Houston has something of an identity crisis, I find. Most people seem to know what to expect when they move to a place like New York City or Los Angeles, but talking with people in other states and countries it’s clear that we remain a mystery to most. Now, I love this city a lot, and always encourage anyone looking for a new home to come on down, but there are a few caveats we should probably get out of the way.
10. There Are Very Few Cowboys and Generally No One Wears a Cowboy Hat
That’s not to say there aren’t cowboys at all. Texas raises a lot of cattle, not a small amount of it right here in Harris County. However, you’re more likely to see someone wearing a hijab than a cowboy hat in and around Houston on a regular basis, though sometimes people do bust them out for special occasions (it’s pretty much the only hat it’s OK for a man to wear to a wedding here). We’ve spent a lot of time re-branding the city as a cosmopolitan place full of culture and innovation over the decades, and dressing up like a country singer is generally frowned on. By the way, this all goes out the window when the rodeo hits town. Speaking of…
9. The City Pretty Much Shuts Down for the Rodeo
That whole bit where I said that Houston was trying to up its image from hayseed to distinguished? Ignore all that when the rodeo starts up in March. Pretty much the whole city cosplays like we’re in a spaghetti western, or barring that, Urban Cowboy. We shut down major roadways to ride horses in the street, one of the busiest highways becomes terminally jammed near NRG Park for the whole run, and parking becomes a nightmare as far as the Medical Center. Every conversation you have during the rodeo will almost certainly include a question about when you are going or why you’re not, and I’m pretty sure it’s actually illegal to not eat barbecue at least once during that time. And being vegan is no excuse because you can totally get some vegan barbecue dishes here.
8. Bring a Car
Houston does have mass transit, but it’s not terribly convenient and usually involves driving to it anyway for the initial start of the journey. The light rail can be fantastic for parking away from big events (like the Rodeo) and then riding down to the stadium, and if you live and work in the Medical Center you can eke out a pretty good carless living, but everywhere else is going to require wheels. Houston is huge, the ninth largest city in the world by square miles, and that’s not even taking into account the suburbs which stretch off another 50 miles into the surrounding area in every direction from the city limits. Our bus lines are simply not adequate to deal with our sprawl. You can bike here (and we’re working very hard on making that better), but then there’s the heat to deal with. We’ll come back to that in a minute. First…
7. Some Notes on Houston Driving
Here are some simple, unwritten laws to follow. A red light typically is not deemed red enough to mean stop until at least two more cars have gone through it, so take your time before proceeding on green. The people who plan our road construction will often arbitrarily shut down all major access from one compass direction to another. There is no drive in the city that is less than 30 minutes long, no matter the distance. We think it’s some sort of time loop, and NASA is working on it.
When changing lanes, it’s important not to signal, as Houston drivers take this as a symbol of weakness and immediately speed up to block you. Never argue, flip off or honk at a person with a “Come and Take It” or “Molon Labe” sticker on their truck (it will almost always be a truck). They have a gun and impulse control problems. If you see a pedestrian, be extra cautious because they are likely confused since no one ever walks here.
6. It’s Hot and Your Weather App is a Lying Piece of Junk
OK, the heat. You had better prepare yourself because Houston summers combine scorching temperatures with the fact that we are basically a swamp. Technically our temperatures stayed underneath 100 degrees for the most part, but factor in the heat index and it easily got over 108 a lot of days last month. Walking the dog becomes an infernal torment, and I think it’s a testament to Pokemon Go’s design it actually made people go outside this summer instead of cowering in shuttered rooms from the wrath of the sun.
Even when the heat isn’t so bad, knowing what the weather is going to be is a ridiculous guessing game, again, because of the sheer size of the place. You ask, “is it raining there yet?” a lot when you live in Houston, because odds are the weather I have here in Jersey Village only vaguely resembles the weather down in Clear Lake.
5. Yes, People Open Carry Down Here, But It’s Not That Bad
Number one thing friends in other countries ask me is how often I see people with assault rifles over their shoulders just chilling out in a Panera Bread. The answer is, “every once in a while.” I’ve see an open carry person roughly the same numbers of times I’ve seen a wild rabbit. Most of the time you see them it’s not because these folks can’t go to a church picnic without a gun in case bad guys attack, but just so they can visibly demonstrate they have this right. That’s not to say that it isn’t unnerving when you end up in line behind them when they break for Whoppers.
4. But There’s Still a Lot of Problems With Guns There, Right?
Yes. If you let your kids play at a friend’s house when you’re not going to be there, ask their parents if they keep guns and how they are secured. If they get mad or refuse to answer or their answer isn’t sufficient, it’s not safe for your kid to play there. Period.
3. There’s Some Bigotry Here, But It’s Mild for Texas
Yes, there’s a bunch of racist douchecanoes wandering about being intolerant and awful as loudly as they can. And yes, they made sure our equal rights ordinance got repealed because Texas liberals suck at voting in off-years. On the other hand, we are the largest American city to ever have an openly gay mayor, we’re the birth place of an entire rap sub-genre, we have greater diversity than New York or L.A., and 145 languages are spoken here. A crowded afternoon at the Houston Zoo is enough of an eye-opener on how many different people live here that most of the bigots feel outnumbered and work out their hate at home in the comment section of news stories like this one.
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2. You Are Going to Learn “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and You Have to Clap Along
We play this song at just about every major event. Don’t worry, any venue large enough to call for it usually will have the means to display the lyrics, but you should probably learn it by heart just in case. Nothing in Houston screams “heresy” louder than failing to display adequate enthusiasm during a rousing group singalong. That includes doing the four claps before the refrain. Yes, every time.
You should probably also learn “Yellow Rose of Texas” just to be on the safe side. We bust it out a lot less, but you get an even dirtier look if you fail to sing along with this one.
1. NASA Is Cool, But It Probably Won’t Live Up to Expectations
Every time I talk to the people who run comic book conventions here in Houston, they all tell me the same thing. Science fiction celebrities always want to go see the Johnson Space Center, and I’m sure going to Nerd Avalon when you’ve been on Doctor Who or Star Trek probably gets you a better experience than us average folks, but it’s really not all that. The bits that are open to the public make for a pretty average museum experience, and you’re definitely not going to see anything exciting happening in mission control. They do a ton of cool events, especially for kids, though, and every grocery store in the city will have coupons for whatever may be going on that month.
Oh, and don’t be surprised when you see cows being raised on NASA grounds. Like I said at the beginning, we have a lot of them about. We just don’t wear the hats because we’re also busy keeping the space industry on rails.