Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Southpoint/Almeda Genoa/Broadway/Harrisburg. H-TOWN Part 2

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OK, so we're now on Broadway heading north back towards I-45. Broadway itself heads more or less northeast towrds the inner (older) ship channel and the, once it crosses it, becomes Harrisburg, the "Main St" of east Houston and the former actual Main St of Harrsiburg , TX before Houston annexed it.

1515 Broadway. That's the address that rings in my head. Fair Deal Auto Sales with Don Hall and Litle April. Their ads are on KCOH and go along these lines
Little April: "Don Hall, they say you sell nothing but hoopdee."
Don Hall: "Well, Little April, there you go again, always talking about what 'they say'. I think it's just the big guys picking on the little guy. In over thirty five years in the auto business I ain't never heard of a car named 'hoopdee'.
L.A.: You're right, Don Hall, it's the big guys picking on the little guy. Here at Fair Deal Auto Sales, 1515 Broadway, if you speak the truth, good credit, no credit, ugly credit, bad credit, if you speak the truth we can get you riding today."
D.H.: That's right Little April, we got Lexus, Cadillacs, Buicks, Acuras and even SUV's."
etc etc. I am looking forward to actually talking with Don Hall and/or Little April once we get to Fair Deal Auto Sales about 30 blocks up.
Meanwhile, I'm looking up at a soon to be removed Harold Farb sign. The last of his holdings was recently sold and signals the end of the apartment king's empire. His apartments here on Broadway are still the best looking of the entire area's- French Victorian style, but without falling off shutters and with better built and ornate wrought iron railings and kempt landscaping.

I ask John Lomax what percentage of the residents he thinks have lived in this complex for over 20 years. And then, on top of that, how many basically never leave the hole. TV on, smoking cigarettes in the dark, collecting a check, living off social security, a settlement, alimony from an out of state divorce. I suspect lots. Surfing the web. Hello there, loners!
Are you background noise to the lives of those around you or are you the unknown center of the world. Well, you are in your world, at least, I am sure of that. How's the programming on Channel 55 these days? I haven't had a TV since '89- I bet that's a mind blower.

One of the quintessentially Houston giant self contained semi kept-up, semi run-down Vietnamese apartment complexes, complete with businesses on the ground floor is next. Both sides of the street. The non english speaking Vietnamese senior citizen uniformed security guard prohibits John and I from entering. I can't blame him. This is not our scene, but looks extremely interesting. Not to be.

Broadway is undergoing enouogh of an urban rennaissance to have both a Walgreens and a CVC Pharmacy. Lomax mentions that walgreens is like Coke and CVC is like Pepsi. Dead on. I make a mental note to switch my prescriptions to unicare mail order from CVC kmail order. I've got to stay away from that Pepsi/Coke/Wal-Mart/Kmart biz.
Walgreens had batteries for his IPod speaker system so we could start listening to some tunes outside of the handheld radio. In the past, two sopund systems in the back bag means a shopping cart push is in order later in the day. Tioday was no exception.
Brays Bayou. Crossing over. Lomax mentions that this is the first time we've actually seen this. I agree, but it's not true. Telephone walk we crossed it, but the terrain was so different it wasn't even noticable.

Memories of over 8 years ago flood back to me as we approach the Med Cure clinic. For the life of me I can't remember the cross street, but I recommend this place for a cheap physical, basic health care, etc for folks who are uninsured. I am certain this place is goverment subsidized. I went here Thanksgiving Day 2001 after my 90 year old grandmother told me I looked really sick and neede to go to the doctor ASAP. She was right. I felt really bad. I went here and a Pakistani(?) doctor looked me over, diagnosed a viral infection, gave me amtibiotics, gave me a physical, toom a chest X-Ray and told me I needed to see my regular doctor if I didn't feel makedly better fast. He was worried about my enlarged heart. Pretty doggone worried, actually. I was relieved that he found somthing and that he got me some meds. The cost for all this? $165 paid by check. Two weeks later I felt better and found a "regular' doctor (I have always paid my own health insurance). To make a long story short, the nest trip mlanded me in ICU with heart failure- this right after I battled a water heater element and nearly killed myslef from teh stress of fixing it. Anyway, this guy let me know that I had something out of whack going on and, since it was Thnksgiving Day, gave me immediate help. The rest was a 6 month saga of semi-retirement and a lifetime of taking high blood pressure meds since my natural blood pressure is off the charts. Thank goodness and God that I am well enough to walk 19 1/2 miles (what we covered this day) in the elements 8 years later and can honestly say I enjoy it. Cheers!

I-45 is nearing. It's time for lunch. It's just past high noon. The weather is a bit cold and still a little drizzly, but not too bad. Overcast and slightly windy. I am looking forward to Broadway on the north side of 45. Especially Fair Deal Auto Sales and the fact that I'm not even sure I've ever driven the street on that side. We crossed under (where TXDOT has installed a nice but unusuable palm lined park between the freeway deck and the feeder!). Taqueria Del Sol- a bright and friendly oasis of legit Tex Mex.

We were seeated in the far corner of the back room (back of the bus, gringo!) and got some looks from the regulars. I put some classic conjunto and some Richie Valens on the jukebox and we ordered. The food was good, salsa hot and tasty and giant iced tea glasses. Police officers, teenagers, families. It's Friday lunch. Granted, whenever we gop out on these walks our inadvertant freak factor is high. We never look right, no matter whether we're on Shepherd, downtown or Synott. Lunch was refreshing and I could picture Nick Gaitan and some of the other guys from the Los Skarnales crew eating a late night meal here and having fun. We're entering Nick's high school hood (he went to Milby, just up the road as did many other famous Houstonians.)

Somehow, as I am paying attention to the street numbers looking for Fair Deal Auto Sales, we have missed it by about 7 blocks! HOW?! Walked right past it, I guess. I'm still baffled. We talked about going back, but I figure it just wasn't meant to be. Arggh!
Taco truck parking lots, muffler shops (open SANDAY! for state inspecion), small auto dealers, A/C repair, taquerias, hispanic fashion boutiques. We are oput of the airport area Vietnamese section and are back in hispanic Houston, Houston's natural blue collar state of this era. I pretty much love it and feel at ease and even at home in these neighborhoods.
Former "Chuc Wagon"? Got to be.

The area becomes more industrial and far busier once we pass under Hwy 225/Loop 610. We stopped at a Texaco for an RC/ Gallo refuel. This convenience store has a bit of everything. Dirty, busy and lots of different stuff, including rap "mixtape" CDs at the counter. I resist, but only because I recognize zero names of the artists and they are not too cheap (probably a mistake). Milby High School is right here on our right and looks pretty good. I love the "Every Day" caption on the sign.

We're at the ship channel and down a small street off Broadway is Brady's Landing, the old school public restaurant in the vein of an old school businessman's luncheon club. Still beautiful, yet the honesty of Houston allows a sunken J sailboat to be directly in view from the bridge to industry and this iconic eatery.

The building opposite Brady's that overlooks a slough of parked tankers and tugs was formerly a law office but was obviously built as some sort of Union bunker. I could find no evidence of future plans for this site, but I couldn't help but think "great punk club layout".

Perhaps now that I'm a member of the Marfa Rotary I'll try to one day attned the Harrisburg Rotary meeting at Brady's Landing. A good excuse for a truly old school H-Town experience. Oh yeah, just down the road is a gianlt steel reclamation yard, sorting scrap surely on the way to China (those ships full of lead painted toys go back with our trash). This is a nearly deserted (people-wise) yet bustling area of industry- ships, trains, cranes and, of course, the "smell of money coming from Pasadena.

As we walked through an alley running parallel to Broadway towards the aqueduct that would bring us into Harrisburg proper we saw some super sketchy stuff going down. Four or five speed freaks (white of course) coming out of the back of a trashed out apartment quadraplex. I guess the rents here are still so low that this element, formerly in the what is now called Midtwon area/east Montrose has moved here. I'm not totally surprised, but it was sort of a shock to see this scene after not having seen anything like this all day. Sort of funny that way, I guess, but we went on without making eye contact and they gave us plenty of that.
And now we make the turn into old Houston- the Mexican side of Houston- Harrisburg Dr!

More taco trucks (the re-use of school buses into full kitchen taco trucks, not just roach coaches is pretty sweet, in my opinion) and numerous small, run down nightclubs line the street. A railroad track runs parallel to Harrisburg on the north side (we are heaing westbound now) and later there's another spur running parallel to the south as well- each less than two blocks away. Old Houston. This is a long stretch complete with some old houses converted into rigged mixed use facilities, small furniture stores, car lots, industrial supply houses and pretty much anything that's not a national chain.

As we walk, John spots the door with the large black grim reaper on it and I recognize the telltale look of a medicine shop. I decide I'll go in and definitely buy something, despite my ridiculously bad Spanish. John is coerced, and we are gretted warmly by the lady who is running the shop. I buy a packet of stomach soothing tea for $10 and John scores the big prize of the trip with a small glass globe charm with a floating Buddha in it for the same bucks. A good experience, in stark contrast to the times John has attempted to go to voodoo shops in New Orleans and been verbally abused. The little Buddha charm is truly neat- and confusing- what is Buddha doing here? Later it pays off as it wards away an arch nemesis of John's when he pulls it out to use its powers. Literally, within seconds the problem is out of the building. I tell him to be wise and use its powers extremely sparingly.

Downtown Harrisburg begins in earnest near the intersection of Harrisburg and Wayside, home to Thunderbolt Transmissions. Laredo National Bank is there, Sand Dollar Thrift, a former Weiner's re-named, and many other mainstream businesses.

Once inside the old downtown strip of retail it's more desolate, but art galleries and a few old jewelry stores, tailors and the like are there. I could definitely see this area becoming more arts-centric. In Fact, my cousin Whitney Riley is one of the artists in residence at the new Box 13 Artspace right on the center of it all.

That's the same place where John and I, now near experts in found shopping carts and their merits, found a museum quality relic of a cart that I had to get a picture of. Ancient, with falling off wheel rubber. Actually kind of a preserved specimen of shopping carts of days gone by.

Finally it's time for a break. It's been raining some and we decide to stop into the El Torito Bar to see if it's OK and get a drink. It's actually a great place, with three classy Mexican women working there. Not hookers, not sleazy, but proper and friendly. El Torito turns out to be the owner and his picture graces the wall above the bar. The place is clean, with a bandstand, a great jukebox packed with Conjunto Oldies and a friendly vibe. We sit down for a couple of drinks each (non alcoholic for me- it's Lent) and I pick about 10 songs off the jukebox. Since I only know the artists and not the songs of the conhunto and rachera classics, I pick tracks one and a couple of tracks 2 and 3 of the bands I know in the CD jukebox. The music is dynamite- the same songs I enjoyed while listening to AM 1230 (Radio Ranchita) when I was rebuilding the Airstream. The ladies are singing along, and although they know the Gringo doesn't speak Spanish, they compliment me in broken English on my track selection ("You Play Good Music- how fo you know this good music?") I basically shrug and keep grooving. Meanwhile, I notice a Buddha on the back bar rail. What the?
It's a bar I would go back to without reservation and with most anyone.
We continue on down the line and downtown is now within our sights. It's nearing dusk and we stop to check out a vintage restored gas station, a few more taco buses, and then the Maximus Coffee factory, for years the Maxwell House Coffee Company with the classic "Good To the Last Drop" neon sign.

The place looks great, actually, despite having to lose the sign since Maxwell House claimed trademark on the image.

Darkness is approaching, another shopping cart to hold our gear is left by the side of the road (like where it came from) and we stop in to the Harrisburg Country Club.
This is not a country club in the traditional sense, but a large beer hall with sports on TV, shuffleboard and a diverse after work clientele from all walks of life.

We're tired by now, having walked about 18 miles and both been up since 6 or so in the morning. John sits down and a hispanic looking white guy tries to make obnoxious conversation by referring to him by the shirt he's wearing, by the shoe color etc. John takes the moment to leave and go to the bathroom and I am taking a picture of the sign above the bar.

He now moves on to make small talk with me, and I immediately sense that he thinks John and I are gay. He's not acting like he's gay himself, but I have seen this before, so I continue to blow him off. Actually, his trying to pick up two guys had nothing to do with me blowing him off. After years and years of getting off stage and having my time and brainwaves be monopolized by strangers making small talk, and after years and years of walking out my front door and immediately being hit up for money, cigarettes or just being hassled, and after years and years of dealing with drunks in bars and on the streets of my neighborhood, I have very little patience for strangers taking to me in general. My gut reaction is to be cold at first, and then, if they push on, rude. This is not true in Marfa, but Marfa can be considered a controlled environment.
So this guy ssys to me, "I see you're taking a picture of that sign, it's wrong you know."
By the way, the sign states, "May Wives Girl Friends Never Meet"
I say, "Well, it's not necessarily wrong."
He says, "Yes it is, wives should be possessive instead of plural"

This startled me that he knew the word "possessive' as a grammatical term.
I said, without a beat, "No, it doesn't it can be plural, but might need an apostrophe."
He says, "No, I think it has to be possessive and not plural."
To which I say, "No, actually,I don't want MY wives' girlfriends to ever meet each other."
This is the first time I've ever even made a remote fake claim to be married, but by the he was so confused that he got my drift. I wasn't actually right on, unless I had multiple wives and they all had rival girlfriends. Could happen in Utah, I guess.
That guy was gone and John came back.
Now we finally got to downtown Houston and it was fully dark and raining. Our walk was over, but we decided to end it up at Lean's Loungs instead of Warren's. Leaon's has changed ownership and is no longer a dive. The shuffleboard is gone. There's a new sign with a computer designed logo. Gilded lettering on the front windows saying "Cocktails" and "Piano Bar". Inside it's young folks. Blues Traveler - an entire CD- is blaring. It's kind of a nightmare. John's nemesis is there. Long story short- I am laughing about the absurdity of it all when John busts out the charm to rid The bar and himself of his arch nemesis. She is gone within an instant and the wrold is clearer. Bedtime. It's about 10 PM. Ensemble Light Rail stop up to my old apartment, whihc is still mine for the time being. - David

Better late than never- Southpoint/Almeda Genoa/Broadway/Harrisburg/Downtown H-TOWN Part One

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OK, so it's been about a month since I went on this great all day walk with John Lomax. However, I haven't yet read his re-cap and, for several reasons, couldn't get my pics in hand, then connected to the computer for a while and then Roller Derby and SXSW came up. So, partially because I really want to write about this walk and partially because I really want to read John's blog article I'm going to head on and write this baby. Devin the Dude is on my jam box right now, conjuring up visions of H-Town. K-Rino's " Book Number 7" is next in the changer, so I should be more or less set in getting that Houston Hobby Airport hood vibe.
All in all, here's what we set out to do. Get onto the Fuqua/South Point Park and ride Metro early (last bus out is 7:35 AM) and take until it ends. Walk back to downtown using a more pedestrian friendly route than back up the Gulf Freeway feeder.

I woke up at about 6:30 in the morning after arriving into Houston from Marfa the evening before. This trip to Houston was the return trip from dragging a box truck full of pinball machines, office supplies, personal stuff and a jukebox to Marfa from Houston. A reliable box truck is not available for anything but local retals in Marfa so I got a PV from Houston. Anyway, I got on the light rail at the Ensemble/Houston Continental Club stop and went down to the TMC transit center, the pick up point for the bus out to "South Point" I got there about 7:15- early for a bus that was supposed to leave at 7:35. John Lomax was taking his own bus over to there and got there about 7:25- about 2 minutes before our commuter bus showed up. After paying the fare (no more day passes for Metro- boo!) we got on and the bus proceeded to leave outbound about 8 minutes early! That's the last bus out until the evening, a change from the old days when Metro would run the commuter buses once every hour to hour and a half or so during off-peak. Surely there's a compromise between the two extremes- like switch the commuter bus to a more local schedule during off-peak and serve a larger area?! Lord knows. I still love Metro, though.

We get out to the South Point Park and Ride and it's clear we are in blue collar/white collar suburban hell. It's not clear to me exactly what "South Point" is other than a collection of industrial warehouse complexes, small to medium size offices (see Greenspoint), closed down movie theaters, and chain restaurants. Clearly it's based around I-45, which is a block north of the South Point Park and Ride. As far as distance from central Houston, South Point is just past the Pasadena city limits and, to my knowldege, the areas directly further than where we were at are basically NASA Rd 1, Clear Lake, Friendswood, etc.

John and I trudged back towards the freeway we rode in on, trying to get our bearings and a game plan for returning to H-Town proper. after passing a few more chain restaurants (think-Woodlands) and some groundwater detention ponds (with wildlife all around the trash floating in them!) we opted to take Almeda Genoa Rd southwest towards Hobby Airport. John wanted to walk Broadway from Hobby back up towards 45 and I was game.

Almeda Genoa turned out to be a great road to walk, strictly for the rural farm road/ urban funk factor. The souht side of the Gulf Freeway and Almeda Genoa features an old scholl Arby's, Pancho's and a beat up General Joe's Chopstix. This seediness would prelude our exiting the commuter I-45 corridor and our entry into a very old area of town that is partially in transition.

As we progressed southwesterly down Almeda Genoa the businesses grew further apart and rural vacant lots, some with farm animals, others merely overgrown became occasionally bookended by skinny housing developments of surely the sub-prime mortgage type. The Ramirez realtor/homebuilder/development company controls much of this land. Finally it was time for John to grab a small wine and for me to get a cold RC Cola at this little convenience store that sells pretty much whatever the owner finds. I liked the book section.

After a ways we approach a country style ice house called the Juke Box Lounge. Yes, it's open, despite the fact that it's not even 10 AM. I order an O'Doul's from the cigarette-aged but very friendly female bartener. The doors are open on the place and both folks in there are smoking, despite Houston's smoking ban.Oh yeah, we're not actually in Houston, or are we? I can't remember, but I think we were in unincorporated Harris County. The Juke Box Lounge has been open for only about 25 years, but looks like it has been there forever. The brews are cold and the seating is comfortable. Great mostly country records are glued to the ceiling tiles. Billy Joe Royal, Kenny Rogers, George Jones, Andy Kim.
We stay for a while- the CD jukeblox is broken and the maintenace guy is trying to fix it. We leave and are kindly asked to come back any time.

Almost across the street is a part-time flea market at the corner of Almeda Genoa dn Radio Rd. It's closed, of course, before Noon on a Friday morning, but there's a bicycle repairman/shop open in one of the cubbbies. I paint a smile on the female figure on the sign, who has no mouth.

Almeda Genea more or less takes you to far-out Telephone Road. This is our plan- to get over to Telephone and then head around Hobby Airport and then backtrack a bit to get to Broadway. This is a along walk just to get to Broadway. We are walking entirely around the Hobby Airport complex and the we'll be at the entrance to Hobby.
Meanwhile, back on Almeda Genoa, I stop at a little bagel and donut shop next to Shuttle Burgers for some coffee and a donut. The Vietnamese lady at the donut shop is amused by my dollar coin. SHe is also very nice and I am ecstatic that they sell RC Cola in the can! I buy two and thank the lady for carrying RC. She says she has a couple of customers who buy it every time they come in. It's nice to know I'm not the last one flying the Royal Crown banner, especially out here in the boonies (which is what this is).

Next stop, the Windmill Bar. They open at 11 and we arrive at 11. It's hard to believe we've already spent three and a half hours on this trip; it certainly doesn't seem like it. The Windmill Bar is a comfortable, more clean and modern ice house than the Juke Box. Smoking is only permitted since the doors are opne. We are in the COH and the bartender explains that they are considered "open air" since the front is lined with industrial garage doors. The reading material at the bar is a strip club advertising newspaper, featuring the "best" of Houston's escort services and strip joints, plus some remarkable "columns" taken straight from press releases from the Ford Motor Company (Mustang article) and some sketchy supplement (Nutrition column). John talked at length to the bartender and she was extremely nice. The weather was turning a little sour by this point- kind of cold and drizzly, but after Long Point this was nothing, nothing at all.

Gypsy palm readers, modeling studios, more farmland, more small housing developments of stapled together particle board and stucco two story look-alike homes.

We are approaching the Telephone Road and A/G junction. There's an old barn looking building next door to a cemetary and we go in. It's lightly raining and the big building is under partial de-construction. Despite this, pews are stacked up in one room and there's a smattering of dirty and obslete office supplies in another. It's clear that this was , at one point, a funeral home and possibly also a church. Why it's in the shape it's currently in is akind of a mystery. No sign of crack usage, a few things that could be sold for $5 or maybe more. I guess we're too far out for urban drugworm raiding. We don't seem that far out to me.
The intersection of Telephone and Wayside is busy. Two convenience stores, but more rural looking than the Telephone Road we had already sen on our Telephone walk. We are out pretty far beyond Loop 610. Closer to the Beltway than 610, I am sure.

Telephone, as state HWY 35, has no city of Houston maintained sidewalks. Once again, we get to experience the treacherous walking that is to walk down outer Telephone Road. Sink holes, overgrown grass, no sidewalks, skinny easements. I guess TXDOT is supposed to take care of this. TXDOT can be counted on to promote only car travel and definitely not rail, bike or pedestrain traffic. We walk for quite some time and around the south west side of Hobby Airport. Street names like Braniff appear. Finally, once we get past the tall, seemingly never ending razor wire topped cyclone fences lining the airport and its operations we're back in the hood.

This is the hood right outside Hobby. Broadway, Telephone, Park Place. It felt good, and then got better as we stuck to Telephone and the residential area between Telephone and Broadway for a while. Great lawns, Brady Bunch style houses, Small suburban houses, working class folks, artists. One of the last truly honest and diverse pretty NICE areas in Houston that's surely still affordabel, thanks to the double stigma of "living near Hobby" and being on the edge of Sunnyside.

John Lomax and a fine cactus tree in a front yard.

Once we make the cross-neighborhood trek to Broadway we are set for the semi-direct walk back into Downtown Houston. Where we stand (at Pay at the Pump Fried Chicken) we are about three blocks north of the entrance to Hobby, just before the center of the road flyover ramp. The tress throughout this neighborhood are mature and beautiful. They are, for the most part, oaks. This is a big difference between the Harold Farb pioneered Hobby Airport area and the Frank Sharp designed Sharpstown. If Shapr had been as pro-active about tree planting his nighborhood would look more like this. The architecture and age is about the same.