Thereʼs a stereotype along the lines of “People in Houston wonʼt ride transit.” If that was true, then Metro wouldnʼt have had two million disembarkments at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo a couple of years ago.
My observation so far has been that the people who are most against transit in Houston are people who donʼt live in Houston, or if they do, they live on the fringes, and not in the actual city part of the city.
After a day at the tree museum, I like to stop at Food D'lite on the way home. Itʼs a combination hamburger stand and Chinese food joint.
Itʼs my understanding that in the early part of the last century, it was common for Chinese immigrants who opened restaurants to serve both Chinese and American cuisine, in order to expand their customer base and to ingratiate themselves with the locals. Iʼve also noticed it in a number of old movies from the 1940ʼs, so it seems to be a little slice of Americana that is fading away as restaurants now strive to pigeonhole themselves into a particular category, rather than attract the largest number of people they can.
As you can tell from the picture, Food D'lite is small, old, and garishly-painted. So, naturally my expectations were high the first time I went here.
I have never gotten a hamburger from this stand, but I am happy to report that the Chinese food is excellent. Itʼs very much in the style of the heavy, muddy East Coast Cantonese I grew up with, and very far from the fresh-crispy-sprouts-and-heat of the West Coast Szechuan Iʼve had to make do with for the last decade.
If the Metro Green Line ran just another 4.8 miles eastward, Iʼd probably have lunch here every other day.
I spent the morning at the tree museum. I think the Houston Botanic Garden will be really nice in ten years or so. Today, it looks a lot like itʼs just barely gotten off the ground. Lots of saplings on bare earth. Bulldozers. Sections cordoned off for construction. Urban hillbillies riding quads over the exhibits.
I became a member last year, but probably wonʼt renew. The benches that were nice for sitting on and looking at nature have been removed. Itʼs doing concerts now, farming for restaurants, and charging unwarranted prices to walk through its Christmas lights display. Even members have to pay, which is very unusual amongst serious musea.
It has a good location, and lots of potential. I suspect that the financial pressures of COVID have caused its leadership to lose its way in the forest.
People who donʼt live or work in downtown Houston tend to think of it as a bleak and austere place. I can understand why. For 50 years, most new buildings in downtown were constructed with fortress designs and blank walls of glass and concrete facing the sidewalks. For half a century, the cityʼs urban core was built upon the idea that nobody walks in downtown Houston. Even though that was not true.
People do walk in downtown Houston, but they do it underground. Like the Pedway in Chicago, and the Skyway in Minneapolis, Houston has a series of retail-gilded tunnels connecting its main buildings. And at certain times of the day theyʼre so flooded with people that it can be hard to get around.
The problem for Houston is that it doesnʼt have enough foot traffic to support both street-level retail and tunnel-level retail, and the resulting dispersion of retail spaces prevents either option from reaching the critical mass required to form a vibrant pedestrian experience.
If all of the retail in the Houston tunnel system were to move to street level, downtown would be transformed. It would be filled with people, restaurants, convenience stores, tailors, jewelers, and other shops that are currently out of site to a great number of people.
The antipode would be to move the street level storefronts underground so the subterranean area can thrive. That would have made sense last century, but Houston is trying to develop a tourist economy. People from other places expect retail to be at street level, and theyʼre not going to run a gauntlet of security guards and hidden elevators to pick up a burger after an Astros game.
Houston has seen an explosion of home-grown retail in the last decade, but much of it is scattered throughout the neighborhoods. Chicago has seen something similar, but in Chicago if youʼre successful, you donʼt open a second branch in another outlying neighborhood. You open it downtown. Itʼs helped local chains like Argo Tea, Dollop Coffee, and the various Goddess incarnations to grow and expand their reach.
I suspect that Chicago has some kind of incubator program that helps these small local retailers occupy prime space downtown. Houston has plenty of empty street-level retail space downtown. It just need an organization with a bit of money to connect the owners of that space with ambitious new brands.
One of my newspapers didnʼt come today. So I tried to let the Houston Chronicle know it has a problem. Naturally, since the conglomerate that ate Houstonʼs paper of record doesnʼt have customer service people on the weekend, I have to fill out a report online. And, naturally, the web site doesnʼt work.
Even if I had to wait on hold for a while to speak to someone about it, a human being could solve the problem immediately. Instead, I have to remember to call the newspaperʼs customer service people during the week to get credit for the missed delivery.
Remember when computers were going to make our lives better?
One of the work-from-home workforce in my building answered a call from his boss while cooking lunch. You can see the rest.
When we evacuated the building, I grabbed my work laptop, but not my shoes, so I ended up working the rest of the day from Day 6 Coffee in my pajamas and slippers. However, this being downtown Houston, I was the least-oddly dressed person there.
Interestingly, both the Metro Green and Purple line trains were suspended because the nearest johnny pump to my home is across the street, and the firefighters had to run hoses across the train tracks to connect to my buildingʼs risers.