Goodbye to a Stadium
The voters have spoken and barring some kind of miracle—a $217 million Kickstarter perhaps?—the Astrodome's fate has been sealed.
I'll certainly miss the place. My grandparents had upper-deck Astros season tickets for a couple of years in the early '80s, and that era remains my strongest memory of the place: Jose Cruuuuuuuuuzzz, Terry Puhl, Nolan Ryan's fastballs cracking in the mitts of Alan Ashby or (pre-game) the legendary Stretch Suba, wacky Joaquin Andujar and his quips. (My favorite: "There is one word in America that says it all: youneverknow.")
It was the place where I learned to hate Steve Garvey and Pete Rose and fear Steve Carlton, Andre Dawson and Pedro Guerrero, whom I saw hit a seemingly endless string of consecutive homers in that notoriously homer-unfriendly yard.
What I remember most about those games was all the sex and violence we encountered leaving the games. Major League Baseball had few or no restrictions on beer sales in those days, and it seemed like there was always a fistfight in the parking lot after the game. Or several, all involving dudes who'd has about three paper cups of the coldest foam in the dome too many.
And then as we tooled up traffic-choked South Main in one of my grandfather's giant rattletrap sedans, the street would always be lined with prostitutes, some of whom would flash their wares to all and sundry. We all pretended not to look.
I saw Willie Nelson in the Dome. (Jimmy Buffett too. Not bragging, just sayin.') And Pink Floyd, whose second set fried my tiny high school mind in 1987 or so. I was there for George Strait's last concert and watched as the cowboy rode away. I went on a hellish Wrestlemania man-date with my son, his pre-k buddy and his dad. God that was awful. On a better day I saw Vince Young play there for Madison High School and almost lead them to a win over Katy. I have vague memories of an early 1970s demolition derby, and I caught a batting practice foul ball on the third base line in the '80s.
I remember seeing Derek "Operation Shutdown" Bell write down the phone number of a female fan while he was in the field, and some players terrifying Rafael Ramirez by handing him a glove pre-game, out of which jumped a rubber spider. I remember hearing Rollie Fingers razzing a heckler from the bullpen mound, saying "I can't hear you now, lady," over his curled moustache after the Padres seized a late lead.
The Dome was where I got Darryl Strawberry's autograph. Dwight Gooden's too. Bluebonnet Bowls, forgotten Oilers playoff games from short runs pre-House of Pain, the 1986 All-Star Game, the Reverend Jesse Jackson walking the parking lot during the Katrina evacuation.
I'll never forget the sense of awe you got every time you came off the concourse and took in the vast sweep of the interior: infinity enclosed, the pigeons living and flying under those lights, the sparkling glass and eternal steel beams. The Dome had its own ecosystem, thermoclimes and animal life, most of which susbisted on stale popcorn and sugar-stains.
And it turns out there's no second act in the lives of Eighth Wonders of the World, and Jerry Glanville's House of Pain will soon be our municipal House of Memories.
Goodbye to a landmark. Goodbye to the Space Age. Goodbye to the devil-may-care vision of brash Texans. Goodbye to bold primary colors and hello, brutal efficiency, flinty-eyed penny-pinching and the gray way everyday.