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

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Amen to that 281 comment! We moved into a house at 45 and Gulf Bank in 1972, had the same phone number until we sold the house in 1998, except they changed it to 281 whenever all that mess happened. All that talk about 713 inside the Beltway was just talk.