~ ONE JOURNEY ~
~ There is only one journey: going inside yourself. ~
- Rainer Maria Rilke
Je me souviens: Houston ~ Thursday, March 08, 2007
What can I say of Houston? I found it a bit of a drag. It was very car-oriented, but all the highways seemed to suffer from twin afflictions: construction (ugly) and congestion (frustrating), with the result that traversing relatively short distances involved rather long waits. But, it was also not a city that seemed to have a great setup by way of public transit or pedestrian-friendly areas. We parked at a park and walked to part of the museum district (literally a block or so away), in the process taking our lives into our hands crossing the roads because in every direction the pedestrian lights seemed to take you about half way. Then, when you were marooned in the middle of the intersection on a vulnerable little island with cars hurtling by at breakneck speeds, you'd be faced with a traffic light-less, multi-lane roundabout you'd have to fling yourself across during a rare break in the onslaught.
This added to the impression of an unwelcoming city. That may not be true of the place once you scratch the surface, but between ugly piles of dirt and broken concrete and streets that didn't lend themselves to walking, it felt very isolating--a culture that encouraged everyone to stay in their own little private, motorized boxes--and certainly wasn't in the least bit tourist-friendly (or we didn't find the area that was--and you'd think that if anywhere, the museum district would be designed for ease).
Compare with San Antonio, whose streets (even outside of the riverwalk) were easily navigated and where you could actually cross the streets without a clear and present risk to your life. It doesn't have to be like Houston--city planners everywhere have proven it again and again.
The other really unpleasant result of all this lung-clogging and visually offputting car orientation was that the drivers were really agressive. You got the feeling as you tried to cross the street that they were gunning for you (it wasn't much better in a car--there was still the sense that they were out to get you). I was reminded of the scene in Bowfinger when Eddie Murphy is asked to run across eight lanes of high-speed traffic. That was Houston, and any way you sliced it, it was pretty gross.
We did eat at a couple of yummy places, though. One seemed to be part of a chain and was under the Art Gallery in the downtown core; the other was a family business--a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place with great food that we just chanced upon as we were driving past the endless strip malls on one of the highways.
Two other interesting things: the many, many churches--some giant, and others (many of them) just thrown into random strip malls, beside various retail shops and restaurants. The second interesting thing was the ads. You learn a lot about the place from the advertising. This trip really brought that home to me. Consider (click on the photo to link to a larger version):
From the latter, I must infer that I am not the only one who would find Houston and its environs (this was taken in Galveston, though the ad was also on the highway leading to Galveston) unwelcoming. :-) ::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 6:51 PM::::