Friday, May 16, 2008

Houston Art Car Show

Auto-motive Houstonians

Let's be frank. There are a lot of very large people in Houston. Some are vertically large, going up and down like the Houstonian skyscrapers that dominate the downtown skyline, and wearing big cowboy hats that make them look even larger. But many, oh yes, are also horizontally quite large, with nice large bellies and big butts.

I was curious about why Houston seemed to have more than its share of horizontally large people. My friends Mike and Nic said they had read a study that said Houston had one of the highest rates of obesity in the country.

Then I remembered about the no car, no hamburger rule. (see previous post) And I figured that with so many people stuck driving around eating hamburgers inside their cars, this was bound to happen. The hamburgers eventually make the bellies expand to fit the size of the pick-up trucks and SUVs.

Unlike Los Angeles, which is also an automotive city, Houstonians are unapologetically large. In L.A., the prevailing look-like-a-movie-star-or-else mentality of much of the city has resulted in lots of gyms and yoga classes, and for those who can afford it, liposuction clinics.

But Houstonians don't seem to give a damn. They just drive around and drive around, buying good Texan beef hamburgers and not so good variations of it, getting larger and larger, depositing their money in drive-in banks, and using up all that oil that has made Houston what it is today.

Unlike some urban Californians, who are often too busy rushing around improving themselves and/or becoming enlightened to pay attention to anyone but themselves, Houstonians are as generous and hospitable as they are large.

Their generosity, or what I've seen of it, is simple, downhome, matter of fact. That guy who bought me the hamburger for instance. And walking down one of those interminable roads on the outskirts of Houston, the roads that have no sidewalks because pedestrians here don't exist, walking and enjoying the walk and the scenery and the exquisite pleasure of having legs, three Houstonians slowed down and offered me a ride, a look of alarm and concern on their faces.

No Car,No Hamburger

So there I was standing with my red backpack at 10PM at night in front of the window at Wendy's on Westheimer, my stomach grumbling and whining.

"I'll have a hamburger," I said.

"I'm sorry," she said, "you have to have a car to get a hamburger."

"What do you mean I have to have a car? I'm standing right here. I have two hands. You can put your hamburger in one of my hands and take my money out of the other. What's so difficult about that?"

"I'm sorry," she said. "No car, no hamburger."

She was a thin, pretty, mocha skinned African or African American teenager, with one of those
interesting Houstonian accents that I can barely understand. She looked nervous. She was only carrying out company policy.

"Do you want me to drive you around to the window?" offered some strange big guy in a pick-up truck. We were already at the window. He was offering to drive me around in a circle so we could return to the same window with me inside his car instead of outside it.

He was probably only being hospitable, but I declined.

I allowed my mouth to make a few grumbling noises to match my stomach, then went across the street to MacDonald's. Not wanting to repeat the scenario, I asked some other strange big guy in a pick-up truck to buy me a burger and a Coke, extending my five dollar bill.

With my backpack and my obviously car-challenged state, he must have assumed I was financially challenged as well.

"That's okay," he said, waving away my five dollar bill, and handing me the burger from his car window, before driving off.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Genuine Texan Genes

Genuine Texan Genes

Lest anyone think that I am making fun of Texas or Texans by my last post, let me make it perfectly clear that I am here because my Texan ancestors called me here, and that I would not be the multicultural California a-hole elitist that I am without all their hard work to get me on this planet.

If I could, I would visit all of their graves, giving thanks to some, praying to others, and perhaps, who knows, dancing on the rest.

I would go to Paris, Texas where my great grandfather William Bascom found himself at eighty some years old, cleaned up from alcohol and scratching out a letter to his brother talking about how he was 'so blind he couldn't see to pull a splinter out of a gnats behind'.

I would go to Laredo, Texas to see the grave of my great great grandmother Mary Elizabeth , a strong and steady folk healer who knew about herbs and laying on hands and reading the weather.

I would go to Gilmer, Texas, where a young soon-to-be Confederate soldier and his wife gave birth to my great grandmother Ella Gertrude before they both died, leaving her to spend her life 'working out' as a servant in other people's homes before she married my handsome fiddler great grandfather (the one who couldn't see the splinter) and took on nineteen children.

From Gilmer I would continue travelling through East Texas, visiting the ancestors who owned some fellow human beings as slaves and wondering if I had any black cousins there. I would visit the many times great uncle who married into Cherokee chief Stand Watie's family, wanting to know if old Watie ever told him what he was thinking when he signed
the agreement that sent the Cherokee down the Trail of Tears, or what it was like for his wife when she walked it.

I would say to them all: we have travelled a long way, haven't we baby.

(Insert Texan drawl, heal old wounds, extract splinter from gnat's behind, move on.)

Big-Ass Texas

Houston, like Texas, is quite large. It goes on and on and all around. And, as befitting an aging oil-town, it is full of cars. I don't see very many taxis or busses, and when you are staying out in Cloverleaf, a burb of Houston, that can be a problem.

"Texans haven't quite discovered green yet," says my friend Nic in her clipped British-California accent.

"Everything here is big-ass," says my friend Mike, Nic's boyfriend, in his lazy drawling all-California accent. "Nothing is just big. It's always big-ass. Big-ass beer, big-ass cars. Big-ass people."

This led to a discussion about how sometimes different parts of the world identify with different body parts. In Buenos Aires I was mildly shocked to hear the inhabitants refer to their lovely city as "the a-hole of South America" because of its location on the southern tip of the continent. We wondered if the usage of the A word around here as a suffix to just about anything indicated that something similar was at play here in Houston, which is also a pretty southernly city in the U.S.

"What about Miami?' asked Mike.

"Miami is more like a big toe," I said.

Actually, I have been pleasantly surprised by Houston, forced to break out of my California Bay Area elitist ways to recognize that this is an exciting, dynamic, artistic, multi-cultural city, mixing Latino, Louisiana Cajun, African, African American, Anglo, liberal and conservative and and a whole lot of other spicy stuff into a pot full of drawling yes ma'am yeah baybee Texas twang.

Big-ass Texas twang.

P.S. You can get an apartment here for less than the price of a room in San Francisco.