Thursday, April 10, 2014

Obamanable Traffic!

Howdy, Mr. President, and thank you for the abominable traffic jams today.  Or shall we say "Obamanable traffic."  They have all the streets closed around a hotel downtown.  But I'm guessing you aren't really there.  Maybe that's where the press corp is staying, but not POTUS and FLOTUS.  When I have important visitors come to town, I'm sending them to the Hotel Zaza, Hotel Icon, or The Lancaster.  Not the Holiday Inn, even if it's the Crowne Plaza.

I'm guessing you aren't there mainly because the traffic was at a standstill throughout Montrose early evening. We sat bumper to bumper on Richmond, West Alabama and Westheimer after work. Houston must be paying overtime to half the police department today.  Is this part of your jobs recovery plan?  'Cause I don't think the traffic congestion helped your Climate Action plan on this sunny and mild ozone alert day.  We couldn't inch forward half a block without seeing at least one police car.  Actually, po po have been buzzing all over Southampton the last two days, Erik Estrada-like, and they were obviously not there to stop Ashby Highrise.  Here's a little video of your evening, with mention of our traffic.

Erik Estrada
                                  Houston Police Department reveals the new image for future HPD patrol vehicles  outside Houston Police Department Headquarters in Downtown on Monday, July 2, 2012, in Houston.  HPD tested vehicles for the new patrol cars, along with the new black and white color scheme and logo design. Photo: Mayra Beltran, Houston Chronicle / © 2012 Houston Chronicle

The news says you're in town to raise money for the Democrats.  Wasn't that thoughtful of the Mostyns to have a little soiree for you?  Steve Mostyn is the youngest president ever of the Texas Trial Lawyers' Association. He also made Texas Monthly's top 25 most powerful Texans a few years back--as "Democratic megadonor."  They're calling him Hurricane Mostyn and his (and his wife's) Category 5 wallet is apparently bearing down on Austin during state legislative sessions.  Amber Mostyn is "the Wealthy Woman Behind Wendy Davis"--you know Wendy, right?  Our Texas-big-haired-blonde-pink-shoes-filibustering-pro-choice-and-now-running-for-governor Wendy Davis?  And who needs George Soros when you've got Amber Mostyn?

Amber and Steve Mostyn
Wendy Davis

 I wish I'd bought a ticket to their parent social at the kids' school auction!  Oh, wait, the Mostyns seem to have foregone the public school route.  Hmm . . . that's too bad.  We've got a cool school.  Mr. President, I guess you can tax those 1%-ers, whether Democrat or Republican, but forget about making them send their kiddos to public school.

Your other Democratic meal ticket tonight was John Eddie Williams, also a plaintiff's personal injury lawyer.  He and wife Sheridan had a little swank-an-dia at their River Oaks abode for you, Nancy Pelosi, our Mayor, and Sheila Jackson Lee (I guess stepping in front of you at every single State of the Union Speech paid off).  The NY Times is reporting an intimate dinner for 70 in the $17 million, 26,000-square foot home ("resembles a resort hotel, complete with five fireplaces, a swimming pool and an elevator").  Ticket price?  $64,000 a couple.

How nice that John Eddie is really helping the candidates, huh?  (Unlike Dallas's primo trial lawyer, Fred Baron, who spent his last days gallivanting about to hide Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards' pregnant, freaky mistress, Rielle Hunter.)  John Eddie and Steve Mostyn are super, super busy--they're working with these conservative-sounding political action committees to funnel money Democrats' way.  I mean, screw the Koch Brothers and their "Americans for Prosperity!"  John Eddie and Mostyn have got "Texans for Family Values."  Does Texas for Family Values give money to Wendy Davis?

Sheridan and John Eddie Williams at the annual Bayou Bend Garden Party Sunday April 7, 2013.(Dave Rossman photo)   16 Sheridan Williams - Catherine Regehr at the Opera Ball April 2014  Lady Sheridan, owned by John Eddie Williams

Seems like we're more likely to see Sheridan Williams in the society pages than political circles.  Why, I saw her (and John Eddie) just this past weekend at the Opera Ball.  She's a CultureMap favorite.  Doesn't she look a lot like Wendy Davis in these pictures?  Careful!  Don't want to start a conspiracy theory amongst the Taliban-faction of the Tea Party.  Let's instead focus on the yacht that John Eddie bought and named the Lady Sheridan.  They renewed their wedding vows on it just last June while cruising the French Riviera.

"That's living high on the hog," as my yellow-dog-Democrat grandma used to say.  Or, given our current economy and the country's state of play, perhaps we'll just leave it with "Well, that's just an Obama-nation."

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Ash Rowell--Time Is. . .

Time is too slow for those who wait,
Too swift for those who fear,
Too long for those who grieve,
Too short for those who rejoice,
But for those who love, time is

-Henry Van Dyke

It's been a year.  Throughout it all, I still expect to see him, you know?  I'd like to summon a little eloquence, but the words I want to say are ones that can't be shared.  Not really.

Some days I consider the murderer.  For him, does time run swift?  He knows--deep in his heart-- what lies ahead of him for stealing Ash's life.

And some days I consider the one person who waits, so impatiently, as time grinds by all too slowly. Divisive, this person.  Astonishing in the path chosen, and chosen, and repeatedly chosen again.

More often, my thoughts are with those who loved Ash most--Lesli and the children, for whom this has surely been an eternity.

But mostly, I grieve Ash.  Many feel this way.  A year later, there's still a fairly steady stream of those who come here to Texquiem, for Ash.  His wide net of friends still check in, from Houston and far beyond.

Thinking today of our friend Ash?  See here, for his memorial, with thanks to Neartown Church for continuing to share it: .

Monday, October 14, 2013

Columbuz on Banks

Why, no offishur, I haven't been drinking at Ernie's.  That wuz some other tall, bronze Italian.  He went thatta way!

This Christopher Columbus was sculpted by Joe Incrapera in 1992, commemorating the 500th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of the New World.  You remember the childhood saying, right:  in fourteen-hundred-ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue?  The statue graces Bell Park, in Montrose--right across the street from the bar Ernie's on Banks.

Fairly unassuming, right?  Wrong!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Hurricane Ike

1900 Storm Memorial, Houston Chronicle
Five years ago.  Ike came ashore after midnight.  

We were weary and had fallen asleep, though not for long.   Wind so fierce, it howled and blew water through our closed doors and windows.  Dark, punctuated by green as transformers popped.  The trees gyrated in every direction, and many of them along the block uprooted.

After, the neighborhood turned into a block party, of sorts, as everyone fired up the barbecues and emptied their rapidly warming freezers.  

How long were you without electricity?  Those first few cooler days after Ike were livable.  When the heat returned, finding places with electricity and cool air became a bit of a game.  At the week's mark, though, it was no longer an adventure.  At two weeks, it was just damn miserable.

Brennan's had burned.  The Flagship, where I drank Shirley Temples over the water as a child, was laid bare and sagging.  There were yachts and big vessels sitting on I-45 South.  My friends closer to the water could look at empty spaces where neighbors' homes had once been standing.

    after-effects of Hurricane Ike in Texas        | ♕ |  The Flagship Hotel, Galveston, Texas after Hurricane Ike
artsandletters posted | photo by Terry Shuck: 
The owners plan to demolish the hotel and replace it with an amusement park. 

Every oak on Broadway along Galveston died from the salt, along with 40,000 other mature trees on the Island.  But better trees than people. . . like the 8000 who died in the Great Storm of 1900 Hurricane.

The Gresham house, center, now known as the Bishop's Palace, sits relatively unscathed behind a wall of debris following the hurricane that devastated Galveston, Texas, Sept. 8, 1900. More than 6,000 people were killed and 10,000 left homeless as entire neighborhoods were swept clean. Heavily damaged Sacred Heart Catholic Church is at right. (AP Photo/Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word)

Hurricane Ike was just shy of a Category 3, compared to the Category 4 of the Great Storm.  And we knew it was coming.  Still, I'm glad we sat tight.  Compared to the evacuation for Hurricane Rita?  Hell, no, never again.  (Well maybe if it was projected to hit land at Cat 4.  I'm no "red line" kinda girl.) 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Good bye to The Garden Gate

The Garden Gate has been a profuse labor of love for twenty-odd years in Rice Village.

In earlier days, Texquiem noticed it while on Morningside pub crawls to Gingerman's and Little Woodrow's.  It is lush and tranquil and quirky.  You could spend hours strolling its grounds, taking in fountains, statuary, goldfish, and greenery.

I took these pictures with this cheap little flip-wannabe-Vivitar.  Never posted them because I thought, "Oh, I'll go back and take better ones, with my iphone or a real camera."  

But time runs short.  The upscaling of Rice Village is unrelenting.  And so The Garden Gate falls.

As reported in the Houston Chronicle, here, and in Swamplot, here, The Garden Gate's property has been sold.  The little gem has opened (and closed)  for the last time.  True to reports, the place is looking oddly lonely and sadly scavenged.  In its place to come, a 12-story, 200 unit apartment building.  Given this particular developer's precedent, lot-line-to-lot-line cement is forthcoming.  I expect greenery only in architectural drawings and token pots flanking the entrance door. 

Goodbye, The Garden Gate, and thank you for so many years of inspiration.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The WSJ's Weekend Interview: Annise Parker & the Modern American Boomtown

Howdy, y'all!  I'm guessing if you're fixin' to head to Houston, you're practicing your new-Texas accent. Here's a Texquiem hint:  drop the "howdy" but keep the "y'all."  And the drawl itself?  There's one secret to Houston-speak:  there's just not much drawl to it at all.  Of course, feel free to put your Texas on for emphasis, for politics, and for the Rodeo.

Is that disappointing?  Are you thinking, "Why the hell isn't there a Texas-sized accent in the state's largest city?"  Well, folks, we're a melting pot (and have been for more than a few years).  As our mayor, Annise Parker, sees it, "A good soup where all the ingredients come together."  By the numbers, we're the nation's most racially and ethnically diverse city.  Yes, that's right--more diverse than New York City.  More than Chicago, Philly, or LA.

Mayor Parker describes us as Southern hospitality, Western tolerance, and international flair, all in one package.   CNBC concludes we've got a lot to offer, notwithstanding the bolo tie its reporter first planned to wear.  Texquiem will forgive the come-lately amazement at our diversity.  *Sigh.*

More to the point, and speaking of the mayor, Herroner and Houston were featured in the venerable Wall Street Journal this week-- Annise Parker: The Modern American Boomtown.  The WSJ dines at Underbelly with the Mayor and points out that Houston has the nation's fastest pace of job growth, fastest-growing metropolitan economy, and highest per-capita income of any city in the country.  The article seems surprised that Texas elected a Democrat and a lesbian.  It can't get over the Mayor's sexual preference when--yawn--it's just no big deal here.  Heck, I bet the Mayor mentioned Underbelly's history as Chances just in passing, and off to the races went the WSJ.  More interesting than the story are the comments to it, by folks using their own names (except I'm a  little suspicious of that William Rice guy).  My favorite comment to the article?  "My God.  Did someone make a mistake and run an article that was supposed to run in the New York Times instead?"

My second favorite is an exchange, started by a comment from one David Pelino:
"The fact that Houston is showing signs of developments that have long since taken hold in these other metropolitan areas is good news; the fact that it is considered newsworthy only speaks to the general backwardness of the place."
Pelino* may have moved from "corrupt mind"-ed to small-minded, but this rejoinder had me laugh aloud:
Mr. Pelino, you are absolutely correct. If it is all the same to you, we will just wallow in our "backwardness" and do our very best to muddle along without the assistance of people from New York, LA, Washington, etc. Ignore the article. We are an unsophisticated backwater. (Did I mention the alligators?) Neither you nor anybody you know should even consider moving here given the rampant backwardness that abounds here in the Bayou City. 
You really should check out Dallas though. I think you'll like it there.
You gotta love that, a dig at the snooty and at Dallas, all in one.  Yee-haw!

*Reddit-style pursual of Pelinos in the USA leads to quick suspicion that the commenter in question is actually a doctor of psychiatry in New York City, with a past life as a guitarist in a hair band whose debut album was "Corrupt Mind."  Nope, I'm not making this stuff up. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

National Rifle Association sets its sights on Houston-- the 142nd Annual Convention

Following five months' political slog over post-Newtown gun control, the NRA's national convention landed here, in Houston.

Granted, the convention was planned even before twenty little children lost their lives in a mass shooting.  It was planned before the ensuing surge for new legislation and before NRA-discipline led to defeat.  With the timing of it all, and the frothing lately in national news, clearly the main stream media was wishing hard for confrontation at this weekend's event.

Despite the run up, a Texquiem purview shows precious little dissent on site or in surrounds.  Still, the main stream media is pushing a cra-cra-crazy view of the politicians who're in town.  Here's Sarah Palin, with her face specially screwed into muy loca mode:

Here's Texas freshman senator, Ted Cruz:  The media is still looking for a way to paint him crazy.  For now, they usually settle on some shade of Tea Party or political novice.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, aka Governor Good Hair, was there, yee-haw.  Here's Rick Santorum (who still can't overcome his Google problem).  But, see, he must be nuts, he's showing his teeth.  Here's Glenn Beck, whom media says has gone insane (as opposed to Adam Lanza, who was clearly out of his mind, but different, in a special blame-his-mother kind of way).

Given the hoopla, I expected a greater rabble-rousing presence all around.  The traffic to the convention center was bad, but nowhere near NBA-All-Star proportion.  The Kardashian girls were in town at the same time, but I think they got a rowdier crowd for their cult of personality.  Where are the flocks of politicos, either pro-2nd Amendment or ban-the-guns?  Not on any soap box on the corner of Hyde Park, to be sure.  Instead, the TV camera cast a solo shadow in the park across the street:

This girl made the national news, but was quiet and collected (and on her ownsome, but for the seated lady nearby) when Texquiem saw her.  

Guess the "hundreds" reportedly protesting with her were filled with the spirit of conviction only before lunch time on Saturday.  Because they'd all disappeared by the time I visited.

Disappeared, that is, except for these guys--the only ones with enough chutzpah to disagree just 15 feet from the entrance door.  Can you figure out their disagreement?  I can't--just saw "LaRouche" and basically got bored--how damn relevant is the man who's been dissenting since before I was born?  

Fact is, all the conventioneers were calm and (for God's sake) queuing when Texquiem saw them. The rest of the 60,000 attendees were inside, browsing nine acres of pistol-packin'-bras and target practice zombies.  (Really, there were zombies.  It's not just because I like the word).  In the end, Texquiem was just vaguely amused that, in the literal sense, either side of the gun debate could have told their opponents to "go fly a kite" and meant it.  

As Linda Ellerbee said, "And so it goes."

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Galleria: Hands Off My Arches (and my park), TIRZ!

Texquiem has previously highlighted Uptown Houston's Post Oak Boulevard, here.

Six pairs of massive stainless steel arches, circular silver street signs hovering over the major intersections, and purtier landscaping along public medians than you see anywhere else in the city.

signage wayfinding public art program
texas signage placemaking

They bedazzled Post Oak circa 1995--and even though it's stainless, it cost as much as your grandma's sterling.  The link to the Chronicle's story about the huge cost is now dead, so you'll have to take my word that it cost an arm and a leg.

The Uptown Management District wants to slice up these esplanades to install two dedicated bus lanes (with a sliver left for landscaping).  That's right--dedicated bus lanes.  Plus widen Post Oak Boulevard.  They'd rather have rail, but that's a no-go for now.  So instead, they'll settle for buses where they hoped light rail would run.  It's a vision you, see.  A vision of 1,000s of office zombies and Galleria dwellers suddenly descending highrise elevators and hopping on public transport to zip down Post Oak.  Or as the Management District describes it, "As importantly, travel within Uptown itself, whether by car, foot or by transit, must be convenient, safe and enjoyable." The cost?  $177,500,000 for the "transit project."  Another $114,000,000 for a "mobility project." And $113,000,000 more for "other."  Over $400 million dollars for bus lanes, in the hope to supplant king car in the Galleria area.

That seems to be a pretty big folly.  Have they been downtown in the last decade?  Office workers descend to the tunnels, not the streets, not the rail, and particularly not during summer.  Downtown streets have two dedicated bus and car pool lanes, in addition to the rail.  Hasn't stopped the traffic jams.  But it allows a lot of mostly-empty Metro buses to hog the roads for big chunks of the day.  Have they seen the dead irises and brownery down the skinny little medians on Main?  Do they really think they can get an oak tree to grow that tall in the little strip left in this picture?

Fact is, you can already ride a Metro bus up and down Post Oak.  That's why they have those fancy, custom bus shelters (below).  You don't need $400 million and a dedicated lane, or a widened street, to take the bus.  Dear Inner Loopers, when is the last time you contemplated taking a bus to the Galleria?  Yup, that's what I thought.  Mattress Mac is against it and points out that Uptown Management District once provided a free bus service up and down Post Oak--but had to cancel it due to too few riders.  Being Texas-born, I'm real familiar with the adage "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."

 IMG_0176 IMG_0171

But wait, they say.  We need the dedicated, local buses to ferry workers to park-and-rides we'll build!! Great, Texquiem is all for park-and-rides.  But you still don't need two dedicated lanes down Post Oak for it.  And, if you're heart-set on those dedicated bus lanes, go pick on McCue or Sage Roads, close by and parallel to Post Oak.  Make those your thoroughfares to your future park-and-rides.

In the end, let's just be honest, huh?  This dedicated-bus-lane-thing is just a way to get a foot in the door for light rail.  Texquiem likes the idea of rail, but the reality of rail in Houston?  Not so great, so far.  I've ridden the light rail more than a few times.  Except at Rodeo time, I've never been on it when the majority of passengers haven't been fare jumpers and/or homeless.  Did you ever see the blog Today on the Light Rail?  Hilarious but true!

While we're being honest, let's be honest about the costs, too.  It takes a ginormous amount of money to build just a few miles of light rail.  It's also a real buzz kill for businesses along the route.  Downtown was a nascent hotspot when the first stretch of light rail started.  Construction killed that off PDQ.  It also killed the Texaco Grand Prix--which was the coolest damn thing to hit downtown ever.  Metro started construction on the second stretch of light rail a few years back, closing the bridge on N. Main by UH Downtown in 2011.  Impractical navigation through there since.  As Casa Grande's owner pointed out, it's real hard to get to his restaurant now.  His business is down 40% and the construction continues way beyond its deadlines.  Seriously, any project costing $756 million should come in pronto and on budget.

Really, it seems like the Post Oak bus plan is a done deal, period.  They've packaged it up somehow with Memorial Park.  In addition to that $400 million in tax dollars Uptown TIRZ wants for dedicated bus lanes, they promise to dedicate $100 mm over 20 years to re-forest and remodel Memorial Park.  The Memorial Park Conservancy likes the deal.  For sure, the park was laid bare by the drought.  Who doesn't want to see it in better shape?  It's twice the size of New York's Central Park and looks like overplucked eyebrows right now.  Still, I don't fully understand the Uptown TIRZ deal.  The Chronicle has put the main stories, as well as Mattress Mac's counter-opinion, behind a pay wall.  The City's announcement makes the Uptown "rapid transit plan" sound warm and fuzzy.  You can read it here: annexing greenspace. Feels like they're putting lipstick on a pig.  With the park as the lipstick.

As much as Texquiem likes Uptown Houston's landscaping, I'm just a tad uneasy about putting Memorial Park in its hands for the next 20 years.  Apparently, Uptown Houston's half-a-billion-dollar baby includes integration of and access from the Galleria area to the Park.  Remember a few years ago when developers tried to loop in Spotts Park with fencing that matched their own?   You can see it on Google Streetview, right by Waugh near Buffalo Bayou.   They wanted to make the park acreage look like part and parcel of their own property. Didn't the City have to tell them to back off?   I understand that the Mayor has said absolutely no commercialization of Memorial Park.  Let's be sure to get that in writing.  Or better yet, carved in stone. After all, the Mayor is term limited and we don't know who comes next.  Who's left in the City's Parks Department to curb excesses on the largest city park?

Unease aside, the bottom line for Texquiem is the bottom line.  Half a billion is an outlandish amount of money.  What's $500+ million really going to accomplish, other than a construction nightmare, death blows to businesses currently along Post Oak, and loss of green medians on the hope that if they build it, riders will come. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013


File:Downtown Houston Skyline Night.JPG
photo by Bobby L. Warren, shared via Wikipedia Commons

Aaaahh, Houston, the nation is impressed that you can rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time.  Did you know you've been called "one of the country's most exciting places to eat?"  That may be a surprise to those cruising along the free-for-alls out to the 'burbs, passing ubiquitous fast food chains, Landry's permutations, and Pappas-what-was-that's on the feeder roads. Not that there's anything wrong with Tilman Fertitta's endeavors ('cause, really, who doesn't *get* the white tigers?) or the Pappas family ventures.

But it's the lovefest for Underbelly and Oxheart that has lured a New York Times food critic outside his home territory to here, where he has found "an instinct for the delicious that is rare in any city."

Before you get all soft and fuzzy about the freakin' New York Times, don't forget that Bon Appetit has already heralded Houston as the state's best and most diverse food city.  That sounds about what you'd hope from the country's most diverse city, right?  Anyway, Bon Appetit names Oxheart in the Hot 10 of America's New Restaurants for 2012.

Oxheart (along with newer Pass and Provisions) cracked into Opinionated About Dining's "coveted list" of Top 100 American restaurants.  This foodie-fight blogger is "America's most fickle food critic", i.e. Steve Plotnicki, a co-founder of Profile Records (signed Run DMC in the day) and rich guy who eats out too much.

Of course, Houston's made a great appearance in nominations for the Oscars of Food, the James Beard Foundation awards.  Two of five finalists for 2013's Best Chef Southwest hail from Houston:  Chris Shepherd of Underbelly and Hugo Ortega of Hugo's.  Local food critic Alison Cooke is a finalist for distinguished restaurant review (not hard to guess that her reviews of Oxheart and Underbelly are underscored).  Oxheart and its owner/chef, Justin Yu,were semi-finalists for Best New Restaurant and Rising Star Chef.  Anvil Bar & Refuge was semi-finalist for Outstanding Bar Program.  And the James Beard Foundation nods to Goode Company--semifinalist for Outstanding Restaurateur.

Frankly, I think all these folks need to high five Bryan Caswell of Reef, Little Bigs, El Real, recently-closed Stella Sola plus Next-Iron-Chef fame.  When he started making the national scene a few years ago, I think folks were scratching their heads in puzzlement about Houston being on anyone's culinary radar.  I remember watching the Las Vegas episode of Next Iron Chef and thinking, "Yes, yes, barbecue crabs!"  Plus, every contestant on Food Network after Caswell seemed to assemble a pain perdu after his charming little doughnut concoction.

Back handed compliments aside,* Houston lastly gets touted this week by travel writer David Landsel as an impressively creative and fun town, with plenty of good food, good music, good drink, and "best of all--fun-loving locals who are generally anything but uptight."  Hell, yeah, baybay.  So pat yourself on the head, Houston.  And after supper from our starry dining scene, rub your tummy, too.

Pat Your Head and Rub Your Tummy

*Guey, he called Houston so ugly that sometimes you may be tempted to put a bag over our head.  I'm just going to pretend I didn't hear that (and remind you to stay inside the Loop or just nap on the way to the airport, k?).