Year of Living Dangerously

Sports palaces, city cell-phone shenanigans and subdivisions where Montrose once stood. Could any self-respecting survivalist leave the bunker behind?

"You scamp, you. You sure it wasn't the Iditarod Sled Race they're trying to get?"

"Yeah, or Wimbledon? Maybe the city's working on a bid to host the British Open at Memorial Park," another laughed. "The Olympics Good one, Dave. You had us worried."

Slowly they realized Dave was serious.

Keller busted for DWI? His wife the target of Todd's lascivious calls? It had to be a liberal's plot!
Mark Poutenis
Keller busted for DWI? His wife the target of Todd's lascivious calls? It had to be a liberal's plot!

"You don't mean they're actually trying to get the Olympics in Houston, do ya?"

Dave just slowly nodded his head.

"We're staying," Johnny said, and went off to his room to brood once again.

The Y2K bug was a tougher bastard than any of them thought, he pondered to himself. First it makes Rob Todd crazy -- Johnny wasn't fooling himself, no matter what he told the others: No politician with the common sense God gave a dust mite would use a city cell phone to make $4,000 worth of calls to his colleague's wife.

Then the Astros collapse. You couldn't tell him that that wasn't all part of a plan -- no team drops so far, so fast without an ulterior motive.

Most troubling was the rise of McNair. Anointed as some sort of deity, with crowds in the streets and the media in his pocket. McNair had a plan to take over society, one that somehow involved building a lot of overpriced athletic facilities. If only Johnny could see what the plan was, he could stop it. But he just couldn't figure it out. Johnny knew his limitations, and he knew that more subtle minds than his were behind all this.

There was only one thing to do: He had to check out the situation himself.

He told the others he was going up. As he climbed the stairway he braced himself for the hellish vision he would have to endure: jackbooted thugs marching down Westheimer with McNair logos on their shirts, demanding that Houston build a new superbox-laden stadium for billiards, or Ping-Pong, or pinochle; Rob Todd, drooling into the receiver at a council meeting; the Astros, still trying to convince themselves Daryle Ward's an outfielder. He shuddered.

As he wandered around the city, however, he soon began to realize that nothing much had really changed. He found himself smiling at all the traditional things that made Houston Houston, all the little things he had taken for granted: Metro, still insisting it was going to spend hundreds of millions on light-rail; Allen Parkway Village, as ever a work in progress; the Houston Chronicle, still trying to make it seem that George W. Bush isn't really goofy.

This was still the city he knew, he told himself. This was still the city that could put an outdoor ice rink downtown and act surprised when it gets mushy on a 70-degree December day. This was still the Can Do city that led the nation in ozone problems and damn well wasn't going to let some so-called federal government make it do anything about it.

He felt as giddy as George Bailey shouting "Merry Christmas" to the ol' Building & Loan. It was all still here: the chemical fumes rising from the surface of the Ship Channel; the traffic cones on I-45; the pretentious soon-to-be-closed bars downtown.

He saw that Y2K had failed to vanquish the indefatigable crassness of Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale: Something called the " Bowl"? What a perfect way to tell the world, "We're Houston!" (Or perhaps, "We're Houston, and we're embarrassed by the guy too!")

Maybe someday soon, he thought, the Aggies would get a chance to play in the Bowl, which no doubt will be around for years and years.

He saw that free enterprise, in the form of heedless yuppies, was continuing to transform that Sodom called Montrose into a condo-filled family fun center with no trace of anything that might offend. If this kept up, he thought gleefully to himself, the yuppies in the condos might soon be calling in noise complaints about bars that had long been there. Pretty soon Montrose might even become a gated community!

He saw that Steve Hotze, the political kingmaker who taught Rob Todd everything he needed to know about unctuous family values, had himself been charged with driving while intoxicated. Johnny opened a beer in celebration.

He saw that HL&P was now Reliant Energy, but he saw that Reliant hadn't lost any of its legendary chutzpah -- even while raising rates, the company was spending $300 million for naming rights to the Astrodome and the new football stadium.

He saw all this, and he saw it was good. It was Houston. Sure, the city might have been thrown a bit by the new millennium, but it was still itself. It had survived into 2000 and weathered the year just the same as ever.

Johnny strolled back to the gun shop, knowing soon he'd be back selling AK-47s to hunters who apparently were going up against some really, really agile deer. And with a Bush in the White House, well, things were looking up in the old right-to-bear-arms department.

He threw open the massive steel doors. His people looked up expectantly.

"We wait no longer, folks," he said grandly. "It's time to rejoin our city."

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