Down on the Corner

Christian Statin is glad the Taco Cabana dining room is closed on weekends.
Brian McManus

Jason Kerr squeezed softly on the brakes of his bike while approaching a stoplight. Two young, attractive-enough blondes pulled up alongside him in a silver Honda. They asked him how he was. He said he was fine and asked how they were doing. Everyone was doing just fine.

They then asked Kerr what he thought of the contents of their backseat. Crouched behind them was a young man, doe-eyed and desperate, all of 17, looking for a semi-anonymous "date."

"The girls wanted to know if I'd suck this kid's dick -- he was too shy to ask for himself, apparently." The married Kerr declined, and the foreign hatchback blazed off into the midday light as red turned to green.

Chances are, if you've spent any real time on the corner of Montrose and Westheimer, you have your own whacked-out story of depravity. It is Houston's street corner named desire, a Shangri-la of the decrepit. It's ground zero for those who stray from the boring straight and narrow, and the hub of the gay nightlife in Space City.

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So you have your stories. Maybe they aren't of the "Hey mister, can you suck our friend's dick" variety; sure, that's a once-in-a-lifetime cake-taker. But you have them, nonetheless. This corner is unparalleled in the city -- if not the universe. In many ways, it's the epicenter of activity for all things Inner Loop.

After night falls, it's the perpetual ba-bump, ba-bump beat that keeps the blood coursing through the veins of the goth clubs, dance hangouts, rap industry nights and gay discos located a stone's -- better make that a crack-rock's -- throw away. For many, it's as close as Space City comes to Hollywood -- fortress of pleasure to some, vortex of despair to others.

To Ladybug, it's been both. She wound up here as a teenager some five years ago, turning up at the doorstep of teenage runaway shelter Covenant House Texas. "The other kids told me on my first day at Covenant, 'If you drink the water, you'll never leave the Montrose,' " she says, remembering the prophecy with an almost painful fondness. "Well, I drank the water and I've been down here ever since. I've moved to other cities -- even out of state -- but I always seem to end up right back here on this corner."

The corner's appeal lies in its diversity, she says. "There's always something going down here, something to do," she says. "There are rich kids, poor kids, college kids and high school dropouts. There are drag queens, gay clubs, straight clubs -- anything you want."

In the end, residents of this Sodom and Gomorrah might not turn into pillars of salt, but the price they pay is brisk nonetheless. For Ladybug, it was a felony charge for possession of cocaine and losing custody of her child. It was a rock-bottom moment severe enough to keep her off the devil's dandruff for good, although it's readily available and close by if she ever decided to backslide.

Christian Statin has seen it himself. Yep, right there on the patio of the Taco Cabana that employs him -- people of all ages "shootin' powder." Working the night shift cash register there is something like a front-row seat at a never-ending documentary of the morally barren. Whether it's watching the johns park in the too-tiny lot to search for tricks, or seeing them serviced by said tricks behind the Dumpster, there's always something to keep him occupied when taco time is slow. Hell, he could always go clean up all the used needles in the rest room, for instance. As Guy Clark likes to say in the Taco Cabana commercials, "Now that's real."

The restaurant's little dining room is open during the workweek, but always locked by midnight on weekends. "Oh no! It would be too crazy here on the weekends to leave the dining room open," Statin says. "All the clubs across the street let out -- people are drunk and wildin'." Statin's eyes enlarge to saucer size as he envisions the mayhem. "We have an armed guard on duty Friday and Saturday night."

Things weren't as lively at Statin's previous job -- a McDonald's on Beltway 8 and Bellfort. "It was boring there. At least at this job the time goes by fast."

Someone who doesn't have the option of locking the doors on the weekends is Stephan. He's the night clerk at the Stop 'n Go catty-corner from Statin's Cabana. As a veteran of convenience store work he can say, without a doubt, that working on Westheimer and Montrose keeps you on your toes like no store he's ever worked in before. He sells more Alka Seltzer, Lotto tickets, tobacco and paper bags than he ever did at his old job on Memorial. And condoms -- boy, does he sell a shit-ton of those.

Then there's the stuff Stephan doesn't sell. Stephen says he often has horny men come in and ask if his store sells very specific sexual toys -- cock straps, anal plugs, things like that. After all, they must think, even if it is a Stop N' Go, it's here on this corner. Surely you can buy those things here. "I don't know what most of them are and then they yell at me, 'You work in the Montrose and you don't know what such and such is!?' " he says, half bewildered his clientele doesn't understand that, even though not fresh off the boat, he's still more African immigrant than Montrose sex scene insider.

Nope, he's not on Memorial anymore. "The thing that makes working at this corner so different is that the customers don't really ever go home," he says. "In Memorial, they come to the store for a reason -- to buy milk or something like this, and then they go back to their house. If I sell a beer here, chances are that person is going to drink it here -- right on the corner."

Later the same night, Ladybug is still hanging out on the corner. She and a pal are "cruising for chicks," even if they're just sitting on a step. "You'd be surprised," she declares, "how just asking for someone's phone number that's walking by leads to some action later."

What kind of action are we talking about?

"Let's just say that during the action Emily and Elizabeth are usually introduced." Yes, in case you're wondering, she's named her tits.

"And Blew is coming out too." Yes, in case you're wondering, that's what she's named her hoo-ha.

"What's the significance of Blew?"

"'Cause it'll blow your fucking mind. Any other questions?"

"No. Any for me?"

She doesn't hesitate. "Got any spare change?"

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