It is said that in Houston, you can plant broomsticks and grow brooms. Itʼs a way of saying that the cityʼs location, geology, and weather are so well-suited to growing plants that if you canʼt grow something, the problem is you.
Thatʼs mostly true, but only if you get enough light. If youʼre in a north-facing apartment, youʼre just as hampered in your growing efforts as someone facing north in Chicago, or Los Angeles.
To grow plants in Houston, you need a lot of sun to counteract all of the excess moisture you have to deal with. That's why under the city's proud canopies of oak trees, the vegetation is usually sparse, or in varying states of decay. If you get dappled sunlight, you might have luck with foxtail ferns, but the important word there is still ”luck.”
A good example is at Houston City Hall, where the mighty oaks spread their branches, bogarting the sunlight and leaving everything underneath to rot. It all looks really bad. But in the sunny spots, you can see the landscapers are doing a great job with the flowers.
I feel a little sad that I went to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to see the Egyptian artifacts, and only ended up taking the same old photograph that every other tourist does.
I think I just didnʼt feel inspired.
I can see that the HMNS tries hard. But it all comes off as very Disney-fied. Not real. Plastic shrink-wrapped for my protection. I know itʼs done to get children interested in the exhibits. But too often, museums forget that adults go, too.
I wonder if Iʼd still feel this way if I hadnʼt been to some other really amazing museums featuring Middle Eastern and North African artifacts. The Oriental Institute in Chicago is the best one Iʼve been to so far, with the Eski Şark Eserleri Müzesi in Istanbul a very close second.
The University of Chicagoʼs Oriental Institute feels like walking into Indiana Jonesʼ alma matter, and visiting it makes watching the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies a bit richer. The Jones characterʼs background includes ties to the University of Chicago. And George Lucas is also very fond of Chicago, where he tried to build a museum, but was rebuffed by special interest groups who believed a parking lot was a better use for land in a public park.
Eski Şark Eserleri has better stuff, but the facility is really run down from decades of what is euphemistically called “deferred maintenance.” Ordinary people call it just plain neglect. But itʼs certainly worth seeing, if youʼre in Istanbul, where there is absolutely no shortage of fabulous musea.
It doesnʼt look like it, because in the photograph, itʼs burned out or turned off of just taking a snooze. But it works now.
Today I had my first interaction with Houston city government. I used the city's 311 app to report that this pedestrian crossing signal at Smith and McGowen was not working.
The app, itself, is a disaster. But I finally managed to file a report at 12:12pm, and in a few minutes received an e-mail confirmation.
At 1:30pm received another e-mail:
Case Resolved $$ Per A. Gutierrez @ 13:23 completed Miscellaneous....intersection was cycling upon arrival, no power to peds 2,4, and 6, load switch for peds 2,4, and 6 were not in place on back panel, replaced load switch for ped 2, ped 6 all good, ped 4 sent intersection into flash, checked for shorted wires for ped 4 inside of cabinet and found shorted wire for ped 4, fixed problem and installed load switch for ped 4, all peds are working for 2,4, and 6
In other words, the City of Houston fixed the pedestrian signal just on hour and 11 minutes after I reported. Thatʼs not at all what I expected.
Itʼs very tempting for me to start walking around my neighborhood and reporting all kinds of problems to 311. But this city is not a well-maintained city, and doing so would be a full-time job. So Iʼll keep reporting problems here and there, and know that I played a small role in making this town a little less run-down.
On my evening promenade, I came across this stained glass window above one of the entrances to one of the Chase buildings in downtown Houston.
It looks like a battle scene, and this being Houston, that means itʼs probably San Jacinto, or the Alamo, Goliad. Or maybe one of the other Texas battles that are less famous and didnʼt get their own state park, tourist attraction, or flag.
The Houston Police Department has its own museum. Your reaction to that may indicate where you were raised.
Iʼm East Coast, so I had never heard of such a thing until I started exploring the west. The first police museum I came across was in Phoenix. But it seems the concept has spread across the country, and a police museum even opened in New York in 1998.
When I last lived in Houston, the Midtown neighborhood was also known as Little Saigon. Youʼd never know it today.
Most of the streets had Vietnamese street signs, there were at least a half-dozen Vietnamese restaurants, plus supermarkets, general stores, social clubs, and more. One restaurant was well-known because of its giant sign “Fu Kim.”
Today, thatʼs almost all gone.
This is the only Vietnamese street sign I know of in Midtown. The only other evidence that the area had any Asian influence at all is a peeling sign above an auto repair shop.
Iʼve been told that most of the Vietnamese people moved to the suburbs, but among the people Iʼve spoken with, there doesnʼt seem to be a consensus about why. Some say itʼs because property in Midtown became too expensive, but that seems unlikely, as itʼs still really quite cheap. Others say itʼs because the initial wave of post-Vietnam War immigrants became assimilated, and as they became upwardly mobile, they pursued the American dream in the ʼburbs.
Buildings do a great job of preserving history, if you know how to read them. A building may change owners, colors, and names, but its height, setbacks, floor spacing, materials, and other fundamentals can tell you a lot about it.
In some cases, buildings wear their history on their sleeves. 3100 Travis in Midtown Houston is one of those. Above what used to be the main entrance is a nice Texas-flavored bas relief featuring an oil well, and what may either be a pipeline or a railroad connecting McAllen with New York.
A lot of early- and mid-20th-century architectural decoration featured allegories, often of “Progress” or “Commerce” or “Engineering.” I donʼt know which allegorical figure this is supposed to be, but this is Texas, so heʼs riding a horse.
Itʼs nice to see a TV station with a streetfront studio. They were in fashion in the 1990ʼs, and most large markets had at least one. They were a way to showcase the station in high-traffic areas, similar to the way big consumer brands like Starbucks, Hershey, and Nokia build flagship stores on busy tourist streets to serve as 3D interactive billboards.
The first one I saw was at KSDK/Saint Louis in 1994. Chicago is a walking town, so by the early 2000ʼs, several radio and television stations built their own. WLS-TV, WMAQ-TV, WBBM-TV, and WGN radio all had them. WKQX radio had one in the Merchandise Mart, but since the Mart doesnʼt have much of a street-level presence, it faced inside, where all the office workers could see it. WLUP radio and WFLD television each did something similar at Michigan Plaza, but while the radio stationʼs version was well done, it was hard to find. The TV station never really pulled it off. Even Loyola Universityʼs WULW/Chicago, and its student TV station had a streetfront studio.
The last time I checked, both WLS-TV and WBBM-TV have let their former showcase spaces deteriorate, and theyʼre not much of a draw anymore. WGN radio was still using its space in Tribune Tower extensively, but no longer 24 hours a day. WGN had an interesting gimmick where a microphone was suspended outside of the studio, and the talk show hosts would occasionally engage members of the public.
A similar setup was featured in a Tony Hillerman book, outside of KNDN/Farmington. Itʼs possible that it was real, since the Hillerman books tend to be more fact than fiction.
When I was at WGN-TV we longed for a streetfront studio, like the big stations downtown. But we were way out in North Central, pretty much half-way out of town. When WGN radio opened its showcase studio, we were jealous, since the space next to WGNʼs studio was originally designed to be a TV studio, and itʼs where WGN-TV was located until it moved out of downtown in the 1960ʼs. We always thought that space should rightly be a TV studio again, especially with all of our competitors opening shiny new studios all over downtown.
That never happened, because the people who owned the TV station at the time thought the prime downtown location was better used as retail space, then a museum, then retail space, and then left empty.
The picture above is KHOU/Houstonʼs downtown streetfront studio, and the woman in front of it is anchor Shern-Min Chow. We worked together for about five years, and she was always nice to me, but I donʼt think sheʼd remember me, so I didnʼt say hi.
When I was at KHOU, we prided ourselves on the fact that we were the only TV station downtown. All the others were half-way out of town, and when important things happened, we were usually better positioned to get to the news before everyone else.
Since then, KHOU has moved even farther away from downtown than the other stations. Its main studio is in the Galleria Area, but at least this satellite studio gets daily use. The only TV station that does local news thatʼs farther away is KIAH/Houston, but its news product is a very faded shadow of what it was when I was there.
Carnival food can be really awful, but the pizza on a stick at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is really good. Flavorful, moist, and easy to handle without getting greasy. The amount of pizza you get on a single stick is a full meal, so as carnival food goes, itʼs good value for money.
Iʼve never understood the appeal of what are called “alternative” milks. In ordinary life, I try to avoid processed food, and with the exception of fake meat, pretend milk is probably the most processed food on the planet.
I have a fasination with farms, so I like to watch the farm life demonstrations at the rodeo that are intended for children, but instructive for those of us who grew up playing on concrete and asphalt.
This demonstration was about how to milk a cow, but I was drawn to the banner nearby that compared cowʼs milk with various nut milk. Itʼs a little hard to see in the picture, so Iʼve reproduced the information here:
If you're viewing this on a mobile phone, you won't be able to see the table until you hold your phone horizontally. That's because tables look like absolute pants on phones.
What's interesting to me about the table is the highlighted numbers. The highlights indicate that those nutrients occur in the milk naturally. In cases where a nutrient is not highlighted, that means itʼs added when the food is processed. So while the nut milks have five percent more riboflavin than cowʼs milk, the cowʼs milk has it naturally. Itʼs not added at a factory.
Why does it matter? Some people think that the body absorbs nutrients better if they come from nature, not a pill. Which may explain why my doctor encouraged me to eat certain foods, rather than take a supplement, when I was found to be a bit short on a particular vitamin.
I wonʼt pretend that cowʼs milk is the perfect food, but itʼs good to have information to compare, especially if youʼre more worried about carbohydrates than calories. Or potassium instead of fat.
On the other hand, the U.S. Army thinks the cowʼs milk is almost the perfect food. When I was in R.O.T.C., we were taught that if we were ever trapped behind enemy lines, try to find a cow because with cowʼs milk and iron tablets, you can live for a very long time.