Highlights from Hair Balls
It's been a busy year in Houston. It always seems to be a busy year in the nation's fourth-largest city. In particular, 2013 saw some significant developments in Houston's landmarks. From light rail to stadiums to iconic stores, real estate was in the news. Of course, there was also an election and some love for the city from around the country.
It was a good year and a complicated year, but isn't it always?
10. Ho-hum city elections.
It's hard to call any election where the incumbent mayor is a shoe-in for re-election and there are few hotly contested city council races. Still, there were some key bond issues and one very special referendum (see later in this list) that needed deciding in November. There were few surprises, except perhaps that referendum...more on that in a moment.
9. More love for Houston.
In 2012, Forbes called Houston the coolest city in America. If that weren't enough, we got named one of the happiest cities in the country and one of the best for college graduates. Probably the most impressive thing was when The New York Times Magazine put us on its list of places to visit in 2013. Not too shabby.
8. A very quiet hurricane season.
With all the dire predictions, the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season turned out to be a dud of epic proportions. Not only were there no major hurricanes (the first such season since 1994) and only two storms that made it to hurricane strength (neither of which threatened the U.S. coastline), but the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (the rating that determines the combined strength of all the storms in a single year) was the lowest it had been in almost 20 years.
7. NBA fans nearly riot at the Galleria during All-Star weekend.
The NBA's All-Star weekend was, for the most part, a huge success for the city. But one spot that didn't fare so well was the Galleria. During the weekend, massive crowds — most of whom were certainly looking for celebrity sightings — swarmed the upscale shopping mall, causing many stores to close early, and legitimate fears over potential fights, riots and the need for police intervention were realized. Fortunately, there was no serious mayhem, but it was a pretty scary scene.
6. District Attorney Mike Anderson dies after taking office.
In January, Mike Anderson took over as Harris County District Attorney amid widespread support. In May, he announced he had cancer, and he passed away in August. Anderson was well liked by many in the legal community, and his illness and death were a surprise to nearly everyone in his office and throughout the court system. He was survived by his wife and two children.
5. METRO opens much-anticipated north line.
For nearly ten years, the only light rail in Houston was the 7.5-mile line between UH Downtown and Reliant Center. Through lawsuits and funding problems, METRO has fought for more rail, and finally, just weeks ago, the 5.5-mile North Line opened, connecting UH Downtown with track along North Main and Fulton all the way out to Northline Mall. The new Downtown, East End and Southeast lines are expected to open in 2014.
4. Macy's gets imploded.
The downtown Foley's was a hub of shopping activity in central Houston for decades. Macy's eventually bought the chain and took over, but the downtown location struggled for years to establish the same success it had when downtown was still a shopping destination. Finally, Macy's shuttered the store, and shortly thereafter, the building was imploded. No word yet on what will take its place, but it will be hard to top Foley's downtown.
3. School violence at Lone Star College and Spring High School.
The entire country has suffered from school violence, and in 2013, Houston had its turn with a shooting at one Lone Star College campus and a mass stabbing at another, along with a fatal stabbing at Spring High School. It was a strange series of violent events that helped to remind us that we are as vulnerable as any other city to tragedy in our schools.
2. Houston repeals the three-foot rule.
In a stunning move by Mayor Annise Parker, a deal was struck between law enforcement and strip clubs that ended years of litigation over the city's sexually oriented business ordinance that, among other things, put in place a "three-foot rule" keeping dancers at a distance from patrons. The deal, not surprisingly condemned by area religious leaders, gives "gentlemen's clubs" more freedom in exchange for donating to a fund that will support local police in human trafficking efforts.
1. City votes down Astrodome referendum.
In what may have been the most disappointing vote in recent history, Harris County voters shot down a referendum that would increase (slightly) property taxes and turn the decaying Astrodome into a convention center of sorts. The deal was hailed by supporters as being the best way to preserve the iconic stadium, but opponents said it was a bad plan that would cost too much money. As of yet, Harris County Commissioners Court has not ruled on what will happen to the Dome. Most believe it will be leveled, but it's hard to imagine that anyone at HCCC wants that building torn down on his watch.
12 Days of Giftmas
UPS Christmas delays hit home in Houston.
At about 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, I could wait no longer. With family members set to descend on my house within two hours, it was time to get the final gifts wrapped, especially those for my mom and that side of the family, since we would be exchanging those before dinner. Unfortunately, my mom's gift — a nice single-coffee maker — had yet to arrive. I ordered it a week earlier from Amazon, but shipping via UPS had been delayed despite my Prime membership.
So I wrapped the filter that had been delivered several days earlier. It was a sad little box that would find its way under the tree, but at least it was something.
Apparently, I wasn't the only one with this problem. Both UPS and FedEx struggled to get packages delivered by Christmas, and many people didn't get their gifts on time.
Digital purchases were forecast to represent about 14 percent of buying this holiday, up 9 percent from last year. Many of these purchases are being made at big stores and outlets like Amazon, Walmart and others. The stores have had a hard time keeping up with orders, and UPS has had a difficult time shipping them, owing to the change in how Americans shop and how quickly that has happened. Stores and shippers simply weren't ready.
I could tell something was strange when, several days before Christmas, I got a delivery at 10:30 p.m. I know the time because UPS drivers have an uncomfortable way of announcing they've left a package on the porch: They ring the doorbell and then bang on the door like a SWAT team looking for a kidnapped toddler. Needless to say, someone pounding on the door at 10:30 p.m. got my attention.
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But that wasn't the only anomaly. I even received a few package deliveries the Sunday before Christmas, which immediately brought to mind Jerry Seinfeld dressed as a postal carrier delivering mail on a Sunday to help get Newman transferred to Hawaii. Clearly, UPS was working hard, but not hard enough. Well, not hard enough for everyone, it would seem.
About an hour before my mom and other family members arrived, I saw the familiar brown van outside the house. The very last gift had arrived just in time for dinner. A Christmas miracle? Probably not. But despite all the troubles and delays, it came. Just like Christmas morning, it came just the same. (Shout-out to Dr. Seuss!)
I was one of the lucky ones. There are still thousands of people out there who didn't get their gifts for Christmas. Hopefully, UPS wasn't "Santa" for those folks. I'd hate to be the parent explaining that one.
Say goodbye to the downtown Macy's.