A year ago Bookstop closed to much public furor, and the people cried. Two weeks ago KTRU was sold behind the students’ backs, and the people cried. Yesterday Angelika Theater was closed behind its employees’ backs, and the people cried. Some are pissed that interesting Houston institutions are going the way of a good Antone’s poboy. Others say that if the customers were there, these things would still exist. Money talks and bullshit walks in other words. And I say ENOUGH.
Maybe my problem is that I’ve lived here for too long. I’m third-generation Houstonian, so my roots run deep as far as this town is concerned. I’ve seen a lot of changes in Houston over the past four decades, and with the downfall of each cool thing and the raising of each strip mall to replace it, I feel a little less attached to my hometown. A little less like I live in Houston and more like I just live in a hot humid city with no mass transit.
The loss of Angelika and KTRU isn’t only about the arts community, just as the loss of Kiddie Wonderland and Peppermint Park wasn’t only about the under-12 amusement park-going community, and the loss of the Houston Post and the Public News wasn’t only about the print media community. Every time Houston loses a piece of what makes it unique and replaces it with a 24-hour Wal-Mart, a little of the city’s soul is lost too. Trying to stratify each loss as something that only affects artists or is only an issue for residents of the Heights is entirely too narrow-minded and dismissive of the bigger issue.
One of the reasons people stay in the same place (other than inertia) is because they dig where they are. They have roots. For me, man, I remember Kiddie Wonderland, a little amusement park just a hop/skip/jump away from the Astrodome (still a vibrant player when I was hitting the KW). My grandparents used to take my mom to Kiddie Wonderland when she was a girl (and totally in love with horses), and she grew up and took me there when I was a girl (and wanted to ride the “fast” pony). What I wouldn’t give to be able to take Tohner’s kids there in a few years and watch them out in that hot sun, riding a stinky horse while breathing in car exhaust. Do you think that sounds like a bad time? To me, it’s a perfect example of Houston as it exists in my mind. Old school Texas + modern car culture = incongruous experience that can only be found in Houston. Maybe I should say used to only be found in Houston. Things are entirely more sterile and generic now.
Today, I could take my niece and nephew for a little ride past the abandoned Astrodome (8th wonder of the world!) and show them a sea of CVS pharmacies across the street from Walgreens. This is what Houston is becoming. Chain restaurants, drive-thru pharmacies and big box retail, each block looking like the last. And I already know the other side. Why should someone keep renting land to a small business when investors from China want to buy the property? So what if these mom and pop places fill a particular niche for certain segments of the community. If the land owner can squeeze a few more dollars out of Staples, PetCo (where the pets go!) or Chili’s, begone independent business, and take your patchouli smelling, backward looking customers with you. Because MONEY is the only thing that matters. Right? I seemed to have missed that memo. Booze and laughter have been the driving forces in my life. And here we are.
Maybe I’m just becoming a curmudgeonly old biddy yelling at the kids to get out of her yard. Alls I know is, Houston is getting a little too Stepford for my taste these days.
Don’t even get me started on why I moved out of the Heights after 17 years…