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so much to answer for

Dear Houston:

I’m leaving you. I can’t stand your dirty politics, your dirty air, your close-minded ignorance, your hypocritical compassionate religiosity, your smug faces talking football and IRAs in SUVs while outside people are sweating and starving. I cant take your forced alienation, your frightening consumerism, your endless parade of strip malls. I’m a socialist, Houston, and I like the snow and I hate to drive. We just don’t fit, you and me.

But I never wanted to hate you. You have to trust me on that one. When I first saw you in early 1997 (when I was visiting UH), you seemed nice enough—a mass of freeways (motion sculptures in concrete, like Ballard says) and wide, multilane roads. I was from the suburbs. It was all a little confusing then, but it seemed wonderful to me, a little like those sci-fi cities from the ’30s and ’40s, all curves and shiny glass and concrete.

It must have been on a clear day, or I wouldn’t have seen so much, even on the long ride between Intercontinental (why did you have to rename it after that moron?) and campus. We took 45 down. I still remember the curve a few miles above campus, when downtown came into view. It’s an impressive sight, the first time. Hell, even now—when I have to admit, in definite terms, that I am very tired of you, that you are a terrible, dirty place, that, yes, Houston, I do hate you—even now I have to admit it’s an impressive sight (especially when I ignore that eyesore of an aquarium).

Since that trip—since I stayed here 3 years more than I meant to and at least 5 more than I wanted to (and I know none of this is your fault), since I’ve entered and exited your sprawling metropolitan area on every one of your freeways, taken them to your suburbs and past, since I’ve ridden in from San Antonio, from Austin, from Dallas (well, Houston, at least you’re not Dallas), from New Orleans and from Baltimore, since I learned to call passing the beltway and 610 coming home, I’ve seen bad things about those freeways. The way they enable that self-destructive sprawl you don’t seem to want to do anything about. The way they siphon off your tax money, pollute your air, ruin your neighborhoods, rip apart your communities.

In a lot of ways, Houston, you’re not really a city at all, just a bunch of suburbs jammed together, fighting over who has better schools. Houston, all of your schools are terrible. You need to tell Big Daddy Texas that these tests you’re using hurt a lot more than they help. I know teachers, Houston. They’re smart people, good people, more altruistic (I’ve seen their paperwork and heard the parents) than most know. Let them teach your children instead of teaching a test.

Houston, if you don’t get serious pretty soon, you’re going to end up like Detroit. Try a serious urban renewal plan: find jobs for the poor people instead of trying to draw in more oil company executives and frankly frightening biochemical researchers. Of course, for them to have decent jobs, you’d have to educate them, wouldn’t you, support them.

Houston, stop complaining about your homeless problem while you’re making it worse. Stop tearing down housing projects to build lofts only 20something Starbucks-drinking marketing executives will ever live in. Stop your police officers from harassing homeless and teenagers when they let crooks like Ken Lay and corrupt politicians like Tom Delay get away with whatever they want. Do you think other cities didn’t notice where those two came from? Do you think they don’t talk about others they suspect? They do, Houston. And it’s making you look bad.

Get some public transportation. That light rail you’ve been playing with Houston—is it some kind of practical joke? (Other cities seem to think so.) No matter how well connected the middle of your city is (and it’s not, really), that doesn’t really fix a goddamn thing until you get it out to the suburbs, where all the cars are coming from. It’s a half-hour drive out, Houston, when there’s no traffic, but a two-hour bus ride. Do you think anyone will put up with that who doesn’t have to? Public transportation will ease your freeway congestion (how much wider do you think I10 can get?), it’ll make tourists happier, and get students to those magnet schools you like to pretend make a difference. It’ll help your drunk-driving problem if there’s a safe way to get home when the bars close and people are drunk other than a $50 taxi ride.

Houston, there are almost two million people living inside your city limits, but you’re letting just a few people—less than a hundred—control you, and many of them don’t even live here. Houston, what was the idea behind electing Billi White? I didn’t like Turner much either, but he was so obviously a better candidate I wonder why you didn’t notice you were being bought.

That reminds me—when are you going to get local news media that will recognize news when they see it? The Press is the closest thing to reporting happening, and it’s mostly just making fun of everybody else. I hear you used to have a good paper, the Post. What happened? Houston, are you really going to let your emotional life be run by the Chronicle?

I’m getting sidetracked now.

Houston, you’ve got money and people and space and space and you don’t have the weight of history dragging behind you. Houston, if any city can succeed, you can. You take your light rail and your billion-dollar industries and your Midtown renewal project and your—what, six?—sports arenas and ballet and orchestra, your universities, your taquerias, your art museums, your ice-houses, your Montrose, your Vietnamese on Milam, your Tejanos, your everyone—Indians on Hillcroft and all—and you mix them up, Houston, you weave everygreatthing you have—even the dingy beauty of your underpasses, your terrible airport, your depressing zoo (it can all be beautiful if you try)—and make yourself angelic, Houston. You deserve it.

Houston, I guess I’ll always love you a little, I’ll miss the coffee plant and the D&D and the Menil and Ernie’s. I’ll miss going home at 3am 70 miles an hour with the windows down. I love you, Houston, but I hate you more. I’m leaving you, even if I’ll be crying on the way out.

Filed by shaun at August 12th, 2004 under fidelite

I’m going to be in New York for a few days at the end of the month, visiting my older sister, meeting a few people, seeing the city I’ve mostly convinced myself is right. It’d be great to come down to see how you’ve settled in, but you know how it is. There isn’t any time.

There’s never any time unless you make it, and I’m trying to make it. I’m working to make it.

I’ll see you when I see you.

Comment by Yossef — 13 Sep 2004 @ 11:56 am

yossef!! you must come down here and visit. we command you.

Comment by laura — 13 Sep 2004 @ 1:13 pm

You sound like you’re doing OK. I guess that’s what’s most important.

Comment by cara — 15 Sep 2004 @ 11:24 am

oh, T-lo!

Why must you be this way? I live in Portland now, but I was raised in Houston, and I’ve lived in many other places.

Houston is all of the things stated, yet it is that horrible. The rising apathy in Houston far outweighs anything I’ve ever encountered in Portland, and I am excited every day to hear the multitude of opinions voiced so loudly in our fair city.

So, phooey on you. Phooey on Houston, too.

Comment by fsipdx — 16 Sep 2004 @ 12:28 pm

I grew up in Portland, the city of Powells and the original Coffee People, Bjs and Elliott Smith, Quasi and the T room… Portland is a beautiful wonderful adventure I say

enjoy it!

Comment by — 17 Sep 2004 @ 2:53 pm

hey, I was born in Curitiba Brazil and grew up mostly on Upper Greenville in Dallas and later on the West side in Plano. I’m at Rice now and I had trouble with the comment “Dallas (well, Houston, at least you’re not Dallas)” Dallas is cleaner, less congested (extensive lite rail and busing system) and its generally a much better place to live. Not to mention more accepting and diverse. Strongly democratic whith our last two mayors being female and black. …not to mention the diversity of ideas expressed in the extensive former hippie enclaves of deep ellum, lower greenville, cedar springs (our gay/lesbian neighborhood), inwood and such. We’re no Austin with their large student population , homless crossdressing mayoral canidates (Leslie Cochran) or march on the capital protests but Dallas has a diversity unseen in the rest of the state from aquarian enclaves, to the opulent resort style living for our Ross Perots and Raymond Nashers in Plano and Highland Park and the 2nd largest muslim population in Richardson (known for their large free palestine rallies and the holly land foundation fiasco)as well as being a cultrual mecca for our residents who look beyond the dallas cowboys for entertainment. I just can’t see how dallas could be any worse than Houston. they have such a horrible pollution problem, by the time the trinity makes it down there it’s vomit inducing and the air is horrible. I guess thats a quite a thurough rant …forgive my annoyance

Comment by Ayiub — 17 Sep 2004 @ 12:49 pm

I too lived in Houston for some time. Everything in your goodbye to Houston was so true. The one thing that used to tick me off all the time was the mispronounciations of words and street names. Kuykendal has no R in it bit it is pronounced kirkendal. Go figure… My sone was born there in 1982. I have lived all over the Houston area from Alvin to Channelview to Spring to West Houston by the Galeria and various other places inbetween. The city IS impressive when you first see it. Then you live there. Then you see what really is happening and what is NOT happening that should be. The one thing I truly miss is Marvin Zindler. He would make me laugh. My father lived there for a bit too and my mother and her husband. We all left. We do not miss much of it. Good luck to where you are moving.

Comment by Karen — 19 Sep 2004 @ 9:26 am

1) where are you moving to?

2) i drove through houston once, during rush hour no less, and it was a nightmare.

3) it’s hard to understand why so many people would choose a lifestlye that forces them to sit in rush hour traffic jams for a long time every day. it would drive me crazy to have a life like that.

4) dallas is a shithole, too, though probably not as much of one as houston.

5) austin is pretty cool, though, isn’t it? if i had to pick one place to live in texas, that’d be it.

Comment by wes — 22 Sep 2004 @ 11:23 pm

missed you at the last summerbash. that said, and we’ve talked about this in person, in no particular order:

1) i’m glad you made it to baltimore in one piece

2) this sounds cathartic. i know that it must have been hard for you to leave in the same sense that it’s hard to leave anywhere that you’ve been for so long, not because you’re not ready for change but because it’s expensive, because you don’t have the friend networks in place to complain about the same things you complain about and celebrate the things you celebrate and to generally challenge you. it’s different. sounds like you were ready for different.

3) as a native houstonian living in austin who has spent time all around this vast state, lots of people have opinions about different places. opinions can be based on personal experience and generally speaking i might even wager that there can be threads of truth in many of the cliches about cities that we hear. i grew up there, and you lived it, and you have a right to vent about it, even if i or any of the multitudes may disagree with an individual point here and there.

4) the eccentric sodas that you placed atop the fridge at this summer’s first summerbash are still there, like beacons, if beacons were sodas. except one of them took a plunge. you’d be surprised at how sticky foriegn sodas are. this may explain foriegners. or their sodas. or my fridge.

5) all things being equal i tend to predicate my opinion of cities based on two things: the friends that i have there and my personal experiences. i’ve had a great time in lots of places that people wouldn’t consider picturesque with people who i wouldn’t trade for all the money in the world. well, maybe *all* the money.

6) save your pennies. hopefully we’ll see ya come march. bring us crabcake.

Comment by kevin — 24 Sep 2004 @ 10:39 am

the only things I miss are Marvin Zindler, 690-5570 (did I remember that correctly?) and Ernie’s. And my ballet school run by dance nazis that is going to make me NEVER allow my future children to take dance classes at the paltry little playplaces they call dance studios these days.

I lived in Pasadena. Not a whole hell of a lot to miss.

And I’m in Dallas now … liking it much better.. I have a lot of the same complaints about Dallas that you have about Houston (materialism, corrupt politics, gentrification) but as the person above said, you CAN find diversity … if you know where to look.

Comment by andrea — 23 Sep 2004 @ 11:07 am

As a former Houstonian who has lived in both DC and Portland, I will be interested to hear your opinion of Baltimore. I personally think that it is one of the roughest cities in the nation, and the raping and pillaging of the Inner Harbor is inexcusable. Now you can see ships that are HUNDREDS of years old *and* eat at Hooters.

Houston may be one of the armpits of the country, but I assure you that Baltimore is the other.

Comment by -leslie.- — 24 Sep 2004 @ 3:51 pm

being born and raised in Houston, i agree with pretty much everything you said. it can get on my nerves, too. the light rail is a sorry excuse for public transport. then again, i use it 5 days a week. sure beats driving.

regardless, i hope you aren’t leaving to your next destination hoping it resolves any of the shortcomings of houston. lots of the stuff you mention is common to most rediculously large and sprawled metropolitan cities. it sounds like what you need is a smallish city. or quaint european town.

good luck,


Comment by particleman — 26 Sep 2004 @ 10:47 pm

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