"Man, I've totally sold out," he said with a smile a mile wide. So had I. How else could I explain the helmet on my head, the absence of the Marlboro between my teeth and the backpack that did not contain a pint of cheap tequila?
And I guess you could say the entire Sole of Houston concept has been sold out too, because this time we went mobile.
Given all that change, this time around, we decided to ride bikes instead of walk.
Our tentative plan was an expansion of the Tour de Hood, local
cycling evangelist Dr. Veon McReynolds's annual circuit of all six of
Houston's Wards. Beebe and I would mount up on the two battered beach
cruisers I owned and start at my house near the corner of Shepherd and
West 11th and head north to Acres Homes. From there we would head east
of I-45 and come back to town through Northline and then Fifth Ward,
cross the bayou into Second Ward, continue south through Third Ward, and
then hit First, Fourth and Sixth on the way back to the Heights.
The day was hot, but that was predictable. Unless it pours, we knew it would be 90-plus. The ride began on the TC Jester / White Oak Bayou bike trail, a placid stretch that is uncannily reminiscent of Brays Bayou due south. You've got the same bike trail, the same mid-century mod houses, and the same concrete chute of a bayou.
We passed under the North Loop with so little fanfare that Beebe didn't even notice until we were about a mile or so away.
At about the same time, I spotted some colorful flowers on what looked like two gravestones, which were set in a little grove a short distance from the trail. This turned out to be the memorial for Elizabeth Pena and Jennifer Ertman, the two teenaged girls who were gang-raped and murdered in 1993 when they stumbled upon a gang initiation ceremony.
Eventually, five of the attackers were sentenced to death; two of those sentences have been carried out, and a third is running out of appeals. The other two had their sentences commuted to life.
Well away from the road, mockingbird-serenaded, and freshly-tended with colorful offerings, this was a dignified, somber reminder of a tense period in Houston history. Having grown up here at that time, the late '80s and early '90s were downright scary. Acts of senseless violence -- of which the Pena-Ertman case was among the worst -- seemed to have been much more common in the waning days of the Oil Bust. Things were not always better in the good old days.
On we rode past Spanish Moss-draped oaks, and at last we reached Acres Homes. We headed east on Victory Drive and stumbled on a strange compound in the heart of the 'hood.
I mean, seriously, the heart of the 'hood: the grounds of the apartment complex on the corner were littered with burned couches and smashed TVs, the grocery store modestly called itself "OK Food Store," the hair salon proudly reveled in the name "Hood Barbershop." A lady in a head-scarf and floral-print muu-muu stood in front of the OK Food Store drinking a pre-noon brown-bag beer; during our ten-minute stop here, I saw her go in both there and an adjacent Valero twice to buy scratch cards.
And across from all that there stands this.
We had no clue what it was. We knew from a sign out front that it was Vietnamese, and bas-relief sculptures of the Stations of the Cross along one perimeter of the acreage this building stands on indicated a Catholic theme. And at last we found the English sign: turns out this is Saint Clement's Monastery and Our Mother of Perpetual Help Shrine. Looks like the could use plenty of the latter right across the street.
Onward to the east, past Sylvester Turner Park and the Astros' Urban Youth Baseball Academy, another cause that could use some TLC from Our Mother of Perpetual Help.