I got there late on the evening of Wednesday, September 2 and was met by Daniel at one of the Houston airports. As he drove us to his apartment, I was very impressed with his new talents as a freeway driver and with how well he knew the maze of roads and freeways that we traveled.
We spent Thursday together at the Texas Medical Center, where Daniel goes to school and does his research. The medical center is really an extraordinary place that I must describe for you. If you were to stand at the outskirts of the Houston suburbs and look in toward the city center, you would see the collection of skyscrapers that you would expect to see at the center of any large city. However, if you looked about three miles south of the city center, you would see another collection of skyscrapers that looks like a second downtown. That is the Texas Medical Center. It is a congregation of about fifteen skyscrapers and just as many smaller buildings that are all dedicated to some aspect of the medical field. Most of the tall ones are hospitals. I think it must in all truth be the largest group of medical facilities located in one place that exists anywhere in the world.
Thursday morning we walked from Daniel's apartment along a gigantic canal called Brea's Bayou to the medical center. Daniel's office is on the second floor of the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, a large hospital dedicated to research about cancer and to treating cancer patients. He shares the office with about twelve other graduate students. The guy on his left is a year or two farther along than Daniel; the guy on his right is a Chinese man whose oldest son is in high school. Every now and then another of the Chinese graduate students comes over and they discuss their research in Chinese.
Daniel's classes are in the University of Texas Graduate School of Biological Sciences, which is next door to the cancer center and is connected to it by an elevated walkway. After a short stop at Daniel's office to check on the progress of the computer simulations he was running, we went to his Anatomy class. There were about thirty students in the class, including most of the group from Daniel's program that he had made friends with in his first year. We had heard about most of them, so it was fun to meet all of them.
We spent the rest of the day in the cancer center working on Daniel's research, having lunch in the big indoor "park" and attending a second class. I couldn't attend the class because they had more students than chairs in that particular classroom, so an extra uninvited guest would have been awkward.
That evening we drove across town to Daniel's meeting house where we attended the weekly Institute class. The classes are taught on alternating weeks by Daniel's roommate, Jeff, and by a girl named Erin. I enjoyed the lesson and I especially enjoyed the chance to meet most of Daniel's church friends that he had been telling us about all year long. After the Institute class about fifteen of us stopped off at a hamburger joint for milk shakes. We had a party room with a big-screen TV all to ourselves, so we had lots of fun socializing and watching Boise State beat Oregon.
We spent Friday at the cancer center again, mostly working on Daniel's research. I got to meet the post-doc who is supervising Daniel's research. He seems to be a very pleasant, easy-going guy. I really had a good time working with Daniel on his project and I think he enjoyed having someone to keep him company and bounce ideas off of.
On Friday night we grabbed a couple of Quiznos sandwiches and headed for a park in downtown Houston where they show old silent movies one night a month. It was fun to see the downtown area close up. We parked right across from the Toyota Center where the Houston Rockets play their games, and walked a couple of blocks to a small outdoor amphitheater to see the movie. This particular movie was the classic comedy "The General" and it was accompanied by a live band that had written music specifically to accompany the film. We had a great time.
On Saturday we headed about fifty miles south of Houston to Brazzos Bend State Park, the home of the American alligator. It is a big swampy area where the Brazzos River makes a great sweeping curve, creating perfect alligator habitat. There are about three hundred adult alligators in the park, some of them up to eleven feet long, who mingle with the visitors. We spent most of the day hiking the trails in the park, looking for alligators. We eventually saw three of them at a distance of about ten feet. The largest was around six feet long.
We also saw a large quantity of very large spiders in very large webs. We didn't know of the existence of these spiders until we were walking along a less-used trail and almost blundered into one of them. We found out later that they are called Golden Silk spiders, that they are docile and practically harmless to humans, that they have the bad habit of spinning their webs across trails at about eye level and that they are the largest non-tarantula spiders in North America. We can vouch for that! They are actually quite a pretty yellow and brown color and appeared to be about four inches across from toe to toe. We grabbed a long stick and waved it in front of us as we walked until we got to the wider, more traveled trails. I think we probably saw at least thirty of them throughout the day.
Saturday night we went to a ward social at the apartment complex of one of the ward members. They had the BYU-Oklahoma football game on the big screen in the theater room, so it was an especially pleasant social for all the BYU fans. Again I had a fun time meeting more of Daniel's church friends.
On Sunday we attended meetings and then I read a book for a couple of hours while Daniel carried out his duties as ward clerk. Later we had supper at the home of one of the ward members, actually it was Erin, who had taught the Institute class. She and Daniel have started a singing group and they needed to meet to choose songs for their next concert, so she invited us to dinner and then she and Daniel spent forty-five minutes selecting music. About that time thirty ward members showed up for a birthday party that Erin's house mate was hosting, so I got to meet more of Daniel's friends. We talked and ate refreshments and played Pit.
On Monday morning Daniel and I drove to a park and played flag football with a bunch of guys (and two girls) from the ward. It was very hot and humid, but lots of fun anyway. We capped off my visit with a driving tour of Rice University and Herrman Park, the big city park between Daniel's apartment and the Rice campus. We also stopped at an area next to the campus where there are a bunch of restaurants and shops, including the Chocolate Bar, where we enjoyed some gourmet ice cream.
So had a really great time and came home happy to know that Daniel is making a good life for himself in Houston. Hopefully more of us can pay him another visit soon.