Friday, January 18th was a day of some of Houston's very worst weather. I have always contended that despite the fatigue factor involved with 4 months in a row of searing heat plus plenty of humidity and/or precipitation during the summers here that the crummiest days of our short winter season are far worse.
Having moved out to frigid Marfa 7 months ago I figured I had a little more teflon and some better clothes than I would have during my near lifetime as a Houstonian proper. Well, it's true it may not be as cold on the mercury scale, but goodness gracious the weather for our walk from essentially Beltway 8 and Long Point to Warren's was a challenge.
Oh yes, click on any picture to make it bigger/full size!
Before I go into the walk itself, let me preface the story by stating that, outside of the first couple of hours (which were spent walking in a giant circle) we were having to take regular breaks to get warm, and, more importantly, dry. These were spentmostly still out in the weather, but shielded from some of the wind and under some sort of cover from the water. Temps werein the low 40's and down into the upper 30's towards the end with humidity at 100% all day and into the night. I would say the winds were likely between 5 and 10 with gusts in the 15-20 range on occasion. Now that it's Monday and I'm full-fledgely sick, I can attest that, despite my insisting that I was full-on ready for this walk, I really wasn't. A pair of long underwear bottoms and a hoodie may have helped. Also waterproof boots. Regardless, I will remember the walk and all the stuff we saw much longer than I will remember the sensation of being sick, so all's well.
We started out just after 9:30 (a little late since I was late) on a Metro commuter to the Northwest Park and Ride. Fast service and we had 2 or 3 different local bus choices once there that we could take to be very near to where Long Point ends west of town. By the way, that is actually somewhere between Gessner and the West Belt (BW8) and we never actually saw the terminus. This is because we got off the bus on Westview street and decided to cut over towards I-10 to make a loop back to Long Point and see a few more things.
We wound up taking a residential side street that parallels the Beltway. After walking for quite some time (and seeing a really killer Korean food market complete with a mini-mall and a full-fledged kitchen and dining area) we finally hit Hammerly on the back side of Springwoods high school.
Walking down Hammerly we found ourselves back at Gessner, a mere 10 blocks or so from where we initially got off the bus. This was surely over 90 minutes after we got off said bus!
Pretty funny, actually, especially since I know that at least I consider myself pretty good during daylight hours at not getting turned around or misjudging distance. By the way, back in the neighborhood we walked through was a mx of 60's kind of Sharpstown-style housing (in better shape) and light industrial businesses. However, the streets are extremely quiet. We saw the Murphy's Deli corporate HQ back in there across from a DPS office.
Back on track towards hitting Long Point and heading towards downtown I saw El Gallo Mexican restaurant, a fine establishment that I haven't eaten at in years. In reminiscing about Felix on Westheimer and Kirby and how it was, I came to the conclusion that the Tijerina family should basically convert Felix into a Mexican version of Goode's Armadillo Palace. Margaritas, music, food and beer. The old people can dine in the back "party room" which is currrently (and sadly) a junk room. By the way, another old-school Mexican restaurant in town, Spanish Village on Almeda, will not permit you to merely order a drink; you must also order food. I like the opposite of Goode's approach too.
By the way, I will come back to this posting to add pictures after I return to Marfa. I have some good shots but am not savvy enough to get them off the web, onto the computer and back onto he web here, so I will wait until I have my uploading cable for my camera.
Also, somewhere around this area we saw Conrad Sauer road, the first of many sightings of that name. It turns out that the short story on Sauer (and Hedwig, Beinhorn, and a whole lot of other street names around this area) is that he was a founding German farmer of this community back in the 19th century. Much of the area around Blalock and Campbell has had residents from the early days of Texas.
I stopped at the Shipley's on Gessner for coffee, after not finding any other than Valero since the trip began. A full pot of coffeee was staring at me as I entered so I stepped up and orderd a large and a donut as John waited outside. The next thing I know the lady is raiding 2 fingers up at me and saying "threee minutes for the coffee" since she has gone ahead and dumped out the pot! "Fresh for you- better" Resigned that it was going to be a difficult day to get warm I waited without protest.
Long Point was finally in front of us and as we rounded the corner I couldn't help but notice that the concentration of Mexican and Korean businesses became thicker with basically all businesses for a quiet a stretch being one, the other or both. Perhaps it was partially becasue of the weather, but the Long Point and Gessner area, although fairly busy, has an air of serenity about it. At no point along this stretch and even up much further did I have a sense that anything dangerous could be afoot. Traffic speeds are reasonable, work trucks and Latino women runing errands with children are about. This is a far cry from our last trip out Telephone Rd.
Shortly after making some decent progress on our walk the rain became fairly fierce and we ducked under a Harold Farb-looking apartment complex to shelter and listen to some Wash Allen Confessions on KCOH on John's transistor. Inside this normal looking complex was a gorgeous courtyard. Of course we were looking to stay under cover so we didn't explore further, but Long Point's seediness on the surface is more superficial than the street's reputation would have you think, in my opinion. By the way, at this point we have seen only 2 bars- both sports bars and both closed during the day. One, the "El Torito" club, is very impressive. Surely it was once a meat market as the giant cast concrete black bull above the sign is simply to fat and large to have been built to prove any other point. Across the street I dropped into a Kroger for coffee (they had no good coffee made, just an "instant' machine) and the to the Salvation Army store for a little thrift viewing. John likes to peruse the books, but he almost was able to buy a really nice fur-neck long coat that was only a tad too small. I was already wearing my best all-around long coat, and saw nothing that really jumped out, but the thrift shopping along the Long Point/Hammerly corridor is pretty good.
Bizarre signage (and lots of signs in general) line the street out here. Nearly all the businesses are mom and pop and most offer a number of services, sometimes a really random mix. We were greeted with good cheer by a neighborhood convenience store owner when we went in to buy batteries. He was definitely surprised that we were out in the cold rain, a recurring theme for the day with the few people we actually spoke with.
Near Spring Branch hospital and Campbell road lies some remnants of pre-development Long Point. The large site of an old ranch house, complete with falling off cattle gate, a house foundation, filled-in swimming pool and a one-man homeless camp sits just west of a small sitting area called a "park". It's really a small rock garden with a turned off fountaina a few benches that the hospital built on leased land from the city.
Across the way, kind of behind this, is a two story apartment/ice house that is pretty cool looking.
I had to wonder if it's really just a personal ice house themed drinking area for the owner and his friends or if it's actually a real bar.
The chickens running around under the picnic tables and the junk strewn around everywhere made me uncertain, for some reason. However, I really have begun to love references in speech and in practice to barnyard animals of any sort, so don't get me wrong. Speaking of, somewhere along the line we saw "Pollys' Pawn Shop" with a nice parrot on the sign. It's my opinion that if you put a parrot on your sign there's absolutely no reason to put "Se Habla Espanol" as that is redundant. By the way, I still love "Pepe the Parrot", the stragely shaped parrot that serves at Fiesta Mart's mascot, even though, for the most part (but with a few excpetions) I pretty much can't stand Fiesta Mart. Johnand I also came to the agreement that the official slogan for life in Houston really should be "Su Trabajo Es Su Credito!" He asked me out of the blue and we both exclaimed it instantly and together loudly in the pouring rain. I love that slogan, especially over "Houston's Hot!"
Finally it was time to drop in to an open watering hole called "Robbie's" near Bingle. With the windows completely blacked out on the outside and a hand-painted sign, Robbie's looks like it could be rough.
Walking inside, though, it's decidedly a comfortable neighborhood bar, complete with regulars on a Friday around Noon. The inner window has a drapery on one side of the rebel flag and the other side is an Oilers flag- one of the full sized ones from the Luv Ya Blue era. Hanging from the ceiling, side by sode, are two smaller flags at equal heighth. One is a Titans flag and the other a Texans. A sign on the wall reads " WARNING- Sexual harassment will not be reported, however it will be judged" The two employees I saw are both women in what looks to be their early 50's. Nice service, cold beer andsome funny conversation was to be had at Robbie's. I like the place. The highlight, I think, besides the warm heater in there, is the longer you stay the more easy it is to notice the posters, etc. Pretty classic. Up to this point neither of us is too cold while walking. After sitting down and letting our blood slow down, plus getting comfortable, the next 5-10 minutes was brutally cold outside.
Around this time John stopped into a Walgreens to get some new IPod extension speakers and we began what would become a slow and chilly trek back towards dowtown (Long Point to Hempstead Highway to Wescott/Washington to Market Square to Metrorail to home). The music selection tempered and narrated our slugging through the walk with songs like Bobby Bland's "Further On Up the Road" coming in with eerily cosmic timing. John has a better recollection of the playlist and timing than I do, so best to read in the Press Houstoned blogs (under "Sole of Houston" category) about the tunes and the seredipity of many. Our past exploits are covered under that banner as well and makes for some funny reading so check it out.
Walking, raining, windy, ducking under shelter for a break from the water. This was the modus operandi as we traversed a virtual sea of tiny 50's strip centers and stand alone businesses on both sides of the road, occasionally interrupted by housing and drainage ditches.
A beautiful sight is St Peter's chapel, a historic building with state designated marker that was built in the mid 19th century. This is now a non-denominational (as far as I can tell) church with a newer church building right beside it (and a funeral home in back(!)) that rents the small wood frame chapel out for weddings and special events. The name Conrad Sauer pops up again here in the dedication marker.
Up ahead on the south side of the steet lies a tiny cemetary, approximately 15 feet by 25 feet in the front corner of a Firestone parking lot. This is also very ancient and carries a historic designation. The big VFW bingo hall is right around here as well and behind it lies and extremely old-school VFW post. To my huge surprise young naval soldiers of all races were gathered around the front entrance and wlaking through the parking lot. I was truly shocked at seeing an actual military-related event going on that wasn't dominated by hearing aids and 80 year old men wearing medals. Of course, their daily Bingo begins in the evening, so I guess the real events are scheduled by day.
We were getting hungry and ate at the Bar B Que stand on the corner. Cheap and good- at least that's how my bowl of seafood gumbo was. Great food cooked right by the Vietnamese chef on a cold day.
OK, it's late and I'm out of gas for tonight. Getting confused- kind of sick. More later- David
Back for a more-a few days later now. Oh yeah, the Weasel Wash- a local chain of trash-strewn self serve car washes in this area. We saw two and both were very dirty. What a concept.
The weather continues to be unrelentless. We are breaking it under cover every 20 minutes or so for about 15-20 minutes just to keep from getting soaked to the bone. Actually, nearly a week later my work shoes (short boots) are still damp. Long Point becomes less neighborhood oriented and more industrial as you approach its terminus at old Hempstead highway, a very busy street with no sidewalks and aggressive traffic. we see Houston's unofficial Arkansas Razorback headquarters, the Red Hog Saloon. Now I could tell a lot of stories about bars on Hempstead highway from back in the day when Allen Hill and Charlie Chavira were touring the outskirts of Houston in their hard rock band "Maddoxe", but I'll save that for some other time. Surprisingly this bar was not, as far as I am aware, one of the places they played. This is surely due to the fact that there are only 4 digits in the address instead of the requisite 5-plus (12435 Hempstead Rd would qualify) since there is actually a stage and small sound system in the place.
The warmth was a greeting, as was the Lone Star. The internet jukebox was underwhelming, as they always are, and I will go on record here to say that internet jukeboxes are the death knell for the already faltering jukebox industry. That's right- the WRITING IS ON THE WALL. You heard it here first.
After listening to some of the most generic music ever (hell, I tried to get something rare on the box but even the "rare" stuff was mainstream) and getting slightly hit on by the bartendress it was time to go. We passed the P&S rice mill, which was still milling and rocking as late as '92, but now has been transformed into mini storage (the future of white America- no, make that America).
We trudged through dangerous, wet, dark and noisy Hempstead Rd and neared the unbelievably desolate sight of Northwest Mall. Northwest Mall was never a jewel of the Houston mall acene, but now it makes Northline look decent. It's over for this mall, folks.
A major milestone was passing beneath 610/290 and getting closer to the railroad underpass, which is sort of the beginning of the Washington/Westcott/Memorial area and the end of Hempstead hwy.
Fortunately we made it through the jungle here (and past a couple of hot sheet motels, metal recycling joints and a public scale for trucks that looked more like a front for a modeling studio and under the triple railroad bridges.
From my short-lived days of train-hopping (before I got caught and smarter about everything I did in general) I have always had a place in my heart for these three bridges. Hempstead Rd passes beneath the tracks, which come out of Memorial park, across I-10 and onto these strong, ancient bridges on the way towards downtown. This would be the SP/UP route these days. That's the same one I ride when I take the Amtrak from Alpine to Houston or vice-versa.
Right before John and I crossed over I-10 to officially make it back into our regular stomping grounds we stopped into a bulldozed-out Texas Dept of Transportation (more accurately called the TX Dept of Roads and Pockets Full of Cash) building to stop, have a quick taste of tequila (John picked a nip up just prior to our getting to Hempstead Rd off Long Point) and listen to some tunes in the wreckage of the 60's office building- now completely gutted.
Because of the extreme cold, we had not yet had anything to eat this day other than a Tacos a Go Go breakfast taco or two each early in the morning. This despite seeing more taco trucks than on any trip thaus far. I'm talking more BY FAR. Our shopping cart count for this trip was, at this point in the 5-6 range, whereas our taco truck count would have been in the 20 plus range. Chingo Bling would be right at home on Long Point and Hempstead. More or less across the street from our TXDOT stop is the original Christian's Tailgate Burger joint and icehouse. The decision was made to eat there.
I am downhearted to report that the Midtown version of this venerated burger palace has rubbed off on the real deal in the form of cheap, trandy looking renovations and lack of legitinmate funk. The food was good, but not quite what I remembered it to be. Clientele included mostly members of the nouveau Washington Avenue condo-dwelling paleface type.
No harm done- we moved on- past Bubba's burger shack, a couple more (formerly hot sheet) motels, the new Westcott traffic circle (confusing!) and onto Washinton Avenue towards Market Square and Warren's. out traditional resting place before light railing it to our respective homes.
It's been dark for a few hours and colder. Temps on back thermomters et al read in the upper 30's. The wind is blowing. It's still raining. No pedestrians other than us have we seen all day. The new gentrification of Washington Avenue isn't much worth mentioning, other than it still distresses me. I say that, but as former member of the Washinton/Houston Avenue Coalition from back in my Satellite Lounge management days, that's what we were pushing for. Cardboard and stapled stucco 4 story "lofts" and tilt-wall strip centers were not actually what we were thinking of, but, realistically, what else would have come in in place of used car lots, vacant land, and burned out buildings? Anyway, I got out of the Heights back in '99 and I'm sure the Heights/ Washington was as glad I left as I was to leave. Lord. have mercy.
With the exception of a trek to the back patio/backyard of the current/future Pearl Bar (formerly Bon Ton Room/Mary Jane's/Pamland) John and I mostly blazed through this area and commenetd at every block on what is there, what was there, and what should have been there. The next photo is John at the sign at Washington at Preston- the gateway to downtown. Victory only moments ahead!
As we make our approach towards Market Square we stop to head down a flight of stairs and to check out another "Waterway of Harris County"- the new Buffalo Bayou trails on the Northwest side of downtown. Given the weather, it's no shock that there's not a soul down there. It's windy and cold, but we can see the stormwater flowing into the bayou from the streets and miscellaneous pipes. Very cool. The Buffalo Bayou Association did a very good job with this project, given the space constraints and the physical nature of Houston's downtown bayou. Finally, the cold was overwhelming, wnd we scooted back up the stairs towards our oasis destination.
Warren's has reportedly suffered from the smoking ban. On a niht like this, I can see why. However, I would bet at least a pack of Pez or two that the hardcore drunks that used to fill up the Smokeeters in the place are either still there fewer nights per week, or took the opportunity to quit drinking and smoking at the same time. Or maybe they're at the Marwuis in West U. Smoking is still permitted in the land of Ken Hoffman. Two martinis later- it's 11:30 PM or so. The light rail station is windy, rainy and cold. The Big Top is 5 stops away. I get off and retreat into the friendly confines of tthe Continental Club building, leaving John to deal with the elements between here and his home Near Palace Bowling lanes. - David