At parties, we talk about Houston and our observations always match: it’s an easy place to live, we never expected to stay, two years and we’re outta here, nobody knows about what a great city it is, you’d never suspect just from a short visit etc. Everybody feels these things, especially the Convention and Visitors Bureau, who keep concocting ever more insipid city-marketing campaigns to combat them, never playing up the city’s real appeal: swamp culture capital of the USA.
I’m not talking about Louisiana or Florida swamp culture, that romantic gumbo of egrets, alligators and ghost stories; I’m talking rusting barges in the ship channel and glass towers with three sub-basements full of sewage.
Highway 59 during Tropical Storm Alison, 2001.
I’m talking about a landscape so devoid of charm that it’s best feature is the improvements people have made upon it. I’m talking about an insecure, greedy, trash culture that throws itself away every couple of decades. With the nearest scenic bit at least a couple hours drive, it behooves us here in Houston to make our own spectacles. It’s no accident that our greatest monuments are all either recycled junk like the Beer Can house and other sheet-metal sheds re-imagined as high architecture, or loony visions like the Astrodome or the Orange Show, made by people who should have known better, but had no generally recognized aesthetic to stop them.
Now, I love old barns, mid-century diners and scrimshaw just as much as the next guy, but you can get those anywhere. The greatest thing about Houston is that there’s no precedent, no generally recognized idea of what it’s supposed to be. Sure, that makes it difficult to pitch the city in a 10-second sound bite, but that’s why I’m here.
Tiger Jeep w/ optional flamethrower
A giant Archimedes’ screw designed to pump rainwater out of Texas City, 1980
also by Bill Davenport
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