We ♥ Hou
How do we love Houston? Let's count some ways
Soon after I moved to Houston, I joined a Toastmaster's Club at my office. At our first meeting, we were each asked to stand up and speak about ourselves. The facilitator explained that we would be nervous — public speaking is second only to death among most people's fears — and suggested we talk about something we knew well or felt passionately about.
One by one, my co-workers stood up and talked about how much they loved Houston. At first their words were halting but, as they spoke, they grew more confident because their sentiments were genuine. They said they felt really blessed to live in a city of such spirit and beauty. (Yes, beauty.) They described oak trees and pine trees, rare migratory birds, nearby lakes and beaches, reasonable commutes, close family ties and the feeling that you can accomplish anything here if you work hard enough.
I couldn't believe what they were saying.
As a newcomer, all I saw was flat ugly land, a deserted downtown after dark, bad public transportation, virtually no urban planning, sticky summers with the constant threat of hurricanes, clogged roads full of potholes and lots of cars with Michigan license plates (it was the early 1980s when Midwesterners were streaming into Houston in search of work). I decided to stick it out for a year at the most and then hightail it out to someplace more glamorous.
That was nearly 30 years ago.
Something happened along the way: I fell in love with Houston.
I can't really pinpoint exactly when the affair began — was it the thrill of watching voters elect Kathy Whitmire, one of the first female mayors of a major American city, in 1981? Or did it happen during the oil bust a few years later when residents faced the down times with a determined attitude that better days were ahead? Or perhaps it was in 1986 when one-and-a-half million Houstonians turned out to watch Jean-Michel Jarre transform downtown into an incredible sound-and-light show called "Rendezvous Houston."
Whenever it happened, it wasn't that instant-attraction kind of love that seems to happen only in the movies. Houston's not my soul mate. The relationship is much more complex than that. Every now and then, I get fed up with poor neighborhood planning and the lack of city services — some streets in my Montrose neighborhood are not much better than roads in a Third World country — and vow to move. But I doubt if I ever will.
I continue to be seduced by Houston's affordability and mild climate and fascinated with the city's quirky spirit and mix of fascinating people with good hearts. (I still get a warm feeling when I recall Houston's response to the residents of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.)
I'm not alone. Every day I meet people who planned to stay a few years, make their fortune and then move on. Instead, they put down roots, raised families and forged bonds with incredible friends. They made Houston their home.
Here at CultureMap, we think our love affair with the city is worth examining. Without getting too boosterish about it, we plan to look at the people, places and things that make Houston unique. We believe there are lot of reasons to love Houston — some obvious, some not so much — so help us count the ways. (Email your suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
This month also brings plenty of other things to love — the Super Bowl (Go Saints!), Mardi Gras, the Winter Olympics, New York Fashion Week and Valentine's Day. (In keeping with the theme, all month long Houston couples will tell editor-at-large Shelby Hodge how they fell in love. Her first installment is on the CultureMap home page now.)
But even with all those major events, it's Houston that has won our hearts.
Now, if we can only come up with a good city slogan.......