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.

But off in the distance, I saw a welcome sight. "Look, Tick, there's the Beltway!" I said. "Looks like you can collect on that bet."

Tick was silent for a moment and surprisingly glum. In fact, he looked downright pained. "Uhh, well not exactly," he said. "I was the one who bet you wouldn't make it."

The Westchase Blues

Offerings at a Vietnamese grave site in Forest Park Westheimer: Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?
John Lomax
Offerings at a Vietnamese grave site in Forest Park Westheimer: Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?
Four Corners Westheimer -- Your sex, drugs and rock and roll one-stop.
John Lomax
Four Corners Westheimer -- Your sex, drugs and rock and roll one-stop.

There was a story in the Chronicle a couple of weeks ago about how Westchase has a plan -- hike-and-bike trails and even canals for pleasure boating are on the agenda. That's good, 'cause it needs one. It lacks the sleaze of the Highway 6 area and the tacky exuberance of mid-Westheimer, the area between Chimney Rock and Fondren. And Westchase is huge -- it runs all the way from west of Wilcrest damn near to Fondren. It's virtually all chains -- a Geography of Nowhere wasteland of Boston Market, Borders, Kroger, Randalls, Taco Bell, Citgo and Sonic. Several of the six CVS outlets we passed are there, as are a few of the uncountable Starbucks.

There's a tall, blue-glass office building that curves around an impossibly blue pool -- that was one of the few beauty spots in all of Westchase, and hell, all of Westheimer. (It's the cover shot on the Westchase District's official Web site.) Our feet were starting to hurt, and Tick said "My Prerogative" was stuck in his head. A couple of blocks down the road, Tick clambered atop a man-made mound, behind which was another beauty spot, an oasis in the corporate concrete desert. Some office building had an Edenic campus with a little lake shaded by cypress trees. Tiny fish lived in the lake. Tick and I ripped off our shoes and socks and dipped our tired and sore dogs in the cold water. Bliss, even though I could feel the minnows nipping my toes. Tick whipped out his harmonica and played "John Henry." We tore into a bag of trail mix, and I whipped up a warm Red Bull and vodka. We needed this little Huckleberry Finn idyll, for Westchase was a ghastly trudge.

There's a long stretch out there in which only the south side of Westheimer is developed. On the north side of the street, there's a tall brick wall. We were just about to cross over to the south side after about a half mile of walking beside the wall when we came upon a couple of teenaged kids, seemingly airlifted to that isolated spot by helicopter. They looked like band kids -- one of them had dyed a purple streak in his black hair.

Tick asked them what was up. "Dude, we're just hanging out. We got the munchies, man," Purple Streak said. Tick told them we were walking down Westheimer.

"Dude, why don't you get the bus?"

"We're pedestrians," Tick said. "We're writing a story about it for the Press."

"Dude, you work for the Press?" Purple Streak said. "You should come to our show. We're called Memory Lane, and our first gig is at the Roof Bar. It's gonna rock. You need to write about us, man. Hey man, can I bum one of those Camels?"

They were the only pedestrians we saw in that whole stretch.

We finally passed the Beltway around three o'clock and had a ceremonial swig of vodka to celebrate. To chase it, we headed into the Little Italy coffee bar for a double espresso. Inside, a few solitary men sat at tables, tapping away at laptops. The twentysomething girl behind the counter assessed our grubby, sweaty condition and asked us if we were walking. We told her the deal.

"Are y'all okay?" she asked. "Why don't y'all get the bus?"

"We're pedestrians," I said. I asked her if she could steer us to some points of interest on down the line.

"Well, it's back the other way, but y'all really should go to Cane's. Well, it's called Raisin' Canes, but it's this chicken place, and it has the best sweet tea. I'm from southeast Louisiana and I love sweet tea. I used to go Chick-fil-A for the tea, but Cane's is a lot better. They brew it just right there."

"Well, that's in the other direction," I said. "We can't backtrack. We're on a mission."

"But it really is the best sweet tea," she said. "I'm a Southern girl, and I really love sweet tea. And they use that little bitty ice. It is so good. You can even get it with the lemon brewed in it if you want"

And so on. She kept coming back to the tea at Cane's. That was the pinnacle of her Westheimer, if not the cultural and artistic apex of the entire Greater Houston area. Tick and I were unswayed.

Just before we hit Fondren, we came upon the Westheimer Pub, a place that served up a brew more to our liking. The generic name fit the bar -- it was a classic strip mall-type place. At a little before four, we were the only customers. The tall barmaid served us a couple of pints and then turned her attention to Dr. Phil on the tube. During a commercial break, she vanished into a back room. A Korean lady came in the bar carrying bags of food, looking for the bartender. Tick told her about our trek. "Great! Walk! Super!" she said. Or as Loel Passe might have said, "Hot ziggity dog and sassafras tea!"

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