10 Things I Love About Houston So Far
Since the launch of Houston Matters this spring, I’ve spent a lot of time tooling around town, trying to get to know Space City…er…rather, the Bayou City…well, H-Town…uh…Magnolia City…or…the Big Heart.
Which leads me to #10 in my top ten list of things I love about Houston so far…
#10. The nicknames. Houston has a lot of ‘em! I can’t say I’ve become comfortable with using any particular one of them over another, but there is something inherently cool about a city that isn’t just one thing. I grew up in St. Louis, unquestionably the Gateway City, thanks to the Gateway Arch, which was designed to represent the gateway to western expansion. You get the idea.
But Houston. Wow – our many nicknames are connected to climate, culture, industry – one – the Big Heart – is associated with our openness in taking in Hurricane Katrina evacuees a few years back. Classy.
Okay, the rest of the list…
#9. The guacamole. This might be a good time to note that more than a few items on my list will relate to food. That’s just typical for me. But what is atypical for someone who’s lived in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic all of his life is the ability to find great guacamole, seemingly anywhere, seemingly anytime. There’s great guac here, at corner taquerias, even at some of the chains, but especially at some of Houston’s local Tex-Mex restaurants. I’m just not used to this.
#8. The improv. After spending five years performing with improv theater troupes out east, only to find my next stop a bit lacking, I was heartened to arrive in Houston and find the Station Theater’s many improv troupes, ComedySportz Houston, The Houston Improv Festival, troupes featuring students from UH and Rice and more. And still more down the road in Austin. (You’ve got to check out Zarzamora sometime). Earlier this summer, I got to spend a weekend at ComedySportz Houston, participating in an improv-to-sketch workshop led by Kevin McDonald of Kids in the Hall fame. It was a blast. I can’t wait to do more.
#7. The diversity. A lot has been made in recent months about how Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the country. (Check out this great report from NPR’s Elise Hu about it). Most recently, Smithsonian Magazine has bestowed Houston with the “most diverse city in America” moniker. It doesn’t take long to recognize Greater Houston’s diverse populations, culture, food (there it is again – I have to stop writing these posts while I’m hungry), music, business, shopping, and so on, and so forth. Consider the demographics – the 2010 Census pegged this breakdown for Harris County: 41% Hispanic, 33% non-Hispanic whites, 18% African-American, 8% Asian or other. Generally speaking, my initial impressions are that this diverse population generally gets along pretty well. The 32nd Kinder Institute Houston Area Survey this year indicated that’s how the majority of Houstonians feel, that 51% of those surveyed say “the relations among ethnic groups in the Houston area” are “excellent” or “good.” Stats and surveys aside, I love that I can interact with so many people of so many different stripes all the time.
#6. The delis. Yes, more food. I arrived with the expectation that I would probably not be able to find good deli here. Houston’s known for Tex-Mex, and barbecue, and steakhouses, and lots and lots of other good food, but deli? C’mon. Get real. But yes! The New York Coffee Shop and its adjacent bagel shop offer bagels as good as I’ve had anywhere. (Eat ‘em fast, or get ‘em in the freezer though, the shelf life is short). And Kenny & Ziggy’s matzoh ball soup? Wow. Just wow. (Not sure what the noodles are doing in there, but beggars can’t be choosers).
#5. Tall buildings. Yeah, I know, it’s kind of silly. But I have always been drawn to skyscrapers. There is something so fascinating to me about a collection of buildings reaching towards the clouds. I drive into work each morning and pass through downtown Houston, and have to remind myself to watch the road, and not gawk at our many high-rises. There’s the JP Morgan Chase Tower and the Wells Fargo Plaza downtown, and the Williams Tower in Uptown Houston. All told, we have nine of the hundred tallest buildings in the United States here in Houston. That’s pretty cool. Especially if you don’t have to take the stairs.
#4. Houston has a Steak ‘n Shake! Four, actually. Okay, okay, I know, so what. This is a personal thing. I grew up with Steak ‘n Shake. In my 20s, I had a job that required me to be at work around 4am, and just about the only place open on my drive into work was…Steak ‘n Shake. So, yes, of course, there are lots and lots of better food options in Houston, but I still have a special place in my heart for steakburgers, fries, and milkshakes. As Roger Ebert once said, “If I were on Death Row, my last meal would be from Steak ‘n Shake.” Now, all we need is an Imo’s Pizza, and someplace that makes good toasted ravioli, and I’ll be all set.
#3 The weather. Yes, right now it is crazy hot and humid, and there is always that ever-present threat of a hurricane, but this one’s mostly an anticipatory love: after decades of snowstorms and ice storms and white-out blizzards, of getting up in the middle of the night to traverse that gunk in order to announce school closings on the radio, I’m ready for a break from Old Man Winter. So, I’m excited for what October through March will bring.
#2 The hockey. Who knew Houston was a hockey hotbed? Not the NHL, apparently, who should absolutely put a franchise here, and take advantage of the hordes of fans that would attend games, supporting a highly successful franchise in the 4th largest city in America, and…okay, okay, I admit it. This is not a hockey town. (sigh)
Not yet anyway. (Consider me the first season-ticket holder, Commissioner Bettman – let’s make this happen!)
The real #2 Air-conditioned baseball. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this, but I took in a pair of Astros games this summer, and really enjoyed myself at Minute Maid Park. It helps that there’s grass on the field, and the sun shines through the left field glass. So, it feels more authentic than games at (ironically) Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida – the only other indoor Major League ballpark I’ve been to, where the A/C, artificial turf, and lack of sunlight make you feel like you’re taking in an indoor soccer game, circa 1980. But I digress. The Astros’ ballpark is great. The ballclub? Well, it’s a work in progress. But I’ll be back.
And the number one thing I love about Houston so far…
#1. The attitude. It’s positive, it’s uplifting. People here are optimistic about the future. (An economic boom and rising population sure helps). I’ve lived in communities on a downturn, and I’ve lived in communities very slowly on the rise, but this is the first full-fledged boomtown I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of. There is a palpable sense of excitement about where Houston may be going in the years to come. There’s a sense of progress, not just related to the Grand Parkway, or the next skyscraper, or the natural gas boom, or the rise of health care, or arts and culture – it just feels like, right now, I’m part of a huge swath of people who have arrived in Houston with the intention of making this community a better place to live, and having the support to do it. Of course, that’s the easy part. Figuring out how – and coming to consensus on what “better” actually means – that’s much harder. Still – it’s an exciting time to be a Houstonian.
So, that’s my completely personal list of ten. Hardly comprehensive. I haven’t been on the NASA tour yet. I haven’t gone kayaking. I haven’t spent a lot of time in the downtown tunnels. I haven’t explored every neighborhood yet, or picked a regular hangout. There’s a lot to learn about Houston. But there’s a lot to like so far. But what have I missed? What do you love about Houston? Please share below.