Did we mention something about used car lots? South of the Loop and north of the Katy, Shepherd is composed of little else. Those sparkly, tasseled strings that overhang you there whisper in the wind, making this stretch of Shepherd sound something like an autumn walk in the woods. But you're far more likely to find lemons here than lemon trees.
John Lomax and David Bebee finish their Shepherd Stroll after the jump ...
Next, we crossed White Oak Bayou (fully concrete-lined, bare of wildlife and ugly here), the Katy Freeway, the Hofbrau/Cadillac Bar/Spaghetti Western/Mojo Risin' strip, and arrived at what used to be the railway gulch. Shepherd becomes a viaduct here and flies overhead, so we stayed under it and continued south. Beebe reminisced about his freight-hopping high school days here, but since then, the railyard has been ripped out. Today, there's a hideous pebble-dashed office park under there and not much else.
There are active train tracks further south, and usually there are hordes of day laborers there, but on this day either they had all found work or were hiding from La Migra. A block south of the day laborers, at Center Street, there are no fewer than five taco trucks vying for their hard-earned dollars.
At Washington, Shepherd's blue collar begins to fade to white. All of the shopping carts you find from here south are apt to come from places like Kroger and Randall's — no more ghetto supermarkets like Food City or Pricebusters. There are CVS's and Walgreen's down here, wine bars, and lofts. Beebe starts to fiend for Starbucks, and he scores his first before we get to the St. Thomas High School area.
Ah, St. Thomas, my old nemesis. I am a grad of their arch-rivals Strake Jesuit, and passing the school brings back memories, not the least of which was this one, which I share with Beebe: At one of our football games, two friends of mine, one from each school, got into a shoving match in the stands, one that was quickly broken up by the teachers. Eagle and Crusader honor had to be upheld, though, and this abortive scrap left us all unsatisfied. And so Clay, the St. Thomas kid, and Mike, the Jebbie, agreed to meet for a formal fight, to be held at Jackson Hill Park near St. Thomas, at a pre-arranged time. Flyers were made, fake IDs were used to purchase kegs, a "cool" dad from St. Thomas agreed to come down and barbecue for us. The turn-out was about two hundred that afternoon, all to watch a couple of shrimpy guys — weighing at a combined 280 pounds — flail away at each other on each other.
But luckily for us, there would be an undercard. The "cool" dad, whom we will call "Mr. Hanratty," forced "Liam" and "Seamus", his two sons, to wrestle for our enjoyment. They rolled around in the mud for a good 15 minutes, neither gaining the upper hand, while Mr Hanratty grilled burgers and dogs and nipped on a tall can of Busch. Liam got Seamus in a headlock and action ground to a halt, but he never could pin his brother. So Mr Hanratty walked over to them, pulled out his dick and took a piss.
"That's one of those things that kinda seems normal at the time, but looking back is really weird and just wrong," Beebe says. (As for the main event, Mike the Strake kid won by unanimous decision.)
Beebe and I needed a break after passing St. Thomas so we headed under the Buffalo Bayou bridge. Beebe wanted to point out the engineering of the thing — how they expanded it from one lane to two without tearing it down. I had some wine with me and my iPod and speakers, so it seemed as good a place as any to take five (or 30) and recharge for the final leg of the journey.
We found a big piece of rubble under the bridge and sat down on it. I whipped out the iPod rig and played a couple of obvious choices — first, there was the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under The Bridge." That's the great thing about walking around with 8,000 songs at your fingertips. You have a tune for every occasion, including sitting under a bridge with a bottle of wine. As a matter of fact, I had two. Next, I played Steve Earle's "Back to the Wall," which has this line: "I know I'm doin' good now but tonight I'm headed downtown / Down by the riverside / I sit underneath the freeway with an old friend from the old days / And a bottle of wine."
As Earle's song played, and mighty Buffalo Bayou rolled past in the afternoon sun, I told Beebe my life story. About how when I was a kid, Steve Earle was like my big brother, how I used to sleep in bed with him and his first wife Sandy. How he used to torture me by holding me down and giving me "Texas titty-twisters." How he taught me to fire a pistol when I was about eight — it was a Civil War replica Colt revolver, and its recoil almost took my head off. ("Dirty Harry you ain't," was Earle's verdict of my pistolero skills.) About how my natural dad once managed Earle (and got him his first major-label deal), and how later, my stepfather served as Earle's roadie for several tours, including, notably, an eight-month-long world tour that wound up destroying my mom and stepfather's marriage. (A condom fell out of the luggage mama unpacked when he got home, right in front of me, my two sisters, and my brother.)
The wine was going down good and the stories were flowing. And then for some reason I looked down at the chunk of rubble we were sitting on. And right between me and Beebe, mere inches from both of us, was a giant human turd partially covered in toilet paper. (By some miracle, neither of us had sat on it.)
Needless to say, that put an end to this little idyll real quick. We found the perpetrator's nest around the side of the bridge. He was away on business, so we rooted through his belongings. There was an empty handle-bottle of gin, some crack paraphernalia, blankets and an old mattress. He had scrawled the legend "Educate Your Self" on the wall by where he lay his head, and also affixed a beaver shot (looked to be from Hustler, or maybe Club) up there as well. He even had a toilet of sorts up there — a milk crate full of shit. All modern conveniences, as they say in England.
After that, the rest of the trip was kind of anti-climactic. We came across some quirky yard art just north of West Gray. And there was also Lewis Black's vision of Hell — the infamous dueling Starbucks. We had some British/Indian appetizers at the Red Lion, and Beebe decried that the Popeye's he worked at in high school had been turned into an Arby's. "Nobody eats that crap," he says.
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And in fact, neither of us made it all the way to Rice Boulevard. I got sidetracked to the Alabama Icehouse, where I ran into an old friend. Beebe had to zip off to a gig, so I had a couple of beers at the Icehouse while taking in the strains of Opie Hendrix from the stage, and then I walked down to Bissonnet, caught the #65 bus out to Bellaire Transit Center and changed to the #2 and was home.
More so than any other street even in car-crazed Houston, Shepherd Drive is all about the automobile. And since few cities on Earth are more car-friendly (and pedestrian-averse) than the Bayou City, it could very well be that Shepherd and not Westheimer is the quintessentially Houston thoroughfare.
Next up, Telephone Road, from Pearland to the Orange Show. (No kidding.) Contact me if you want to come along. -- John Nova Lomax