Houston is a very strange city.
At first look, there is really nothing here to recommend the place, and I say that as an unabashed, almost insanely enthusiastic civic booster. For six months of the year, it is relentlessly hot, brutally hot, Colonel-Saito-sticking-Alec-Guinness-in-a-steel-box-in-"The Bridge On The River Kwai"- until-he's-nearly-blind-and-completely-mad hot. The humidity is usually at terrarium levels. In the winter, it rains: Not gentle, life-affirming rain; but buckets of cold, hard, flood-inducing rain, rain often accompanied by hail and infrequently by snow, rain that washes away landscaping and fills busy intersections with water, which, inevitably, some knucklehead in a Nissan will try to drive through, sucking gallons of the muck into his engine, ruining his car. You see them every storm, slightly dazed, standing by their dead vehicles, telling a voice on the other end of the cell phone, "I don't know WHAT happened."
My friend Joel is from Arizona's Gila Valley, one of those arid, barren places that Brigham Young sent settlers 150 years ago, and instead of shriveling up and blowing away, they irrigated and planted crops and made a go of it, and continue to make a go of it, seven generations later, whether out of deep-set obedience or an even deeper need to prove to Brigham Young that they could, I cannot say. After his first year in Houston, I asked Joel what he thought of the place. He was quiet for a few seconds, then he said, "All my life, I have sat in Church meetings, and heard old farmers pray for rain. It's nice to finally live in the place where all those prayers are answered."
It's more than bad weather. We have the greatest number of strip clubs of any city in North America, and more convenience stores per capita than any other city in the world. Our boulevards, for the most part, are not lined with trees and punctuated by majestic arches; they are lined with pawn shops and storefront churches, the major intersections marked by multiple Starbucks and guys with signs that say, "Gulf War Vet: Please Help" or "Forget Food. I Need The Money for Beer!"
We also have an amazing, dizzying amount of diversity. Last night, our younger son had some friends over to play FIFA 10. That alone is remarkable: the preferred choice in video game among these kids is a game about soccer. A friendly argument broke out between two of the kids over which team was better, Manchester United or Manchester City. One of the kids (mine) proudly owns a Carlos Tevez jersey. Another kid was wearing a Chelsea jersey. There was a Vietnamese kid, a couple of kids from Mexico, a kid from El Salvador, a kid from Nigeria, and my kid, our very own Rainbow Coalition.
This is why I love Houston. The place I grew up is gone, all of the rich and wonderful ethnic heritage sacrificed to the blunted sameness of suburbia, the Poles and Czechs and Germans and Russians and Italians and Serbs and Irish all boiled down into a bland, pasty goo called "White People". The world that is coming, a world represented by my nephew, who is the child of a Tongan father and an Anglo mother, and my other nephew, the child of a Korean mother and an Anglo father, and my sons and daughter, whose friends come from all over the world, bringing their foods and their faith and their rich traditions, is a world that kids growing up in places where everyone looks like them and everyone thinks like them and everyone believes like them cannot appreciate and are inclined to fear.
I will take the heat. I will take the humidity. I will take the endless skeins of QWIK-STOPs and HANDI-MARTs and GRAB-N-GOs and the lumpen neon throb of The Men's Club and Heartbreakers and The Silver Beaver (I made that one up, but it makes me laugh, if for no other reason than it happens to be the name of the highest honor in Boy Scouting -- seriously, what were they thinking?) to have evenings like last night, when the whole world was laughing in my living room.