Hey, it's good to be back home again
The Big Apple was OK, but she's mad about Hou
New York’s apple may be big, but everything’s a little better in Houston.
OK, full disclosure: I couldn’t wait to leave the Gulf Coast in pursuit of the East Coast in 1997 and it’s taken me more than a decade to firmly plant my feet back on Texas soil. My first priority was family and improving my proximity to them, but I never really thought about all the other things that put the sweet into my home sweet hometown.
As I gather the last of the things in my Manhattan studio (which is on the market to sell) and work my way to my new H-Town pad in a Penske truck, I realize there are so many reasons I’m more than thankful to be coming home again—to stay.
Some are obvious and some I took for granted. But all are enough to give me new appreciation for Houston—and it’s better than I remembered....
# 10. Parking lots
We still have them here. And if not, you can count on valet. I can’t remember seeing a valet in Manhattan, ever, even at the swankiest spots. And if you’re parking over night, fugettaboutit! You could drive in circles—for hours—and still return to a towed car or friendly orange ticket. Oh, and traffic’s about the same.
#9. Warm winters
Manhattan is every bit as humid as Houston in the summers, but the island also gets its share of snow and bitter cold in the winter. (And city employees, who often walk in the elements, don’t really know the meaning of a “snow day.”) We Houstonians, however, often enjoy breezy Januarys. But the slightest hint of “snow” gets us out of work for the day, er, week.
#8. One-stop shopping
Though all of Texas is teeming with Target stores, they are nowhere near Manhattan. Residents hike to the Queens location—maybe once a year—and stock up. There’s no WalMart either. (Seriously.) That means you have to pilfer what you can from drugstores or pay a $8 for cereal at the corner bodega. But there’s always online shopping…
#7. Discovery Green, fine art and haute cuisine
Houston has caught up (if it was ever behind). The eco-friendly development of downtown is our own little Central Park and the Menil gallery alone is enough to wow my discerning out-of-town guests. Plus, I know the chefs in this town rival anything a New York restaurant can throw their way.
There is magic in the energy of the city and all its people because you rarely feel alone. But that magic fades when you’re trying to get something done—like say, moving—and passersby get right in your path or want to eyeball your stuff. Houston provides a similar energy (when you want it), but also it offers a welcome level of personal space and privacy when you need it most. And trust me, when you don’t have it, you miss it.
#5. Central air-conditioning
We may live in the air-conditioning capital of the world and I’m cold anywhere indoors, but it sure beats the window units all over New York City apartments. Central air is a phenomenon for buildings like Barneys and Bergdorf's.
#4. Primo Tex-Mex (be it gourmet, greasy spoon or fast)
Ever traveled north of the state? Enough said.
#3. Wide open space (for trash and what not)
While there is a certain charm to the tightly packed streets, restaurants and stores in Manhattan, it easy to start craving elbow room—especially when there’s a person nipping at your heels or elbowing you on the subway. Furthermore, New Yorkers have been overrun by their trash. That’s right, it has to be shipped to New Jersey because there’s no space in the Big Apple.
#2. Free refills
Bottomless soda (ahem, Coke) or lemonade is a given in Houston restaurants, but there are no free refills in Manhattan—not even in diners! It seems like a small thing, but most of us Diet Coke drinkers don’t stop at one. Accept a fresh glass and expect your bill to spike about $3 per glass! (And that’s not to mention the price tag on cocktails. Let’s just say you could have a pitcher of margaritas anywhere in H-Town for the cost of one martini in Times Square.)
#1. Happy people
Houstonians just seem happier to me. Sure, New Yorkers get a bad rap, in general. They are much nicer than tourists give them credit for, but I don’t think they’re the happiest souls. I should know; I was one of them.
Manhattan is a hard place to live, but especially now. Apartment prices are dropping, but jobs are too. My friends are all sleeping less and worrying more. But they’re carrying on, thanks to the thick skin New York forces residents to develop.
And don't forget the plastic bags
That toughness comes after many bumps and bruises at the hands of the city, and it reminds me of another funny difference I noticed between Houston and NYC: The bags at Home Depot are noticeably thicker—like double- or triple-ply—in Manhattan.
And know what? They have to be, since the schlep home could cause single-ply plastic to split. Like the bags, New York residents carry a heavier load and they have to protect themselves with a protective layer or two—just to make it through each day of city living.
Re-reading all 10 points, I’m even more thrilled to make a home in the fourth largest city in the country, taking advantage of the many Houston conveniences and enjoying the big-city bliss. I truly lightened my load the minute I crossed the state line in that Penske truck.
There’s just one bite I wish H-Town would take out of the Big Apple, and that’s an appreciation of the city’s history and the buildings that preserve the story. It will break my heart if the lovely deco-style River Oaks movie theater is torn down to be built again as something newer and bigger.
Alas, bigger isn’t always better, and who wants to live in a city that grinds you down?
I didn’t, and that’s why I’m here.