Hello nurse! I am traveling around the US and writing about it, and there seems to be no end in sight unless I die or go to prison or something.
US Tour Day 59: Houston
Houston is a strange place. It was the first city I visited that actually seemed foreign. Everything around me screamed out that I was very far from home, and not just a distance measured in miles.
First of all, people in Houston have lots of money and they want you to know it. Even in the most wealthy parts of California I have not felt such a pride in wealth. Sure, people in LA and San Francisco and Palo Alto are clearly happy to have more money than you and the Mexicans they hire to do tasks they wouldn't dream of doing themselves. But, they seem to fall into the category of a more bohemian bourgeoisie. They're wealthy and blow tons of money on things, but there is still this leaning towards spirituality, even if it is only seen when they buy mini zen gardens for their desks or feng shui books to get the new wing of their house set up for maximum energy flow. I don't get this feeling at all in Houston. Fuck the spirits and energy. This megalopolis, the fourth largest city in the United States, is about commerce and oil and lots of money.
It looks like the fake–tanned, orange–skinned old ladies Jaguar drivers association had a convention here and the old ladies liked it so much they never went back to wherever it was they came from. And they brought their little dogs, too. I was amazed to see a high–end bakery that catered exclusively to dogs.
The owner explained that the treats were made for dogs with all human–grade ingredients and were therefore quite edible for people. But, he said they might not suit our tastes, as they use only fruit juices and honey as sweeteners. Dogs, however, love them. And, if your dog needs more love than they can get from a cookie or customized cake, you can always bring it to any number of nearby doggie day spas. I mean, what better way to say "fuck the poor" than by spending excess money to send a resource devouring pet to a day spa?
It gets worse, though. I guess there comes a certain level of orange skin and Jaguar/Bentley ownership at which it is no longer safe to cross a street in order to purchase a fifty cent cup of coffee for five dollars. I visited not one, but two street corners in the Houston area where there were two Starbucks right across from one another.
The buildings looked different, too. Basically I saw two different kinds of buildings that I was unfamiliar with. First there were skyscrapers. I'd never been in a skyscraper before. Sure, we have some tall buildings in California, but not like these. I think that our reasonable fear of earthquakes must have kept us from doing something as stupid as making tall, skinny buildings that want nothing to fall down when shaken from below. (Although there must have been some lapse of seismic reason—or blatant disregard for history's lessons—when building San Francisco's precarious–looking Transamerica Pyramid.) They don't have that pesky plates–of–the–earth–rubbing–against–one–another problem in Houston, so the downtown skyline is ruled by some long, tall buildings with serious size bragging rights. I stood at a street corner with skyscrapers on each corner. Looking up, I couldn't even determine which one was the tallest, as perspective melted away that far up against the blue and white patchwork of southern sky.
They've also got buildings made of bricks. Bricks, for those of you who live in California or other places which have excellent weather and don't need the protection of bricks, are these rectangular reddish brown things that people in the southern and eastern parts of the USA use to make buildings out of. I even remember finding one in an abandoned lot in my childhood. (I seem to remember this vague memory in which I threw the found brick it at the ground in an attempt to smash it.) Sure, I see a brick building from time to time back home. But out here there are huge estates, office buildings, and apartment complexes made from these strange red blocks.
The thing about Houston is that it was the first destination on my journey where every single thing I looked at seemed foreign—people, clothing, restaurants, stores, food, trees, the ocean, parks, the sky. Everywhere else I had been so far didn't feel this way. In fact, I noticed that in most places I could squint my eyes and almost believe I was still in California. Arizona, New Mexico, West and Central Texas—they all felt familiar. I wanted to find a manager or maitre d' or someone in charge so I could mention to them politely that as nice as everything was that this wasn't exactly what I'd expected when I ordered. It's all good and fine, sir I would explain, but this is, well, this is weird.
It's foreign, its alien. Its a picture of something new. And, I like it. I like Houston. But, more than just this place I like the feeling I get as I observe and relate. I feel alive out here past the edge of familiarity, looking back over my shoulder to see my comfort zone shrinking into the horizon behind me.
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