18818 Tomball Parkway
State Highway 249
Houston, Texas 77070
April 2004–Skateboarders wiz by, merely a foot away, ignoring my presence. The loud hum of cars fills the air as teenagers rev their new shiny engines. Tall Grayish neon lights flicker on as the sun begins to set. They spotlight each flashy Porsche and Ford with their hoods up and doors open to show off the interior. Behind the red mustang, with its engine still roaring, two adolescents engage in a never ending lustful kiss that makes the piece of pizza, which I just enjoyed, churl in my stomach. I feel nauseated. I look down in an attempt of modesty and realize that no one else feels the same disgust. The pungent smell of alcohol and cigarettes creates stagnant smog hovering just above our heads. Girls giggle at the jokes told by the meat-head jocks who proudly wear their blue and white letter jackets. I sit down on the curb and feel its cold sting on the back of my legs. Why am I still here? I continue to watch these underage high school kids flush their purity down the drain as my mind retreats back to my first memory of this Holiday Inn parking lot…
I am five years old and just able to leave home with my two big brothers (who always made a promise to protect me). We “sneak” out of the dark brown oak door as we holler to our mom that we are going around the corner. My brothers make me carry the bag of small silver coins found on the ground, as they hop onto their new Christmas presents. They ride their bikes around the block as my little tiny legs try to catch up. We round the last house, and there it is! I had never seen something so enchanting, so breathtaking, and so full of possibilities! I felt honored to be invited to my big brothers’ hide out in the huge forest behind our house. The rain had apparently just faded away, for the ground oozed with murky, muddy water. My eyes gazed up in amazement along the never ending tree trunks. I was a helpless victim caught in the snake’s unforgiving trance. We crept along the pre-established path, made by parted pine needles, and found our resting spot. There, we made our plans of how the day would work. They would be the two brave pirates who find the new land filled with treasure, and I would have to be the nurse who took care of any poisoning, bullet wounds, or animal attack that they decided to have that day. Once we figured out how things would work, we counted out all the change we had in the leather coin pouch, which our grandpa made, and continued on our journey. Through the struggle over a “far and distant land”, we finally made our way to the treasure…the small Dairy Queen just beyond the trees.
I look up from the pavement to find that same comforting “Dairy Queen” sign still stands behind the few surviving pines. My eyes squint through the approaching darkness to see the white paint curling away from the edges. The red is now a light pink, and the stick-on posters in the windows hold the faded “Denis the Menace” character known all too well by the common customer. Our cherished path would begin at the door of the hotel and end at the back of the parking lot. Our secret resting spot would have been right there, in that parking spot. I glance back at the DQ trying to see who even goes to the restaurant anymore, but the sun positions itself directly behind the building and straight into my eyes. My concentration moves from delight to misery. Instantly, my hands cover the light image bunt into my sight, rubbing and pushing out the pain. My sight is blurry, but just enough to catch the next stunt preformed by the underfed “starving artist” of the skateboard world. After only a few minutes, the sun has vanished behind the 17 ft. highway that was created over the years. The tall parking lot lights become the only source of illumination. They shine down on the pavement and seep into our backyard. Our once beautiful view from the kitchen is infested with artificial brightness. These lights stair into my house, violating our privacy, and create a never-ending insomnia for the whole block.
Prestonwood Forest , the adjacent neighborhood built in the early 1970’s, grew and prospered with a family oriented spirit. Every Christmas, our community pulls together and celebrates with the traditional annual “Night of Lights”. In the beginning, around 700 homes would light up their yards with greens, reds, and wooden cut outs of cartoon characters varying from nativity scenes to Disney. The event has drawn hayrides, church groups and even celebrities such as George and Barbara Bush, and Kevin Costner when he was in town filming Tin Cup. We were always known for our loving attitudes and welcoming warmth, but over the years, people have grown older and hearts have grown colder. Out of the 784 homes standing, only about 500 properties now participate.
The kids clear a path for the giant semi-truck with an inconspicuous brand name printed across the side. It rolls along the edge of the fence, which separates the homes from the parking lot, and pulls to a stop. The man inside opens the door to have a smoke, and I can see that he has not shaved in a few days, probably hasn’t showered either. In his tired delirious state, he puts out his cigarette and climbs back into his temporary bed made of a dirty, stained seat. The engine continues with an obnoxious hum as he drifts away to a long awaited rest. I can hear my dog, Mollie, from the back yard barking at the unwanted truck. She finally wears herself out and retreats back into the house to lessen the noise. The teens clump up into their original groups and continue to drink and laugh. I wonder why there are no cops around to interrupt this violation. My neighborhood was once calm, quiet, and with no disturbances. Maybe they figure nothing has changed, or maybe the parents aren’t watching their kids enough to realize that they are gone.
In Nebraska , the parents of a 16 year old girl, like the ones in this parking lot, sued her boyfriend’s mother because the boy got her pregnant. This case focused on the question of what degree society expects a parent to own responsibility over a mid-adolescent child. The discussion found that the mother was negligent by not watching over her son and not involving herself in his life. The kids in the Holiday Inn parking lot are not only causing possible harm on themselves, but on their parents as well.
Across the street from the parking lot, the homeless give up on their search for money and withdraw back to their tents in the underbrush. The community has had constant complaints from homeowners because they feel as if our quiet neighborhood is turning into downtown. Unfortunately, this is true. More and more companies are taking over property downtown and creating new apartments and lofts. They are also renovating and remodeled old hotels that once were vacant. These areas once offered places for the homeless to sleep and hang out, but with them being used, they have no place to go. Eventually, they move out and come to us.
With the sun gone and the moon out, the drag racing begins. I had never seen such a ridiculous “game”. Two guys bulk up their shoulders to warn the other of their masculinity. They hop into their own cars and drive to the frontage road of 249. I can now see that there are many more tire marks from the previous races here in this area. A girl stands between the two cars and waves her arms in the air. Off they go, down the street and to a future of trouble. These teenagers do not understand the severity of this game. In May of 2003, San Diego County Court convicted two men of manslaughter after they raced down the highway and killed two innocent bystanders. One was charged with 7 years because he was not directly involved in the crash, but the other received 12. Over one year, 14 fatalities have been reported in San Diego County due to illegal drag racing, not including all the severe injuries. There is a thin line between fun and danger.
I never realized what my parents have to deal with now that I am out of the house. The hotel is disrespectful to the neighborhood, and there is not enough police enforcement to control the dangerous racing. I spoke with one of my neighbors, Maryanne Cameron, who also lived in this area through the transition from country to city. The first complaint out of her mouth concerned the building. “These new tenants kicked out all the animals once living there [in the forest]. The birds, bugs, snakes and deer that used to call this place home had to move. For months, our backyard was filled with copperheads threatening my dog,” with that, she reached down and rustled the hairs on her brown and white Sheltie’s head.
While taking my own dog in to the vet for a check up, the veterinarian around the corner told me that a few years ago, many of the animal injuries were caused by the snakes that came from the forest and traffic that had increased because of the commercialization of the area. The snake and rodent infestation are no longer a problem because they have now had a few years to either migrate or die off, and the animals have learned to stay out of the streets. The main crisis now, though, is flooding.
The forest trees once caught and absorbed most of the water that fell in the area, so the only rain we expected was just enough to replenish the grass. With the trees gone, however, our yards receive tremendous amounts of run off from the streets which flood the grass and eventually kill it. This rain also causes the land to wash away underneath, creating dangerous sink holes throughout the yards and streets. I remember one rain that did not seem severe enough to concern ourselves, but with the house shaped like an “L”, it trapped water in its crevice. Eventually it seeped into our backdoor and drenched the carpet of our living and dining rooms. It became a painstaking process to remove the water, take out the carpet and replace it with tile, but it had to be done or else this would happen again.
I feel something drop on the side of my nose and reach up to find a water bead. The convenient rain begins to sprinkle on myself and the audience of the races, but everyone is so wrapped up in the event that no one notices. The hotel lights find a path through the droplets of rain and light up each jewel as if it were an expensive diamond on display. The light mist sprinkles the grass, coloring it with a deep green hue. My heart sinks. Here I have been, this whole night, complaining and criticizing the area and people while I overlooked all of the beauty that God has created. Even though my forest and childhood are gone, the memories are still there. Even though the highway has turned my neighborhood from country to city, it is there to protect us from the intense sun on hot summer days. My forest was taken away from me, yes, but a different kind of beauty was introduced. Maybe I am, rather than the kids, the ignorant one. I have become so caught up in business, money, and my job that I forgot to sit back and enjoy the simple things of life.
This Holiday Inn is not as bad as I originally thought. They have provided many opportunities to our community. They are enthusiastic about being involved with school and community activities and provide many jobs for teenagers and other community members. As of now, 52 workers are employed at this location, and they expect to receive many new applications for summer jobs.
I stand up to leave with a small smile across my lips. The teenagers now notice that I have been sitting there this whole time. I can tell that these kids are the kind who come from good families and rarely ever get in trouble. Fear is written all over their faces. They all seem to freeze at the same time, not knowing what to do. One of them tries to discreetly hide the beer bottle behind his back. I laugh and just walk off.