mother superior jumped the gun

my fourth birthday at Peppermint Park (RIP), 1974

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…


14 responses to “mother superior jumped the gun”

  1. Well said, Crystal. I completely agree.

    And P.S. I used to go to Kiddie Wonderland too…I never was brave enough to try the fast horse though.

    • Thanks, Virginia! I only did the fast horse once, on what ended up being my last trip there. As I recall, it was pretty fast (though it looked like it was 100 years old).

  2. So…. pregnant pause…. why did you move out of the Heights? Inquiring minds…. I went to a house concert in the Heights last wk. I already know the answer.

  3. I’ve started to come to believe that Houston’s true identity is that of change. For all the things you miss, my mom has a hundred more because she’s been here her whole life – much longer than we have. But, if you do any study on the history of Houston, we were built on a lie. The Allen Brothers hoodwinked people into buying land here by showing them drawings of the Rhine River Valley saying it was Houston. The very fact we survived all these years built on a swamp is just pure strength of will.

    I’m not saying it makes up for losing things we love, but we’ve also gained a tremendous amount and the past always seems to look better with that golden glow.

    The Heights and the Sixth Ward were crime-ridden and dying until 15 years ago. We actually built and continue to build light rail. Downtown was once a barren wasteland of homeless people and now we have new parks, new arts and sports facilities and restaurants. Houston’s 2020 plan is going to completely re-shape the landscape (literally and metaphorically) of Buffalo Bayou.

    Going back even more, US 90 used to be the only route to San Antonio – a two lane highway that was regularly clogged with traffic worse than what we have now. Places like Kennedy Heights used to exist.

    I hate losing things I love about Houston too, but we’ve gained a lot as well and I’d like to think we learned some lessons along the way. Houston isn’t easy, never has been.

    • I hear what you’re saying Jeff. Houston is about change. Houston is about tearing down what’s old and replacing it with something new and shiny. I get it. But for me, the old shit is what I love, and I’m not digging the new shit that much. So I’m in a bit of a quandary.

      Parks downtown are great. Some of the changes are welcome and lovely. But they don’t make up for what is lost. I do not believe it has to be an either/or proposition.

      I moved into the Heights 18 years ago, and it wasn’t until the past four or five years that crime became a big issue for me (post yuppie invasion, in other words). Prices in that neighborhood have become so high, I can’t afford to live there anymore. And I don’t really want to anyway because the bungalows are disappearing, the art cars that used to be parked in people’s driveways have been replaced with Mercedes because the artists have moved out, and the restaurants have become valet-only. I know some people see this as progress. I don’t.

      It isn’t a class issue. I just liked living in a neighborhood that had lots of different types of people. I liked seeing ridiculous dinosaur sculptures in people’s front yards. I liked the fact that, in order to buy a pair of pants or a bottle of wine, I had to leave the neighborhood. That was a state of being that I enjoyed, so I don’t see the yuppification of that neighborhood as progress. Maybe if I were a land owner and watched my property double and triple in value I might be. That’s why the Wal-Mart going in on Yale is so depressing to me. It’s bringing the sprawl inside the city. It’s the other side of the same shitty coin.

      And I liked Washington Avenue when Satellite and Pig Stand were there. Now the former is a salon and the latter is a sports bar. I’m not digging the “progress” in that area either.

      Guess I just like the crappy, dusty old stuff. Which is good, because that’s the direction my body is heading…

      • Oh – and, of course, I didn’t mention the one thing about Houston that I still very much love – the people. One of the reasons it is/will be hard for me to leave this town are the deep friendships I have with a lot of really awesome folks.

        So it’s not all doom and gloom!

  4. I guess this is what we call the American Dream — at least the Houston Dream. Scrape away the used bits and replace it with temporary shiny bits.

  5. While I can agree with many of your sentiments, I also recognize that much of your perspective is based on just that, your perspective. There is much nostalgia in your sense of loss. I know you may find it implausible, but I suspect that there will very likely be someone else in 25 years or so that will lament them tearing down one of these shiny new places that you are lamenting being building right now. Because that shiny new place will be a source of their own nostalgia.

    I also tend to agree, to some extent, with the opinion that these places would still be in business if they were providing a service/product that enough of the population desired. The laws of the marketplace are very analogous to the laws of nature, and business is, after all, business.

    I think the fact that you & I see these changes as great losses to our community, is more a statement about our own distance from the mindset of mainstream society, than anything else. Also, I believe some of the this is a reflection of deep & widespread changes that are occuring to the very fabric of our way of life. For example: I believe the “movie theater” as a form of entertainment will soon be a fairly archaic concept, and will end up being more of a fetish/specialty thing than it was in the past.

    • Though I write in an authoritative (if not profane) voice in this blog, I don’t ever mean to suggest that this is anything other than my opinion. I’m not a journalist, just a person with some strongly held opinions and recipes that involve pork products.

      I have a lot of nostalgia for people and places that are no more. You are right about that. And this post wasn’t specifically about Angelika. That was just yesterday’s example. There will be plenty more examples to choose from tomorrow and next week and next month. This was really more of a lament for things that are gone, never to return, and a chance to remember them for myself (and obviously a few others, too).

      The world keeps on turning and I look to the future, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t miss some of my past.

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