Wide Open Country lists some things that kids these days just won’t understand. In Texas, the passing of the years has been particularly poignant, and more than a few eras have ended. So sit back and take in these 10 Texas things from the good old days.
In a time before the Texans graced the verdant fields of Reliant Stadium, there was another team, and another stadium. Before Texas kids idolized J.J. Watt, their predecessors ran about with light blue and white jerseys with oil derricks on the sleeve and raved about Warren Moon.
From 1960-1997, Houston’s professional football team was the Oilers, and they played in the Astrodome, which was called the 8th wonder of the world for its (originally) one-of-a-kind domed roof. In the late nineties Bud Adams (known around Houston by a few, more explicit, epithets) moved the entire Oiler franchise to Nashville, creating the Tennessee Titans, along with a lot of hard feelings and abandonment complexes. Then followed about a five-year period when Texas’s only football team was the Dallas Cowboys (for some, this is still the case).
In the ensuing years, Bob McNair lobbied Houston to build Reliant Stadium to entice the NFL back to Houston, and when the league granted a new franchise to Houston, the Texans were born.
No offense to Selena Gomez, who is also a Texan and an amazing singer, but long before she was gracing the airwaves and breaking Justin Bieber’s heart there was another Selena. Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was the first ever pop sensation to cross over to mainstream music from Tejano. Born in Lake Jackson and raised in Corpus Christi, the morena beauty was called “the Mexican Madonna” by the media, and she stole our hearts via FM radio. Selena, known professionally only by her first name, united English speakers and Spanish speakers with her dulcet voice, and people all over Texas wore out their cassette tape copies of Amor Prohibido.
In 1995, Selena was murdered by her financial manager who had been embezzling funds from the pop star’s fashion enterprises. Corpus Christi erected a monument on the beach in her honor, and she is still mourned today.
8. Weiner’s…the most embarrassing department store.
Before Texas kids were dragged to Kohl’s every fall to stock up on Twinkle Toes and graphic tees, their parents were dragged to a more embarrassing but equally affordable department store. Weiner’s was sort of a low-end Macy’s, or a high-end Walmart, which probably accounts for why they are now out of business.
Texans pronounced the department store chain the same way you would pronounce “hot dog wieners” so if anyone actually liked what you bought and asked you where you got it, you’d have to lie or face the inevitable giggles that accompanied saying the word “Weiner’s” out loud. They carried a lackluster clothing assortment that was just fashionable enough to guarantee you didn’t look like a time-traveler from the previous decade. Weiner’s closed in 2000, and school children have been grateful ever since.
Honorable Mention in this category goes to Foley’s (now Macy’s) and Joske’s (now Dillard’s).
Growing up in Houston back in the day was awesome for many reasons, one of which was the constant trips to AstroWorld all summer long. A season pass cost the same as two tickets so pretty much everyone got one. After making it across the giant bridge on 610 and through the lines in the blistering heat, you’d spend the first five minutes excitedly trying to decide whether to ride the Greezed Lightning or Batman the Escape first.
The site of so many happy childhood memories was permanently closed after the summer season in 2005, and a few short months later nothing but a grassy field remained. A new theme park, Grand Texas has been planned for the New Caney area (North of Houston), but development has been delayed. As awesome as it will surely be when finished, it can’t compete with the kitschy nostalgia that was AstroWorld.
6. Aquarena Springs had a swimming pig!
San Marcos in the Texas Hill Country is a beautiful place. The Guadalupe river and its various tributaries converge among towering oaks and sycamores. The San Marcos river flows right through the campus of Texas State University who maintains the position of protector of the ecosystems in that area. Probably one of the most beautiful and enchanting natural wonders in San Marcos is Aquarena Springs which used to be a tourist destination that had a swimming pig, mermaids and a resort hotel. It was a sad day for Texans in 2008 when the hotel and its attractions closed. You can still take a glass-bottom boat ride, but don’t expect to see Ralph the pig swimming alongside your boat.
5. Halloween before Ronald Clark O’Bryan became “The Candyman”
Urban legends about booby-trapped Halloween candy have circulated as long as most people can remember. In 1974, a despicable man named Ronald Clark O’Bryan decided to take advantage of those rumors to murder his own children to collect their life insurance payoffs.
O’Bryan distributed five Pixy Stix laced with potassium cyanide to his own two children and three other neighborhood kids on Halloween night, 1974. O’Bryan’s son Timothy was the only one to eat the poisoned candy, and he died from the ordeal.
O’Bryan was tried, convicted and executed in the early eighties, but the ripple effects of his crime lived on for years for frightened parents. Previously, neighbors would make homemade treats like candied apples, popcorn balls and cookies to give away to trick-or-treaters, but that stopped because concerned parents were tossing the handmade goodies.
4. MARVIN Zindler…EYE witness news.
“AND NOW AND NOW AND NOW AND NOW FOR THE BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG ‘S’!” Marvin Zindler would have made an incredible auctioneer, but instead he devoted his life to making Houston a better place. This famous native Houstonian passed away in 2007, and subsequent generations of Texans will never know what they missed. With his bright white hair and blue-lensed glasses, he was a very recognizable figure on the Houston news.
Good ole’ Marvin was was famous for his tireless fights for justice among the poor and elderly, as well as his “Rat and Roach Report” which outed restaurants with poor health department grades. Each report would end with Zindler rattling off a list of restaurants and their addresses who had been cited for “Slime in the ice machine” (that’s the big “S” mentioned above).
Zindler was made famous after his news report exposed the operation of a brothel in La Grange, which later inspired the story behind the musical “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”, and the ZZ Top hit “La Grange”.
3. Sky Ride at Brackenridge Park was an amazing adventure…sort of.
For almost 40 years San Antonians and tourists alike could take in a breathtaking aerial view of the Japanese tea garden and the wonders of the San Antonio zoo by embarking on the gondola attraction known as Sky Ride. Nowhere else was dangling 100 feet in the air from a rickety metal box so relaxing and thrilling all at once.
The cars were painted cheery colors of red, yellow, blue and green and made an attractive sight as they bobbed slowly back and forth above the park. In 2002, the gondolas had begun to deteriorate, and the ride was dismantled for safety reasons. The rusty old cars were sold off to nostalgic citizens for $1000 each. This ride would never have made it in the overly litigious, safety-obsessed climate of the 21st century anyway, since as you can see, the gondolas weren’t enclosed in any plexiglass.
2. The Houston Rockets used to play at Lakewood Church.
The youngest congregants of Joel Osteen’s colossal Mega-church probably don’t realize they’re walking the same halls that were once graced by Hakeem Olajuwon. They probably also don’t know who Hakeem Olajuwon is, the little whippersnappers. The Compaq Center (also called The Summit) was the home of the Houston Rockets for many years before it became Lakewood.
The Rockets got a new stadium, The Toyota Center, in 2003, and the Osteens moved in two years later. With a congregation of over 30,000, it’s not surprising Lakewood needs a basketball arena. I mean, where else would you put the largest church in the United States?
Though financial scandals are seemingly a dime a dozen in recent years, in 2001 the Enron scandal absolutely ripped the rug out from under the lives of thousands of Houstonians. Merely one month after 9/11 rocked the United States, word got out that the powerhouse that was Enron had been only a hollow shell after all.
Four-thousand People lost their jobs, pensions and life savings when Enron stock plummeted, but beyond that, the city of Houston itself changed entirely. Before it was called Minute Maid Park, the multimillion dollar field where the Houston Astros play was called Enron Field. The massive Earth Day music festival in Houston that is held annually was called the Enron Earth Day Festival.