The Houston Bucket List: Near Misses

If we're going to break down the absolute essence of a bucket list, what it really comes down to is a set of experiences that you've always wanted for yourself but because of time, money, circumstances or ennui, you just never got around to.There's nothing wrong with that, but the saddest part about waiting is that sometimes you wait too long. Here are five must-do things in Houston that are now relegated to memories.

5. The Wonder of Double Rides at AstroWorld

AstroWorld had a lot of very important things that young people got to do for the first time. For boys, one of them was waiting in line at Tidal Wave for some girl in a white shirt to get soaked. Then there was throwing rocks off the cable cars, and that all-important moment when you learned why it was very wise to keep your mouth shut on Thunder River so you didn't swallow the laxative they called water.

The best was those days when you were there very early and got onto Greezed Lightin'. The ride was barely a minute long, but it was arguably the best in the park, throwing you at 60 mph around a loop, up a ramp and backward through the same. If you were very lucky, you got back to the start with no one else waiting and the operator simply asked, "Again?' It was like having your own amusement park.

4. Steak and Swing at Old San Francisco

Houston's lost a lot of great steak places over the years, especially Hofbrau over on Shepherd and I-10 for those of us who liked quality meat at a discount while deer heads with Christmas lights glared down at us. The worst loss is Old San Francisco Steakhouse (there's still one in San Antonio), where not only could you get what was probably the absolute best cut of meat in the city, you could do it while an old-school saloon girl performed a swing show set to live piano music.

3. Blow Your Summer Paycheck at the Dream Merchant Midnight Sale

Before the Internet, it was damn difficult to be a goth in Houston, at least if you wanted to look good. The only real place to shop was Dream Merchant in Sharpstown (later on Westheimer). Want a nice pair of stompy Pennangalan boots to check out Siouxsie and the Banshees at Numbers? Dream Merchant was pretty much the only place that sold them. Around Christmas, they would have a massive midnight sale that every self-respecting spooky kid dragged his or her mom to in order to stock up for the rest of the year.

2. Watch a Real Metal or Punk Show at The Abyss

There are plenty of places left to see a good metal show in Houston, but there will never, ever be another Abyss. Just walking into the club, you knew that everything was about to get heavy as hell. The walls sloped up like a skatepark, letting all the bass pool in the roiling mass of patrons who were getting the pit started. Punk also got some really first-star lineups there, but for the most part it was a last bastion of hard alternative before nu metal waded in and turned anything with an edge into watered-down mainstream yuppie bro traps. Washington Ave and Houston itself were never the same after The Abyss closed. 

1. Break into Jeff Davis Hospital

The Elder Street Lofts were once the site of Houston's most horrifying spot. As Jefferson Davis Hospital, it was a busted-out wreck of a building that looked as if it had come right out of a horror movie, and to this day there are still some movies filmed there because of its unsettling architecture. As many as 6,000 people (said to be city officials, Confederate soldiers and former slaves) were buried somewhere on the property, and it finished its run as an asylum.

It was traditional, especially on Halloween, to try and sneak into the building because although we had watched plenty of horror movies, we had learned nothing from them. Filmmaker Josh Vargas recalls, "It was pretty creepy, but we never really were all that scared. There was a security guard on the property that we were able to strike a deal with; as long as we brought him a bottle of wine, he'd turn a blind eye to us going in there."

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