It's a very busy time to be alive. We're coming out of a recession, and those of us who have jobs are working as a hard as we can to make sure it stays that way. The underemployed and jobless spend every moment trying to find a way to keep their particularl trains a-going. It's a time of crisis for the Rebel Alliance is what I'm getting at.
Walking from one job to another the other day I abruptly stopped and just sat down on the curb in the sun to sip a Route 44 Coke Zero and watch the traffic go by. It was a mere fifteen minutes of slightly less noise in the day, but it made me reflect on how desperately important it is to have these little mental vacations if you don't want to be shipped off somewhere where they don't let you have anything sharp to write with.
So I did some digging around, and if you're trying to find an appropriate place to let your thoughts gather then there are ten really good spots in Houston.
10. Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (5555 Hermann Park Dr): It's the price of the museum that ranks the Gem Hall so low on the list, but on the basis of pure soul-soothing calm alone it would land near the top. The pitch black exhibit lit only with the best of nature's rocks and metals is one of the calmest places in the whole city. What compares to examining the product of thousands, even millions of years of pressure and slow creation as a teacher of patience? Nothing says, "It all turns out beautiful in the end" like a diamond.
9. St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital Train Exhibit (6720 Bertner Ave): If the work of nature isn't your cup of tea, then the children's wing at St. Luke's sports an absolutely mindblowing model train exhibit that also allows you to push the buttons to control the trains. There is just something about model trains that is good for the soul. Maybe it's the connection to Mr. Rogers. Maybe it's just seeing something some whimsically engineered. The motion of the engines and the inventive model background is pure mechanical Zen.
8. Houston Galleria Family Lounge (5085 Westheimer Rd): In addition to sporting a very nice playground for kids, just off the hall there is a perfect spot with comfy chairs and a first-rate aquarium that is great for a ramped-up children's cool down and a bit of parental mental vacation. You can still hear the sounds of all the good times being had just outside, but between the artwork from the MD Anderson Children's Art Project and the softly shifting colored walls the sound adds rather than detracts from the tranquil atmosphere.
7. Helen's Park (7301 Stella Link Rd): Located in Braeswood Place, Helen's Park is an odd green spot in the middle of an otherwise busy sub-division. Myron Williams left a generous bequest to build the space in honor of his late wife. It's not one of those places filled with slides and swings. Instead it's a casual garden with two fountains and distinctive mosaics that invites contemplation rather than recreation.
6. Houston Police Officers Memorial (1400 Memorial Drive): You've driven by it on Memorial a million times, slowing down because you thought the parked police cars were a speed trap, but have you ever stopped to explore the monument to honor our fallen peace keepers? It's an amazing spot once you climb to the top of the marble structure. The sound of the water feature at the top is relaxing, and you get a wonderful view of the park and downtown. The 24-hour police presence also makes it one of the safest places on the list.
5. Wells Fargo Plaza Sky Lobby (1000 Louisiana St): The Chase building has a good sky lobby (Which faces the Wells Fargo one, actually), but I find that the Wells Fargo one is the better view to look out over the city and contemplate how we've tamed the swamp and mastered technology. The architecture is also a bit more majestic. There's nothing like sitting in the sky to leave your troubles far below.
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4. Houston Arboretum & Nature Center (4501 Woodway Dr): Even someone that lives for the city life needs to to go stand outside and feel life growing around them. The Arboretum is perfect for that purpose, especially as you make your way to the center where the thick trees cut off all the sounds of the rush of daily existence. This time of year you'll want to go early to avoid the heat. I like it best when the colder weather sets in, and you can wander the woods in a thick coat being all poetic and emo.
3. Menil Collection (1533 Sul Ross St): The reflecting pool at the Menil Collection lawn is one of the best picnic spots in the city, and if you can find the time to spend an hour away from your desk sitting there on the grass you will never regret it. Since the museum itself is free it's also a great place to just absorb art without any extra worries about the price.
2. Rothko Chapel (1409 Sul Ross St): It may be cheating coming right after the Menil Collection, but almost nothing in Houston can compare to the inside of the Rothko Chapel. It deserves special mention aside from the rest of the Menil complex, as the distinctive octagon space in one of Houston most powerful meditation spaces. Surrounded by Mark Rothko's black paintings and a warm, almost holy quiet, it is all but impossible to bring worry into the chapel with you.
1. University of St. Thomas Labyrinth (3800 Montrose Blvd): This is for hardcore worrying, when nothing but true mental cleansing is needed. Next to the university's Chapel of St. Basil is a circular labyrinth that visitors are invited to walk to the center of by following the path on the ground. Labyrinths have long been used to symbolize spiritual journeys, and the process of walking through the twists and turns is the best way in the city to open your mind. Whether you pray with each step or just let the mind wander as your body does, the structure is custom-designed as a crooked road around obstructions. Trust me, you'll never be the same after you walk it.