Friday, January 23, 2009

A few Continental Club Houston Christmas Party photos

I'm in Houston, working on restaurant/bar and sound system supplies and returning to Marfa late Monday. No walk with John Lomax scheduled this time, as his and my schedules were too full, but hopefully next time (could be April).
I was playing some bass guitar at the Big Top Lounge Wednesday night and remembered that the Continental Club's employee Christmas pasrty was there this past Dec and I have some pics. For any Marfans out there, I am pleased and proud to still hold shares of both of these clubs. I lived upstairs for 7 years in two different apartments and watched the neighborhood change for the better. he completion of the Light rail line (which I rode downtown today) was a major high point then and now for what has become a relatively safe and cool neighborhood. When I moved there in 2000 it did not even qualify as a "neighborhood" but only as a "hood"- a virtual Chernobyl of crackheads and abandoned buildings. What a great turnaround!

The master of ceremonies is non other than Pete Gray, manager, general partner and bigg boss man of the Houston Continental and Big Top. Sorry the pics are out of focus, but my camera is not working so well in the dark.

I scored an awesome AIRSTREAM BIRDHOUSE at the White Elephant gift exchange- the first year I actually got my dream prize (usually I don't try- this time I had to have it!) - DB

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Marfa City Council meeting 1/13/09

Here's a recap of the meeting held on Jan 13th.
We began the evening with a public hearing on the proposed noise ordinances for the city. Few people were present (unlike last time), and I fault the holidays, new year and the fact that the paper has not been published for a few weeks (they take 2 weeks off for Christmas) for the low turnout. The meeting was peaceful and most people seem to be happy with the proposed regulations. More about this later as it was an agenda item on the regular council meeting.

We opened the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance, as usual. Councilmembers in attendance were Manny Baeza, Rusty Garlick, David Beebe, and Scott May. Rudy Garcia was absent due to the extremely unfortunate illness of his son, who has been diagnosed with leukemia. Rudy will likely be missing a few more meetings as the treatment is going on in San Antonio. My prayers are with the Garcias.
City administrator James Mustard and Mayor Dan Dunlap were also present, as was city attorney Teresa Todd.
The first item was the citizen comment period. Although a few more citizens had trickled into the chambers by this time, there were no comments.

Next up we approved the minutes (with a few small changes) of the last council meeting from Dec 16th, which was mostly met in closed session (discussing inter-governmental business regarding leases, sale of property offers, etc. Unanimous.

The brightest spot of any recent meeting occurred next during the Mayor's report. Mayor Dunlap honored Alex Leos, the retired animal control officer for Marfa, who had served loyally for ten years. He was presented with a gift and was given a very nice speech by the Mayor commending him on his work. Applause came from the whole room.
Next, since the city administrator had not put anything on the agenda for his comments, he was unable to give us his regular update.
Same went for all councilmen, who are now required to place all items for even casual discussion on the agenda. None of us did, so we were silent.

An aside- Attorney General Greg Abbott's opinion of the interpretation of the Open Meetings and/or Public Information Acts was recently updated and now holds us to these new "silent" standards. I understand the rhetoric behind the ruling, but, to me, this new interpretation of the same rules actually results in a less transparent government and cloaks operations and governing officers' opinions from the general public. There is a lawsuit challenging this ruling, and Alpine city councilman/Sul Ross professor/movie theater owner Avinash Rangra is one of the ones involved in the lawsuit. I think his/their chances of winning a ruling so we can go back to a more (literally) responsive way of doing things at public meetings will fail, but I am rooting hard for him.

Next, we went on to "Old Business". This is business that has been brought up and wither postponed and/or tabled by the council. The first item under this header was the request from the "little Dribblers" to use, free of charge, the basketball court in the MAC building for practices from the present through Feb 28th. The Little Dribblers are 7 teams of very young local kids. The coach/organizer (I forgot to write down his name- shame on me) made a compelling presentation and promised to clean the building and lock it up properly following each practice. Practices would occur for several hours four days per week. After it was confirmed to the council that the building would be kept clean and that any equipment that became broken or damaged would be replaced at his cost, we approved the request unanimously. Hopefully those kids will have a great season. I am glad that the city, despite our somewhat precarious financial situation, can still sometimes provide a venue that is valuable to the community at large and to kids specifically.

Next up we discussed proposed city ordinances 09-01,09-02,09-03 and the repeal of 95-02. These are all noise ordinances. The potential repeal is the blanket ordinance from '95 that is essentially unenforceable and doesn't serve the realities of our city well. The new ordinances deal with "quiet hours", "non-quiet hours", and noise from vehicles (boom box cars, engine braking, idling diesels overnight, etc). I could go into intensive detail regarding these ordinances but won't until we finally pass the finished product(s), which looks pretty imminent. City attorney Teresa Todd had reviewed the language and the premises of the three separate ordinances that we on the committee worked on and had some suggestions, all of which had validity to varying extent. Once she had made her presentation about her suggestions and/or misgivings about the documents we discussed them and there will be several of her ideas that the committee, which will surely meet once more, will almost certainly adopt. The main addition will likely be a wording of a permit application for a variance to the noise rules which would go before council to vote on (rather than the administrator and/or police chief). Also, there will likely be a sliding upwards scale of fines for repeated violations of the ordinance. A reminder- all violations other than vehicle violations would require an official warning before a ticket could be issued. Council voted to postpone taking action on this item to give the committee and council more time to work on it. I abstained, but otherwise it was unanimous.

Lastly in old business we discussed the lease/purchase from the county of the land upon which our recycling center and animal shelter rest. Once we decided in closed session to make an offer to the county for the land research on surveys, etc was done deep into the catacombs of the files by the city administrator and it was discovered that we were deeded the land by the county years back, so there's no need to sign a lease or purchase land we already own. However, to out it into perspective, for years the city has provided free water (to the tune of over 2 million gallons per year- in the DESERT!) in lieu of rent. For land we already OWN. This should give you an idea of how murky inter-governmental policies out here have been for years. This is another example of why the adage I hear out here so often (It's all the same taxpayers' money, therefore the same money) is so untrue. If it were true we would all share the same bank account, budget and equipment. It is NOT the same. I made a motion to rescind making an offer to buy property we already own and it was seconded and approved unanimously to some laughter from the audience, which by this time had grown to be fairly large.


We voted, with some but not a lot of discussion, to approve the Planning and Zoning Board's submission of their recommendation to approve the zoning change from R-1 to C-3 of the property upon which the future Marfa Motor Inn (also known as the non-La Quinta La Quinta) is slated to be built. The P&Z vote was 3-2 in favor of changing the designation. What the council's action means is that we accepted the P&Z commission's submission to us and now will have a council-based Public Hearing on the matter on Tues Feb 10th at 5PM. A vote of official approval or disapproval of same issue will be on the agenda of the council meeting to follow the public hearing on that same evening. Citizens present in the audience this night who have had some impact on this situation included (but were not limited to) representatives for the new development, county commissioner Felipe Cordero, Tom Schmidt (P&Z), Lucy Garcia (P&Z), Cory Van Dyke (P&Z) and several local citizens associated with the Thunderbird Hotel and/or Ballroom Marfa. Surely the Public Hearing on feb 10th will be well-attended.

Next we discussed and voted on ordinance 09-04. This ordinance allows the city to require developers, large and small, to conform with city regulations and enter into contracts/agreements with the city regarding water and sewer line requirements, restrictions and regulations in order to hook into the city's systems. This is a mere formality of basic sanitation and building issues. Essentially, this is an actual wording of what is practiced nationwide when dealing with a new building seeking water/sewer service. Unanimous.

Next up we discussed Mayor Dunlap's initiative to turn back on more streetlights along selected streets that are dark and have some significant traffic. Other lights included are lights requested to be turned on by the police department (mostly along the drainage ditch from Mimm's Draw that runs along the Abbott street right of way north of the RR tracks). All of these streetlights (unless I missed one) were included as lights to re-light on my "compromise" study from last August/September during our council budgeting committee meetings. After some discussion and consternation from some residents who did not want lights near their houses turned on versus some other citizens who want all the lights on that we can possibly afford, a vote was called with no serious animosity in the room (thank goodness). Unanimous with Manny abstaining.

Lastly, we went through the monthly accounts payable and budget/reality check sheets. The renovations to the MAC and AMVETS buildings were discussed at length, as was the expensive and inconclusive maintenance work to our ancient city (steam)roller, which will need to be in working order once the Southwest side wastewater renovation project gets underway and the streets are torn up to facilitate that project. There were a few other items, but the long and short of it is that the city is currently able to pay all its bills within a 30 day window. Now that is GREAT news. Let's keep it that way.

Rusty made the motion to adjourn- unanimous. - DB

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Tuesday Dec 22nd- H-town

I had a particularly good day on Tuesday December 22nd. I invited some friends to have lunch, drinks and play pool at The Houston Club, the businessman's downtown club that I am proudly still a member of.
John Eikenburg, Charlie Earthman, Eric Feighl, Allen Hill, Christy Kern and I got together and had a really nice time. We walked at length, had some gumbo and other great food, and then drank some Christmas cheer. Here's a shot of us in Allen's Landing (the bar).

Christy Kern, Charlie Earthman, and Allen Hill in Allen's Landing, The Houston Club, 811 rusk, 9th Floor

Allen Hill, Eric Feighl, Christy Kern, David Beebe, and Charlie Earthman in Allen's Landing, The Houston Club. (not pictured, John Eikenburg) Christmas 2008

Later that night I went to The Boondocks to see Little Joe Washington play. If you search Youtube for Little Joe Washington you can see 2 videos of him taken this holiday season. One I took from this particular night. The other is in black and white and was taken of Little Joe playing with me, Allen and Jim Henkel at the Big Top the following Saturday. His video has much better sound. Here's a couple pics of LJW doing his thing. By the way, his show at Boondocks is weekly and it's free. Catch this Houston blues legend live before you die. - DB

Bush/IAH to N Main - the longest walk yet- Part II

Please see two posts below for Part 1 of this walk, which took place Sunday Dec 28th 2008.

After we ate the excellent tacos at the taco truck sundown was beginning to approach. The clouds had mostly cleared and I was no longer worried about rain, but the colder night air had me slightly spooked, as I was barely staying warm as it was, and we were maintaining a very brisk pace most all of the day. Through the parting of walls, stores and trees down a partially abandoned cul de sac for a sickly newer development we spot the most glorious view of Greenspoint I've ever seen! Ah, yes, the Emerald City of the Greater Houston area. This picture (although kind of dark- click on it for better view) is surely what the real estate barons of the late 70's and early 80's were envisioning for the area now more commonly known as "Gunspoint".

Oh, turn back a bit- before we hit the taco stand, I nearly forgot- and I thought I took pictures, but apparently not- we walked by an extremely messy strip shopping center that housed, not one, but two different chapters of AA. These were announced with big signs, and right between them was a bar. Actually the whole mess of the place looked shut down. There were old couches and TVs scattered about the sidewalks in front of the storefronts and cars in various state of disrepair in the lot. We passed the place and then were both drawn back to it- something was really wrong with this scene. A closer look revealed that the bar and several other shops were not only closed but in a total shambles; the cars in the lot were all inoperable, and the AA storefronts may not have been what they stated. I got really bad vibes after I walked around the ruins of the former bar and got the heck out of there. Meanwhile, John noticed a faceprint embedded in a shattered windshield of a Pontiac with a flat tire. Really, really rough.

Anyway, back to near sundown- at this point we are inside 610 and the road, at some point around here, changes names from Aldine Bender to Airline Dr. We're still well in the 5 digit addresses, but there are more taco trucks and cantinas, plus more traffic and human activity in general. I stop into a Fiesta Mart hoping to get a sweatshirt, but this one doesn't have any clothes. Next door there is a discount closeout clothing outlet and I get a very "bummy" looking large flannel/poly/cotton long sleeved overshirt that would look at home on any guy waiting around in front of Labor Ready. Now I'm warm and rejuvenated. Walking, walking, seeing more and more of same- auto shops, boutiques, taco trucks and Spanish everywhere. A new phenomenon of Houston cruising makes itself known to me- the blasting of speakers within the grilles of cars and trucks. Kind of like the old boom box trucks but less bass and more direct volume. As we get closer to the Airline "Los Garages" as they are sometimes called, there are more and more cars blasting rap, conjunto, rancheras and tejano out of external speakers. Wow- new to me and such a logical progression from bass boxes!

John picks up a shopping cart as his feet and the load of I-pod jam box and general reporting gear begins to wear on him. We've been out for over 8 hours by this time with only one short stop off our feet. My feet are aching as well. We have miles and miles to go to get to home territory. By the way, we have seen relatively few shopping carts on this trip and essentially zero homeless folks.

It's Sunday night and it's hard for me to believe that Airline drive out here (past Canino) is a hot spot for cruising, upper Westheimer style. We are nearly the lone pedestrians and there are piles of junk in vacant lots along the way, burned out cars here and there, etc, but mostly just fences and weeds along the sidewalks.

The street activity gets more and more hectic and we finally find ourselves just further out than the corner of Airline and Tidwell when we come across the fables "Garages". This is the most amazing flea market I have ever seen- Sunday night and there's live Tejano, thousands of booths, food everywhere, families, more music and good times for all. Everything in the world- new and used- is sold here and I will be going back as soon as possible.

This is a cultural jackpot. Plus, there was a nice Airstream Bambi next to a booth.

We could have stayed there all night, but things were getting ready to wind down there and we needed to keep moving if we ever planned on getting home. Mike Haaga had called and wanted to possibly meet up with us as we got nearer to his place (Airline at Crosstimbers area), so we were beginning to look for a hangout we could sit down at for a while.
The area between the "Garages" and I-45 reminds me slightly of the Golfcrest area in southeast Houston.

Like Golfcrest there are homes built in the 50's and 60's in various states of disrepair, a mishmash of businesses, but few recognizable name brands of much, and a few old school established restaurants that have toughed it out over the years. This BBQ joint is clearly one of those. I love the name "Hungry Farmer BBQ" The hickory burger at Lucky Burger back in the day was called "The Hungry Farmer" The jalapeno cheeseburger was called "The El Capitan". I still order them by that name and get a blank look from the cat who has worked there for the last 15 years! Anyway, that's my Hungry Farmer story.

Just past Little York we finally find our pit stop. John has heard of this place before and it has some heritage, plus a nice stage, great jukebox, pool tables, good service and smoking permitted if you are not too obvious about it (yes, we are now finally in Houston City Limits and John is a light smoker- I don't smoke). It's the Cedar Lounge, and since it's Sunday, this is one of only three nights a week that's not "Tejano Night". Despite the billing, the crowd is mixed and, as I said, it's a great place to stop off for a drink.

Mike Haaga in front of the Cedar Lounge sign

John calls Mike and he shows up a good 15 minutes later with the bad news ( we already knew) that we have quite a long way to go. It's nearing 9 PM and I am fading slightly as the lack of sleep, cold, walking and Christmas break in general is catching up with me. Not lost on me is my drive to Marfa with a stop at the State Comptroller's office in Austin the next day.
Mike, John and I have a nice chat about this and that and I am thrilled that the black guy sitting next to me who buys a drink for a pretty hispanic chick about my age across the way looks like he may have a made a good new friend in her. About 15 songs on the excellent jukebox later and it's time to go. Haaga gets in his car for the safe ride home and we set out again on foot.

About an hour later we stop at another bar, this time it's clearly a Spanish language only place. We walk in and have a shot of Cazadores tequila and a Budweiser each and relax. Ten PM- we are getting near 45, but it's clear this walk will last past midnight before we get into our turf.

Walking, walking, more and more amplified cars drive past and there's some street racing and at least one cop bust going down. John reminds me that as we get closer to 45 the prostituiton activity picks up. That and everything that goes alongside that is what we're heading into. By this time my legs are kind of numb, but my foot pains have leveled off. Not so for John, whose feet are in just as bad a shape at this time as they are usually when he wears the Crocs.

Another hour or so of walking and we are at Crosstimbers. John opts to go iiinto a gas station to get us a beer and I wait outside with his I-pod jam box and sit on the curb. One of the drunkest men I have seen in recent years stumbles across the esplanade and comes over to me. He is not speaking even remotely clearly, but in his hand are three crack rocks and he is obviously looking to sell. I turn him down politely and he becomes slightly upset. Once John comes out I let him know that we are dealing with a new frontier in our walks, plus a true idiot. At thie point the guy gets pretty upste when John turns down the crack. Luckily for everyone, a police car with its lights on drives fast and spooks the guy. We take the opportunity to ealk off and he is standing in the lot, talking loudly and incoherently. We are now officially in the hot-sheet motel zone.

Passing over a giant aqueduct, John and I are debating the indisputable merits of the Isley Brothers, their history and excellent covers of classic rock tunes. He dials some up on the jam box and the misty cold night is made whole.

Airline between Crosstimbers and North Main is a mix of appliance stores, light industrial, the ancient and small original farmer's market and a bunch of questionable convenience stores, motels and excellent Mexicna food joints. By this time of night things are relatively quiet in the streets and at the corners. We get hit up for money and use of John's cell phone(!) at the corner of 45 and Airline by a group of older homeless balck guys and a crackhead 17 year old white girl. Rough stuff- everyone is walking too fast, and so are we.

John's feet are killing him and we are both beat. I don't know the mileage at this point, but it's after midnight and we agree to get to the corner of North Main at Airline and catch the bus or a cab down Main to Warrrens and talk over the recap.

A call to Yellow Cab is met with 45 minutes of nothing and because of our fatigue we make the totally out of character amateur move of waitng for the cab across the street from teh bus stop and narrowly miss TWO buses. Idiots. I am out of practice.

Waiting for the cab across from Spanish Flower at another burned out Conoco. John Lomax sitting.

Finally a cab shows up and we feel the pleasant relief of the state of relief. The cab driver is talkative and nice and takes us to Warren's. The cab smells like puke. In Warren's I mention this to John and we both notice that we can still smell the puke. Next thing you know John is stripping off his favorite sweatshirt and tosses it. Puke from the cab on his sweatshirt! Sunday night in H-town. A drink later and it's about 2 AM and time to git. One more cab back to his place and the night is done. What a heck of a walk.

Admittedly, although I had far fewer drinks than I had on a couple of these walks I was as delirious as I have ever been by the end. John's feet were getting ready to start bleeding and he had been noticably slower over the last few miles. Night had fallen for real and Sundays, even in Houston, are mundane in the late hours. It was a walk cut short of downtown, but not short at all; I believe we covered more mileage and wlaked faster in general than ever before. Days later my calf muscels were still sore.

Conclusion- "Los Garages" are not to be missed under any circumstance; Bush?IAH is much further than I thought. - DB

Marfa noise ordinance public hearing Tues 1/13

Here's a notice from me regarding our noise ordinance. Your chance to be heard on the issue will be on Tuesday 1/13 at 5 PM, city hall, for a public hearing on the new noise ordinance(s). Please attend. We are scheduled to vote on it at the regular council meeting following the hearing. Copies of the propsed ordinances are available at city hall (right now!) Thanks- David

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Beyond Bush IAH to North Main- the longest walk

It was great to be back in Houston for Christmas break. As much as I love living in Marfa, I had not been back to Houston since right after Hurricane Ike and the continuous stress of managing a major construction project here had me worn out. My policy on visiting my parents for holidays is now as follows: I do not return for Thanksgiving, but I give them at least a week at Christmas. This has been the case for the last 2 years and it works better for me than two short trips back, to say the least.
I'll give a short wrap-up of Christmas break before I get to the final day in Houston, which was a fourteen hour day of walking.
On the way back to Houston from Marfa I stopped off for a night in Austin and dropped off a local Marfan who needed a ride to Austin to pick up a truck he bought. This cam as a result of posting a rideshare notice on Anyway, it worked out well and I decided to go ahead and catch Jesse Dayton at the Broken Spoke since it was a Thursday night. That was a great show and packed to the walls. I got to play bass for a few songs since Billy D, Jesse's current bass player, was very ill and had to take a break from the stage. I ended up the night at, where else, the Continental Club and caught a great new act, whose name escapes me at the present. My night ended with some good sleep on a flat surface and a large hot cup of Jo's coffee in the morning on the way out of town.
I got to Houston around 11:30 and immediately got on Bus #82 to go to the Galleria, where I met friends and business partners for a long lunch at Del Frisco's. Great company and food- a great way to start Christmas break. The night ended up at the Singalong club with a bunch of Roller Derby girls. The next day I took care of some shopping a a few other errands, like taking the Padre's sound board to LD systems for repair and cleaning. Long and short, I had a great Christmas, got to play a show with the 1999 version of the El Orbits at the Big Top, did electrical work at the Continental Club, got great gifts and had a great time with my family, and overall got little sleep.
We did our walk on Sunday Dec 28th. The night before was a four hour show for me at the Big Top with Allen and Jim and I got little sleep since I stayed up late and drank a good bit of Pabst Blue Ribbon. I was to meet John Lomax at his house at 8:30 in the morning but slept through the alarm and made it there around 9:45 AM. Bleary eyed and tired, I opted to wear my new work boots since I knew this walk would break them in. For once John wasn't wearing his Crocs, but instead was wearing real shoes. I had, in my hasty exit from my parents' house, forgotten to get a heavy coat for rain and wind protection, and that was a concern for me starting as soon as we set out from his house to walk to the Med Center transit center to catch the rail to the airport shuttle bus downtown. John lives near Southside Place and West U very close to the Little Woodrow's on Holcombe, so we began the day with that walk all the way down Holcombe to the Med Center transit Center, reminiscing about the Gallant Knight, bad crime that used to be in the area, and the glory of the Tides Motor Inn, Shamrock Hotel and its amazing pool. Damage from Hurricane Ike is still visible up and down the road, and particularly on the larger towers. The Prudential building is still there, but I suspect that not even the economic downturn will keep the medical center machine from bulldozing that and putting up another pink or creme colored med tower. My favorite old building left that is not on the list for the wrecking ball is the under-appreciated Bank of America building on the corner of Holcombe and Main (it has another name but I can't remember it). It looks plain from far away, but both sides are curved and the lines are quite subtle and nice. There are some marble panels missing from the storm- I hope they are able to match new marble with the old when it gets fixed.

The weirdest and most desolate place in this mini-walk is the fountain/ walkway that replaced the Shamrock. This neo-classical promenade is called the Gus and Lyndall Wortham Park, not to be confused with the amazing Gus Wortham fountain on Allen Parkway. On this day, as on many days, the fountain is actively spouting water columns to nobody, as the fountain downtown on the light rail line is supposed to do (but is always messed up). This bizarre guilt trip tribute to the concept of public space mixes elements of a grand promenade with Vegas style accents contrasting with the feel of a confined and secluded corridor. Its out of the way entrance and low visibility from Holcombe is probably why I had never seen it before. This is a very good park to go to if you don't want anyone to find you. I couldn't help but picture Nixon and Kissinger walking side by side alongside the fountain and columns planning the next offensive maneuver in Vietnam.

We finally made it to the Metrorail station and got picked up by a train within a matter of minutes since they were on the return trip down the line from dropping off fans at Reliant for the Texans game. We rapidly made it down to the Downtown Transit Center, next to which is a nice, new temporary building in a parking lot. This is where individuals can catch a plush, fast, shiny new commuter bus for Intercontinental Airport which costs $15 and leaves every thirty minutes. The lobby has free hot coffee, clean restrooms, comfy chairs to wait in and a friendly staff. That being said, John and I were the only two folks on the bus on a Sunday following the Christmas holidays. Metro is going to have to do a much better job of promoting this service if it's going to catch on.

Our driver was courteous and got us there fast. To my surprise, we headed out 59 north instead of 45 or the Hardy Toll Road, and to the driver's surprise, we asked him to please let us out before we got into the airport gates. Somehow he took however we asked it to mean that we were trying to get out to the airport but didn't want to let and police see us (?!). Anyway, we pretty much went with that and he dropped us off in the cold and windy drizzle at Will Clayton Parkway and Lee Rd- on the far side of the airport from our eventual destination- Warren's Inn downtown. By this time is was around 11:30 Am or so, slightly dark, kind of cold and kind of wet. I was determined to keep moving to stay warm and I also was concerned that the weather could degenerate into something like our Long Point walk, which was colder than Marfa (hard to believe, but wet is colder than dry, no matter the temp).

The walk down Lee Rd southbound is basically a walk through pastures and airport barrier green space. Twice people stopped and offered us a ride to Aldine Bender, our next major destination. The first guy was, I think, looking to pick up or something. The second guy was an older gentleman who seemed to actually be looking to save us some time and legwork. We declined both, of course, and noted that this is the very first route we've walked where we've been offered any sort of ride.


Lee Rd is long, and we finally ended up at the Beltway, still a few miles away to the East from Hardy Rd and JFK Blvd, the traditional entry point to Bush IAH for most Houstonians. Nearly 2 hours had passed and now we found ourselves walking the noisy, busy and culturally desolate feeder road of Beltway 8 trying to get to Aldine Bender, which eventually turns into Airport Blvd, our pathway back to the junction of Airline and North Main (Spanish Flower, to most folks) which was the symbolic ending of any sort of foreign turf for us. This part of Houston we had just been through to get to the Beltway (and, of course, most of unincorporated Harris County/ Humble,/ Aldine, etc) has virtually no sidewalks and still has a rural feel, in the types of businesses set up (metal buildings, razor wire fences, falling down barns full of junk) and the number of dogs (lots).

One convenience store we stopped at was replete with the requisite 8-liners and multiple cheap cigarette signs (all on special!). We spotted a couple of places on Lee Rd that looked as if weekends might include cock or dog fighting, and plenty of semi-closed or totally closed junkyards. No other pedestrians thus far other than a group of juvenile delinquent looking kids wandering around.

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The Boyz2Men Day Care- coed, by the way

John Lomax and some local scenery.

The 15000 block of Lee Rd, Beltway just ahead!

The Beltway is a major change, as I mentioned before, and not necessarily for the better, as the landscape is extremely boring and sprawling. Freeway exits are a mile apart or more and business parks, empty and full, dot the landscape. I predict some serious bankruptcies for some of these mega-office park developers out here, as many are empty and others are under construction.
At some point we are starting to make progress in getting to where we planned to start walking on this trip, and it's already been over 2 hours. The buildings and office landscapes start to look more and more "perfect" and at one point I mention that things are starting to look very "Halliburton". Sure enough, the very next complex, complete with ducks and geese in the deep fake blue/green colored pond out front, is a giant Halliburton campus.

Must have been some sub-conscious memory from the time The El Orbits drove this same service road to play Sundance Head's wedding at a corporate style party room (great gig, by the way!- pre American Idol and Roy song with us off and on all evening).

An excellent "waterway of Harris County" along the BW 8 service road. It was still drizzly at this time.

Hours of walking pass and we're finally approaching Aldine Bender, gateway back to civilization. Not too far south of Beltway 8 is the Aldine High School complex; school grounds, baseball complex, other sports venues, administration buildings, etc. Quite a clean and nice arrangement. Very close by is an ancient Dairy Queen building converted into a Mexican food joint. I love that.

Aldine Bender is the beginning of regular sidewalks; seldomly does the sidewalk start at a new office development and then abruptly end. Aldine Bender, though, does have a plethora of animals, much like Lee Rd. We see horses, ducks and chickens running wild together in a vacant lot next to a convenience store, dogs, cats and hawks in the air. I like this next picture, as Aldine Bender has as many used car parts places as North Shepherd, but most are smaller and may or may not be open.
The name of this one, "Aldine Bender" drew out my camera.
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Oh yeah, and what's the deal with this? We walk further and further, and not until we are well, well near Loop 610 do we get near "713" territory. All "281". I thought that was for outside the Beltway- like long distance almost. This area gets no respect.

Aldine Bender seems to last forever, a nearly un-ending procession of car lots, auto parts stores (John points out, correctly, that besides fast-food, the only national chains that set up shop in this part of town are the auto parts stores), small beauty parlors, junk shops, and yards of garbage guarded by barking dogs. Thankfully for me, the rain clouds have mostly dissipated into cirrus clouds and the brisk walking we are doing keeps me warm. We finally come across our first open neighborhood bar and I decide we should duck in. We do, and I take a hair of the dog that bit me the night before with a cold (and ancient) Lone Star.

The Northside Saloon- a friendly place if you're in the neighborhood

This bar is the typical Houston hinterlands neighborhood spot, where everyone clearly knows each other and the Cowboys game is on TV, since it's Sunday. There are 2 dogs running around, and since we are still outside Houston city limits (even after about 3 hours of walking) everyone is smoking. There's a big iron bell with a string hanging down from the striker over one side of the bar. A sign above says, "If you ring this bell you will buy the whole bar a round of drinks." For some reason this strikes me funny. Everyone warms up to the two weird strange guys that walked in from the cold, and we make some small conversation before I am ready to go. I can already tell that sitting, even for a few minutes, is going to make me freeze once we get back out in the windy, cold humid air. Sure enough, that's the case, but out of the corner of my eye as we walk past a muffler shop right before we cross over the Hardy Toll Road I see another great Houston "Muffler Man"! Awesome. We both pose for pics and then cross the great divide that is the tollway and several sets of railroad tracks.

This is a bar we didn't venture into. John wanted to go in, but some sense told me that this wasn't a good day for us to go here, although maybe next time.

The near side of Aldine Bender is more industrial, at least for a while, than the further end. Lots of warehouses and fewer auto parts shops. As we get closer to Loop 610 an aging residential component is added- older suburbia. Signs are more and more often in Spanish only and there are actually shopping centers. The "great walls" that are sound barricades to the neighborhoods from major thoroughfares crop up on either side of us. There are sidewalks, but since nobody actually walks alongside the "great walls" they are caked with mud and the remaining mess from Hurricane Ike. Two stray dogs begin to follow us, and I don't notice them until they have been a few paces behind us for at least a while.

Dogs love to walk in really busy streets.

When we stop walking, they stop and look at us. When we start again, they amble right along behind us. John states that is one or both of these dogs follows us the whole way that it will have a home at his house. Less than a minute later both dogs turn back.

The "great walls" finally part and we are looking at a closed down bowling alley and a shuttered Conoco with our first Taco truck of the day in the parking lot. Why? Doesn't matter, as we're both starving. It's about 4 PM and I have had nothing but a large coffee all day and John has only had a small breakfast at home before I got there. We order some tacos and it's the best Mexican food either of us has had in ages. Incredible food for less than $5- really great, and not just because we were hungry. Houston has got the best taco truck scene in the world.

An aside- this is the first time, I think ever, that I have seen a closed down gas station with the prices still posted on it where the prices of an open gas station within view are lower!

Click on any picture for a larger view- note gas prices. I would guess this Conoco closed sometime in late spring of 2008.
We cross Loop 610. This story will be continued in tomorrow's post- it's late, late!- DWB