Lifestyle · Travel

Why We Love Houston

 800px-Houston_night Houston at night, 2008

We’re New Yorkers, we founders and editors of Women’s Voices for Change, and we know what that means: we have a tendency to believe that we live in the center of the universe.

That’s why we’re always scouting for writers who live elsewhere—we want bring to our site the experiences of women in other places. We’ve told our readers what it’s like to “age damply” in Seattle;  to relish Christmas in the coldest town in the nation—Embarrass, Minnesota; to fall in love with—but lament the eco-earnestness of—Portland, Oregon; to celebrate July 4 (so disparately) in Afton, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and Marbletown, Massachusetts; to live as an Episcopal priest in Tanzaniato be a doctor operating in women’s hospitals in Rwanda and Somaliland;  to dig into the ancient history of Crete.  Here’s the latest in our series: discriminating city-dweller Susan Lieberman’s paean to life in Houston, Texas, a city that “does the ordinary spectacularly well.”—ED.

 

We are sitting on the patio of our vacation house in La Jolla, California, sipping wine with my brother, who has driven down from Los Angeles, where he lives. “Isn’t this great?” he beams. “You can’t beat California. When are you moving here full-time?”

Several times a year, David asks the same question: “Tell me again why you like Houston?” Houston is our base, a city I moved to with my husband 27 years ago. I moved under protest. “My Rolodex does the East Coast and the West Coast, but where the hell is Texas?”

“You are going to love it,” my husband told me. Of course, he was just making that up, but it turned out he was absolutely right. I do love living in Houston, a possibility my California-centric brother finds unfathomable.

Here is what I find interesting about both my initial reaction to Texas and David’s persistent one. I had no notion of Texas. It seemed like an odd place to live, although 17 million people were already living there. Today, it’s approaching 26 million, and is the second most populous state in the US, behind the 37 million who share California with my brother, shoehorned into a much smaller space. (California is about 40% smaller than Texas.)

David doesn’t wonder why his nephew is happy in Boston. He is charmed by the cuteness of Saratoga Springs, where his son is living. New York, of course, is an alternative center of the universe. When we lived in St. Louis or Philadelphia he never asked me why I was happy there, and he still has a nostalgic affection for Pittsburgh, where we grew up. It’s Houston he can’t get.

Okay, let me own up, right away, to the negatives. The heat and humidity in the summer are oppressive, but no worse to endure than an upstate New York winter. Yes, we have mosquitoes. No, we don’t have an ocean; we hardly have a hill. Oil and gas are what pass for sexy businesses. The Johnson Space Center notwithstanding, we are short on great tourist destinations. People don’t develop positive associations with Houston because they came for a vacation or an unusual activity—unless it’s cancer treatment at the Methodist Hospital or M.D. Anderson. We don’t do “special” very well. I do think Houston does ordinary spectacularly well, although it really isn’t so ordinary to be driving on the freeway to Neiman Marcus and see a stream of men and women on the access road, riding their horses into the city for the annual Rodeo and Live Stock Show.

Houston is accessible and affordable, but with all the variety that the fourth largest city in the U.S. can offer. We sit in the center of the country. You might not want to visit, but it is easy to get here if you do. Our amazing medical center employs 52,000 men and women. Our downtown 17-block theater district is home to eight performing arts organizations. It has what I need, including great music and excellent dim sum. We are not gorgeous, but there is abundant green. It’s a terrific town for shopping, and there is plenty of parking. Yes, of course, there is traffic, and as more people move here, it gets worse. The city sprawls over 600 square miles, and I’m sure my positive views are, in part, because I live “inside the loop,” basically in the city’s center. But it isn’t just me. Seventy-seven percent of Houstonians thinks the city is a good to excellent place to live.

That Texas “howdy, y’all” friendliness is not just a stereotype.  In my experience, Texans are especially warm and welcoming.  I was astonished, when we first moved here from Philadelphia, to go into stores and find that the sales clerks were, in fact,  helpful.

And Houston cuisine goes far beyond cattle.  If you like good food, as I do, you will be very happy in Houston. Zagat has commended it as a great eating-out city, and  restaurant prices are modest.  In addition to great food for the body, there is a diverse menu for the soul. The Houston arts scene is varied and vibrant. Early music, grand opera, bluegrass, jazz, rock and roll—all on regular offer. Lots of museums. If you care about sports, we have big league teams in football, baseball, basketball, and soccer. You won’t find local skiing, but people play golf and tennis outdoors year ’round. We have more than 40 colleges, universities, and institutions, including Rice and the University of Houston. I suspect one can hear an interesting talk or seminar every day of the week, whether it’s at the Jung Center, the Garden Club, the Center for Houston’s Future, or one of dozens of other community organizations.

This won’t be important to everybody, but I love living in the most ethnically diverse city in the U.S. No ethnic group has a majority, we are among the youngest cities in the country, and it feels like the future. Certainly, Texas politics is crazy. We have no state income tax and are not generous with public services. Our governor, Rick Perry, may be an über-conservative guy who isn’t sure the poor really need health care, but in Houston, the mayor is a down-to-earth lesbian liberal. Whatever one’s passion, it is easy to get involved. I have found Houston to be the most socially open of the seven cities in which I have lived my married life.

Moving many times has shown me that if relationships are good, my kids are happy, we have a few good friends, the house feels safe and snug, the utility bills are manageable, and we can find satisfying work, I can be happy living almost anywhere. But some places feel more congenial than others. Houston has an attractive positive energy. Texas doesn’t look east or west, but believes Texans can figure out whatever needs figuring all by themselves. Maybe it is needlessly prideful, but that can-do energy, along with the amazing variety of people, places, and restaurants, is stimulating and exciting. I love our summers in La Jolla, but I’m not at all interested in giving up Houston.

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  • Linda Kennedy August 2, 2014 at 9:55 am

    Houston has the biggest and best Quilt Show in the United States. I visit each and every year.

    Reply