Monday, February 11, 2013

Texas Monthly's My Montrose

All you gritty-in-your-souls Inner Loopers (and a good number of you Outer Loopers, too), don't you have a Montrose story to tell?  You know you do.

Need a little inspiration?  Why don't you first take a look at My Montrose in this month's issue of Texas Monthly.  It brings back all sorts of Texquiem moments for me.  A trip down Montrose Lane, as it were.  Kind of like here.  And here:

Not long after pint-sized Texquiem moved to Houston, I overheard my mother conversing in hushed tones about a friend who lived in (cue the drop in volume, ssshhhh) Montrose.  Mom's hushed voice signaled an illicit topic I wasn't supposed to hear, but I was already accomplished in pretending to hear nothing while actually hanging on every word.  As far as I could gather, Mom's prim friend was living on the wild side with a lyin', cheatin', drinkin' sonuvagun . . . dentist (?)!  Now, every Texas-born girl knows that the cheatin' part should get you a good ass-kicking.  And a good many Texas-born girls are real sure the drinkin' will get you sent straight to the devil.  But seemed to me that my mom was most shocked about the Montrose part.  Even then, my ears perked up.  Oh? Really?

And thus began My Own Montrose story, and it has threaded like a ribbon throughout my life, here and there, ever since.

As a teenager, the freedom of a driver's license meant we could sometimes haunt the Westheimer curve. We and 200 other pimply-faced teens would cruise bumper-to-bumper up and down, up and down, from Shepherd down past Montrose.  We'd stare at each other.  We'd gawk at the punks and the new wavers, glimpse the goods at Leather Forever, count the tattoo parlors, and spot the occasional Ru-Paul-lookalike headed to the transvestite club where the Royal Oak Bar now sits.  Montrose was mohawks and day-glo hair and used clothing shops (like Wear It Again Sam) and antiques and art and runaways and freaks and addicts and Numbers.  And, of course, the largest gay population in America outside of San Francisco at the time (or so I've been told, I can't find confirmation of it now).

Just a little later, I was finally old enough to DMAO (that's danceMAO) in Numbers.  I never was cool enough to be there, but had a heckuva time trying.  I was also never committed enough to get inked, and piercings in strange places didn't appeal ( I'd wuss'd out and let my pierced ears grow over once), but I'd flit in and out of the tat parlors for the fun.  Only places in Montrose that really made me blush in those years?  The head shops--not for the pipes, but more for the "novelty" toys.  Silly how that stuff embarrassed the living daylights out of me.  On the other hand, I ventured into a few of the gay bars.  By that period, most citified people could not care less if their friends were gay or lesbian or straight.  Sadly, some rednecks still cared although none of their damn bidness.  While parking the car near J.R.'s during a bachelorette party (that's an episode worthy of Will & Grace in and of itself), I had one such lout hurl a beer bottle toward me and shout a slur about gay men.  I was fixin to get all indignant on behalf of the target I thought to be behind me, and it took an extra second to realize he was yelling at me!  I wasn't sure whether to be amused that I'd been mistaken for a man, gay or not.  But I was really, really steamed about the hurled bottle.

Speaking of bachelorettes, Montrose was the scene of my husband's wedding proposal to me.  We topped off our engagement later that evening by wandering down to the Gay Pride Parade and catching the goodies thrown from the paraders.  We lived for a while near the brick street by Wilson Elementary where three gay men, a lesbian, and a terrier started the Houston Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus.  We watched as the townhomes invaded more and more and more.  Thieves stole our bikes twice and dug up our plants from the front yard once. I bought furniture at Reeves Antiques and BJ's Oldies.  Evan Thayer snapped our portraits. We ate at just about every cafe and restaurant around, from Barnaby's to Baba Yega's, La Mora to La Mexicana, Ming's to MoMong, NikoNiko's to Nippon, Brasil to Bibas.

Now? Reeves is mostly Cool Stuff.  Anvil replaced and bettered the Daiquiri Factory. MoMong outlasted Oscar's Creamery, but is losing parking to El Real (omg its beans are good).  I'm just about over my pout about the old Felix and ready to try Uchi.  Chances is now Underbelly--and they're doing something to Mary's, Naturally as we speak.  If Leather Forever's your thing, it's still in business, though I hear Bayou Bear is hot in leather now.  There's something for everyone in Houston's Montrose, still the strangest neighborhood east of the Pecos.

Felix, courtesy Wikimedia Commons
El Real saved chairs from Felix!  That makes me Feliz.

This past week at Ash Rowell's memorial, I heard one of the craft beer gurus joke about the beer-guys-versus-parent-crowd aesthetic that was there.  So funny, hon, and so true!  Just in looking, it was like ZZ Top versus Martha Stewart.  But only on the outside.  Cause we're still gritty on the inside, at least enough to count!  I think that's why all the Cub Scouts' crowd love the "bootlegger, lawyer, and a preacher" joke so much.  We're just not your usual pack.  Instead, we're "typically untypical upper middle-class parents of the lower Montrose, urbane and liberally inclined"--Texas Monthly wrote that blurb in 1973, by the way.

Maybe I'm not at Lola's anymore.  With kids, we're more likely to be visiting Half Price Books, or the Greek Festival, or NikoNiko's, or Texas Art Supply.  Still, My Own Montrose story meant I couldn't pack it up for the 'burbs, just because we'd had the finicky children.  Not when everything I loved most about Houston was sitting inside Loop 610.  So we stayed.  Living here means my finicky children think it's normal to play chess outside the Black Lab.  And to drink hot chocolate at Agora.  One finicky child even sold brownies to the mayor at the school's election-day bake sale, without any clue of how evolutionary that was in the Mayor's or her own Montrose Stories.

Montrose is still the place for "River Oaks bridge clubs, Cuban exiles, Greeks, junkies, runaways, drug store cowboys, and God knows who else."  That's My Own Montrose.  What's yours?

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