This is no surprise to anyone who’s actually been here. Houston has this weird reputation, though, of not being an actual city, and people think that it has a population of, like, cows (it’s actually the fourth largest city in the country). From what I can tell, many people get their ideas about it from the movie Urban Cowboy.
Or from hearing news stories about Enron. Or visiting people in Austin and hearing them talk about how horrible Houston is, because Austinites hate Houston about as much as they hate Californians. Or driving through the city during some cross-country road trip at rush hour. But actually Houston is totally awesome, and in addition to being the most diverse city in the US, here are some reasons why:
1. Museums. There are approximately 3,298 museums in the city. That’s a slight exaggeration. But there are a lot. Many of them are free, or have free days once a month. The Menil is one of my favorite free museums. It began as a teaching museum for The University of St. Thomas (my alma mater) and now holds a beautiful, permanent exhibit of surrealist paintings, with works from Magritte and Yves Tanguy. I also love the Houston Museum of Natural Science, with its dinosaur bones, its Hall of Energy, its gigantic Foucault Pendulum, and its butterfly museum that I have four free passes to (thanks Groupon!)
2. Flowers. It’s March, which means winter is a sweet dream long forgotten. Summer in Texas is a nightmarish wasteland, and spring will never escape being a reminder of that, but spring does have its high points, not the least of which is the jasmine that grows all over the Montrose/Heights area, as if summoned by magic. I honestly don’t know if it got written into some Homeowner’s Agreement or what, but jasmine grows everywhere down there, so much so that you can smell it every time you walk outside even if there isn’t a jasmine plant to be seen. The usual Texas wildflowers will also crop up along the highway, even though wildflowers are more of a Central Texas thing.
3. Sean Stewart wrote books that take place here. What! You don’t know who Sean Stewart is? Get yourself to Wikipedia, then. Sean Stewart writes about Houston (and, indeed, Texas) in a way that’s a billion times more accurate than anything Cormac McCarthy could come up with, and he can write lady characters! Win-win. Of his Houston books, I think Galveston is my favorite (Galveston is Not Houston only on a technicality), although Mockingbird is also excellent, despite its weird insistence that a middle-class family in Houston in the 1990s would not have even a window unit A/C (wrooooooooooooong). Both of those books do a good job of capturing the ideas people have about hurricanes around here, too.
4. Rushmore was filmed here. A funny story about this. I spent the summer after my first year at college in my hometown (which is definitely Not Houston in any way, shape, or form) watching Rushmore repeatedly. Every time I watched it I would think how lovely New England (where I assumed the movie was filmed) is, how lush and verdant and cool, how I should just move there and never have to endure four months of 95 degree days ever again. Imagine my surprise when I looked the filming locations up and discovered they were all in Houston, including neighborhoods and indeed specific buildings I had been to recently.
Yeah, I know.
5. The magical alley of Westheimer. Westheimer is a street that begins (roughly) at a late-night pizza shop in downtown Houston and stretches all the way out past the suburbs. It is my belief that anything you could possibly want could be found somewhere on Westheimer, from Starbucks to 1950s vacuum tubes to a portal into a fantasy universe, Narnia-style. (Also, half the people in the city, each in their own individual car, but this is a list of good things about Houston). The only catch is that all of these treasures will be located in a strip mall. Small price to pay, really.
6. Famous people1. Here are some of the awesome famous people who are from Houston:
And about a bajillion others. There’s a Wikipedia page.
7. NASA. One of the most famous NASA-related lines of all time is Houston, we have a problem. Ever think about why that is? Hint: they weren’t talking to a guy named Houston.
8. Food. Although I think San Antonio and Austin are both better for Tex-Mex, if that’s your fancy, Houston is better for basically every other kind of food there is, especially Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indian food. The only catch is that your taste of the sublime is probably going to be housed in some beige strip mall surrounded by scraggly palm trees, unless you’re eating in Montrose or the Heights, in which case it will be located in an old house strung up with Christmas lights. Which is awesome, and you know it.
In conclusion: Houston isn’t comprised entirely of wannabe cowboys, Enron executives, and kindly hitmen. I actually think Houston would be an ideal setting for an urban fantasy novel, because its utter lack of zoning laws gives it a weird labyrinthine field. You’ll be in some wealthy mansion-y neighborhood one minute and a desolate business park the next, with absolutely no warning. There’s no reason to think you couldn’t take a wrong turn and wind up in Fairyland. (I knew some people in college who thought that was a very real possibility, in fact.)
Finally, to thank you for your time, here’s the Houston radio edit of Lady Gaga’s “You and I”:
1I had a friend in college who went to high school with Beyonce. I KNOW AWESOME RIGHT.