Wednesday, March 19, 2008

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

Click on any photo for a full page view.

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


Frank said...

It's about time you guys hit my old stompin' grounds! From apartments near Southpoint, to a house on Garden Villas, to my dad's and my high school(Milby), to the old Local Charm, I know all that area and it brought back a lot of memories. ANd yes, that WAS an old Chuck Wagon that I used to go to when I was at Deady Jr. High. Good Job men!

Nelson said...

Just stumbled into your blog while searching for information about RC Cola and Moon Pies. Thought to toss in "Houston" and there you were, my old school chum. Good writing, now I'm nostalgic for Houston.


Anonymous said...

I have a plug. I wanted to say that at the flagship on Sheppard there is this black guy with a moustashe and when they pump the instrumental muzak he can sing all the words. I was buying some Swansons, Moon Pies and Shastas for dinner and Love is Blue by Paul Murat is turned up high on the loud and my man is singing all the words. I'm telling you this guy should be an official orbit. He is my hero!

Donny Wallace said...

Plug 2- no offense but when I was looking for a Ronco Record Cleaner for my incredible Lounge Muzak soundtrack of La Dulce I have found the greatest blog ever- hands down: YOU'RE THE MAN NOW, CHICO! I think everyone should read it now, words can't describe the ability of this man to convey what is cool and meaningful to my life.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Park Place from 1958 to about 1980, attended Park Place Elementary School, Deady Jr. H.S., and Milby H.S, and lived only a few blocks from the ex-Chuck Wagon(sp?) that you had a photo of. I still remember the delicious Hub Burger and Wheel Burger! Their signature was the x-tra thin patty! Adjacent to the Chuck Wagon, to the north, was the Tastee Freeze. Man, I remember that soft serve ice cream like it was yesterday!

MichaelVJozwiak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MichaelVJozwiak said...

Several comments: First, I have lived in the area for 49 of my 51 years. Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane.

Second, sad to say, but the Chuck Wagon and Tastee Freeze buildings along with the long, burned-out building behind the two lots are gone as of the last several weeks. My guess is that the lots are flattened out to accommodate one of those Houston-famous mini-malls.

Thirdly, the cross street to the clinic could be Dixie Drive.

And finally, According to my Key Map, Almeda-Genoa Road runs east-west and Broadway runs north-south. You may forget that the Gulf Freeway runs northwest-southeast.


Nick said...

just beautiful.
much love bros.
south east.

i enjoyed reading this so much.
what a beautiful part of our city.
the chuck wagon place turned to a salvadorian pupuseria for a while too. i worked over at park place regional branch library and met some really great people. Two by name, Sims McCutchin and Diane Gwamanda. Sims the Regional Manager and Diane, the branch manager, wonderful people that i will never forget. These were my earliest days with Skaranles. Milby didnt have the Prison gate in 97, but i suppose all the schools are doing it now. The harrisburg cemetary used to be covered in woods, me and my pal omar would run through the graveyard in our early teens. Its an amazing drive when you take broadway past emilianos and you enter the harrisburg area watching all those piles of metal.

i love it


Icarus said...

I live in the East End and enjoyed reading your post. Little bit of trivia. That Coffee Plant was originally built by Ford Motor Co to build Model T's.