Ode to Houston

View of downtown Houston's skyline from a nearby bike trail. August 2012.

When I left Houston for college, I never planned to return.

Thing is, I didn't leave Houston proper. I left the northwest suburbs. I'd still never go back there to live. Growing up out there, I'd missed out on the actual city of Houston.

Houston doesn't have the flashy image of some more famous U. S. cities--and it's not a place to come as a tourist. Houston isn't an open book. Unlike London or Chicago, Houston doesn't have a master city guide that tells you everything to do and everything that's going on. You need to explore, meet people, try things, look into nooks and crannies. The people here will tell you what's going on--and you still won't know the half of it. Don't know anyone to ask? Why, the people of Houston are wonderfully nice. They still talk to strangers.

And there are a lot of folks here who would be strangers in other cities. Houston is home to people from all over the globe, brought not because the city has a shiny public image but because it's booming with medical research, the largest port in the United States, and the energy and chemical industries.

Thing is, these international folks actually live side by side in Houston. Yes, there are pockets of nationalities here and there, yet, by and large, Houston is the first actual melting pot I've seen in all the places I've lived in the United States and abroad. Even Chicago is a segregated city where the Irish, Italian, Polish, Jewish, and other nationalities stick to their own neighborhoods.

All these people converging on one place make Houston pretty amazing. You can find every cuisine imaginable here. Every culture and interest and hobby has an outlet. Even fitness fanatics are satisfied, despite the summer heat: Houston has a fantastic system of parks, trails, and green spaces.

Heck, I even love Houston's lack of zoning. (And some Houstonians will disagree with me here.) You never know what you'll see around any corner in Houston--or on it. I tie this in with Houston's live-and-let-live mentality: As long as you don't hurt anyone else, do what you like. This haphazard city evolution may mean Houston isn't as conventionally beautiful as some cities, but when you know her, you love her--and you think she's gorgeous.

In Houston? Why do you love it?

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Reader Comments (8)

Like you said, you have to live (and drive) here and get to know the city first, otherwise you'll never find Pigdom - a tiny museum devoted to the pig; or the series of presidential busts by the 45 & I-10 interchange called "Mount Rush Hour".

There's the Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club, where you can watch people in roller skates and light up shoes dance to live blues. Or you can go to the wine bar at the rodeo where you can sip vintage champagne, listen to western swing and discuss who's going to be brave enough to try the chicken friend bacon.

I love that I can pick up Chinese roast duck for dinner and go down a few doors for churros. I love that coming home very late one night, I saw a huge group of guys playing cricket in the supermarket parking lot.

And did I mention the Art Car Parade? Any city that has an annual parade that includes a giant metal roach (with a beer tap), mermaids, Hari Krishna's, the Blues Brothers, and a car covered with singing fish has a sense of humor about itself.

Houston: it's hot, it's weird, it's home.

August 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Houston can be a hard sell.

The city doesn't have what other cities have. We have no mountains like Denver, or a beach like Los Angeles, and we don't have the endless concrete canyons of New York City.

So what the heck do we have?

I had some friends visit me from Los Angeles last December and the thing that struck them was the friendliness of the people. I don't know what they expected to see. Perhaps some high desert cow town with surly strong silent types? They never knew we had our own asian district or the mix of african, middle eastern, and latin american communities.

They thought that it would be a bland monotone city with no character but were shocked by the little shops, restaurants, and art galleries of the Montrose area. They thought the Galleria area was downtown until I pointed to the eastern horizon and the buildings in the distance. They couldn't comprehend that a lush green forest called Memorial Park could be located in Texas. I didn't even get a chance to take them to the museum district.

Now to be fair, it's not all great. If you go out to the ex-burbs like Cinco Ranch or New Colony way out west you will find a bland sterile environment. Miles and miles of master planned communities and little in the way of unplanned attractions. Everything has a distinct artificial feel about it. Not where I would want to live.

I find my little corner of Houston is fine for me. Westchase is close enough for me to go into "the city" to enjoy its benefits but it still gives me a suburban feel.

I may end up in some other part of the world someday but I will always be comparing that place to Houston.

August 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Pora

Know what I'm most excited about when it comes to this post? The comments! I can't wait to see the city from the eyes of others who love her. So beautifully put, Rebecca, I read your comment multiple times!

And you're right, William! Once inside the city proper--the suburbs and exurbs aren't the same--Houston has more character than almost any city I've ever seen. Love it!

August 31, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeslie Farnsworth

What I love about it...well I should begin with the background - I was born in St Josephs Hospital downtown, and grew up in northwest suburbia, came back from college to a energy industry where oil was $15/barrel and have spent my adult life working here. I am here because my family is here, the energy industry is here, and it is home to me. So mine is a biased perspective...

There are so many events, places and experiences here. We are truly an international city. So when folks in other places consider us a cowtown, I simply smile. I tried to organize them into catagories but they all came back as Houston. Here we go - seeing KISS at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which raises and hands out millions in education scholarships. NASA. The Transco Tower. Kaphans, Gaidos, Christies gulf seafood restaurants, Taste of Texas, Texas Opry House, ZZTop, Navigation St. , the Port of Houston, San Jacinto, the Astrodome, the Oilers, the Texans, the surrounding suburbs and deep suburbia, the tree lined streets, Memorial Park, Buffalo Bayou. The view of downtown and downtown itself, the Henke building in Market Square. The Texas Medical Center. Miller Outdoor Theatre. The Warwick (now Hotel Zaza), Sam Houston Area Council (Boy Scouts of America). Rice University and Rice Stadium. The 610 Loop. The Galleria. the Art Car parade. BBQ beef ribs at Pappas downtown. Astroworld. the Museum of Natural Science. The Orange show. The art scene. The Menil Collection. The nightlife (no further questions please). Sam Houston's statue and Hermann Park.

Its not utopia – we have Hurricanes. Heat. Humidity. Mosquitos. Traffic. Rains and more rain. Then we have more heat and humidity. It can 80 degrees on Christmas day. Or snow on Christmas Eve.

But what makes Houston home and its finest asset is the people here. It humbles me to see how friendly folks are to each other and to visitors. I see neighbors helping each other after a hurricane, I see citizens who speak up to the injustices we see, and I see folks helping to restore Memorial Park after last years drought. I watch churches feed several thousand Katrina folks in the Astrodome. It is the attitude of the people here. And it all started with the trading post on Buffalo Bayou in the 1830s. One question remains - how did they live here without air conditioning?

September 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteven S

Love all these, Steven! Read the entire comment with a huge smile on my face.

September 27, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeslie Farnsworth

Totally miss being able to leave West U area and stop for a buffalo burger. Moving on out to stop at Diho Plaza for some real unamericanized Chinese food, a little further out for a roast duck and more authentic and unknown chinese dishes. On a different day DimSum and the best Walnut Shrimp anywhere. Stopping on the way back in for some TexMex, Indian goat and vegetable curries. Young Dah had to have her vegetarian briani from down the sidewalk.

Have not even scratched the surface yet. Galveston, Freeport, Freilsburg, Austin, Fredricksburg and San Antonio as well as New Orleans are all day trips and even more fun if you can spend a night or two.

Oh and I should not leave out Rice Village where Croisant Brioche offers a base with French coffee, miches, petite pains and honey until Khan's opens for lunch.

November 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRandy Baxley

Nice article Leslie. It's amazing how much I miss the quirkiness of and great people in Houston. And the really big parking spaces .... I don't drive that much in Chicago but man they don't give you much room to park here.

November 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDiane G

Let me guess, Randall: What you miss most about Houston is the food. ;) Common thing to miss, I think!

And I have a feeling, Diane, you'll miss Houston greatly when the weather up there gets miserable for running! (Hint, hint: Come baaaaaaack!)

November 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeslie Farnsworth

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