As some (many?) of you know, I moved to Houston just over three years ago. We had been living in Philadelphia, a town that I love and had adapted as my own, but my wife was offered an incredible opportunity–one we decided we could not pass up.
In the immediate aftermath of our migration south, many of my friends on either coast were cautiously curious as to the effects our new environs had on us. As most of our friends were coastal liberals (or at least leaned that way), their underlying belief (one that I shared to a certain extent) was that Texas was “behind enemy lines.”
Now that is certainly overly dramatic and I wish this country would not be as divided as it is when it comes to governance and politics, but it is. And for many, Texas is at the epicenter of that division. It gave us two presidents, one who was particularly polarizing (these days, thinking of George W. as “polarizing” is rather quaint), and at least one current senator who many on the left would consider one of the devil’s henchman.
So once I moved to Houston, I frequently received some iteration of this question: “Houston? What’s that like?” Each time, I interpreted the question as “So, what is it like to live in the belly of the beast?”
Each time, I answered the question the same way: “I am really disappointed that I don’t hate it.”
As an outsider (we moved to Houston three years ago), I find the city a rather odd place. It is not a particularly “pretty” city–in fact, it is rather ugly. There are no zoning laws, so the city is a patchwork of strip mall upon strip mall interlaced with highways and off-ramps.
In the next decade or so (maybe sooner), Houston will become the third-largest city in this country, surpassing Chicago and trailing only New York and Los Angeles. As such, it is quite a diverse city, claiming to be “the most diverse city in the country.” I am not certain how that is determined, but I certainly am in no position to dispute it.
The weather is often cited as a reason to avoid Houston and in the summer it can be brutal. Temperatures and humidity levels are in the high 90’s from essentially June 1st (or thereabouts) to at least Labor Day (or beyond), but as I tell my friends in Philly: there are three months in the north that you really don’t want to be outside, but during the three months of discomfort in Texas, at least I get to wear shorts.
The rest of the year though? The weather in Houston is close to fantastic (that is if you like 60-80 degree days with a breeze, and never use for a snow-blower).
The other aspect of living in Houston that continues to surprise me, is how nice and welcoming the people are. From neighbors to complete strangers, people will greet you with a warm smile and a pleasant hello. At first, coming from Philadelphia, this was disconcerting as folks in the City of Brotherly love would only act that way if there was clearly something wrong with you.
Thus in Houston, when facing such kindness, I would instantly search out a mirror to wet down a cowlick, remove spinach from my teeth, or determine which article of clothing was inside-out.
Nope. People are just nice.
They also take care of one another. Just a few months after moving into our recently built house, Hurricane Harvey struck. We were in a part of town that was spared from the flooding, but large swaths of the city were underwater. Shortly after the rain stopped falling though, Houstonians started cleaning up, starting over, and coming together as a community.
I was amazed at both how quickly the city got back to “normal” and how much support there was across the city for those who suffered. Sure, even two years after Harvey, work was still going on to rebuild after the storm, but by and large, the city had “recovered.”
As most of you know by now, the city this week has suffered another catastrophic storm. Tropical storm Imelda dumped feet of rain on the city and based on the reports that I have seen, the flooding may have even been worse than it was during Harvey.
This is no doubt a heavy blow to many in the city who had lost just about everything only two years ago.
I am in Sacramento as I write this, getting ready to head over to the airport again with the hope that my flight today will not be canceled as it was yesterday. I don’t know what I will find once I do get back, but I know the people of Houston will already be at work, responding to the storm, ready to lend a hand and help a neighbor.