline had kept me awake much of Saturday night, so Sunday after dinner I got into bed early while Ed took his tablet down to the main lodge to have a quiet cigar and cognac.  On his way out I said “don’t wake me up when you get back.”

He woke me up when he got back.  It was worth it.  While sitting having his cigar and cognac, wearing his Panama Optimo hat he was joined by two local “good old boys.”  “What the heck kinda cowboy hat is that, son?” one of them asked.  After explaining what it was and that it had been bought from that purveyor of fine western wear — Brooks Brothers, Ed was plied with more cognac, a $40 cigar and engaged in discussions of religion, God (not the same thing) and politics.  Along the way it turned out that one of them was close friends with an associate of the late Andrew Breitbart, who Ed and I both knew.

Meeting someone, deep in the heart of Texas, who had even heard of Breitbart.com nevertheless was good ol’ buddies once removed with Andrew, was “wake up worthy.”  It was “funny thing #2.”  Ed also mentioned he also met a very nice younger couple in the course of the evening.  Actually this is “funny things #2 and #3” because those of you who know my husband know he’s not the talking to strangers type. He’s not the “go down to the bar and make friends and exchange emails” type. He’s the quiet, reserved one, I’m the talk to anyone one.

Monday morning at breakfast Ed saw the couple he met and he went over to talk to them (see Funny thing #3).  I, seeing my husband stop and talk to people, went to join him, and perhaps take his temperature or see what alien being had turned him into Mr. Talk To Strangers.

We told the couple we were meeting our real estate agent later that day to see some houses and they said they were down from Dallas exploring the possibility that they might move down to the Rough Creek area. Almost as an aside they said “but we’re thinking maybe we should rent before buying.” Almost as an aside, although I rarely say anything just as an aside, I said “maybe you should rent our house if we buy one.” And we all looked at each other and I said “I’m serious” and they said “we’re serious” so we agreed to meet back in the lounge in an hour.

So we did and it was one of those immediate bonding things.  They are both small town people who are familiar with rural living, with farms and ranches. He’s an oil well geologist; she works from home doing SQL programming.  And we discussed that we’d love to have someone living in the house rather than leaving it empty and we’d rent it to them, but they’d need to be able to vacate 3-4 weeks a year. They said no problem, they have family around and also travel a bit. We felt really comfortable with the idea of time-sharing the house with them even after a short time talking with them.  That’s funny thing #4.

But wait, there’s a problem, they said. They have a dog… they are dog people, they said. With that they take out a picture of Harold. Harold is a golden retriever, a very red golden retriever. A red golden retriever who looks amazingly like our late beloved dog Willie.  Funny thing #5. Actually good bumps level funny thing. Harold and Willie looked like brothers:

harold_willie_7-9-15-1

Left: Harold, Christmas 2014. Right: Willie, Christmas… way back when.

Later that day – thinking about the funny things, I got an email from a potential new client. I set up a phone call and while the client was in California, it turned out his new business was going to be incorporated in … you got it, Texas.  Funny thing #6.

At this point I’m thinking… OK, we’re getting a sign here. I’m afraid if we don’t buy this place we’re going to be on some deity’s “too dumb to pick up on being handed good luck” list.

Well if I hadn’t started in the middle of the story you’d probably just be eaten alive by the suspense by now.  But you’ve probably guessed we went back to visit “the That Other House” and then drove to the RE agents office and made an offer.  The next day we got in our car – bade a fond farewell to Rough Creek Lodge, Deedee and That Other House, and drove back to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.

On the shuttle bus between the car rental drop off and the airport proper we got a text from Deedee: “Offer Accepted! Call when you get a chance.”

That was July 9th 2015, exactly one year ago.  We closed escrow on July 25th.  We gave the sellers until early November to move out completely. The couple Ed met in the lounge at Rough Creek moved in late that November.  We’re using one of the smaller bedrooms and the 2nd bath as “ours” and leave our things there.  For the last 7 months we’ve “time shared” the house and after the last visit we realized, we don’t need to learn any more about living in Texas. We belong in That Other House.