I’ve got a project that gives me the opportunity, several times each week, to drive past the vacant lot where Astroworld once stood. I’m lucky I haven’t yet had a wreck on the feeder as I gape at the empty field, wondering how all of that excitement could have been crammed into what looks like such a small parcel of land.
I always note the spot where the Dexter Frebish stood, and triangulate from there to the Bamboo Shoot. Ah, one more Houston institution obliterated to make way for the highest and best use, which thus far, has not been identified.
When HIWI put out its original call for comments about what makes our fair city worth it, I submitted this:
Houston is worth it because if you are here, you want to be here. The heat, the mosquitoes, the traffic—they might bug you, but you have more important things to do than whine about the weather.
You are in Houston because you have great things to accomplish. You want to be part of one of the most philanthropic communities in the world. You want to be in a town whose doctors are known, respected, and sought out by the entire world. You want art in the most unexpected places, and more of it in the expected ones. You want to be in a place where maybe, just maybe, you can celebrate the New Year in shorts and flip flops with a margarita in your hand while sitting under a palapa next to the pool. You crave contact with an incredibly diverse population. You thrive on challenges, and see them as opportunities to grow and improve.
It is easy to go to a city with a beautiful bay and soaring bridge. You never have to explain your goals if you head for the big apple. Your soul is drawn to some new-age-old-hippie-town. In those places, you let the city speak for you.
Houston doesn’t speak for you – you speak for it.
You make it better, stronger, healthier, wealthier, more beautiful, and more dynamic. Houston is worth it because your dreams, goals, and accomplishments are worth it. Houston is worth it because it will do everything it can to make those dreams and goals possible, and it will celebrate you for your accomplishments, no matter who you are and where you came from.
Houston is worth it because it knows YOU are worth it.
As the landmarks of the Houston I grew up with continue to fall, I’ve been struggling with how hard to fight.
Several years ago (seven? eight?), I spoke with someone who predicted that Hines, the real estate development company, would really piss off the city when they finally decided to develop the piece of property where the Philip Johnson-designed Waterwall stands. She said that most people assumed that the sculpture/fountain was a public park, and that Hines constantly struggled to get people who felt very possessive about their right to access it to understand that it was on private property.
Hines gave up the struggle, for the benefit of all of us, and donated the park to the city about a year ago.
That doesn’t happen often. In Houston, advantage goes to the developer.
When the River Oaks theater was threatened, someone held a candlelight vigil. Now, Angelika closes, and the vigil has become an online lament. We’re railing against the Walmart, and rallying to try to pass some level of historic preservation for the residential neighborhoods of the Heights.
The alarm that sounds when another part of Houston history falls has become more like a car alarm than anything else—a noise so common it fades into the background unless you are standing right next to it (or trying to sleep at 3 a.m.).
Maybe Houston is a Buddhist. Buddhism has the four noble truths:
- Life means suffering.
- The origin of suffering is attachment.
- Suffering ends when the craving for attachment ends.
- To reach the end of suffering, follow the path laid out by Buddha.
When I wrote the line about your soul being drawn to some new-age hippie town in my HIWI comment, I was thinking about someone we’d just interviewed at our office. We asked her why she wanted to move to Houston, and she told us her soul felt drawn here.
It was all I could do not to laugh!
Nobody’s soul is drawn to Houston! Your soul is drawn to Sedona, or Taos, or the wilds of Idaho. We pressed a bit, and it turned out, of course, there was this really hot guy . . .
If the Angelika movie theater is what defines the soul of Houston, we’re all in trouble. The Angelika, while no Walmart, is, after all, a corporate movie chain housed in a brutally ugly pre-fab warehouse.
Maybe the constant tearing down of our past challenges us to focus on what really matters, what really makes Houston great. People, our dreams, and our ability to turn those dreams into action, no matter who we are or where we came from (or, as the sign says, who your daddy is).
I’m not far on my path to enlightenment. I’m pretty attached to my suffering. I’m not ready to be OK with the endless parade of big box stores, to intersections bounded by multiple iterations of chain drug stores and coffee shops.
But, I’m going to try to keep it in perspective. If a Walmart is all it takes to destroy the character of the neighborhood, then shame on us.
We have to remember that with our Walmarts come the possibility that you’ll drive around a corner and find the Tempietto Zeni or that the ultimate barista might be an escalator ride away in a generic food court.
We have to remember that Houston is a who, not a what.
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