By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
The Homeless Take Us For Two of Their Own
The mood abruptly shifted at Chimney Rock. Gone was the tacky, in was the chic, Houston's sweltering stab at Rodeo Drive, complete with chrome bus stops and street signs and the first plentiful greenery we'd seen since the Beltway. We tanked up on excellent shawarma at Café Lili Lebanese restaurant, where we were the only Anglos amid a crowd of Arabic women in headscarves and their bareheaded husbands. Presiding over the room was Lili herself, a middle-aged, bespectacled woman who, in blatant disregard of Houston's smoking ordinances, occasionally fired up a hookah and took a hit. Above her was a portrait taken in her younger days, next to a near-life-size picture of a wrestler -- presumably Lili's husband -- wearing the uniform of the Lebanese national team. There was also a huge picture of some grand boulevards in Beirut, back when people called it the Paris of the Middle East. Like Lili, Beirut has seen better days.
But the art of shawarma cooking has not. Restored by the meat, we slogged past the Galleria. There, just west of the Loop, a wild-eyed, skinny thirtysomething woman with a deep, bag-lady tan walked up to Tick.
"Hey, are you Irish?" she asked.
"What?" Tick asked, thunderstruck.
"I said, are you Irish?" the woman repeated.
"No, I'm Cajun," he said.
"Well, you look like a leprechaun," she said, and toddled off west. She didn't ask us for anything -- Tick reckoned she thought we were homeless, too. He said that happened to him a lot in Montrose -- people came up to him and assumed he was a denizen of Covenant House.
We headed east. At last we made the Loop. In the underpass, there was one of those proclamations from the mayor that announced how he was putting our tax dollars to use. Someone had scrawled "Fuck Mayor White" on it. I took out my pen and wrote "We made it" on there.
But we hadn't yet. Highland Village lay ahead. As male-oriented and tacky as the jiggle joint/army surplus strip is, so Highland Village is highfalutin and female. There's nothing to interest a straight male here, save for a restaurant or two and the palm trees, which are indeed pretty cool. And I guess you have to admit that it is the prettiest stretch of Westheimer after Shepherd, but it just seems so redundant. Virtually all the shops there are also in the Galleria or River Oaks Plaza -- why do we need all these Banana Republics? And where exactly are these "highlands"?
The sun was setting by this point. Just east of Highland Village, we popped into a parking garage for the Inner Loop vodka-and-Red Bull celebration. Which, it must be said, was a pretty muted affair. By this time, we had about 13 miles behind us. The pain was now well up into our thighs, and we were both suffering from bone-deep fatigue.
We were now in the River Oaks area, and Westheimer had turned boringly pleasant. We saw some of the first domiciles we'd seen since long before the Galleria, and there was an abundance of trees and churches with green, well-kept lawns. We came upon a high-rise luxury apartment building with a fountain in front of it. Once again we bathed our feet to the strains of Tick's harmonica -- and I noticed three quarter-sized blisters studding my right foot. A man came to pick up his school-age son in a BMW convertible and did a double-take when he saw us soaking in his fountain. Across the street, rich, pretty people were playing leisurely games of tennis and volleyball, as if to the strains of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." But not us -- we had to get up and start walking again, and Tick had managed to dial up The Box, which was spinning that Slim Thug-Beyoncé hit. "Slim Thugga muthafucka," I muttered to nobody in particular.
It had been way too long since we'd seen a bar, and this was, for me, low ebb. I was jumpy now, paranoid. My nerves were shot. Every time a bus would come roaring up behind me I would whirl around, convinced it was going to kill me. Maybe I was subconsciously longing for a welcome end to my misery. I was hoarse from all the gas fumes and a little drunk from the vodka and beer. Tick was getting worried about me, which pissed me off, but I was very glad he was there, because I was severely tempted to end this madness. West of Kirby, I hallucinated that I saw the yellow Café Adobe sign, which was still over half a mile away. We finally dragged our carcasses into Poison Girl around eight. After an hour there, and a tall cocktail called The Jones (Jim Beam and spicy ginger beer -- a steal at $5), I was much restored, even cocky. I took in the people around me, and I was sure that none of them had ever walked this far down Westheimer.
Helios was next. There, we sat on the porch and steeled our resolve for the final onslaught. It was poetry night -- old-line Montrose was out in force, if not in numbers. Legendary street poet, raconteur and indestructible force of nature Malcolm MacDonald was in the house. Malcolm is perhaps Houston's all-time leader in getting 86'ed from bars -- back in the Catal Huyuk days, he once cleared out the joint by pissing on every customer in his radius. He's like the Pope of Lower Westheimer.