BlathrWayne Lorentz

Showing blathrs with the tag “Downtown Houston.”

Sparkly

Friday, November 4th, 2022 Alive 18,819 days

Christmas lights on Main Street in Houston

November 4th, and the Christmas lights are up on Main Street.

Iʼm O.K. with that.

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Fountains of pain

Thursday, June 16th, 2022 Alive 18,678 days

The Main Street Square fountains are being tested again. These have been broken for the entire year Iʼve lived in Texas, and who knows for how long before that.

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5th floor: Acme Piano Moviers

Friday, May 13th, 2022 Alive 18,644 days

The Steinway Center

Today I found out there is a Steinway store down the street. I have mixed feelings about this.

On the plus side, itʼs a sign of culture and civilization, and all of the aspirational things in life.

On the other hand, a lifetime of watching Looney Tunes has taught me that there is a 90% chance of a coyote dropping a piano on my head if I walk on this side of the street.

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Row, row, row your boat

Sunday, May 1st, 2022 Alive 18,632 days

People kayaking on Buffalo Bayou in the shadow of downtown Houston

Itʼs still a bit strange for me to see people leisurely recreating along and on top of Buffalo Bayou. When I lived in Houston twenty years ago, it would be unthinkable. The bayou was considered so filthy that people treated it the same way children do when they play the hot lava game hopping around on the living room furniture.

Now I see people boating, fishing, and generally having a good time along a waterway that a generation ago was verboten.

According to the bayouʼs 2001 Master Plan Project document, itʼs 13½ feet deep downtown. That same document also states that there is an E.P.A. Superfund hazardous waste site a half-mile downstream from this location containing “arsenic, chromium, cobalt, lead, copper, and nickel.” Yum.

Maybe thatʼs been cleaned up in the last 20 years. Maybe the document is correct in stating that somehow, in spite of regular bombardment by hurricanes, tropical storms, and other severe weather that the bad stuff somehow never leaches into the bayou. Or maybe Iʼll just stay out of the water for now. If the hazardous waste doesnʼt get me, a buffalo gar will.

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Hang in there

Sunday, May 1st, 2022 Alive 18,632 days

An ambitious plant

Come on, Mr. Plant! Only 27 feet to go! Streeeeeetch!

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Poor little feller

Wednesday, April 20th, 2022 Alive 18,621 days

A scared opossum

Not every creature of the night makes it back home before the commuters arrive. I came across this opossum cowering in a nook of One Shell Plaza.

The security guard says it happens a lot. He called someone to remove the critter, but that was hours ago, and no one has shown up. So the terrified thing cowers in the corner, intermittently shivering and hissing. Iʼd probably do the same thing, if I was him.

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Discovery “Green”

Friday, April 15th, 2022 Alive 18,616 days

Discovery Green

Discovery Green at night. You canʼt see the park for all the lights and buildings, which is mostly true durng the day, as well. There is a trend in modern park design to over-build in order to make a single park everything for everybody. The result is that very often, as in the case of Discovery Green, it ceases to be a park and is transformed into a playground for adults.

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Twinkle twinkle

Friday, April 15th, 2022 Alive 18,616 days

Downtown Houston at night
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That would do it

Friday, April 15th, 2022 Alive 18,616 days

The pool at One Park Plaza

How to get yourself un-invited from future gatherings at One Park Plaza:

“Hey, did you know your pool is shaped like a penis?”

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Pane point

Saturday, March 12th, 2022 Alive 18,582 days

Stained glass above an entrance to a Chase building

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.

There were so many battles in Texas, that thereʼs an entire Wikipedia article just for the ones fought during the Texas Revolution.

I know there are lots of plaques inside this building, so one of them could probably clue me in. But itʼs Saturday night, and Chase is closed.

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Cop shop

Saturday, March 12th, 2022 Alive 18,582 days

The Houston Police Museum

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.

I wonder if thereʼs a gift shop.

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Tulip service

Saturday, February 26th, 2022 Alive 18,568 days

A Metro light rail train passes red tulips at Main Street Square

There are parts of Houston that are really ugly. But there are also parts that are really pretty, and very often those are places where the city has made an effort to plant flowers.

I wandered through Main Street Square in the rain today, and the flowers are in full bloom.

Flowers at Main Street Square in downtown Houston
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Whatabasement

Friday, February 11th, 2022 Alive 18,553 days

The Whataburger restaurant in the basement of 1000 Main in downtown Houston

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.

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Finders keepers

Wednesday, February 9th, 2022 Alive 18,551 days

A bird trying to open a plastic baggie to get to a peanut butter sandwich

I think someone leaves peanut butter sandwiches around for the homeless people in my neighborhood.

I think someone doesnʼt realize that grackles love peanut butter sandwiches, and are really quite clever.

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Note to self: Let it go to voice mail

Friday, February 4th, 2022 Alive 18,546 days

Fire trucks. Many many fire trucks.

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.

That train isnʼt going anywhere
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Someoneʼs gotta do it

Wednesday, January 19th, 2022 Alive 18,530 days

Coffee from The Italian Job

When I think of fine coffees, I donʼt usually think of Michael Caine and Benny Hill. But I might from now on.

Thereʼs a coffee shop down the street called The Italian Job. Itʼs run by a couple of guys from Italy who decided that Houston could do with a bit of civilization, and decided to contribute by importing enormous chrome-plated espresso machines.

Itʼs located in one of the new skyscraper apartment buildings, and across the street from a park, so it has an audience built-in. But it looks more like a bar than a coffee shop, and based on the paraphernalia behind the counter, Iʼd say that booze is its bread and butter.

Still, you never see a bar without coffee, and if youʼre going to be the sober one in the bunch, the coffee proffered here is really quite good.

The space is tight, which is great for rubbing elbows on a night out on the town, but not so great for people trying to dodge COVID in the middle of the day, so I got mine to go.

It's a quality brew, made in the Italian tradition — meaning produced in no absolutely no hurry. This isnʼt Naples, so itʼs an indication of care, not contempt. And the extra time comes through in the flavor. This is not push-button global chain espresso.

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Discover where the green went

Tuesday, January 11th, 2022 Alive 18,522 days

A mini-golf course at Discovery Green

I donʼt understand the stewardship philosophy of the people who run Discovery Green. Thatʼs why Iʼm not surprised to see that one of the worldʼs largest entertainment conglomerates has been allowed to bogart public space to promote one of its brands.

A Pixar-themed miniature golf course is now squatting on one of the few green parcels of Discovery Green. Why? Presumably in the name of holy, sacred “programming.”

Iʼve been to a lot of municipal meetings where the people who run parks talk about how they run them. Invariably they talk about how the park should be “programmed.” These days they also call it “activation.” Same meaningless buzzword. Different generation.

Discovery Green is already over-programmed. There's webcams, movie nights, concerts, restaurants, promenades, temporary ice rinks, a model boat basin, a splash pad, a playground, a climbing hill, a pond, a parking garage, a wall of fame, a jogging trail, multiple seating platforms, a solar array, a shuffleboard court, chess tables, picnic tables, a dog park, bocce courts, a bandstand, art installations, a giant mister, a putting green, flea markets, a library, reading rooms, and probably many other things I havenʼt stumbled across yet.

Discovery Green should pick a couple of things and do them well, rather than shoehorn 30 different things into less than a dozen acres poorly. Let another park have some of the action. Itʼs not like most of Houston doesnʼt need more parks.

More to the point — whatʼs wrong with a park being a park? Whatʼs wrong with trees and grass and flowers and birds? Is there no room anymore for rest, contemplation, and refuge? Urban parks were invented to give people a break from city life. But most new parks are built for engagement, experience, and social media — All of the things for which parks should be an antidote, not a vector.

A Pixar Putt storage container at Discovery Green
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You do that

Tuesday, December 28th, 2021 Alive 18,508 days

The roof of The Star

I shall work here today.

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A gaggle of grackles

Thursday, December 23rd, 2021 Alive 18,503 days

Grackles having a meeting

I know that a group of crows is called a “murder,” and a group of ravens is called an “unkindness.” So I shall coin the term “an arrogance of grackles.”

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You got any Chipwiches?

Sunday, December 12th, 2021 Alive 18,492 days

An ice cream truck parked in front of Houston City Hall

If the ice cream man does brisk business in December, you might live in Houston.

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Underground history

Tuesday, November 9th, 2021 Alive 18,459 days

A slice of the Hotel Cotton underneath downtown Houston

If you wander through the tunnels under downtown Houston, you might run across this. Itʼs a slice of the old Cotton Hotel, preserved underneath the skyscraper known as 811 Main.

Thereʼs a plaque nearby which explains:

This façade belonged to the historic Hotel Cotton, built in 1913 on the southwest corner of Rusk and Fannin. The majority of the façade is from the original building, yet severe damage to the façade later in the hotelʼs history necessitated part of the structure be recreated.

The 11-story Hotel Cotton was developed by Almon Cotton, a wealthy, investment-loan man from Colorado. When the Cotton first opened its doors on Saturday, March 1, 1913, people called the building sensational — it was the first hotel in downtown Houston with a bath in all 152 rooms! Although it was located in what some still considered the countryside (the city had to clear weeds on adjacent land), the Cotton charged very high rates at $1.50 per room and had steady business from the start. The neighboring Stowers Furniture Company building, which still stands today, supplied the first furniture for the Cotton. One Houston newspaper later branded the Cotton as the “Shamrock of 1913,” which exemplifies its luxurious and impressive modernity at the time.

Soon after its opening, the Cotton passed through a series of owners, where its name was eventually changed to the Montagu Hotel. After falling into extreme disrepair, the hotel was demolished on January 20, 2007.

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Bee bum

Friday, October 8th, 2021 Alive 18,427 days

A bee jamming itself inside a flower

I spent a bit of today watching the bees toil outside of the Houston City Hall Annex.

Iʼve been told that the big bees, like this one, are locals. Itʼs the small bees that are migratory.

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Your tax dollars flushed

Friday, September 17th, 2021 Alive 18,406 days

Rome is renowned as the city of fountains. Itʼs my understanding that Kansas City also considers itself a city of fountains. Houston, on the other hand, is a city of dead fountains.

When I last lived in Houston, the city had recently spent millions sprucing up a slice of downtown, filling it with imaginative fountains, and declaring it “The Cotswold District” in sign and literature.

Ignoring the absurdity of the cognomen, what happened after that is a typical Houston story. Nobody maintained the fountains. Today, there are over a dozen of these bulky, trash-filled wrecks beached across half as many city blocks.

I wrote to my city council representative asking what happened, and didnʼt get a response. I guess he doesnʼt need my vote.

I asked some of the locals about it, and they told me that fountains downtown are a bad idea from the start because homeless people will just use them for bathing. OK, I understand that. But the problem isnʼt the fountains, itʼs that youʼre not taking care of your homeless people. Homeless people sleep on the streets, too. Does that mean we shouldnʼt have streets anymore?

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Still waters

Thursday, September 16th, 2021 Alive 18,405 days

Main Street Square

A quiet evening at Main Street Square in downtown Houston.

Itʼs quiet because the Main Street Square fountains are broken. And have been for at least several months, if not longer.

Have I mentioned that Houston is a city where everything is broken all the time?

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Use your noodle

Tuesday, September 14th, 2021 Alive 18,403 days

The Market Square Tower pool

They threw the deck chairs into the pool at Market Square Tower to keep them from blowing away in the storm.

They hung the pool over the public sidewalk because they like to tempt fate.

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Still better mileage than a Chevy Suburban

Sunday, August 15th, 2021 Alive 18,373 days

A mechanized street cleaning contraption

In most cities, they have people pushing brooms to clean the streets. But this is Houston, so “Letʼs see if thereʼs a way we can do this sitting down while burning dead dinosaurs.”

If you put that thing in reverse, does it spew out everything its Hoovered up?

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Coffee cops

Saturday, August 14th, 2021 Alive 18,372 days

A sign advertising free coffee for police officers, firefighters, and hospital workers

Thereʼs a weird kind of hybrid bar -slash- epicurean bodega near my home called District Market that gives free coffee to cops and other essential workers. Thatʼs nice.

People make a lot of jokes about cops and doughnut shops thinking that itʼs nothing more than a lame stereotype, but few understand that thereʼs a historical reason for that association.

America used to be littered with all-night coffee shops. This was because people used to stay out later, as they didnʼt have much entertainment at home. People also used to work later because a lot of once-massive industries demanded it. And more people worked overnight shifts than they do now. Stopping at a coffee shop or a diner on the way home at 2am was a perfectly normal thing to do. People also used to work harder, so in some cities there were 24-hour cheap steak joints, but thatʼs a story for another time.

Because these coffee shops were open in the small hours, they were often the targets of criminals. A clever way to attract police officers to your late-night noshery in order to repel criminals was to offer the badged free coffee, and sometimes free doughnuts.

Whether District Market is giving away free coffee in lieu of paying for improved security doesnʼt really matter, because itʼs still a nice thing to do. And the whole notion of “free coffee” which used to be ubiquitous in American society has almost disappeared today.

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That first step is a doozy

Friday, August 13th, 2021 Alive 18,371 days

Doors cut into the side of the Southwestern Bell building

The Southwestern Bell building across the street has a channel in it that was once populated by windows. Then the windows were converted into doors. And now theyʼre death traps.

Amazingly, I occasionally see people open these doors and stand next to the abyss smoking. The crush out their cigarettes on the historic brick facade.

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