I want to walk. But Houston won't let me.
"I do not like Houston. I've never been as miserable in any other place in the world as I am here.
I came in August 2002. When the Bush Intercontinental Airport doors opened, a flash of heat hit me in the face. It was like a stray dog's breath. I arrived with my then-wife and my daughter (she is still my daughter). We rented a van to go to our new home, and I asked the woman at the counter, "Is Katy far away?"
She answered without turning her head to see me: "Sir, in Houston, everything is far away."
Now I know: That wasn't a geographical description. It was a curse.
In Houston everything is distant: manners, camaraderie, tolerance, respect for differences, lack of driver education, charity, sincere friendship, solidarity, honor, dignity, sense of humor, conversations, solidarity. I can keep going for pages and pages. The famous Southern hospitality is like unicorns.
But for now I will focus on one thing: In Houston, walking is far away.
Photo: James Nielsen, Houston Chronicle
IN MY 40 and a few years, I've lived in ten cities of Europe and America. Nowhere else have I ever experienced such fear when walking in the street. I don't mean that I'm afraid of the people who I meet on the sidewalk. I mean that walking in Houston is a horrific adventure, a pleasure endangered.
Our public spaces don't make it easy for people to walk. There are parks, it is true, but you have to take a car to go walking in the park. There are walking paths, here and there, but you have to think where those routes are and what neighborhoods they serve.
In my neighborhood there are not even sidewalks. The bar nearest to my house roughly 100 yards away. But to have a beer there, I have to drive four blocks, get onto an avenue, make a U-turn. If I'm lucky and there's no traffic, it takes me about twenty minutes to drive there. Walking would take half as much time — but I'd be risking my life.
I once had a girlfriend. I loved her very much. (I still love her. She married another man.) She used to live in The Heights, near Studemont and I-10, in a very fancy townhome. On a beautiful March evening, I suggested going to the French restaurant on White Oak Drive — walking, holding hands, having dinner, stopping at a bar for a beer, and walking home holding hands. She yelled: "Are you crazy? Do I look homeless? You don't buy a red convertible to keep it in the garage. Never, ever invite me to walk anywhere again!"
Then I had another girlfriend. I loved her very much. (I still love her. She is not with me either.) She lives in River Oaks, near W. Gray and Shepherd Dr. She didn't want to go for walks anymore after the day of the murder. Well, it was almost murder.
We were walking south on Shepherd to a restaurant. We were holding hands and confessing to each other our eternal love. But when we arrived at Westheimer, the thing was ruined. We were crossing the street with the walk signal when a car hurtled from behind us, trying to turn from Shepherd westbound onto Westheimer. We had to jump, literally, not to be hit.
A guy in a huge truck honked his horn and yelled, "Run, idiots! The street is not for people! Get off the road!"
I yelled back. I cannot write what I shouted. This is a PG-13 publication.
Then the truck's engine stopped. A big guy got out and came toward me.
I got brave. I stood my ground. My girlfriend — my eternal love who is not with me anymore — ran to hide in a cell phone store.
The guy stood in front of me, holding up a metal tool. "Idiot," he said. "Look, I won't smash your face just because I'm in a hurry, but you damn pedestrians, you don't own the street. The streets were made for cars!"
I did not hit him. I didn't reply, either. He just left. We both (barely) survived.
My girlfriend from River Oaks didn't walk with me much after that.
WE LIVE in a city suffering a pandemic of obesity. And we have many other problems too: hypertension, stress, loneliness, depression, lack of communication between people. It occurs to me (my ideas!) that many of these problems could be solved if people walked more.
Walking is not just walking. While walking, you see things you'd never notice from a car. It changes your outlook; the city is different. Sometimes I think that in Houston we have not learned to live in harmony with our environment because we strive not to live in our environment.
Maybe I would like Houston a little if there were sidewalks and crosswalks to go to restaurants. Or maybe if motorists did not see pedestrians as a nuisance. Or maybe if neighborhoods had sidewalks. Or if walking were part of everyday culture in the whole city and not just with people on the path next to Buffalo Bayou.
I just want to walk. And Houston does not let me."
Fair Use Source: David Dorantes with Houston Chronicle