Since we’ve been in Houston, I’ve driven mostly in the swankier parts of town—Rice Village, Bellaire, the Museum District, Braeswood—with brick houses as big as a church, beautiful old trees, and manicured green hedges, with seldom a soul in sight.
Last week I took the METRORail from the Medical Center to downtown and saw another Houston.
In 1990, Houston remained the largest city in the country without a rail system. In 2001 after decades of voter resistance and obstruction from the Houston mayor, the Texas congressmen, and the Texas senator, ground was broken on the original 7.5 mile North/South Line running from the Medical Center to downtown. Construction on two East/West Lines started in 2009 and was completed in 2015. The METRO tracks run within an arm’s length of vehicle traffic on two main surface streets, creating an exhilarating, will-we-make-it trip for drivers and a dramatic adventure for pedestrians. Obscure signage adds to the fun (Does a drawing of a car on tracks mean Yes or No? What about a thin, red rectangle?) And I’m not kidding, at some intersections there is a left turn/u-turn arrow with a red slash through it, next to a flashing green left turn sign. I get to choose?).
Speaking of obscure signage and highway merriment, the other day we were driving on the 610 (against our better judgement) and kept seeing signs that said NO HC! Hot Coffee is forbidden? We are not voting for Hillary Clinton? Don’t be caught holding Hallmark Cards? Mr. Google found that No HC=No Hazardous Cargo—luckily we got rid of ours when we stopped for gas.
Anyways, local transit is used mostly by commuters and by people who have the time to travel at a leisurely pace and who aren’t necessarily pressured by deadlines. When I’m riding transit, my ears are always tilted to pick up interesting conversations. (Sorry, an unattractive personality trait). This one seemed to sum up the essence of justice in Texas.
NB METRORAIL REDLINE – LATE MORNING
Inside of a rail transit car. City neighborhoods flash by out the windows. First an upscale shopping district with well-dressed pedestrians, large office buildings and apartments, then the Museum District – outdoor sculpture gardens, fountains, urban gardens, and large brick houses set back from the street. Neighborhoods gradually deteriorate to funky taverns, vacuum cleaner repair shops, quick-cash walk-ups, pawn shops, and the occasional shapeless sleeping bag lump on a blue tarp.
OLDER BLACK GUY sitting on upper level next to the window, left arm flung over seat back. Rail car sparsely populated, doors open and close with loud CLANG at each stop. YOUNGER WHITE GUY walks through the automatic doors and steps up into the second level. OLDER BLACK GUY greets him with surprised familiarity.
Where ya been? Haven’t seen you around lately.
Just got out of jail.
No kidding! Whadja do?
Smoked some weed—got six months. Lost my place and all my stuff. My girlfriend took my kid and went to live with her Mom. Got a job at the car wash, but no place to sleep.
I just got a new place. Last one kicked me out cause I had a job. I told them, “You don’t want me to lay up on you! I can pay my way, just need a place to put my head.” They kicked me out anyway. But ole Frank, who sleeps around the corner, told me to go to the First Baptist and talk to Deacon Morris. So now I have a bed and two squares. Go see him, he’ll set you up.
Thanks, man. I could use a break.
Ah Texas—home of the open-carry, a “low taxes, low services” political approach, a strong right-to-life culture in a state that accounts for thirty percent of people executed in the country since 1974, an anti-union work environment and a Senator who opposes raising the States’s $7.25 minimum wage—calling it a “job killer,” a high incidence of domestic violence, and six months imprisonment for possession of 2 oz. or less of marijuana.
And Texas is the U.S.’s 9th most religious state—go figure.