What I appreciate about Houston

Four years.  That’s how long I’ve been in Houston.  I have to be honest, this place never made the list of cities that I wanted to live in when I considered leaving the Midwest.  Most of the people I meet here are from somewhere else and everyone who’s from somewhere else moved here for a job opportunity.  Now, Houston is rather large by way of geography and population.  I have a Houston address, but I live in an area that is painfully suburban because I don’t want to spend hours stuck in traffic commuting to campus.  All of this aside, you have to put your energy toward unearthing the positive about your home, i.e. what you like about where you live, because you never know how long you’ll be there.

Black Hole Coffee House: 4504 Graustark St, Houston, TX 77006.  I really like stopping by after having dinner somewhere in Montrose or visiting the Museum District.  The baristas make a delectable chai latte (with soymilk) and they usually have good music playing (e.g. “Lovesong” by The Cure) at a reasonable volume.  At night, the typical patron demographic is skewed younger given its proximity to the University of St. Thomas and Rice University, but the energy that college students radiate while typing away on their laptops reminds me of a part of my life that I never want to feel disconnected from.  Sit inside or outside.  Lastly, they’re open late.

Brazos Bookstore: 2421 Bissonnet St, Houston, TX 77005.  Despite the fact that we’re well into the era of e-readers, some independent book sellers have soldiered on for those who prefer to turn pages made of paper.  Who doesn’t like to write notes in the margins with a ballpoint pen?  I go in here every several months because they have a variety of brand new titles available for the more cerebral among us.  Just the other day I picked up the following: Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want; The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters; and Live at the Safari Club: A History of Hardcore Punk in the Nation’s Capital, 1988-1998.  The clerks who greet me when I enter are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered while shopping.  In addition, they regularly host authors (click here for a calendar).  I’ve been to a reading and it’s truly an intimate experience.

Buffalo Bayou Park: 1800 Allen Pkwy & Memorial Drive, Houston, TX 77019.  One bright, warm Sunday afternoon not long after I moved to town, I visited this park because I needed to get out of my apartment.  At that point in time, the city had not finished all of the paths and landscaping.  Now, a few years later, it’s a perfect urban refuge where you sometimes catch a glimpse of wildlife like snakes and turtles.  I usually park my car on Memorial Heights Drive.  Then, I walk over to, and cross, the pedestrian bridge to the south side of the bayou and proceed all the way to downtown.  It always feels safe because there are plenty of people around, including families.  I’ve even watched the fireworks on the Fourth of July from a grassy area below the Sabine Street bridge just west of I-45.

Carve Skate Shop: 6902 Long Point Rd, Houston, TX 77055.  This shop is operated by knowledgeable guys who are approachable and helpful.  Yes, they skate, but they’ve never condescended to this middle aged college professor who needs to practice if he wants to develop any skills before it’s too late.  We’ve had good conversations both times I’ve gone in there.  I want them to have my business.  They have a great selection of decks, trucks, hardware, pads, and stickers.  I found a Duane Peters deck from when he rode for Pocket Pistol on the rack.  You bet I bought it.  Their current location is in an industrial area of Spring Branch, which is not where I expected to find them, but it’s worth the drive over.

Houston Public Media: 4343 Elgin Street, Houston, TX 77204.  While relocating to Houston for a new teaching position turned out to be a great move because it brought more focus to my career, departing Arizona left me depressed for a long time.  I credit our local National Public Radio affiliate, Houston Public Media,  for helping me find some normalcy during the acclimation process.  Listening to Morning Edition and All Things Considered kept my mind preoccupied while I stayed current on news developments.  What’s more, HPM’s informative local stories about government, education, and the arts piqued my interest because I wanted to feel more connected to my immediate community.  What continues to impress me is the hour long program Houston Matters.  The host, Craig Cohen, is one of the best broadcast journalists that I’ve heard because he knows how to conduct a thoughtful interview in an effort to explore important issues.

Huntsville State Park: 565 Park Road 40 west, Huntsville, TX 77340.  Just off I-45 beyond the reach of the city’s sprawling suburbs and somehow tucked inside of the Sam Houston National Forest, lies Huntsville State Park.  For those who rarely leave the Inner Loop, yes, the drive is worth it if you’re looking for the solitude that comes with standing alone on a trail in the middle of thousands of pine trees (click here for a map).  What I really like is that you can hike for hours without seeing hardly anyone on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  Last April, I spotted this baby snapping turtle on the sandy bottom of Alligator Branch.  Usually, they’re elusive creatures, so it surprised me to find him/her just off the boardwalk.

The Moth (at Warehouse Live): 813 St. Emanuel Street, Houston, TX 77003.  When a colleague of mine told me about The Moth (click here for the calendar) a few years ago, I didn’t know what to expect.  So, we went one Tuesday evening during Spring Break.  Let’s just say there are good reasons why I have returned on a number of occasions since then.  We have some truly amazing storytellers in the area.  I have heard incredible stories of personal loss, sacrifice, and triumph.  While some are more compelling than others, not once have a left the venue disappointed.  Dusti Rhodes, the event’s regular emcee, always makes the audience laugh with her hilarious anecdotes about everything from her dating life to her experiences as a high school teacher.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: 1001 Bissonnet St, Houston, TX 77005.  There’s something rather unique about the clinical tranquility you find in a distinguished museum like the MFAH that can’t be experienced anywhere else.  As I walk through the galleries and examine each painting (e.g. the work of Jackson Pollock), I visually trace the countless brushstrokes and texture of the canvas and wonder about the origins of the motion required to produce it.  I’ve been fortunate to have seen a couple of limited, yet incredible, exhibits in recent years when I had company in town for a visit: one featuring the work of Claude Monet and the other Edgar Degas.  What I now need to do now is put a film screening on my list of events to attend this winter or spring.

North Houston Skate Park: 12351 Kuykendahl Road, Houston, TX 77090.  While I’ve never stopped playing the guitar since I picked one up in high school, for some reason I can’t say the same about skateboarding.  As a result, I’m much better at the former than the latter.  That said, I’m making up for lost time because I still have the energy and currently live about 20-25 minutes away from the largest, outdoor public skate park in the country.  After buying my Vision Psycho Stick reissue complete last summer, I’ve spent a handful of evenings riding on the banks and in the bowls to develop some skills.  We never had anything like it where I grew up in Illinois.  Right now I’m working on finding my lines in a long snake run that dead ends with a bowl that I’ve managed to carve in a few times.  I credit Steve Alba, Mike Vallely, and H2O for the inspiration to do this again.

Pepper Tree: 3821 Richmond Avenue, Houston, TX 77027.  We’re fortunate to have a number of good restaurants in the Houston area that serve vegan options, however Pepper Tree is exclusively vegan for those of us who would like to patronize such an establishment.  The dishes on their menu and items in the buffet are both good, but if I had to pick, then I would go with the buffet because there are numerous options to choose from.  I really like the curry tofu and pot-stickers the best.  Please note that the seating area isn’t very large and can fill up on the weekends.

River Oaks Theater: 2009 W Gray Street, Houston, TX 77019.  Most people my age witnessed the advent of the multiplex theaters that have a dozen or more screens, preferred seating, numerous brightly lit concession stands, and parking lots with hundreds of spaces.  Situated in a more upscale retail shopping area, River Oaks Theater guarantees a much different viewing experience that takes you back to the late 1930s (click here to read about its history).  Who doesn’t like Art Deco?  This is where I saw Manchester by the Sea in December of last year and the main place in town to catch films, including documentaries, that aren’t widely released.

Vinal Edge: 239 W 19th Street, Houston, TX 77008.  Every city needs a solid music store if you’re into buying records.  I have a small collection that I will never, repeat never, part with.  To me, Vinal Edge’s strength is their punk section because every time I visit I find a new or used album to bring home.  Here’s a list of what I’ve found since I started visiting the shop: Threadbare’s Feeling Older Faster, The Faith-Void split, Discharge’s Why, Uniform Choice’s Screaming for Change, and Bikini Kill’s Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.  They also carry a handful of record players if you’re looking for a replacement.  As for the clerks, well, they’re friendly and attentive.

Walters Downtown: 1120 Naylor Street, Houston, TX 77002.  Punk rock (and hardcore) has (have) been central to my life since my close friends introduced me to it in high school.  Walter’s is an ideal venue for the music because they have space to accommodate a sizeable crowd, a low stage without any barriers, great sound, a wall for merch tables, ticket prices are always reasonable, and there’s plenty of nearby parking.  Watching bands play there is always enjoyable.  Even when you stand at the very back of the room, you still feel the energy being projected from the stage over the crowd.  I’ve seen several great shows at Walter’s that I won’t soon forget.  Some of the bands include 7 Seconds, Bane, D.R.I., and Slapshot.

Words can’t describe how I felt the morning that I departed Arizona.  While elated to have a new professional opportunity, I couldn’t imagine leaving the desert behind.  I wondered how my life might change and if I would ever find my way back.  Four years later, I still miss it, however I’ve carved out a place for myself in Houston that will last as long as I’m meant to stay here in town.  I believe that everyone has a certain amount of latitude when it comes to shaping their lives because we each have individual agency.  Sometimes we find ourselves lost in a dark moment, unable to appreciate what we have in front of us.  I’m totally guilty of that in this case.  As a result of this revelation, I resolve to fight a bit less and appreciate a lot more so as to ensure my continued emotional growth because my story is far from over.

All pictures taken by me.  Yes, even the skateboarding shot of myself.

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