June 10, 2021

What Will I Miss?

As mentioned in last week's music post, I've been thinking about those people and places I will miss in Houston, TX. The residents of this state present a state pride that, in my experience, is unmatched across the country. And yet that pride is often fragile; I've never met people so easily wounded by detractors of their state pride. So, one has to respond carefully to the often asked question of those leaving the state, "What are you going to miss most?"

I tend to agree with chef David Chang's assertion of Houston from an episode of his show Ugly Delicious, "I hate the weather. I hate the way it looks but the city of Houston is sort of perfectly set for people to take a chance on the new.” I prefer Chang's frank summary of Houston over the effusive enthusiasm of sociologist Stephen Klineberg at Rice University who is fond of saying that as Houston goes, so goes the nation. In many respects, I hope Klineberg's wrong—although, I'd support political leadership like Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo all the way to the White House.

What I will miss are the chances taken on new and creative endeavors in niches across the city. Like many southwest American metropolitan cities, Houston is a sprawling network of neighborhoods and communities. Mega-cities akin to Houston are almost by accident, an afterthought (the infrastructure here is a dead giveaway of that). Highways string together developments that were intentionally far flung from each other as the region has always been composed of independent-minded residents who crave their own space. Slowly, year after year, decade after decade development has grown more dense until what you have is a patch work of communities that now bump up next to each other to create a massive city. The beauty of this it is difficult to see at first. You have to turn off the use of highways on your map app and use surface streets. As you walk, ride or drive through neighborhoods you would otherwise have no reason to be in you discover in Houston an exploration of the American, entrepreneurial spirit that is quirky. Unfettered by coastal American vanity and bolstered by Texan's "I-do-whatever-the-hell-I-want" mentality, Houstonians meld together the strangest of things and some times it works!

What will I miss? Lentil soup.

I know that a week after I leave, I will find myself craving the lentil soup made at the back of a liquor store in my Houston neighborhood and served in styrofoam cups. Down the block from a bar—which hosted some great punk shows before the pandemic—sits a liquor store with a crumbling parking lot that has melded together Mediterranean and Mexican food in a way that should not work and yet is magical. I will miss their lentil soup, their fajita fries (akin to the strange but delicious San Diego taco shop amalgamation, carne asada fries, but different), spicy potatoes and cauliflower.

I won't miss country music or brisket or Gov. Abbott. I know that Texas prides itself in the big and bombastic and it's "come-and-get-it-ness" but these have never impressed me. Rather, it has been the new and weird and small chances people take on doing something that is honest and representative of themselves, using whatever resources they have at hand, that won me over time and again.

That's what I'll miss most.

Austin went straight. Keep it weird, Houston.

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