The U.S. Census will tell you that 2.1 million people live in Houston. What it won’t tell you is why.
Last week my wife had to go to Brazoria County (motto: “Gateway to Harris County”) on business. We took a couple of extra days off and turned the trip into a weekend getaway to see our nephew, Chris the Fabulous, and visit the Bayou City.
Houston is a world-class city. It has first-rate museums, a thriving theater district, an internationally renowned opera company, a symphony, and restaurants that rival those anywhere. But despite all the pluses, the heat and the traffic would make living there unbearable for me.
I’ll start with the heat. One afternoon, after a meal of fajitas (“fajita” apparently being Spanish for “Quaalude”) we went back to Chris’s apartment for a nap. When we got up I realized I had left my phone in the car and ran down to get it.
This was a Very Bad Idea. Unless you grew up in Mumbai, or perhaps on the surface of the sun, you should not brave summer outdoors in Houston between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. From the door to the car and back could not have been more than a 45-second trip, but by the time I got back I had sweated away about a quarter of my body weight and had to be given sweet tea intravenously until the hallucinations abated.
To combat the hellish weather, everyone – businesses, offices, movie theaters, you name it – has weapons-grade air conditioning. Step into a restaurant or a shop, soaked to the skin from foolishly being outside, and you are likely to contract pneumonia. There’s even a rumor that Michael Jackson’s frozen head is secretly being stashed in the Disney Store in the Galleria. No cryogenic container needed, either – it’s just sitting on a Mickey Mouse picnic plate on shelf directly under a vent.
Going from indoors to outdoors is fraught with its own dangers. After lunch one afternoon in a restaurant so cold it should have been staffed by penguins, we stepped out into the midday inferno. The abrupt and radical change in temperature made my sunglass lenses pop out. They rocketed across the parking lot and struck a panhandler, who fell to the pavement and immediately burst into flames.
Houston traffic is also a nightmare. The official Visit Houston website claims – and I quote – “Navigating Houston is a cinch.” Another website claims that a secret group of reptilian humanoids called the Babylonian Brotherhood controls humanity, and that many prominent figures – not just Mitch McConnell – are actually reptiles. After a weekend of driving around town, I can tell you that the main difference in the two sites is that the latter is at least marginally believable.
Houston is home to about 1.3 million cars — all of which are apparently on the road at all times — and an equal number of drivers — all of whom are obviously in an enormous hurry to be somewhere else. At any given time, approximately half of them will be speeding past you, and the other half will be on your rear bumper gently urging you to get the fuck out of their way. If they were leaving Houston I could understand their impatience, but most are not. They appear to want nothing more than to be anywhere else than behind you.
In city where drivers use handguns as turn signals, it’s no surprise to learn that most Houston HMOs cover road rage.