Hidden Houston

Talking Houston: A Cheat Sheet

How to conduct a conversation on some of the city’s most popular topics, including what on earth is going on with the Astrodome.

By Jeff Balke October 24, 2016 Published in the November 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

0414 top neighborhoods cover midtown light rail cre7cs

Still haven't ridden the light rail? Maybe you should give it a try.

Sooner or later, making all that small talk, you’re gonna get roped into a conversation about something other than the latest Texans game. Here’s a few topics to keep you in the know:

Traffic and Public Transportation

Hou 1116 talk bus fxijtt

Image: ERICk hoffman

No, Houston is not a perpetual motion machine existing for the sole purpose of producing and repairing potholes. Discussion of the never-ending traffic and woefully underfunded public transit is, however, a perpetual fixture.

To Discuss:

  • TxDOT says the construction of Highway 290 will be done in 2017. They are almost certainly wrong.
  • Mayor Sylvester Turner’s initiative to fix Houston’s potholes has been hyper-successful mainly because we had eleventy billion prior to the program—and that was just Richmond Avenue between Shepherd and Montrose.
  • Despite our reputation as a driving city, Houston has miles and miles of dedicated bike paths, but only hipsters use them to commute.
  • Houston’s commute times are some of the highest in the country, yet road-rage incidents remain remarkably low…in the non-summer months.
  • Despite being bitterly contested, Houston’s light rail system has some of the highest ridership capacity in the country. And it almost never crashes with cars anymore.

The Astrodome

Hou 1116 talk astrodome bga6ad

Image: ERICk hoffman

The Dome is an example of both our adventurous nature and our disconcerting disinterest in historic preservation. The Eighth Wonder of the World sits vacant and rotting next to the gleaming NRG Stadium. Why? Sometimes even we don’t know.

To Discuss:

The Astrodome was the first fully air-conditioned indoor stadium, like a mall filled with sweaty athletes.

  • Ideas for rehabbing the facility have ranged from turning it into everything from a water park to a hotel to a museum to an exhibition center to an indoor ski mountain, because nothing says “hit the slopes” like Houston.
  • One plan proposed by UH architecture students, which would have kept the skeleton and roof of the stadium and added a park beneath, was rejected because it made too much sense.
  • Recently, Harris County approved a preliminary plan that would turn the lower levels of the Dome into a parking garage and the upper level into a park for events. It has long been rumored that both the Texans, who occupy NRG Stadium, and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo want the structure to be razed entirely to make room for a parking lot in the middle of an already enormous parking lot. (This, despite the fact that families who got lost trying to find their cars during Oilers games in the early ’90s are still wandering aimlessly around the grounds today.) So, win-win?

The Weather

Hou 1116 talk weather x0110r

Image: ERICk hoffman

Despite the images many outsiders have of tumbleweeds blowing across a desert expanse, Houston has more in common with the tropics—which means loads of rain, summer-afternoon downpours, misty winter drizzle and the occasional hurricane.

To Discuss: 

At some point, you will have to deal with a flood. The key is not to walk in the water like TV reporters do (while warning you against doing the same).

  • “Hide from wind, run from water” is a common hurricane axiom. “Drink beer in your driveway with your neighbors” is another, lesser-known saying.
  • Everything in Buffalo Bayou Park was built to be submerged. Your car was not.
  • During the brutal summertime, remind your friends up north that you’ll be on a patio in shorts sipping a frozen margarita when they are shoveling snow.
  • For a quick skin treatment, run outside after a summer thunderstorm. When the sun comes out and the steam rises from the pavement, it’ll take 10 years off your face. 

The Energy Industry

Hou 1116 talk energy ddimvy

Image: Erick Hoffman

Much of our city’s success is thanks to oil and gas and, although our much-mythologized “diversified economy” is increasingly becoming a reality, O&G remains synonymous with Houston.

To Discuss: 

While the rest of the country rejoices at lower oil prices, we’re not the rest of the country. Local news covers oil prices with the obsession of a weatherman watching a hurricane.

  • Repeat after us: The oil bust of the 1980s could never happen again.
  • The Energy Corridor sounds like a beautiful hallway in a futuristic spaceship, but it’s really just a bunch of glass-and-steel buildings separated by a highway.
  • “Shelter in place” is what refineries and chemical plants tell nearby residents during emergencies that probably won’t melt anyone’s face off.
  • The first rule of Enron? Never talk about Enron.
Show Comments