By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
You are no doubt a savvy traveler. You have checked out the Web site of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, which contains these actual sentences: "The NBA-winning franchise, the Houston Rockets, moved to a new downtown arena -- the Toyota Center. The facility boasts the city's largest escalator."
So your Tuesday's pretty well planned, enjoying the large escalator and all. But what about the rest of the week? Sure, you could check out famous tourist places (NASA and ummmm .ummmm .). You could even visit the Officially Zany sites -- like the Orange Show or the Beer Can House -- that get trotted out whenever some publication hopes to point out the "offbeat side" of this very onbeat city.
But you have only so much time to spend in town, once you throw out the hours devoted to escalators and titty bars. You want to get a sense of the real Houston -- you want to leave a jar of urine and some fingernail clippings on Howard Hughes's grave (go to 2525 Washington Avenue); you want to be corrected on how to pronounce "San Felipe" (whichever way you choose is wrong); you want to get stuck in horrendous traffic (get in a car).
So put away all those other "Welcome to Houston" maps. Here are the real sites to consider as you try to fill up your Super Bowl days:
1. Most Expensive Jet-Ski Course Ever
Take Interstate 10, known as the Katy Freeway, west out of downtown. Pull over onto the shoulder between the exits for Shepherd Drive and Washington Avenue. There are two things to enjoy here: first, the instant traffic jam that will occur as Houstonians slam on their brakes and crane their necks in order to see that which fascinates them most, a stalled car.
The second novelty, though, requires a little imagination. As you stand on the asphalt, look skyward. Imagine 18-wheelers floating above you, gracefully hovering as pranksters on Jet-Skis dart between them.
For you are at the site of the Katy Freeway Lake, created in 2001 when Tropical Storm Allison dumped what meteorologists called "a shitload of rain" on an unsuspecting city. The water rose to the top of the 20-foot embankments on either side of the Katy, drawing crowds to the shores of the newly formed fun spot. If you ever wanted to see a Budweiser semi lying on its side in a lake, bringing heartfelt tears to scores of beer drinkers who could only imagine all those parties left unpartied, this was the place to be.
Allison caused more than $5 billion in damage to Houston, but none of that damage was caused by the fact that officials of this oh-so-flat city have let developers build whatever the hell they want wherever they want with only a vague promise that maybe they'll think a little about drainage issues if they get a chance.
No, sir. An official report decided that the extensive flooding was due to large amounts of rain (engineering degrees were used in the making of this particular report, by the way). No substantive changes have been made in the city's policy toward developers who pave over grasslands that formerly were handy for storm runoff.
With a little luck, then, the Katy Freeway Lake could happen again while you're in town! So you should probably stay on one of the higher floors of your hotel.
2. Honey, I Want a (Thump!) Divorce
If you're in town with kids, at some point you'll probably be dragged down to NASA, which has become a Disneyfied, overpriced attraction called Space Center Houston. Take time along the way to stop in at the parking lot of the Nassau Bay Hilton at 3000 NASA Road 1.
This hotel is where a dentist named Clara Harris found her husband with another woman in July 2002. She reacted like any Texas woman would, as long as it was a Texas woman determined to have some cheap made-for-TV movie written about her. Harris got into her $56,000 S-body Mercedes-Benz and ran her husband over in the parking lot. Several times.
With her screaming stepdaughter next to her in the front seat, Harris wheeled around the lot like she was playing Grand Theft Auto, running over her orthodontist spouse three or four times, according to prosecutors.
Harris testified that she was so shocked at seeing her husband with a mistress that she couldn't remember what happened after she started driving toward the mistress's Lincoln Navigator. (A Benz and a Navigator -- we don't do things cheap here in Texas.)
When she stopped the car and found her husband lying under it, she testified, "I couldn't understand why he was there." Neither could he, by that point.
Two days after her parking-lot rampage, Harris called the private detective she had hired to follow her husband -- she wanted a refund. She obviously didn't need the money to buy a bigger set of balls.