BlathrWayne Lorentz

Showing blathrs with the tag “Texas.”

And wrikles, like you

Sunday, November 6th, 2022 Alive 18,821 days

Tina the lizard

Today I got a good look at Tina, the lizard who lives in my garden.

She has blue eyes, like my wife.

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Fluff and fold

Sunday, November 6th, 2022 Alive 18,821 days

The header from the Potter Country Storeʼs web site

While I appreciate the Potter Country Store being creative with its web site, I donʼt think a laundry basket is quite the right icon for a virtual shopping cart.

Unless they use laundry baskets to do their shopping in Schulenburg, Texas. You never know. People in Pennsylvania call shopping carts “buggies.”

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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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Warming her cockles

Friday, October 28th, 2022 Alive 18,812 days

Tima the lizard on a light bulb

Itʼs chilly today, so Tina is warming herself on a lightbulb in my garden.

Tina the lizard hugs a lightbulb for warmth
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Brown thumb

Thursday, October 27th, 2022 Alive 18,811 days

A statue of Mary of the Missing Hands in my garden

Autumn is here. Time to replace all the plants in my garden that were killed by the Texas summer.

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Come get some dinner

Thursday, October 27th, 2022 Alive 18,811 days

Tina the lizard in the garden

There is a new visitor to the garden these days. Her name is Tina. Today I saw her leap from a pot onto a flower and eat a fly. Good lizard.

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Try a Clié

Thursday, October 27th, 2022 Alive 18,811 days

The University of Houston/Downtown web site

I know that Iʼm not perfect. I know that while I think my web sites work on every device, thereʼs probably a configuration out there on which they fall over. But the University of Houston/Downtown really has no excuse for this.

How is it possible for an organization to put out a public web site in 2022 that doesnʼt work on mobile phones? Itʼs bad enough that this page from UH/D is cut off on the right side, but there is no way to even scroll to the right to see whatʼs missing! And this is on a recent iPhone, not some obscure open source homebrew kit.

I preview every single web page I build for desktop, tablet, and two mobile phones. Every one. Sometimes dozens each week.

The University of Houston/Downtown brags that itʼs the second-largest university in Americaʼs fourth-largest city. Surely, someone on campus must have a smart phone to test with.

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Itʼs Chik-fil-a

Wednesday, October 26th, 2022 Alive 18,810 days

An unemployed Chick-fil-a menu board

Today I learned that you can get Chick-fil-a to set up shop at your festival in the middle of nowhere.

By the time I got there, the chicken had run out, and all that was left was a folded-up tent, and signs advertising all of the chicken I couldnʼt eat.

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The hawks are circling

Wednesday, October 26th, 2022 Alive 18,810 days

Chairs in a hay field with birds of prey circling

Tired of being outstanding in your field? Now you can be out sitting in your field.

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Mill that wind

Wednesday, October 26th, 2022 Alive 18,810 days

A windmill in Central Texas

Off-the-grid green sustainable energy? Sounds like what farmers, ranchers, and others have been doing for the last 500 years.

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Nice back focus

Wednesday, October 26th, 2022 Alive 18,810 days

A cup of coffee in Central Texas

Todayʼs coffee is “Coffee,” possibly from Celebration Catering.

I write “possibly” because I donʼt have any pictures of the folding table from which the coffee was vended, but “Celebration” seems familiar, and the “Catering” portion, Iʼm sure is right.

This is the coffee that was on offer at The Compound, a ranch-themed events center in Round Top, Texas. The other option was “Decaf.”

The coffee is good. Smooth but weak, like that guy in high school who was always convinced that he was a ladies man, and tried too hard. I added some French vanilla creamer, which improved the texture a bit. The same would not have helped my high school friend.

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Sweet potato you got there

Thursday, October 20th, 2022 Alive 18,804 days

An out-of-control potato

A neighbor I’ve never met before knocked on my door tonight and gave me this. She’s moving out, and found it in her refrigerator. She’s admired the garden on my balcony, and thought I might take care of it, since she’s leaving.

Over my wife’s objections, I have put it in a pot with some dirt, and we’ll see what happens when it has sunlight to work with, and not just the dim bulb of a refrigerator.

I can’t imagine what the rest of her refrigerator looks like.

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You wrote “cut the cheese”

Tuesday, October 18th, 2022 Alive 18,802 days

A pizza vending machine

What kind of a person eats pizza from a vending machine? Well… me.

Thereʼs a pizza ATM across the street from my home now, so I tried it for lunch, and it wasn't bad. It wasn't excellent, but it's pizza from a vending machine, not a bistro in Ischia Porte. I don't think anyone who knowingly buys pizza from a vending machine is in a place to complain about quality. Not even on the internet.

There are seven pizzas to choose from. I went with pepperoni because it's a good basic benchmark.

After three minutes, the machine ejects a pizza, like a 1981 Sanyo VCR. The result is not perfect, but it's perfectly edible.

There wasn't much pepperoni flavor. Perhaps some of the other choices are a little more pronounced. But the crust was quite good. Overall, it reminds me of pizza from the California chain Pieology.

The downside is that all you get is a pizza. If you don't already have a drink, that might be problematic. I happened to have a bottle of water with me, just like I knew what I was doing.

Enjoying a fresh pizza on a bench in an alley surrounded by old lady county employees sucking on Swisher Sweets.

I took my pizza to the Harris County Employee Smoking Lounge (a.k.a. the alley by the sally[port]), and it managed to stay hot and crispy the whole way there.

I suspect the vending machine isnʼt doing too bad. I saw someone leaving with a pizza as I was walking toward it. When I was waiting for the bake, someone asked me about it. And when I was coming back from eating, there was a young couple waiting for their Hawaiian pie to cook. Thatʼs three customers in about 40 minutes. Not bad for an out-of-the-way location with zero advertising.

Protip: There's a slot on the machine that has cello-wrapped plastic knives. Take one. The crust is pre-sliced before the pizza bakes, so the cheese runs across the seams, and you'll have to cut the cheese to get pie-shaped wedges out of it.

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Monday, October 17th, 2022 Alive 18,801 days

Sunset reflected in 609 Main
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Not even Dallas

Saturday, October 8th, 2022 Alive 18,792 days

All of the washer fluid is only for places where it never gets below 32°.

If Walmart only sells washer fluid that freezes, you might live in Houston.

Also, donʼt drive anywhere else.

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Zzzz shell

Monday, September 26th, 2022 Alive 18,780 days

A turtle on a rock in the sun in the Japanese Garden at Hermann Park

One of the best features of the Sunday Morning program on CBS is the part at the end where we get to see some part of the natural world. No lasers. No music. No talking heads. Just birds, and plants, and bees, and animals doing what they're meant to do.

While CBS has slashed the time devoted to that segment each week from minutes down to mere seconds, other television stations like KHOU/Houston and Sky News, have started adding these segments.

As a former television producer, I know that in addition to be beautiful and memorable and giving people a reason to stop and stare, these segments with soft ending times are useful for padding out a short show, or sacrificing so that I can cram in some last-minute story.

With the infinite resources of the intarweb, there's no need to cut nautre for time. So here is my gift to you: A turtle being all turtle-y in Hermann Park. Watch as long as you like.

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We named the dog Pepita

Sunday, September 25th, 2022 Alive 18,779 days

Two packages of pumpkin seeds from H.E.B.

I havenʼt lived in Texas long enough to consistently remember that some items in the supermarket are cheaper if theyʼre labeled in Spanish.

For example, here are two packages of bulk pumpkin seeds from H.E.B. The ones I bought on the 17th were the Spanish-labeled ones and cost $6.98 per pound.

A week later, I bought more pumpkin seeds, but accidentally got them from the English-labeled bin, so I ended up paying $7.98 a pound.

I initially noticed this while in the store because the two bins are near one another, which is why I picked the Spanish ones last time.

I suppose there are plenty of ways to get all angry and political about this, but Iʼm not. I find it amusing, and yet another one of the quirks of living Lone Star.

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Weʼre number what?

Monday, September 12th, 2022 Alive 18,766 days

Those Methodists make a fine cup of coffee

Iʼm always trying to explain to my coworkers the importance of future-proofing what you publish.

Here we see a happy coffee sleeve touting Houston Methodist Hospitalʼs rank as the number 16 hospital in the nation. Except that it isnʼt.

Methodist is actually number 15. Sixteen was last year. But some middle manager thought it was a good idea to order fifty brazillion coffee sleeves flogging the #16 position, and now itʼs stuck under-bragging until they run out.

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Remember the flavor of the Alamo

Friday, September 2nd, 2022 Alive 18,756 days

“Taste of San Antonio” coffee

If youʼve ever wondered what San Antonio tastes like, H.E.B. has you covered.

Taste of San Antonio sounds like a Summer food festival, but it's actually a flavor of coffee, available in regular, decaf, K-cups, and decaf K-cups, for those of you care more about the look of your coffee maker than the quality of the coffee it spits out.

Apparently, San Antonio is “Medium-bodied with cinnamon, chocolate and vanilla flavors.” I only know one person in San Antonio, and Iʼd say that describes her correctly.

It's both naturally, and artificially flavored. For your safety.

To me, it tastes a bit like Biscochito coffee from Piñon Coffee in Albuquerque. But weaker. But that last part might just be because itʼs from a supermarket, and not a place that draws milk foam cowboys on top of your drink.

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Leaf me alone

Friday, August 19th, 2022 Alive 18,742 days

A cup of coffee with leaf latte art from Greenway Coffee

I wonder what kind of leaf this is. To me, it looks like a philodendron, left in the corner office of a skyscraper after everyoneʼs switched to work-from-home.

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“G” is for “coffee”

Wednesday, August 17th, 2022 Alive 18,740 days

A cup of Greenway Coffee coffee from Greenway Coffee

I tried Greenway Coffee for the first time today. Itʼs a solid cup of joe. Better than some, but not as good as others. But in its favor, it's on Main Street in downtown Houston; and the price is a little bit less than the Starbucks 40 feet away.

I recommend the Texas honey and somethingorother. That's what I got. Too bad I donʼt remember what itʼs called.

Bean bags are on the pricey side — running ~$20. But that includes a free cup of coffee, which brings the price down closer to $15. Which isnʼt awful in 2022.

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More like an onion

Wednesday, August 17th, 2022 Alive 18,740 days

Latte art from Greenway Coffee. I think it looks a bit like the iris growing in my garden.

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Thereʼs a fungus among us

Wednesday, August 17th, 2022 Alive 18,740 days

Mushrooms in Hermann Park

I donʼt know if thereʼs too much water, or too much mulch on this hillock, but either way the result is a ʼshroom with a view!

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Playgrounds never change

Wednesday, August 17th, 2022 Alive 18,740 days

Ducks in Hermann Park

This reminds me of the old song from The Electric Company (or maybe it was Sesame Street?):

One of these kids is not like the others
One of these kids is not the same
One of these kids does not belong
Do you know his name?

Ducks can be cruel.

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Failsourcing

Sunday, August 14th, 2022 Alive 18,737 days

Picture of a Chinese city in the Apple Maps entry for Midland, Texas

Crowdsourcing used to be all the rage in the tech industry. It was a way to get content for your project for free. Use your automation system to ask enough people for content, and some small percentage will happy oblige. The problem with crowdsourcing is quality control.

If you let anyone contribute anything, anyone will contribute anything. I once built a crowdsourced system for people to share photographs of landmarks. A significant percentage of the photos contributed were people standing in front of a camera holding up their resumes, presumably hoping that someone searching for a photo of the Berlin Wall might magically hire them to write code in India.

In the example above, we see the result of two levels of folly. Getty Images allows anyone to upload photographs to its system in order to sell those pictures to other people. That's the crowdsourcing. Then Apple outsourced photography for Apple Maps to a bunch of entities, including Wikipedia, TripAdvisor, and also Getty Images.

The result is a photo of a city in China among the photographs that are supposed to depict the West Texas city of Midland.

Never trust content you don't control.

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Where the big boys are

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive 18,733 days

IAH

Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), as seen from a plane that just left Hobby Airport (HOU).

They're only about 17 miles apart, but Iʼve flown between them a few times.

In the 1990's there was a bit of a kerfuffle when Bush Airport raised its parking rates. People were mad. Like Texas mad. Because in Texas, parking is virtually a human right.

To capitalize on this, hometown flyer Continental Airlines offered a promo: Fly with Continental from Bush, and you can park at the much cheaper (my memory says it might have even been free) Hobby Airport. Continental would fly you from the smaller airport to the larger one to catch your real flight.

The magic of this was that, at the time, airlines would give you 500 frequent flyer miles just for getting off the ground. I was able to bank several thousand frequent flyer miles just hopping back-and-forth between IAH and HOU on my way to other cities. This was back when frequent flyer miles meant something, and werenʼt just Monopoly money.

One day as my flight from HOU to IAH was getting ready to take off, the plane taking off ahead of us crashed. We were still on the taxiway, so you could see the wreckage right there.

It was a small non-commercial plane, but that didnʼt make any of us passengers feel better because the Continental flight was a puddle-jumper so small that it only had seats on one side.

After a delay, we ended up taking off from another runway. Since then, my flights have been mostly uneventful. As they should be.

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I can see my house from here

Tuesday, August 9th, 2022 Alive 18,732 days

Downtown Houston, Texas at sunrise

7:14am, over downtown Houston.

It makes me think of the Poirot line, “Old sins cast long shadows.”

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I can see my luggage from here

Tuesday, August 9th, 2022 Alive 18,732 days

Houston Hobby airport from the air

Flying over Houston Hobby Airport (HOU). Much improved over the last time I flew from there.

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That mat is going to melt

Saturday, August 6th, 2022 Alive 18,729 days

A woman all alone yogaing on the roof

I understand that hot yoga is trendy, but I'm not sure that doing poses on the roof of a concrete parking garage when it's 103° with 80% humidity is a great idea.

Still, nice day for it.

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Electrifying

Monday, July 25th, 2022 Alive 18,717 days

The roof of a Houston Metro light rail train

Have you ever wondered what the top of a light rail train looks like?

Youʼre welcome.

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Do what?

Wednesday, July 20th, 2022 Alive 18,712 days

Street signs embedded into various sidewalk corners in Midtown Houston — poorly

When I lived in Houston the first time, there were many streets in Midtown that still had their historic tile mosaic street signs intact. In the decades I was away, the streets of Midtown were rebuilt, and the old curb signs removed so that the sidewalks could meet A.D.A. standards. Fortunately, the City of Houston decided that instead of throwing away the historic mosaics, it would embed them into the face of the sidewalks to preserve them.

The results is bad. Really bad. What you see above is the result of two things I've observed:

  1. There is a very common attitude of “good enough” in the greater Houston area, where people will do a half-ass job and if it's good enough, consider it the same thing as done well.
  2. You canʼt tell someone to arrange tiles in a “checkerboard” pattern because a surprising number of people have never played checkers, and donʼt know what a checker board is.

The first point I've learned from actual people. Iʼve met a number of people with this “good enough” attitude, and lack of pride in the things they do. One guy who thought this way bought his wife a used iron from eBay because he thought it was a “good enough” anniversary present.

The second point, I discovered while trying to explain the situation with mining rights on the checkerboard sections of the Navajo Nation. The person I was speaking with had no concept of what I was saying until I showed her what it looked like on a map. Until then, she had no reference for “checkers” or “checkerboard.”

I suspect what happened to the sidewalks of Midtown was a combination of a lack of pride in one's work, combined with a lack of basic knowledge. The result is that it makes the City of Houston, and its people, look stupid to anyone who uses a sidewalk in Midtown.

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Boy, howdy

Saturday, July 2nd, 2022 Alive 18,694 days

A wet wipe dispenser sponsored by Energy Texas

If your electric company promotes itself with the slogan “Giddy Up!” you might be in Texas.

And if you trust something as important as electricity to a company that promotes itself with the slogan “Giddy Up!” you get what you deserve.

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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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Thursday, June 2nd, 2022 Alive 18,664 days

The Texas Medical Center, from the 19th floor of one of the hospital towers
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Chocolate rain

Sunday, May 22nd, 2022 Alive 18,653 days

Downtown Houston seen from Amtrakʼs Sunset Limited

White Oak Bayou creeps along in front of the downtown Houston skyline. One of nearly a dozen individual skylines that Houston offers. Itʼs funny that way.

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Head cases

Sunday, May 22nd, 2022 Alive 18,653 days

Mount Rush Hour

If you drive into downtown Houston via I-45 from the north or I-10 from the west, you will be greeted by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Stephen F. Austin, and Sam Houston.

Each of them weigh two tons, and are the work of exurban sculptor David Adickes. He made them, and 39 others, in 2004 for a theme park in Virginia that never opened, so the entire bustle of busts never left Houston.

These four were relocated to a cut-off corner overlooking the freeways at 1400 Elder Street. Officially, itʼs called American Statesman Park. But most commuters know it as Mount Rush Hour.

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It does not look… délicieux

Sunday, May 22nd, 2022 Alive 18,653 days

Coffee service in an Amtrak Sunset Limited sleeper car

I have often said thereʼs no such thing as bad ice cream. The same cannot be said for coffee.

Amtrak coffee is bad. I've had it on the Empire Builder, on the Coast Starlight, on the Hiawatha, on the Lincoln Service, on the Texas Eagle, on the Sunset Limited, and on the Cascades. I keep trying it, but itʼs bad every time.

Government train coffee may be the only drink worse than bank lobby coffee.

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Mortar-bored

Monday, May 16th, 2022 Alive 18,647 days

A woman celebrates on the roof of my parking garage

A young woman celebrates graduation by throwing her cap into the air from a car that my Uncle Eddie would have driven in the 1970's.

His was better because it had curb feelers. Hers is better because itʼs in pristine condition in 2022, while his is probably rusting away at the bottom of Gravesend Bay.

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All hats, no cattle

Sunday, May 15th, 2022 Alive 18,646 days

Cowboys on the roof

It was just this morning I was thinking that I donʼt see so many cowboys in Houston anymore. Then, just before lunch, a clown car full of them drove up to the roof of my parking garage and belched out a whole passel of dudes.

Those are not lampshades in the foreground. Those are the kinds of cases that are used to transport big-ticket cowboy hats on planes. There are cowboy hats that cost more than a MacBook Pro.

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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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Tell me no lies

Wednesday, May 4th, 2022 Alive 18,635 days

A cup of 3Fibs coffee

3Fibs is the sort of coffee joint that Iʼd love to love, but I canʼt. Itʼs just not for me.

Although I consume about a hogshead worth of coffee each month, itʼs rarely of the highest quality, never made correctly, and certainly not tasted with the care and respect it deserves. I brew with a Keurig, for Godʼs sake.

I like sweet, and chocolate, and filberts, and all those things that made Starbucks famous, and drive absolutists absolutely mad.

3Fibs is expert-level coffee. The menu is sparse. There are no flavorings. There is no Frappuccino, or its equivalent. Itʼs coffee for people who are serious about coffee. Thatʼs not me, but I'm glad that there are people out there who are defenders of the faith. Without them, there would be no caffeine coattails for sots like me to ride upon.

The space has a good vibe. Very much a coffee house, and not a café, or a store. And the baristas manage to be both friendly and knowledgeable without also being condescending. Those three attributes rarely go together, and disappear altogether as you progress northwestward within the continental United States.

The coffee was good. I think. Very strong. But it was obvious that this was a drink that I donʼt have the refined taste buds to appreciate.

The exterior of 3Fibs Coffee on Main Street in Houston
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🌩🌩🌩

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

Downtown Houston during a thunderstorm

You know what Iʼm doing right now? Hiding under a big tree during a thunderstorm.

You know what youʼre absolutely not supposed to do during a thunderstorm? Hide under a big tree.

Every once in a while, I see someone on the news who got killed while hiding under a tree during a thunderstorm. But man, once those fat drops start pummeling you, instinct kicks in.

More intelligent was the couple down the hill that turned a picnic blanket into a tarp and laid on the ground to wait out the storm. Smart people. Soggy, but smart.

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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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Honk!

Saturday, April 30th, 2022 Alive 18,631 days

Aggressive geese

You know what happens when geese lose their fear of people? They stand on your foot and rip a page out of the paperback youʼre trying to read. Naughty goose.

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The smell of a bakery?

Saturday, April 30th, 2022 Alive 18,631 days

The Japanese garden at Hermann Park

Grass, flowers, turtle, rock. Everyoneʼs looking in the same direction. Except for me. Iʼm looking at them looking at something else. Must be quite a show.

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Three

Saturday, April 30th, 2022 Alive 18,631 days

A pair of turtles think deep thoughts in the Japanese garden in Hermann Park

“Hey, Frank.”

“Yeah, Morty.”

“How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”

“Ask Mr. Owl."

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Dumbo gumbo

Wednesday, April 27th, 2022 Alive 18,628 days

Seafood Gumbo at the Grand Galvez Hotel

Me: “I'll start with the seafood gumbo.”

Waitress: “Shrimp, crab, sausage, okra, rice.”

Me: “Shrimp.”

It turns out she wasnʼt asking me what kind of gumbo I wanted, she was listing the ingredients. It has all of those things in it. Lucky for me, she was tactful and didnʼt point out my dumbassery.

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True grits

Wednesday, April 27th, 2022 Alive 18,628 days

Shrimp and grits at the Grand Galvez Hotel

The bowl is deeper than it looks, and submerged beneath the sauce is way more grits than one digestive tract can process.

Shrimp and grits at the Grand Galvez Hotel is Gulf shrimp, smoked cheddar grits, andouille sausage, peppers, and onions under a green chili sauce.

Itʼs food that sticks to your ribs. And your pancreas. And all of the rest of your major organs. A good way to replenish your energy if youʼve just wrestled a shark out of the maw of an alligator while snorkeling off Seawolf Park.

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Lillies, sans water

Wednesday, April 27th, 2022 Alive 18,628 days

Sprouts defy the sun-baked earth

Nature finds a way.

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Murder log at two oʼclock

Wednesday, April 27th, 2022 Alive 18,628 days

An alligator cruises the canal

Itʼs not the ones you can see that you have to worry about. Itʼs the ones you canʼt see.

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A very special set of disposal skills

Wednesday, April 27th, 2022 Alive 18,628 days

A swamp on Lake Anahuac, near Turtle Bayou

I donʼt know why the mob bothers hiding the bodies of its enemies in Indiana corn fields, or New Jersey stadia, or Nevada reservoirs. Chuck a corpse in a gulf coast swamp, and itʼll be chewed up, digested, and reduced to gator nuggets in a matter of hours.

Even if the F.B.I. knows where to look, the agents will be like, “Yeah, weʼll just let them have this one.”

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Radio and records

Tuesday, April 26th, 2022 Alive 18,627 days

The KRBE album The Sound of Houston

I found the record The Sound of Houston at the record store today.

In the early 1980ʼs, KRBE Radio held a contest where its listeners were asked to compose a theme song for the city. The winning entries were then pressed into a record, and 40 years later here they are today — in the value bin, priced at 99¢.

The songs are very very 1980ʼs. Lots of power ballads with saxophones, clarinets, and chimes. Surprisingly few have much of a country twang, but many would fit in with the local TV news themes of the era.

It seems sad that the heartfelt work of a dozen recording hopefuls has been reduced to just 8¼¢ a piece.

Listening with 2022 ears, none of them are very good. But they are an audio time capsule of a certain era, and a certain place.

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But they made you a lilly

Saturday, April 23rd, 2022 Alive 18,624 days

A lilly made of milk foam

Itʼs always a shame when bad people happen to good coffee. That seems to be whatʼs happening at the Canary Cafe location on Fulton just north of Cavalcade.

The store is nice. Good decoration. Good furniture. Even a cozy backyard in which to savor and chill.

The coffee is good. The sweets are excellent. I had something that was something like a cross between a peanut butter sandwich and baklava. Trés scrummy.

But the people running the place donʼt really seem to know what theyʼre doing. Itʼs like they came from another planet where everything they know about serving coffee came from watching reruns of Friends. As if theyʼve never actually been to a coffee shop, themselves.

Maybe itʼs a new location, and these are just growing pains. The newspapers are full of stories about how restaurants canʼt find quality workers, so maybe this is evidence of that problem.

But Iʼll certainly go back. The coffee is solid, and the pastries would make a firefighter bite a Dalmatian. Hopefully, the people problems will be worked out by then.

Peanut butter, then filo, then peanut butter, then filo, then peanut butter…
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Leaving is fundamental

Friday, April 22nd, 2022 Alive 18,623 days

The Twisted Root by Anne Perry, abandoned in Midtown

Someone left this book on a light pole support for any random stranger to find and read.

While I am a random stranger, Iʼm also about 50 books behind on my reading, so Iʼll leave this for someone else.

Itʼs nice to know thereʼs another soul out there who sets books completed free, rather than throwing them in the trash. I leave mine on trains.

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Gas and go

Monday, April 18th, 2022 Alive 18,619 days

If your morning commute involves dodging natural gas tankers, you might be using the Lynchburg Ferry.

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Itʼs the Fuller Brush bug

Monday, April 18th, 2022 Alive 18,619 days

A caterpillar trying to hitch a ride home

Ever meet someone who would not take “no” for an answer? Ever meet a bug like that?

This hairy fellow would not leave me alone. I could have squashed him easily enough, but the birds gotta eat, too. So I just kept moving him to other parts of the picnic table. And every time I did, heʼd come right back and try to read my book with me.

An aggressive caterpillar
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Gone fishinʼ

Monday, April 18th, 2022 Alive 18,619 days

Fishermen on the Houston Ship Channel

Whoʼs richer? The paper pusher trapped in a cubicle in the middle of an anonymous suburban office building, counting the seconds until 5pm, or the people who spend the work day in the sun, setting lines in the water with a cold beer and a transistor radio?

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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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Itʼs not her

Wednesday, April 13th, 2022 Alive 18,614 days

The window at Two Hands Coffee

Hole-in-the-wall joints are very often the best joints. If the food isnʼt great, the atmosphere makes up for it. In the case of Two Hands Coffee, one doesnʼt need to make up for the other, because both are great.

It's a diminutive space. “Small, but perfectly formed,” as the Brits would say. Good coffee. Good service. And speedy.

Also, what do you do when the woman at the coffee window looks exactly like your high school girlfriend who you heard moved to this part of the world? Because that totally didnʼt happen to me.

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Political posies

Tuesday, March 29th, 2022 Alive 18,599 days

Landscaping at Hermann Square, in front of Houston City Hall

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.

Flowers at Houston City Hall
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Funky Tut

Sunday, March 27th, 2022 Alive 18,597 days

A tarted-up ancient Egyptian artifact at the Houston Museum of Natural Science

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.

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The 411 on 311

Friday, March 25th, 2022 Alive 18,595 days

A malfucntioning pedestrian signal

This pedestrian crossing signal works.

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.

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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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Little Saigone

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

Hai Bà Trung Street

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.

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Ride ʼem allegorical cowboy

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

The 3100 Travis Building, with artwork by E.Z. Galea in 1951

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.

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Comes already spiked

Friday, March 11th, 2022 Alive 18,581 days

Prickly pear soda from H.E.B.

If your local supermarket carries soda made from cacti, you might live in Texas.

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Now thatʼs stuck in my head

Saturday, March 5th, 2022 Alive 18,575 days

Whereʼs Lionel says, “Hello. Is it me youʼre looking for?”

Why is Lionel Richie dressed like Whereʼs Waldo?

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Hi, Shern-Min!

Friday, March 4th, 2022 Alive 18,574 days

KHOU/Houstonʼs downtown studio at the George R. Brown Convention Center

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.

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Stick to your ribs

Thursday, March 3rd, 2022 Alive 18,573 days

Pizza on a stick

You know what sounds awful? Pizza on a stick.

You know what is really good? Pizza on a stick!

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.

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Moo, yʼall

Thursday, March 3rd, 2022 Alive 18,573 days

A comparison of various milks

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.

Cowʼs milk Almond “milk” Oat “milk” Soy “milk“
Calories 110 60 130 110
Protein 8 grams 1 gram 4 grams 8 grams
Fat 2½ grams 2½ grams 2½ grams 4½ grams
Carbohydrates 12 grams 8 grams 24 grams 9 grams
Calcium 30% 45% 35% 45%
Phosphorous 25% none none 25%
Potassium 10% 1% none 10%
Riboflavin 25% 30% 30% 30%
Vitamin B12 20% 50% none 50%
Vitamin A 10% 10% 10% 10%
Vitamin D 25% 25% 25% 30%

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.

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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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Ride 'em, cowboy

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

A cowboy taking the train to the rodeo

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.

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Are the beaks “Chicken noses?”

Friday, February 25th, 2022 Alive 18,567 days

“Chicken paws” for sale at H.E.B.

If your local supermarket sells chicken feet labeled “Chicken paws,” you might live in Texas.

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Culinary cartography

Friday, February 25th, 2022 Alive 18,567 days

A waffle maker that makes Texas-shaped waffles

This is pretty much the most Texas thing Iʼve seen today.

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I made a wrong turn at Albuquerque

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022 Alive 18,564 days

Air11 follows trail riders making their way to Houston

Not only do people spend weeks riding their horses to Houston each year, the local TV news monitors their progress.

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D'lish!

Saturday, February 19th, 2022 Alive 18,561 days

Food D'lite in Houstonʼs Harrisburg neighborhood

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.

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Buggy bedsit

Saturday, February 19th, 2022 Alive 18,561 days

There are more creatures living in this eight-ounce, two-day-old mud puddle than in my entire seventeen-story apartment building.

Nature finds a way.

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Howʼs the gift shop?

Saturday, February 19th, 2022 Alive 18,561 days

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.

Plants at the Houston Botanic Garden
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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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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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Saturday, January 1st, 2022 Alive 18,512 days

Annie watching Oliver, a cat in another window
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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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567 feet, 3¾ inches

Tuesday, December 7th, 2021 Alive 18,487 days

The San Jacinto Monument

Lots of Gulf Coast Texans visit the San Jacinto Monument as children on school field trips. But few visit it after that. Which is a shame, because it is as adults that we can best appreciate it.

When youʼre a child, this is just another great big building and what did your mom put in your lunch and what kind of bug is that and Mikey stop pulling Jennyʼs hair or youʼre going back on the bus.

As an adult, you can marvel at the geometry of the enormous star at the top; appreciate the reliefs of the people who laid the foundation for what Texas is today; and study the fossils embedded in the limestone base.

The San Jacinto Monument is 13 feet taller than the Washington Monument. The Texas state capitol in Austin has the same 13-foot supremacy over the U.S. capitol in Washington, DC. But for some reason, while Texans have the remarkable ability to regularly manage to mention the Austin capitolʼs height advantage over the DC capitol, they never mention the monumental difference. Perhaps because it was taught to them as children on a field trip, and theyʼve since forgotten OK thatʼs enough back on the bus Mikey you have detention for the rest of the week.

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Mighty T

Tuesday, December 7th, 2021 Alive 18,487 days

The battleship Texas

For a short while today, Iʼm keeping the battleship Texas company in its slip in Deer Park, off of the Houston Ship Channel.

The battleship was built in 1912, and decommissioned in 1948. It is now a museum, but in such a state of disrepair that it is going to be towed somewhere to be refurbished. That is, if someone can figure out how to do it, and find someone willing to do the repairs. But itʼs my understanding that the money has already been lined up for the project, and usually thatʼs the hardest part.

What is strange to me is that today is December 7th. Itʼs Pearl Harbor Day. But thereʼs no one here but me and my wife. This is a decorated World War II warship. I expected bunting, and a brass band, and veterans in wheelchairs with gleaming medals.

But itʼs just us.

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Jimmy Stewart approves

Thursday, November 18th, 2021 Alive 18,468 days

The neon sign of Spec's liquor store

I donʼt intuitively understand the link between liquor stores and rabbits, but I approve of neon signs, so Iʼm OK with this.

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Worth it

Tuesday, November 16th, 2021 Alive 18,466 days

Ordering at what I believe to be the worst McDonaldʼs in Houston, if not America

Is this the most ghetto McDonaldʼs in America? Letʼs look at the facts:

  • The dining room exists, but is permanently closed to the public.
  • Orders are taken through a makeshift window built into the side door.
  • The makeshift order window is reinforced with steel diamond plate.
  • Even the bushes have 10-foot-tall iron fences surrounding them.
  • There are multiple signs encouraging customers to bring their firearms to the restaurant.

The things I do for a McRib.

Even the bushes get extra security
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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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Your beret is crooked

Thursday, November 4th, 2021 Alive 18,454 days

The Picasso/Calder exhibit at MHF/H

If a museum stages an exhibition of Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder, youʼre obligated to photograph it in high-contrast black-and-white.

When in an art museum, do as the art students do.

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Tuesday, October 26th, 2021 Alive 18,445 days

An airplane avoids an Anish Kapoor sculpture
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Grackle want a cracker?

Saturday, October 23rd, 2021 Alive 18,442 days

“Paging Alfred Hitchcock. Mr. Hitchcock, white courtesy phone.”

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Needs to perk up

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021 Alive 18,439 days

The Costa Coffee machine at Whole Foods being repaired again

If you ever want to know what the inside of an automatic barista machine looks like, just head to Whole Foods in Midtown Houston. Thereʼs a good chance itʼs inner mechanism is open and available for you to examine.

Iʼm not sure how many times Iʼve been to this Whole Foods store — maybe a dozen times — and the coffee machine has never been working.

Every time I go, thereʼs a repairman busy tinkering with it. Which seems like quite a coincidence. Either Costa Coffee has an employee whose job is to repair this one machine full-time, or thereʼs something about me going to Whole Foods that causes the machine to kill itself.

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City of disrepair

Tuesday, October 19th, 2021 Alive 18,438 days

A broken embedded railroad crossing signal along Main Street in downtown Houston

Iʼve long moaned about how Houston is a city that would rather spend a lot of money tearing things down and rebuilding them, than spend a little money maintaining what it already has. Since Iʼve returned to the city, I see it over and over again.

This is the latest example. These are warning lights that were embedded into the stop lines of streets that cross Metroʼs Red Line downtown. They were pretty neat when the train first ran, taking the flashing lights usually hanging beneath a grade crossingʼs crossbuck, and putting them into the street, itself, nice and tidy. The resulting wigwag light pattern both alerts drivers to the approach of a train, and also lets them know where to stop.

That is, if theyʼre working. Which theyʼre not. None of them work anymore. I wrote to Robert Gallegos, my elected city councilman asking what happened to them.

Not only did he not respond to my letter, his office didnʼt even acknowledge its receipt. Having previously lived in Chicagoʼs 42nd Ward under its very responsive Alderman Brendan Reilly, Iʼm surprised that a local politician would simply ignore a constituent. I guess Mr. Gallegos doesnʼt need my vote.

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More patch than pumpkins

Sunday, October 17th, 2021 Alive 18,436 days

A nice autumn day at the tree museum.

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On a wing and a flair

Saturday, October 16th, 2021 Alive 18,435 days

Houston has a number of interesting second-line musea that often donʼt get the attention they deserve. One of them is the former Houston Municipal Airport terminal, now known as the 1940 Air Terminal Museum.

It is chock-a-block with exhibits of aviation history, with a heavy local focus, which is appropriate since so many airlines got their start in Texas, and Houston was formerly the home of several majors.

You can climb inside a vintage passenger aircraft, like one you might see in an old movie. And if you go on the right day, you can be escorted up to the top of the control tower.

That space is in an advanced state of decay, which is why the museum requires a chaperone, but itʼs a nice elevated location from which to take photographs of the adjacent Hobby Airport.

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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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What did Brown do for you?

Sunday, October 3rd, 2021 Alive 18,422 days

A plaque inside a Metro train car

While I agree that the former mayor Brown deserves to have a train car dedicated in his honor, I donʼt like when these sorts of awards are bestowed on people while theyʼre still alive.

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Watch out for gars

Saturday, October 2nd, 2021 Alive 18,421 days

Water errupting from a storm drain in downtown Houston

For a low-lying coastal city on a bayou that is regularly subjected to hurricanes, itʼs sometimes amazing how ill-prepared Houston is for routine thunderstorms.

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Island vacation

Saturday, September 25th, 2021 Alive 18,414 days

Darcie managed to get a Saturday off of work, so we went down to Galveston Island.

People in Houston always like to say that Galveston is crap, but itʼs not. Sure, itʼs a bit run-down, but so is every single seaside town Iʼve been to on the planet, from Seattle to Kowloon to Torquay to Singapore to Üsküdar to Barnegat Light. Thatʼs part of what makes them seaside towns.

Even so, Galveston is much better now than when we last saw it 20 years ago. Far fewer abandoned buildings. Far better streets. And now that Darcie and I are older now, we see Galveston differently and driving around can decipher its history just by looking at the building styles. Weʼll be back.

I mentioned the trip to one of my doormen this morning, and she told me sheʼs never been there. Sheʼs lived in Houston all her life (24 years is my guess), but never bothered to drive 40 minutes to see the ocean. Itʼs both sad and not surprising. There are an awful lot of people in the world who never take an interest in anything beyond whatʼs immediately in front of them.

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Lobby lizard

Saturday, September 25th, 2021 Alive 18,414 days

The Hotel Galvez and also Spa

For generations, hotels have been more than places of rest. They have served as public spaces, places of respite, and cultural institutions.

I have met people who donʼt understand why good hotels have elaborate lobbies, full-service bars, and fine restaurants. They think of hotels as nothing more than a place to sleep. But just as you can use a computer for more than sending messages, hotels are far more than places to be unconscious.

The Hotel Galvez is one of those places. On this day, it serves my and my wife well as a refuge from the heat. A place to recharge with afternoon tea. And an opportunity to reflect on what we did today.

There is no shortage of shorted and flip-flopped tourists to-ing and fro-ing through the space, intent on maximizing their experiences. But experience is about more than checking items off of a list. Itʼs about savoring what life offers you. They can have their precisely-computed schedules of water parks and trinket hunting. A comfy chair, an ocean breeze, and an attentive waitress are what makes a vacation memorable to me.

The Hotel Galvez
The Hotel Galvez
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Pile it on

Saturday, September 25th, 2021 Alive 18,414 days

A weathered piling

Time and tide conspire to turn a piling into a cylinder of art.

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Saturday, September 25th, 2021 Alive 18,414 days

People having a pleasurable time next to Galvestonʼs Pleasure Pier
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Pier pressure

Saturday, September 25th, 2021 Alive 18,414 days

Underneath Galvestonʼs Pleasure Pier
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Latte, how are ya?

Sunday, September 19th, 2021 Alive 18,408 days

A Texas latte from Day 6 Coffee

Today's coffee is the Texas Latte from Day Six Coffee in downtown Houston.

This coffee is probably best taken hot, but even though it's only 93° today, my body still believes it's a hundred-and-bullshit outside, so I got it iced.

It's pretty good, but should be well-swirled to make sure all the good bits at the bottom get properly distributed throughout.

The Day Six menu describes it as a "double shot of espresso with vanilla bean flavoring, caramel sauce, and steamed milk." I usually associate vanilla with Madagascar, and caramel with England. But Texas has milk, so we'll go with that. It's a solid drink, but forgettable. The sort of thing that you can get pretty much anywhere. And at $5.50 a pop, it's not really value-for-money. $3.99, and I'm there.

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Wet feet

Sunday, September 19th, 2021 Alive 18,408 days

The roof of The Star, in the rain

I shall work here today.

Itʼs a gentle rain, and Iʼm under the overhang.

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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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Good location, though

Saturday, September 4th, 2021 Alive 18,393 days

I went to the Church of the Annunciation today. Itʼs one of those urban core Catholic churches that churches under the radar, serving its neighborhood for hundreds of years while the nearby cathedral gets all the attention. Most large American cities have one like this. Places like Saint Joan of Arc in Las Vegas, Assumption Catholic Church in Chicago, and the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis are other examples.

Annunciation is old-school, in both style, architecture, and message. While I did the special kind of musty funk that fills old American Catholic churches, Iʼve never been able to get used to using a Communion rail. Perhaps I have weak knees. Or I donʼt like people looking at my butt.

Still, if youʼre looking for a just-barely-this-side-of-Vatican-Ⅱ experience, this could be the place for you.

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Go Blue

Saturday, August 28th, 2021 Alive 18,386 days

Iʼve learned to stop wearing my Dodgers sweatshirt around the building. People give me the stink eye. One of the valet guys told me itʼs because people here hate people from California. Iʼm not surprised. People are like that in Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, too.

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Not scary at all

Monday, August 23rd, 2021 Alive 18,381 days

The Star from underneath

In the basement of my building, itʼs possible to see the new foundation holding up the old foundation.

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Ski Tomball

Friday, August 20th, 2021 Alive 18,378 days

When people ask me why I moved to Houston, I tell them itʼs because I love to ski, and Iʼm bad at geography.

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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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Ignorance is bliss

Wednesday, August 11th, 2021 Alive 18,369 days

An ominous message from iOS

This is what happens when you move from a state with a COVID notification app to a state that lacks a COVID notification app.

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Priority pizza

Tuesday, August 10th, 2021 Alive 18,368 days

It's interesting to see how much Houston has changed in the last 20 years, and how much it hasn't.

Things that are new include the robot security guards at the neighboring skyscrapers; light rail lines on three sides of my building; and a complete lack of jazz, classical, or news radio stations.

What hasn't changed includes Frank's Pizza, which has the finest 'zza west of the Mississippi; the first Starbucks I ever went to is still there; the horrendous undercarriage-scraping defect in San Felipe Road is still there 20 years later; and also the notion of “Texas friendly.”

People are so nice here compared with California, Nevada, Washington, Illinois, and most of the other places we've lived. The first truck stop we went to when we crossed the border was out of newspapers. Some rando guy heard me asking the casher about it, and he gave me the paper he was reading. “I only wanted to read the front page,” he lied. Same with 90% of everyone we've met. So generous.

They let you merge, unlike the Californians who are so angry and jealous to their cores that they think everything is a race. Even the guy with Tourette syndrome who works the parking lot at Target is super nice to everyone. A cop stopped traffic so I could cross the street carrying a pizza. I just can't imagine that happening anywhere else.

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Signs of the times

Sunday, August 8th, 2021 Alive 18,366 days

Every electronic road sign in Nevada: “Keep Vegas open, get your shots now!”

Every electronic road sign in Arizona: “6.8 million doses administered so far. Get yours!”

Every electronic road sign in New Mexico: “Protect your family. Get your free COVID vaccine.”

Every electronic road sign in Texas: “Buckle up for safety!”

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That looks comfy

Thursday, August 5th, 2021 Alive 18,363 days

Annie asleep on the heater

Annie relaxing at the Aloft Hotel in San Antonio.

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Open all the windows

Thursday, August 5th, 2021 Alive 18,363 days

People repairing a water line outside my hotel

I didnʼt necessarily expect to wake up to chirping birds and the softness of wind through sagebrush this morning. But I also didnʼt expect to wake up to a diesel-powered emergency sump pump.

The water line feeding the Best Western Plus Hotel in Fort Stockton broke overnight. Which means that after driving 400 miles last night, I have to drive another 350 miles without a shower. In August. In Texas.

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East bound and down, loaded up and truckinʼ

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021 Alive 18,362 days

Annie keeping an eye out for bears

“Dude, there's a Smokey on your tail. Floor it!”

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Roaminʼ cat lick

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021 Alive 18,362 days

Annie on the prowl

Annie surveys our room at the Best Western Plus Hotel in Fort Stockton, Texas before settling down to sleep on top of the refrigerator.

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Right purdy

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021 Alive 18,361 days

Sunset from a Walmart parking lot in Fort Stockton, Texas

Meanwhile, in West Texas.

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Sayonara

Saturday, May 15th, 2021 Alive 18,281 days

A talking electronic translator

Today I said goodbye to one of the most promising, but least used, gadgets in my travel kit. Itʼs a talking electronic translator.

It translates English words into Japanese, Mandarin, and Cantonese. That is, it would have if Iʼd ever used it.

The problem is that I donʼt ever have the need to translate single words when Iʼm traveling, which is about all itʼs good for. It has some built-in phrases, but theyʼre very few, and getting to the phrase you want can take a minute or more. By then, the person youʼve flagged down on the street for help has gone on with their day.

A better version of this might have been a good aide for learning a new language, but the screen resolution is too low to make sense out of the displayed glyphs, and the speech sounds like itʼs generated by a Texas Instruments TMC0281. Think “E.T. phone home” on a Speak-and-Spell. In Chinese.

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What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, September 20th, 2020 Alive 18,044 days

The Entertainment section of the September 20, 2020 Las Vegas Review-Journal

According to todayʼs paper, you can now crush a car, operate heavy machinery, shoot a machine gun, detonate explosives, drive a monster truck, launch flaming arrows, blast flame-throwers, and drink yourself into a stupor all in one place. Because doing all those separately was too much work.

Oh, and thereʼs a brothel on the other side of the ridge.

I can only assume this started with someone from Texas saying, “Yʼknow, thereʼs just too many rules around here.”

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Savanna pollyanna

Monday, July 27th, 2020 Alive 17,989 days

Almond Bliss from Lola Savannah

Todayʼs coffee is Almond Bliss from a place called Lola Savannah in Houston. Itʼs another dessert coffee.

This one tastes like an Almond Joy bar. It has little slivers of almonds in with the beans, which you might think would add to the flavor, but I think is just a gimmick. Itʼs good. Not one of my favorites, but Iʼll order something else from LS in the future.

Lola Savannah has a metric ass ton of coffees available because itʼs also a contract roaster for lots of other coffee companies. However, in spite of cutting out the middle man, the coffee doesnʼt seem any cheaper. Still, with all the types it has on offer, whatever you want is probably available.

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“Moist”

Saturday, July 4th, 2020 Alive 17,966 days

I miss the trees of Texas.

I miss a lot of the natural things of Texas. The Brazos River. The Spanish moss. The 5:00am humidity that turns the skyline into a grey silhouette just before sunrise. The marshes of Jackson. The swamps of Orange. I think the common thread is the moisture.

I miss moisture. I sometimes watch British “lifestyle” television shows (Bargain Hunt, Flog It, Coast, Countryfile, etc.), and it always seems to be raining there. The people on the screen donʼt seem to notice it, but I just marvel at all that water. All those trees. All that moisture.

Itʼs been about 200 days since it last rained here. Monsoon season should start in a few weeks to deliver our two inches for the year. When it rains, I often join my neighbors outside and we stare into the sky like confused turkeys.

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Thief of parts

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020 Alive 17,964 days

A WB39 pencil

I needed a pencil eraser to clean some electronics today, and I found this.

I donʼt remember being given any WB39 News pencils to bring home from the newsroom, so I must have borrowed this one. Iʼll totally bring it back the next time Iʼm in Houston.

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Wednesday, November 27th, 2019 Alive 17,746 days

My boss was informed that she has to go to Houston for work, so she asked me what it's like. I told her that it's Houston is filled with the most genuine, most friendly, simply best people I've ever met. I said that of the 15 cities in which I've lived, Houston is the only one where I still have friends. I also said that it's virtually impossible to find a bad restaurant.

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