Happy Independence Day!
This week marks the second anniversary of moving from our (mostly) beloved city of Philadelphia to Houston, Texas. Since I consider myself an East Coast Liberal, the move did not make a lot of sense, but my wife had an opportunity with Texas Children’s Hospital that we just could not pass up.
So, two years in, I still miss Philadelphia (although not so much in the winter), but life in Houston is not all that bad. In fact, I tell people when they ask me how I like it that I am really disappointed…that I don’t hate it.
There are certainly some negatives to living here:
- There is no getting around the fact that Houston is an ugly city. There are no zoning laws here, so it is strip mall after strip mall and freeway after freeway (I recently learned that our closest on ramp to Interstate Highway 10 is the widest section of freeway in the world).
- Houston is also unbelievably flat. As a cyclist, that means there really is no good riding that does not involve at least an hour drive. I regularly go for forty mile rides here and gain a total of 40 feet in elevation. My driveway in Sausalito had more than that. Add that the road surfaces are absolutely atrocious and it is safe to say that cycling here is, well, not good.
- Air conditioning is a way of life. There are few things I enjoy more than sleeping with the windows open. I was notorious for doing that in college, even in the winter, and I went to school in Maine. Not in Houston. The air conditioning is on pretty much 24/7/365. Our first Christmas in Texas? 85 degrees.
There are also many positives:
- Much of September through most of May. About three-fourths of the year, the weather is fantastic. Yes, these summer months can be a bit toasty, but as I say to my friends back on the East Coast: In both Philly and Houston, there are three months where you do not want to be outside, it just happens to be different months. At least during those months here in Houston, I am wearing shorts.
- People in Texas are really nice. That was perhaps the biggest adjustment since the default demeanor in Philadelphia is, well, a bit gruff. Texans, and particularly Houstonians are just simply nice to one another which is a welcome change.
- Even though this is not the best place to ride a bike, I put more miles in last year than the two previous years combined in Philly. Another factor in Houston’s favor: motorists seem to be far more respectful of cyclists than anywhere I have ridden on the East Coast (or even California, for that matter).
- Houston is considered the most diverse city in the country, which really surprised me. As such, it is an unbelievably robust food city. Within just a couple of miles of our house, we have great barbecue, Mexican, Tex-Mex (Mexican and Tex-Mex are different!), French, Korean, Chinese, Thai, Argentine, and just about every other South and Central American cuisine. It really is amazing.
- Speaking of food, it’s pretty cheap here. Despite popular perception, real estate is on a par with Philly, and perhaps even higher (unless you want an hour or more commute to the city), but food? Cheap. Gas? Cheap-ish. And no state income tax.
- As a wine writer, while Houston is no New York City, there is plenty going on in this town nearly every week. It will soon be the third largest city in the country (it is poised to pass Chicago any day now, apparently) and folks in the wine business are (slowly) realizing that it is a market that demands attention.
So, as I said, I am disappointed that I don’t hate it here. It is not Philly (nor does it want to be), but I no longer have a snow shovel, which is fine by me.
Have a safe holiday today and try to reach out to someone with political views that are not in line with your own. If I can make it down here in the red state of Texas (although it seems that is slowly changing), nearly everyone else can contemplate interaction with just about anyone. The country needs that now more than ever.