Last week, many were surprised -- some even perplexed -- to see our beloved city on the annual New York Times list of places to visit in 2013. Houston was number seven on a list of 46 that included Rio, Amsterdam, Singapore, Hawaii's Big Island, Oslo, Bangkok and Paris. Yes, we were on a "must visit" list with Paris, the one in France, not the one in northeast Texas.
In the story's description, Houston was praised for our theater district and thriving food scene. It's not the first story in the last year that has heaped praise on us, and for good reason. Let's be honest, we're pretty freaking awesome.
But just as you tilt your head a certain way when you take a photo to avoid the appearance of that fourth chin, Houston has some warts we'd rather no one saw.
Inside of the Astrodome
The "Eighth Wonder of the World" is still standing and, in truth, is a monument to the entrepreneurial spirit and enterprising nature of Houstonians dating all the way back to the Allen Brothers. But our dirty little secret is that while the iconic dome may look fascinating from a distance, it is rotting from the inside out. Just as we would warn you not to go inside the house in The Amityville Horror, we are telling you, do not go inside the Astrodome...or look too closely at it from the outside.
The drive from Bush Intercontinental Airport to downtown
I've been strongly suggesting recently to friends that we begin a petition drive that requires all visitors to Houston to wear blindfolds on the drive from the airport to downtown. Bush IAH is the airport of choice here, but, really, the drive from Hobby isn't particularly pleasant either. If you do decide to peek, no, those aren't a string of ghost towns, they are abandoned car dealerships.
The Port of Houston is fascinating and one of the major reasons Houston is a thriving center of business. Once the Panama Canal expansion is complete, that will be even more true than it is now. But we'd prefer you just avoid the ship channel if at all possible. At night it looks like hell on earth, and by day it smells like it.
Giant Neon Cross
There are a lot of churches in Houston, some of them of the mega variety. Being south of the Mason-Dixon line has a tendency to do that to a city, but we also have such a diverse population, the kinds of churches run the spectrum. Still, St. Joseph's Hospital decided the best way to demonstrate their love of Jesus was to put a giant neon cross on the side of their professional building in downtown. It's hideous. Oh, and if you somehow manage to make it out to the Beltway, try to avert your gaze from the even bigger non-neon equivalent cross along the way. You know, everything's bigger and blah, blah, blah.
Minute Maid is one of the most beautiful ballparks in America. By all means, take the tour. But, whatever you do, don't go see the Astros...not now anyway. This has been the worst team in Major League Baseball the last few years and it doesn't promise to get any better this season. We will still go, if not in huge numbers, but we're gluttons for punishment. Exhibit A: The Texans.
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Calling poor Northwest Mall a "mall" is really a stretch these days. The mishmash of stores that used to be a mall now sports two abandoned bookend department stores (one used to be Macy's), a giant sports bar and a mostly destroyed parking lot thanks to the near constant road construction we deal with around these here parts. We think they still have a Radio Shack, though, and the baked ziti at their Sbarro is damn tasty.
Any bayou that isn't Buffalo between downtown and Memorial Park
The stretch of bayou between Memorial Park and downtown is really quite beautiful and getting even more lovely thanks to the efforts of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership. There's little trash, a stunning bat colony and, with the reshaping of the water stream, clear water in many areas. But once you get outside this stretch of waterway, you'll find either benign concrete channels or overgrown, garbage-laden mud creeks...that is, unless it rains while you are here and then you'll get to see a raging torrent of death and destruction. Enjoy!