Leaving Austin Essay: So Long and Thanks for All the Foobars

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5. Houston: The Homely Mistress

By Robert Nagle, October 2003
Summary: The final part of this essay compares the amenities of Austin with that of Houston and concludes that Houston ain't so bad.

Few fall in love with Houston or its vast expanses of parking lots,office complexes and national franchises. Houston is not as verdant or as hilly as Austin; there is nothing special or magical about Houston; it just is. It is an aimless jumble of residences and businesses and ethnic neighborhoods and dilapidated schools; nobody actively seeks to live in Houston; still, it's where people and corporations end up. Austin has the intellectual ferment of a world-class university; Houston has an open enrollment university, a respected medical center and a thriving writer's community. Austin has Barton Springs and Zilker Park; Houston has Memorial Park (which is not really comparable), but on weekends you can head down to Galveston's beaches or other towns away from Houston's smoggy clouds. Austin has 6th Street Music; Houston has big arena concerts, a respected regional theatre and a bunch of blues legends who come out of the woodwork for the occasional blues or international festival. Austin has youth, Alamo Drafthouse, Dellionaires, and Lance Armstrong wannabees; Houston has River Oaks snobs, the Rodeo, the Orange Show, an astonishing downtown tunnel system, art car parades, moon rocks and an infinite variety of ethnic restaurants and video stores.

I don't mean to convince people that Houston is somehow superior to Austin. It is not. It is an ugly, noxious crime-ridden place populated by armies of SUV's and high school gangs. But it's cheap to live here and (for me at least) a place of plentiful jobs. No one feels a sentimental attachment to Houston; people just make their peace and feel a sense of triumph whenever they discover an interesting shop at a strip mall amidst the banality. The city that inspires love and passion also inspires disaffection and ultimately disappointment; a city that doesn't inspire can still surprise, entertain and even fascinate. One sheds no tears at having to leave Houston, but one is always sure that this city--always the homely thing--will greet you with open arms the next time you return.

Robert Nagle is a writer, creative geek and weblogger who lives in Houston, Texas. . Most recently he started a share the music weblog .

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