Houston Memories

When you start to measure years in decades, that’s when you realize that a lot has happened when you weren’t paying attention.

Driving around Houston recently, I’ve realized how much the city has changed through various events that the city has experienced through the years.  My mom lives in the same yellow house that she’s lived in for three decades on the west side of town , and that has always been “home” for me even though I haven’t really lived there since I started college.  It’s been interesting to see street signs pop up in Chinese under their English names, and it’s been interesting to see Chinatown gradually spread westward towards my yellow house and away from its original locus, which I considered to be the DiHo Market plaza on Bellaire.  Now I don’t know if I could pinpoint one singular focus point, but rather Chinatown sprawl is happening all up and down Bellaire.  Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese grocery stores, hair salons, noodle shops, boba teahouses, restaurants, and all other imaginable businesses have proliferated exponentially within the past…  oh…  decade…

So, when a new store opens in Chinatown, that’s nothing new.  So, I don’t know why the new Starbucks being built next to the Kim Son near Hong Kong City Mall makes me pause…  Now, I love Starbucks, as I am a frequent patron.  I don’t particularly have “Asian pride,” but…  I think my pause is because I’m thinking, “What are you doing here?  Shouldn’t a boba teahouse be here instead?”  I’d hate to think of myself as a xenophobe against Starbucks especially since I consider myself much more culturally “American” than I do “Asian” or “Thai” and I don’t like having an “us and them” mentality.  But maybe I do?  Who is “us” and who is “them”?  I guess it just surprises me that I feel this way!  And…  I don’t like feeling this way.

Driving on through Houston, going to Intercontinental Airport, there have been a lot of changes there.  First of all, thankfully, they have removed that tacky, tacky, TACKY sign that used to welcome visitors to Houston.  Ha!  Talk about a poor use of thresholds!  Everything about the design of the sign was awful!  Colors, font, size, lines…  And the photo of our former mayor…  The decision to use that particular photo in the manner that they placed it on the sign was tasteless and tacky.  If they wanted to use a photo, it could have been done in a much more elegant way.

Now trees are being replanted in the medians and other intersitial spaces on the approach to the airport and throughout Houston along our many freeways.  I still can’t figure out if these are nurseries to provide trees for future city projects.  I think they might be since they are planted so close together.  The experience of driving down many Houston freeways like 59 and 288 has been transformed with green trees and vines brightening our peripheral vision as we’re speeding along Houston’s 6-lane sea-of-concrete highways.  Or, I suppose, at rush hour, it takes our focus and attention away from the red brake lights in front of us!  Today, I saw workers tilling up soil from the median next to 59 near the Lakewood Church exit.  (Can I tell you I cringe every time I pass Lakewood?  I don’t know why.  I don’t particularly have anything against Joel Osteen or his church, but…  Ah, it’s the building, I hate the building’s facade.  I hate what they’ve done to it…)  But that median…  I wonder what’s going to be planted there…  More baby pine trees?  Saplings?

Driving, driving, driving…  59 north as you’re going under the Hazard, Woodhead, and Dunlavy bridges…  I’ll have to admit when these bridges were first constructed, I didn’t really like them.  And when I thought about them…  The image that always comes to mind was the picture from the front page of the Bangkok Post that we got when I landed in Thailand with my cousin and her family in Thailand in June of 2001.  Tropical Storm Allison.  It caused millions of dollars of damage to the Texas Medical Center and completely flooded many homes (including my aunt’s)…  and underpasses.  Of course that flooding of that magnitude was a rare occurence, but it was a good a mental image as any to pair with my thoughts of that concrete-box stretch of underpass.

But picking up my mom from the airport the other day, as my body was moving through that same space I suddenly realized, “This is actually a rather pleasant experience!” as I noticed that the concrete walls were being transformed into living green walls as vines had started to creep into and take over the concrete box.  And that’s why landscape architects don’t submit their projects for award consideration until a few years after project completion to allow their specified plantings to become established in the landscape.

The Summit, home of Akeem/Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets, became the Compaq Center, which became Lakewood Church.  Everything has its season.  The Astrodome has long since been replaced by Enron Field… now known as Minute Maid Park.  And I used to live by the Astrodome a few years ago.  “Eighth wonder of the world,” built when the Astros were still wearing orange and yellow.  The tens of thousands of orange and yellow seats made sense back then.  I’ve watched the Rice baseball team play in the superregionals there once, back before we built Reckling Park on campus.  The city is still trying to decide what to do with the complex, though…  Orange and yellow seats and all.

Whatever they DO decide to do, I think my most vivid memory of the place will have to be post-Katrina when the very first busloads were coming from the Superdome.  I was watching the news late at night (midnight?), and the news anchor said they needed help, and out I went, not knowing what I’d be in for.  Sigh…  What a sight…  Everything was so disorganized and chaotic – these WERE the first buses…  I mean, we’ve heard about it all over the news that year and ever since then.  We’ve all seen the pictures and have heard the stories.  But for me, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Katrina is that one chatoic night from around the midnight to 6 am hours.  Oh my goodness… Just thinking about that again brings a heaviness to my heart…  I think I’m going to have to take a break before continuing this blog…  It was just so sad and heartbreaking to see and hear what this stadium full of people and others like them were going through…

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