The Sole of Houston

Hi. I'm John Lomax, and I'm a pedestrian. My friend, Uncle Tick, and I walked down 16-plus miles of Westheimer. This is our story.

At Dairy Ashford we came upon a liquor store. I went in and bought a fifth of Taaka, a few Red Bulls, a pack of Camels, some cups and a big bottle of water. I told the Indian clerk we were walking down Westheimer.

"This is our fuel," I added.

"Yes, you go to West Oaks Mall, it's not far," he said.

"No, we're going the other way," Tick said.

"Why don't you take the bus?" the clerk said.

"Because we're walkers," I said. "Pedestrians."

"That's a long way -- the Galleria is very far. Good luck," the clerk said.

We didn't even bother to tell him we were going four miles past that. Hell, I don't believe he even knew Westheimer continued past the Galleria.

Across the street from the liquor store sprawls Forest Park Westheimer Cemetery, final resting place of both legendary defense attorney Percy Foreman and Joan Olive Hill, the pretty young River Oaks matron whose murder touched off the whole Blood and Money phenomenon. It's also heavy on baseball figures -- James "Salty" Parker, who managed the Astros for one game in 1972, slumbers here, as do above-average pitcher Turk Farrell and announcer Loel Passe, whose catch-phrase "hot ziggity dog and sassafras tea" was, I am made to understand by Find-a-Grave.com, "known to two generations of Houston Astros fans." Also, Bubble Puppy guitarist Michael Stephen Knust is here, and H-Town's Kevin "Dino" Conner is "Knockin' Da Boots" for eternity under the lush St. Augustine.

Tick and I hoped to find some of those graves, but we were taken aback by the Vietnamese and Chinese tombstones. East Asians spare no expense -- most of the graves are etched with fine calligraphy and pictures of dragons and butterflies and other totemic animals. There were a few statues of a figure we took to be Confucius, and on one of them someone had left an offering of plantains, incense, pears and papaya. Someone had taken a bite out of a couple of these donations.

We sat in the shade nearby and sipped ice water. After this serene interlude, we headed back out into the hurly-burly. At high noon the heat was getting a bit intense, and we were thirsting for something more substantial. We came upon the Fox and Hounds tavern, one of a surprising number of British-themed pubs near Westheimer's end. This one reminded me of the nicest pub at Heathrow Airport. There were TVs everywhere, some tuned to soccer, others to baseball, still more to a replay of the previous weekend's epic gridiron struggle between football powerhouses Syracuse and Illinois. The biggest screen of all -- the one over the bar -- played music videos. I ordered an enormous pint of Foster's, Tick got a tamer beer and we listened in on the two guys next to us as they sipped pints and took in the videos.

"So what's 'emo' again?" asked the older of the two, a spiky-haired redhead who looked about 32.

"It's that makeup-wearing, sad-bastardy crap," answered his companion, a mid-20s guy with black hair. "It's like Goth all over again. Most of it sucks."

"Yeah, just give me good ol'-fashioned rock and roll," said the redhaired guy.

A few minutes later, Tick and I joined the conversation. The redhead's name was Matt, and Mike was the younger guy. They worked as sound engineers for Grace Presbyterian Church -- they ran the board for the music at services and operated the church's in-house recording studio. As it turned out, Tick, among his many other gigs (Medicine Show and a host of satellite bands), also was a church musician, a member of the house band at The Woodlands Fellowship.

With Matt and Mike, Tick traded war stories from the trenches of Christian music -- the lavish spending, the mind-bogglingly high-tech gear, the excellent wages. And he told them about our hike.

"Why don't you get the bus?" Mike asked.

"We're pedestrians," Tick said. "Know of anything we shouldn't miss down the road?"

They didn't, and asked about what we'd seen so far. We told them about all the porn shops and how this one pawn shop we passed was offering a full barrel of deer antlers. Not mounted trophy heads, mind you -- someone had hocked a huge pile of plain old antlers.

"The worst thing I have ever seen in a pawn shop was two Rascals," said Mike. "You just know that whatever story was behind those carts being in a pawn shop could not be happy. You just know the owners of those Rascals aren't walking around healed or something. Nope, some crackhead beat his own grandfather and hocked his Rascal."

Leaving the Fox and Hounds was tough. It was now about one in the afternoon, and getting seriously hot. The sun was blinding, and the exhaust fumes had started me hocking up some interesting loogies. We were entering Westchase, the dreariest expanse of the whole trek. And it was disheartening to see a Dairy Queen this far east. I had thought we had left such rustic eateries behind us out in the semirural porn zone.

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