May 27, 2009

Houston Sightseeing

Tomorrow or Friday I'll post some pictures from Houston. The point of the trip was to visit and spend time with my parents, and that was great. They have a very nice house and seem to be nicely on the way to building a good life for themselves there. We played cards, cooked for one another, and had a barbeque on Memorial Day.

They say that Houston is the city most like Los Angeles in all of the United States. That seems to hold up to analysis. There is a lot of driving involved in Houston and people seem to live everywhere, spread out over a lot of terrain geographically. If you include Galveston in the Houston metropolitan area, it could take two hours, even without traffic, to get from one end of the broader urban area to another.

We visited Galveston; it seems like a charming place although it's depressing to see so many places still not rebuilt after the hurricane. There's plenty of lawyer billboards up and down I-45 soliciting business dealing with insurance companies on hurricane claims, so I'm guessing that's still big business for lawyers down there.

We also visited the Johnson Space Center; the tour center is pretty much just for kids but the tour itself is interesting. The workers all seemed to be in casual dress; I guess you don't need to be in a suit and tie to launch a rocket, although that seems to be what all the engineers wore back in the 60's and 70's. The Saturn V rocket is very big.

Minute Maid Park is an interesting baseball stadium. The seats my dad got from his company are pretty high up, so that's a little bit intimidating, and the architect only built one set of escalators going from street level to the upper decks, which is not so great from a crowd flow perspective. Once you're in those seats, a bit of vertigo is all but inevitable, although you get used to the angle pretty quickly. The field is beautiful and the open wall on left field is next to a small tower with (I think) offices; a small crowd gathers on the roof to watch the game for free. Looked like a nice party. Unlike a lot of other ballparks, they only sing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" through one verse in the seventh-inning stretch. That's because instead, they sing "Deep In The Heart Of Texas," which is a lot of fun. Not fun are the food vendors -- you have to stand in a different line for each thing you want to buy, so I missed a good part of an inning despite starting to buy food for our party well before the game started.

We went to what we were told was the hippest, coolest bar in Houston, Pubfiction, which would have been a lot more fun for single young people cruising for disposable companionship. Still a decent bar, even if they didn't know how to make an Aviation Martini.

One thing that really made me smile was a visit to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to see a traveling exhibit of the terracotta warriors of Emperor Qin. The exhibit itself was very crowded and that made the trip to the museum unpleasant -- until I recalled that what's worse than a crowded museum is an empty one, and what's worse than that is no museum at all. Houston has a thriving center of many museums, and all of them seemed to be accomodating healthy crowds. The demand to see the terracotta warriors, and also see dinosaur reconstructions, rare earth minerals, an impressive display of ocean life, and learn about the geologic conditions that made Houston wealthy, was very high. There is a tremendous hunger and interest in knowledge, in history and science, out there, and that's something that is sometimes easy to forget until you go to one of these cathedrals of knowledge. After I remembered that, I was happier despite the inconvenience of dealing with the crowd.

Mexican food in Houston is very good. Everywhere we went, from a mid-level restaraunt to an unassuming taqueria, took great pride in their salsa, some of them bringing out more than one to try. Unlike Southern California, where you get pretty much the same pico de gallo everywhere you go, with varying amounts of cilantro and heat added for variety, there were all kinds of salsa available around Houston. The best stuff I can recall was a creamy advocado salsa -- very hot and very smooth. That it came with tacos de tingya -- shredded beef stewed in savory, spicy chipotle -- was an added bonus. You could probably spend a year having lunch at all the taquerias around Houston and never have the same salsa twice.

Real estate there appears to be very affordable and there seems to be some degree of economic opportunity, at least for those with marketable skills. The oil industry has seen better days, but it's seen worse days, too -- and there is a substantial amount of manufacturing (especially aerospace and housing products) and service industry work there, too. Not that I'm interested in moving there; the last time my wife and I moved across the country it didn't work out so good and we're getting nicely established here. But if you were looking for a place to start out in life (or re-start), you could do worse than Houston. I also found the climate agreeable, at least while we were there -- certainly it was warm and humid, but I don't mind that so much. The winters are supposed to be mild, and my allergies were almost completely inactive. I enjoyed the wildlife in the area, too -- we saw lots of box turtles, a wide variety of bird life, an alligator, and people were fishing everywhere we went.

So maybe we exhausted all of the cool touristy things to do in Houston. But it was a fine visit and I enjoyed the trip immensely.

3 comments:

Left Coast Rebel said...

My wife and I do have Texas on the map, why did your parents move there? Where did you move from too? CA is so prohibitive to business now that we know that we may leave one day (soon or not). We do like San Diego though....

Transplanted Lawyer said...

My folks moved there because my father did not like retirement; he took a job with an aerospace company in a suburb of Houston.

My wife and I moved to California from Knoxville, Tennessee, because Knoxville had little economic opportunity for us and I got a great job offer here.

Agreed that California appears to be headed down a decidedly anti-business path and the myth that there will always be opportunities here is just that -- a myth, like kids used to be taught that the oceans were an "inexhaustible" source of food.

But dude. San Diego is paradise. If you've got the financial ability to stay afloat there, why leave?

Left Coast Rebel said...

TL - I agree that San Diego is great, one of the nicest cities in the country. I prefer to stay here, it truly comes down to the future economic vitality of the state and the region. As you say, CA is not immune to cause and effect on economic issues, something that the state pols don't seem to realize. Perhaps Meg Whitman as governor could clean things up? Last week's vote was encouraging as well....