I don’t know why Houston should amaze me anymore. I mean, I am totally enamored by the unconventional urban beauty that this city, with its lack of zoning, has created for us. This expansive canvas to experiment with everything that cities have attempted throughout history. We’ve come up with some pretty amazing successes. Despite the fifty or so miles that separates us from the Gulf of Mexico, we are one of the largest port cities in the world. And where else but Houston, Texas, would anyone be crazy enough to come up with the idea behind the Astrodome; a masterful take on one of histories most fascinating buildings, the Roman Coliseum.
No, this city of many names (Space City, Bayou City, Clutch City, etc.) shouldn’t surprise me. But why do I find myself constantly surprised today, after nearly 30 years of my own existence, by its uncanny ability to be both alarmingly large and so comfortingly small. Take, for example, my Friday night outing to Fotofest’s opening. Actually, this was one of those evenings that literally sprung out of nothing. I had initially planned to go home, reheat some leftovers, and plop myself in front of the television. I had an early start on Saturday morning for work, and wanted to have a nice, relaxing night at home. These are the days that I should respectfully close my Google Talk chat program.
A friend asked if I would be interested in catching an opening at DiverseWorks. Ironically enough, I didn’t get the chance to take in the exhibit. Instead, I found myself socializing with a couple of neighbors on the loading dock/patio out front, until someone suggested we head over to the Fotofest Opening Night Party. I would have greatly appreciated going home between work and this event. I was dressed in my Friday Casual Day best, and not really prepped for a good nice of visual art stimulation. That is not to say that this is an event that you must be dressed to impress, it’s just that it is an event that I personally like to be fashionably attired for. Nevertheless, the place was absolutely PACKED! Not surprising really, people do love to flock to free alcohol and food. But, it was a very cool and comfortable packed.
What struck me after about 30 minutes of traversing the crowd, I hardly recognized anyone. The one person being another neighbor that found herself out and about that evening. I turned to one of my friends, “It still amazes me how incredibly large this city is. I work for an organization that draws thousands of people in a year, and yet I do not recognize anyone.”
Even in my recent excursions into the more eclectic art scene did me no good; this was a crowd of entirely new people. As a single guy, this was a bit encouraging, and added to my regret that I wasn’t dressed better. When you find yourself at the end of your rope to find new places to meet interesting people instead of the same tired stereotypes, it can do wonders for your optimism.
But it was a couple that my friend and I met from California that I was most enlightened by, the photos of the exhibit notwithstanding. They were making a weekend of it in the Houston area, with Fotofest as their #1 priority. They had taken in the Menil earlier in the day, and were heading out to see, yes, simply see, Galveston. As typical Houstonians, we were quick to warn them that Galveston would not be as pretty as their beaches in California. They were equally quick to say that they didn’t care, and were excited about seeing the Island for the first time. I should also say that they had been to visit our dear friend Lucy at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. My interest piqued, I began talking with one of them at length about Houstonian general. She was amazingly open about Houston’s potential, and didn’t exhibit the sort of disdain I’ve often seen from people from the West Coast.
“Houston has so much potential. but it’s not marketed well.”
Like I haven’t heard that one before! My friend and I got into a discussion about this statement in regards to the GHCVB later. It’s sad, we just don’t seem to have the right way to talk about Houston that would help us in getting more people to see what we have here. It’s not that they (the GHCVB) aren’t talented people, or that they haven’t had their share of success, it’s just that it;s hard to change a national opinion when the subject is so unnervingly schizophrenic as Houston.
I recently came up with my own slogan.
“Houston, your hometown doesn’t need to know.”
It has the same kind of tongue-in-cheek humor and sexiness of Vegas’ now legendary, “What happens in Vegas here, stays here,” and adds just the right amount of Texas sass. Only Houston would intentionally identify itself as the urban equivalent of a mistress. I can see it now, Houston, the Marfreless of U.S. cities. But, in all seriousness, I think it’s a great way to look at our fair city. I find that Houston is, after all, one of the best places to live in the nation. Not as great a city as say New York or Chicago, but definitely easier to live in. I’d visit NYC on a monthly basis if I could afford the travel expenses, and Chicago is where I would love to take a week in, but you couldn’t pay me to live there. Their winters being the #1 reason, but also because it is just so damn expensive. No, Houston is much more comforting that the Big Apple, and doesn’t ask too much in return except that you treat her to a good time every once in a while. She’s the mistress anyone would be glad to have; all the comforts of home, without the financial obligation.
A trip to Houston is an affair to remember. As I am writing this, I am sitting comfortably at Catalina Coffee is cargo shorts, a polo and flip flops. I could be typing this in some incredible 70-degree weather, but I wanted to take in the ambiance of this place on my first visit. It’s a balmy 34 degrees in Chicago. New York is topping out at 40 with a wind chill of 32. Hot times in old town tonight, right? Tell me who you want to spend your weekend with, a charming Texan who lets you wear flip flops on March afternoon, or the frosty, ice bitch nipping at your nose?
Do you remember that episode of friends where the gang all sits around to figure out the five celebrities they could sleep with without anyone getting upset?
Houston is the city that should be, and I’d reckon is, on a theoretical list of cities that you spend a secret weekend with without anyone needing to find out. Houston is a city that most people are not enthusiastic to admit that they know or even like. We’re the nerd that the prom queen secretly thinks is sexy. We’re Samantha Baker of cities, hopelessly in love with the Jake Ryan metropolises of the world. Hell, why do you think the University of Houston chose the Cougar as its mascot?
The problem is, we’re just not too willing to let that jungle cat out to play very often. I could go on, but I don’t want to get you too excited. Have a great week, Houston!