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Sole of Houston: Airline Drive, Part 2

The longest walk in the history of the Sole of Houston requires the longest piece. This being a blog and all, we have decided to break it up into three installments.

This is part two. Yesterday's is here, and we'll wrap it up tomorrow.

In this installment, we venture west down Aldine-Bender from Aldine Westfield to Airline Drive.

Aldine Bender is cockfighters and 8-liners deluxe, an intensification of the sparse version of same way up north.

One of the prime attractions, for us, anyway, of its eastern stretches is one of the most foreboding strip malls in the city.

In one corner lurks a closed down bar called Sassy's. The doors of this place were open even though it was abandoned. Someone had pulled much of the furniture out of it and left it on the sidewalk out front.

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Flanking Sassy's were a donut shop and not one, but two different Spanish-language chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous. And the piece de resistance was an abandoned Pontiac, complete with flat tire and faceprint in the windshield. A faceprint that went inward toward the dash, not outward from the driver's seat. Perhaps the rival AA chapters got into a parking lot fracas...

And on we walked, past horses, more chickens, a scattering of tame ducks, more bulletproof mini-marts, garages, barbed wire and tin-sided car lots, and occasional packs of wild dogs. We also walked past Aldine ISD's well-tended Thorne Stadium and a far sadder sports venue: a forlorn, weed-choked little league baseball diamond that looked like it echoed with its last "Hey-batta-batta-swing!" in 1982.

Just before crossing the bridge over the Hardy Toll Road, we stopped in a barn-like tavern called the Northside Saloon, where a few old farts sat shelling peanuts, smoking (we were outside the city limits), throwing a scrap or two to a couple of dogs that had free rein of the place, and glumly watching the Eagles crush the Cowboys. One bearded, Kenny Rogers-looking man sat ordering one generic Sprite after another, which he mixed with a generous pours from a handle of cheap vodka. Helluva way to go...

In an abandoned strip-mall parking lot, we came upon a taco truck and for $5, got dynamite tacos al pastor and were restored to something like normalcy. We never could figure out why the proprietor chose to park where she did, though. What went on in that abandoned strip mall -- a big one that once housed a bowling alley, among other things -- later in the evening that would attract the sort of crowd to support her? (She was also next to a defunct gas station, whose sign offered regular unleaded for over $3 a gallon. How often do you see a closed gas station offer gas for three times as much as its going for now?)

Some mock it as Gunspoint, but from a mile or so away, in the humid gloom of a chilly winter's evening, Greenspoint Mall looked like a shining city on the hill, a thousand points of light blinking over frowzy grackle-pastures and cracked asphalt.

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Meanwhile, back on Aldine-Bender, a pair of friendly pups followed us for a block or two, and then we came across another of Houston's far-flung folk art Muffler Men.

By and by we came to Airline's headwaters and finally, as the sun fizzled pinkly in the gray clouds out west and my iPod blared Tex-Mex tunes, turned south.

Ahead of us awaited historic music venues, drunken crack dealers, a desperate damsel in distress, and a bath in the puke of a total stranger. All those adventures and more will be in tomorrow's exciting installment of the Sole of Houston.

-- John Nova Lomax

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