Cover Story: The Making of the Houston Bucket List and The Final Nine

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I have a soft spot for Houston, this mutt of a city that I've called home for nearly all of my 44 years on this earth. During those four decades, it has certainly suffered its share of ups and downs. But, even during the most complicated times our city has faced, I've believed in its resilience at it has yet to fail me. So, when Press Editor Margaret Downing recounted the story of a checklist she saw on her sister's refrigerator in Austin -- a personal bucket list for the state capital -- and suggested one should be done for Houston, I leaped at the opportunity.

The first step in this process I surmised was setting ground rules. Anytime a list is made of any kind, the only way to keep it valid, interesting and relatively free from complaint is to set some fairly strict criteria.

First, whatever made the list had to either be unique to Houston or something we do differently. There are some interesting things to do in Houston that also happen to be done in many cities, so I took sky diving out of the mix, even though it sounds terrifying and exhilarating. Still, not terribly uncommon. On the other hand, there are plenty of places around the world that make killer fried chicken, but are there any that do it like Frenchy's in that setting? I doubt it.

Second, there needed to be a limit on distance. We immediately ruled out anything farther than 30 miles from City Hall. While this took places like Galveston off the list, it made it much easier to focus specifically on Houston. Besides, Galveston might be able to make its own 100-item deep bucket list.

Finally, the only ranking would be No.1. The other nine of the top 10 would get more detailed descriptions, but no item from 11-100 would be ranked. Not only did it make it easier to put together, but it seemed sensible. Personal taste would certainly drive those rankings for most people, so there is no purpose in telling them which one is better than another. It's all Houston and it's all awesome.

One last thing before I reveal the final nine (you'll have to read the cover story online or pick up a print edition to see No.1), comments and responses have come in all over the map. Because this list was heavily crowdsourced, that was a huge help. But one thing that struck me was how many people were angry about particular choices for no other reason than they didn't care for them. One of the difficulties of living in a city this large and with this diverse a population is that it is almost impossible to please everyone. I'm sure this list won't satisfy everyone's personal taste, but it can't. Houston is too damn big for that to be possible.

Having said that, if any of you think the No.1 choice is ridiculous, you probably need to move to Dallas.

The Final Nine (in no particular order)

Do some ethnic grocery shopping at Phoenicia, Fiesta or Super H Mart. Sure, we have tons of interesting ethnic restaurants in Houston, but you can shop for the stuff as well. From Chinatown to the farmer's markets, there are plenty of places to get interesting culinary finds, but we even have supermarkets that cater to all kinds of interesting cuisine.

Ride your bike with Critical Mass. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" certainly should apply to Critical Mass, the huge monthly evening bike ride through various parts of town, if for no other reason than the last place you want to be is stuck behind the parade of hundreds of bikes.

Watch an international soccer match at Reliant Stadium or BBVA Compass Stadium. Houston's international population turns out in enormous numbers for soccer. The fans of the Dynamo are as loyal as they come, but put a big international match at Reliant Stadium and the crowds will look like Texans games, only substantially louder.

Eat and drink on the Westheimer "curve," Houston's new restaurant row. Lower Westheimer has always been a bit of an oddity, some parts on purpose and others by accident. But, in the last five or six years, it has also become home to some of the best restaurants and bars in the city, places recognized around the country for dining excellence. From Uchi and El Real to Underbelly and Anvil to Mark's and Vinoteca Poscol and even Brazil and Agora, you could spend weeks exploring the food and drink on a two- to three-mile stretch along this street and the side streets that radiate out from it.

Attend Mariachi Mass at St. Joseph's Catholic Church. Catholic church services are almost always staid and contemplative events, but not mariachi mass at St. Joseph's. On Sundays when a dozen or more musicians show up, it can be as loud and uplifting as a black Baptist church in Acres Homes.

Have your picture taken in the warehouse district (engagement or band), on North Boulevard (bridal) or in front of Meacom Fountain (quinceñera). Have you ever seen a girl dressed like a cupcake standing in front of the Mecom Fountain and wondered what the hell? You're not alone. Certain places around town have become the hotspots for photo shoots. The gritty warehouse district is home to tons of band photos and couples looking for edgier couples shots. North Boulevard in West U is THE place for a bridal photo (unless it's on the Rice campus). And Mecom is ground zero for quinceñeras. Now you know.

Talk to some of Houston's characters including the Montrose Flower Man, the Allen Parkway Rollerblade Dancer, the Heights Pink TuTu Cyclist and the man with the live parrot on his shoulder who walks around downtown and midtown. The Allen Brothers were said to be interesting characters. My bet is they have nothing on Juan Carlos, the Allen Parkway Rollerblade Dancer or the guy who rides around a pink bike in a pink tu tu in the Heights. And Austin thinks it's weird.

Go 3 a.m. grocery shopping at Disco Kroger. If you have never been to the Kroger on Montrose near Westheimer, go. If you can, go in the middle of the night. You never know what you'll see.

Take a Haunted Houston walking tour. We're not talking about the Halloween fantasy lands, but actual stories of real haunted spaces in the Bayou City. We certainly have been around long enough to amass our share of ghostly tales. There are a number of walking tours that show you where they are and give you the details behind spook central.

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