As long as I have lived in Houston, the city has constantly searched for a theme to showcase itself to the outside world — without much success.
In 1990, when then-President George H.W. Bush brought the Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations to Houston in the middle of the summer, city officials came up with the slogan, "Houston's Hot." It was meant to acknowledge that Houston was a hot place for business relocation. But it only seemed to emphasize the brutal weather; the international press had a field day making fun of it.
When Bob Lanier was mayor in the late '90s, his wife, Elyse, was determined to change the city's image once again, with a campaign called, "Expect the Unexpected." But after a promotional game in Time magazine incorporating the theme drew few participants, the campaign faded away.
An unofficial campaign, "Houston, It's Worth It," launched by ad execs David Thompson and Randy Twattle in 2004, has come closest to capturing that quirky spirit that makes Houston special. It confronts the city's negatives — heat, humidity, hurricanes mosquitos, urban sprawl —head on with the idea, that despite such negatives, it's certainly worth it to live here. But the powers-that-be never embraced it.
I don't even know what the official marketing theme is now — I think it has something to do with famous celebrities from Houston talking about their favorite spots — but I know what it should be.
We need to embrace our cowboy image.
I don't own a Stetson or drive a pickup. And my one pair of boots is gathering dust in the closet. But friends and visitors expect me to play cowboy. That's their image of Houston.
When they come to town, in addition to visiting the Menil, shopping at the Galleria, and attending a performance at the Wortham, they want to eat a big steak and learn to line dance — or at least watch experts two-step on the dance floor to the latest Brooks & Dunn song.
Since most outsiders feel the same way about Houston, why not play off of our western image? Sure, we're sophisticated and urban, but we're also secure enough to pay homage to our heritage.
So let's do it.
With the rodeo in town, it's the perfect time to embrace the cowboy spirit with a vengeance. All month long, we'll look at what it means to embrace your inner cowboy and offer ways to do it with flair. We'll explain how to dress the part — comparing working cowboys with their urban counterparts — and where to eat like you're home on the range. We'll rate the best honky tonks, talk about our favorite cowboy movies and pay homage to Gilley's, the now-defunct Pasadena dance emporium that kicked off the "Urban Cowboy" craze. (If you have other ideas, send them our way.)
And we'll also focus on the essential qualities that every honest-to-goodness cowboy possesses. You don't have to wear Wrangler jeans and boots or own a spread to live by the qualities of self-reliance, independence and good manners. That's the spirit that made Houston great. That's what we need to be telling the rest of the world. Everyone links us to this heritage; it's about time we proudly own it ourselves.
Now, all I need is a Stetson and a new column mug, and I'm ready to ride the range — or the Range Rover.