Category Archives: Roads

My History on Interstate 10: From El Paso to Orange, Texas by David Guevara

Interstate 10
Between El Paso and Orange Texas

November 2010: I must have driven the stretch of I-10 Jacksonville Florida to Houston Texas at least forty to forty-five times in last six years. I left Jacksonville after work around two o’clock in the afternoon. I returned home after three, or sometimes four, or even six months of being away because of my job, the military. My deployments lasted six months, but I had to do it since it was part of the contract I had signed. I began the 880 miles journey I was anxious to see my family, but I was soothed by the tranquility of being by myself on the road with nothing to keep me awake but a bag or two of sunflower seeds, a bottle of water, and a pack of gum. The further away from my job and the routine that trapped in Florida I got, the happier I felt. This particular freeway connects from the east coast, to the west coast; it begins in Jacksonville, Florida and ends on Santa Monica, California.  It is the fourth longest road in the United States at 2,460 miles, the longest in Texas, which contains more than one third of its entire length –from El Paso to Orange, Texas.  According to the Texas Department of Transportation, the estimated cost of Construction was 1,446 million dollars from the Fort Bend Country Line to Washington Ave.

When I was stationed in Mayport I left right after work on Friday afternoon as early as possible. If I beat the Jacksonville traffic, I could get home earlier and enjoy my family time, food, and home.  I drove the 880 miles non-stop until I reached Houston around three in the morning the following day, or earlier depending on the hour of departure.

In Florida’s landscape, since most of the I-10 is covered by trees, giving the freeway a clean, and fresh Mother Nature smell, the best part is that there was not much state patrol since Florida is supervised from air-anybody that is crossing the border to Florida can see the signs that say that. One time I was going ninety-five miles per hour at around three in the morning, right after passing Pensacola, Florida, always trying to be careful to lookup to see of there was any planes or helicopters around. Luckily there was nothing; I looked at my rear view mirror to see if there was anybody else, because at that hour of the night I was pretty much alone. Far away in the distance, I saw car lights they were apparently moving pretty fast. My only thought was to take my foot off the gas and not to press the brake, in case it was a cop. I did this until I was soon going once again, to do eighty miles per hour. My heart suddenly started pumping really fast, I felt nervous and scared at the same time. I was expecting to see police lights, or to get hit. My mind went blank for a couple of seconds, but to m luck it was just a car that passed by me. It was a Camaro Z-28 state patrol car doing at least one hundred and twenty miles per hour. As soon as he passed me I felt so relieved and happy that everything was back to normal. I set my cruise control to eighty miles per hour for the rest of the way.

Alabama hosted the giant tunnel in Mobile, which goes under water. I felt like I was driving deeper inside Earth, and imagine the fish and sharks swimming all around the perimeter of the tunnel. The awesomeness was constructed by floating sections that were sunk right next to each other, then the water was pumped out and it was finished.

Mississippi was no big deal. I only passed there for gas and food, and I was in and out in forty-five minute drive. However, I passed Mississippi one Thursday night on the last week of June back in 2005 when I was taking Regular Leave (vacations). I stopped there, got gas, food and some really cheap fireworks that they sold on a little trailer outside a Jack in the Box, which we burned having fun on the fourth of July on San Jancito City.

Louisiana meant every single minute that passed, I was closer to home. But also, I loved crossing the Atchafalaya Swamp Bridge: 18.2 impressive miles of the highway over the swamp without exits or entrances. I never got to see any crocodiles, but I wanted to stop to look for some. Most of the times when I was coming home I was so anxious to get there, and wanting to get home the only fast way was always the excuse to never stop there. Now that I have completed my contract with the military I want to do a trip just to do that, since this is something new to me, but it is going to be from really far away because I am still scared of those animals.

Crossing the border of Louisiana into Texas made me feel that I was home again.  It did not matter that I was just half way. Seeing the big star and the sign that reads “Welcome to the Lone Star State” made me feel good every time I came back. It meant that I had accomplished most of my driving time (at least for that day). It also made me feel sad every time I was leaving it, only to go back to my military life, most likely to go underway once again.

In Houston the speed limit on the I-10 is 60 miles per hour, but it is 80 miles per hour- the highest on the nation- between Kerr and El Paso at daytime. In Florida, Louisiana, and sometimes-even Alabama I used to do eighty or eighty-five with no problem what so ever, once the state patrol stop me a couple of times on the same day, but I think it was my lucky day: I only got warnings.

Here in Houston the I-10 is known as the Katy Freeway between Katy Texas to Downtown Houston, and as East Freeway from Downtown to Beaumont area.  Three of the main accesses are the Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros located in Downtown Houston replacing, the Astrodome in the year 2000 and since the year 1964 having a Major League team in Houston playing in natural grass, other main attraction is the University of Houston-Downtown campus on the Houston area, located in 1 main just minutes away from the Minute Maid Park and with a full view of and from the I-10 that passes right next to it, this University was founded back in 1974, and is the 13th largest public University in Texas and, the second largest University in Houston area which of course this is where I take my classes since it is really close to where I reside, and the rest of Downtown Houston, which now days have changed a lot, one of the things that made it extra easier to commute, and I tried it once is the Metro Rail, which is really fast and fun to be on

Now that I have finished my military life and returned back to Texas, I drive every single day, Monday thru Sunday, going to work and back. The I-10 brings me memories, of the times that I been there, of all the time and miles that I drove on that freeway that seemed endless, that every time brought me back to where I wanted to be, that brought me back home. Yes, it is also true that sometimes I did not wanted to back to work, because I felt so good being back at home, but this silent, yet dangerous road that took me to the places where I wanted to be, one of the sections that I see it is renovating now days, is before I get to I-59 going from east to west, closing the exit to University of Houston Downtown, luckily for me, I drive on the feeder, making it easier for me to commute to my classes and back. Once this last piece is completed it will be another nice piece of road to drive around, and does not matter that I am back home or all the money that was put in it. I will enjoy driving around the Inter-State 10, now most likely more that when I was away, and this could be because of memories. Or could it be just because it is required for me to drive around? Well I guess the answer to this question is probably a little bit of both, but one thing for sure, I will enjoy every single time that I drive around there, or through there just cruising, unless I am or get stocked on traffic.

Maps:

Links:

Texas Department of Transportation

City of Houston

Author bio:

David Guevara is a Mexican-American, Veteran of US Navy, doing a tour on Asia during the “Enduring Freedom” tour as an Engineer working with the main engine onboard USS Sacramento (AOE-1) stationed on Bremerton, WA, and a tour serving as Personnel Specialist on the “Operation Enduring Freedom” onboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) stationed on Mayport,FL.  First year on college with a Bussiness Management as a major.

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“A Church with True Holy Spirit”: Grace Church of Humble, Texas by Nikkea Porter

7224 N Sam Houston Pkwy E,

 Humble, Tx ( 281)-441-1111

  November 2010 I am attending services one Sunday at Grace Church, in Humble  Texas, when I see a red light blinking beneath the pew in front of me. My daughter and I are sitting in the sanctuary, five rows back from the podium. I was getting ready to enjoy yet another service and listening to the gospel music being played over the speakers when I first saw the blinking light. Now I send my five year old daughter to pick it up; I look at it and realize that it is an earpiece to someone’s cell phone, a bluetooth. I look around to find its owner, but no one is close enough to ask. I shrug my shoulders and say to my daughter, “Let’s return it to the information desk at the end of service.” A few seconds later a man sits across from us, and just out of curiosity, I told Cheyenne to ask the man if it is his Bluetooth that we just found on the floor.

“Is this yours?” she asks shyly, in a low voice.

“Yes,” he nods, surprised. Cheyenne comes back over to me and tells me it was his and that she gave it back to him. I think nothing of it and am glad to have done a good deed for someone at church.

About five minutes later he came over and shook my hand, as he places something in my hand he say’s, “Sister, I just want to bless you with something for returning my Bluetooth,” he smiles. Normally I would not accept something for doing a kind deed but since he wants to bless me, and he seems very adamant, I accept it. Still not knowing what he has given me I thank him and say, “No problem,” continue the services feeling rather grateful. I kind of glance in my hand and see that it is money but he has folded it a dozen times and I can’t make out the denomination of the bill. Later when service was over and on my way to my car I look in my hand to see what he has given me, to my surprise it is a hundred dollar bill. By this time I can’t believe what has just happened, “who would do such wonderful thing for a complete stranger like myself?” That is very generous of that man and he didn’t have to do that. I feel very blessed and that God might have something to do with it. I imagine if we could all do such kind deeds for each other, the world can be a different place. His kindness I felt far surpassed returning his Bluetooth, as he could have bought three with the hundred dollars he gave me.

The first time I laid eyes on Grace Church was in August of 2009. I had just moved to Humble, Texas from Hartford, Connecticut and lived on the same street as the church. Churches in Houston are a big deal as Texas is in the “Bible Belt.” I have taken notice of all the big churches here in Houston. Coming from Connecticut, Houston is a vast difference between church goers, some of the differences are the locations of churches, the types of people, and the services. While I was passing on the Beltway one day I noticed how big and beautiful the building appeared to be from a distance. Right then I said to myself, “Wow, I sure would like to visit that church.” It seems like a modern church, like it is newly built, the whole area around the church is newly built. I was compelled to go and see what kind of people worshiped there. The parking lot that was large enough to park hundreds of vehicles, but the building just looked so inviting to me. I always imagine what it would be like to attend a large church, would I get a personal feeling if there are too many people there. I guess I will have to go and find out for myself. 

 On Sunday morning we all got up around 10:00am and we decided to make the 11:30am service. We arrive at the church parking lot at 11:15am and already the lot is full, there are people looking for parking spots, parking lot crews directing traffic, and golf carts riding people to the front door from their cars. Everyone looks great all dressed up for Church, the crowd consists of all different ethnic groups of all ages scurrying to get in on time to their seat. I see golf carts carting people to the front door, I am amazed. Many Americans assume that Texas is big and Texans do things big. I say to my husband, “This must be something only done in Houston, everything sure is Big in Texas” and we laugh. We never saw such first class service from the churches where we come from. We park furthest from the front door so we can just get inside on time and of course we take the golf cart to the entrance. I thought that was very nice because the Texas sun was already hot that morning and the far walk would have caused us to work up a sweat. My daughter thought the golf cart ride was the best thing she could have done that day because all day I had to hear “Mommy are we going to ride that cart again?”

We arrive in the front glass doors and instantly I feel comfortable. The air conditioning was cool and nice and there was a fresh clean smell in the air. We were next greeted by a smiling faced woman who is passing out program flyers. I asked her if there was Sunday school for the children. She pointed to the stairs and said the daycare is upstairs. There are flat screen televisions in the halls for people who want to watch from outside the sanctuary. As we go up the stairs I notice how nicely decorated and organized the church is. At the daycare there is a check in for parents to get there child into their appropriate class. I am greeted by an elderly man who asked what her name and age is he proceeded to write it on a sticker and put it on her dress. I then had to fill out a form with all my pertinent info. My daughter was now escorted with the children in her age group; she seemed interested in playing with the other children.

We go back downstairs to the sanctuary and find a seat; there are ushers there to seat us right away. I look around and see that there are flags of every different nation hanging in flagpoles at the top of the walls. I see three projection screen with serene landscape pictures on them, there is hundreds of people inside already and everyone seems nice and polite. The air is cool and fresh, one the stage there is a drums set, keyboard, and all kinds other speakers and musical equipment. The band comes out and takes their positions on stage and begins to play music. The sound was great and they looked very professional. The choir comes out and the rest of the lead singers and they begin to sing a gospel song. Everyone stands up and starts clapping and swaying from left to right. My husband and I stand up and look around; I for sure was surprised how good the choir and the band sound. They sing four or five songs and the preacher comes up and starts thanking everyone for coming into the house of the Lord. He thanks and greets all visitors and says that we should stop out in the lobby to receive a gift from them.

During the sermon I feel good, I feel like this was a genuine Church with true Holy Spirit. I like how the bible verses are quoted and put up on the projection for all to view. I love the seats and design of the building. My husband also thought this could be a church that we can attend more often. After the sermon was over we went back upstairs to pick up our daughter. She came running to us with all her paperwork that she had colored during service. I was glad that she was also learning in her own capacity about the Lord and that she was able to interact with the other children as she is an only child. We went down stairs to the visitors greeting area and where given a gift and signed our names and information on a visitor’s card. The woman who was speaking with us is such a nice lady and invites us to come again. We have continued attending the church for a year now and have become members.

I now sing in the choir as an alto and have such a good time at it. I have become president of our church chapter of Toastmasters, which is a public speaking club. On the contrary Houston has lots of excitement and many varieties to fit ones preference. I am meeting so many like mined people and doing the things that I have always wanted to do with my life. Houston really has lots to offer differently from . My first thoughts of attending a large church have vanished and will never be the same. Great things are taking shape in our lives and I am glad I went to Grace Church. It was the best experience for me and my family.
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Links

Grace Church

Bluetooth

Beltway

Projection Screen

Toastmasters 

Author Bio:

Student of UHD Majoring in Communications, currently working as an Independent Senior consultant with Mary Kay Cosmetics. Loves spending time with her friends and family and making genuine relationships with others.  A mother of a five year old girl and wife to a wonderful husband from Jamaica. Spends vacations on the Isand of jamaica enjoying jerk chicken and fish by the beach. Her future indeavors are to become a Independent Sales Director with Mary Kay Cosmetics.

 





 

Guandi Temple: What religion are you? by Tri Hoang

2089 Milby St.
Houston, Texas 77003

January 2004–In many ways religion does not matter to me unless someone wants to discuss or preach me their beliefs. I get extremely annoyed by claims that “God” will grant you salvation if you are righteous, and condemn you if you are sinful. I say this to not to offend anyone but to acknowledge that there are people of different religious beliefs, and we must respect them for whatever they may believe in. As for me, I’m a Buddhist and one that believes that there are many gods, not just one all-powerful one. The Buddhist religion is also split between two beliefs. The first is the belief that gods watch over the people, control the weather, and fight against the evils. The other belief is in the enlightenment of one’s mind and body through acts of righteousness and the fulfillment of self-happiness. I have been raised to respect higher beings shaping the world. I was raised to go to temple and pay my respects through lighting incense and murmuring chants. My religion, like many other religions, is part of a customary routine that everyone follows. For instance, going to church/synagogue/temple to reassure yourself of your religion.

Temples are places of holiness and salvation for many Buddhist followers. They pray under certain gods hoping for good welfare and blessing from the gods. Recently, I have been going to a temple near the University of Houston, next to I-45. The temple can only be seen if you drive carefully and on a course to it, because it block by run down buildings close to the highway. As you arrive at the temple, to the right you’ll see the pavement parking lot with patches of grass growing on top. Surrounding the temple are steel bars protecting it from intruders during the day and night. Across the parking lot are the temple gate and a circular pond of goldfish behind the gate. A 12-foot statue of a goddess made of clay and painted pure white stood on the edge of the pond looking toward the gate. She is holding onto a tall slender vase pouring water from it.

The temple has three buildings: the main temple building, a cafeteria/kitchen building, and another building for storage. The temple grounds are paved in cement and on the border of the temple grounds are trees and bushes planted near the steel bars. After passing the circular pond you reach a short stair leading up to the temple’s main doors. There are three doors on the front side of the temple: the main large doors, and two smaller side doors.

The temple is highly decorated with red and gold. On each side of the stairs statues of Chinese gods, all made from clay and decorated in white hue. On the porch are green plastic tables and white chairs for the many people to sit on during holiday events. To the left and right side of the main doors are large golden circular Chinese emblems. To the left of the door is a showcase of photographic pictures of monks chanting for ceremonies. On the right is another showcase of old newspaper clippings of stories involving temple monk doing miracles. The temple’s main doors are composed of hardwood, painted with a black background and a painting of a Chinese general dressed in a metallic scale armor of the old Chinese empire.

As I enter the temple, the custom of taking my shoes off is necessary to show respect. About ten feet from the doors is the first altar of Buddha and two gods to his sides. The Buddha statue is sparkling gold and wears a golden sash across his chest diagonally and around his waist. His hands are in the praying/chanting fashion. The altar itself is well decorated with long red candles, a red tablecloth, and a giant golden bowl in front of the statue used for placing incense, and beautiful flowers with long stems in white vases. To the right side of the altar is a copper bowl shaped gong used for meditation. To the left and right of the center altar are smaller altars in tribute to different gods that bless for good fortune. These are decorated very much like the center altar but with less grandeur.

The largest altar lies in the back tributes to three gods. The god to the left side of the altar bares a very dark face, and is dressed in a golden scale armor shimmering of colorful jewelries. The middle god has a bright red facial expression, a long black mustache, and is dressed in a golden scale armor covered by a green robe with multicolor jewels. The god on the right has a skin-textured face wearing a Chinese style robe with hues of orange, green, and red. This god holds a red pouch with Chinese lettering on the pouch. Three bowl-shaped pots hold incense, each pot representing each of the three gods. This, altar, too has two smaller altars to the side of it of more different gods. All altars are decorated on a red background with golden borders. Finally a table on the left side of the temple wall used for fortune telling, a woman’s main attraction.

An old story of how those three gods became gods started thousands of years ago when three powerful men ruled China. The middle god, Quan Cong, was once a very distinguished general whom many people had respected. He had made a brotherly pact with two other generals. He was the second oldest of the two. When the oldest became the king of China, he became a loyal general to the king. All that knew him respected his loyalty and sternness. He was not easily persuaded into temptations or emotions. The god on the left, Quan Binh, was once a master thief. He met Quan Cong one day and out of admiration became his follower. Chau Xuong, the god on the right, was the son of a former general. Chau Xuong was an illegitimate son and follower of Quan Cong. Quan Cong was lured into a trap setup by the king of a neighboring nation and his head was chopped off. The neighboring king ordered Quan Cong’s head be presented before him. Upon seeing the gruesome head of Quan Cong, the king became crazy and later died. The people of the kingdom started seeing the spirit of Quan Cong’s headless body searching for the person who had killed him. Quan Cong’s restless spirit terrorized people by stripping people’s head from their bodies. His spirit finally met a monk, and the monk taught him that the people he killed will look for him for revenge. After hearing the reasoning of the monk, Quan Cong’s spirit rested in peace. Quan Binh and Chau Xuong also died with Quan Cong. People started to realize that it was important to pay their respects to Quan Cong and his followers. Quan Cong’s personality and his followers’ loyalty became the basis of loyalty and honor for men. They became gods to the people that had worshipped them, and are place in many temples.

During important Chinese holidays, men and women wander into the temple grounds speaking to the monks and praying with them in moments of silence. They pay their respects to the gods by lighting incense, saying a little prayer and placing the incense into an incense bowl filled with sand. After paying their respects, usually women ask the wise monks for their fortunes at the table to the left of the temple. With the strong incense smell filling the room as more people light incense and pray, one eventually adapts to the smoky smell and the murky streams of smoke coming from the incense. On religious days and Chinese New Years, the celebrations become a festive time for people of all ages.

Chinese New Year celebration starts with the dancing of the lions. The lions are made of colorful cloth and flexible bamboo. The lions require two youths to operate. One of the youth plays the tail of the lion while a more talented youth plays the head of the lion. The youth that controls the head must be expressive as he operates the head of the lion. Opening and closing the mouth and eyes of the lion requires training and friendship of the partners. Usually there are two to four lions performing. They perform to the beating of drums, moving and dancing to the beat of the music. The youth must work in unison to move like a real lion’s body.

As they perform, long fireworks are lit and loud explosions fill in the excitements of the audience. Monks come and go during holidays because there is no place for them to live in this temple, but they travel back and forth from their monastery. They may make trips to other temples in Houston. There are caretakers of the temple doing the job voluntarily. As I said, this temple has a cafeteria and people donate their cooking in a huge potluck so the children and hungry adults can eat after the celebrations. Most of the time the food is vegetarian, made to look like meat. For instance, meat stuffed eggrolls become cabbage stuffed eggrolls and barbequed pork becomes barbequed tofu. Tofu is a main ingredient of most of the vegetarian dishes served at the temple. The taste and flavor of the meat look-alike is unnoticeable to even the best of chefs. Many people just come and pay their respects and leave, similar to my family, because we don’t need such excitement. However, when we have little kids in the family it is hard to resist their happiness. The importance of the celebration is for people to enjoy themselves in their accomplishments or failures.

The temple shows how important a place to worship can be for all people. Different religions do not mean that people do not share the same desire to believe. Different religions allow people to express themselves in the multicultural environment of the world. Some religions are too expressive and some are hardly noticeable. Sometime I think of religion as the destruction or the unity of the people as the effect of how people act. So it matters not what religion you are, but by the way in which you choose to express yourself as a representative of the religion.

Map:


Links:

1.buddha

2. houstonchinese

3.csmonitor

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Unique Haircut Experience at Boomerang Cuts Barbershop by Jermaine Thomas

10976 North Freeway
Houston, TX 77037 (281) 847-1002

November 2010-People sometimes travel to fancy places like the Astrodome or the Galleria in order to enjoy Houston. They believe that the only way to have a good time in Houston is to spend large amounts of money at luxurious restaurants and attractions. Places like the Toyota Center and Minute Maid Park may be very fun and unique locations to visit while in Houston. However, there is a place that can please a person just as much. The only difference is that they will not have to spend a large amount of money there in order to have a good time. In fact, a person will not spend any more than twenty dollars while inside unless you just feel obligated to give a generous donation. Also, you will not need to travel half way around the world in order to visit.

Boomerang Cuts Barbershop is really one of the few places in Houston that a person will enjoy visiting without gaining anything other than a friendly environment and a nice conversation. The barbershop has made multiple appearances in the Houston Chronicle being called “…one of the best barbershops in Houston.” In my opinion it should have been headlined, “The Best Barbershop in Houston” because I believe that it truly is. They “design some of the most stylish haircuts and hairstyles In Houston…” as stated in the Houston Chronicle, but more importantly there is no other establishment in Houston where a person can receive as much generosity as they will while visiting The Boomerang Cuts Barbershop. It is truly the place to visit while in Houston.

Boomerang Cuts Barbershop is one of the few original barbershops in Houston that has survived the arrival of new barbershops that are equipped with high tech clippers, expensive commercials, and flashy billboards that just about blind you. The new barbershops utilize these things in order to advertise their business and increase their clientele. Boomerang Cuts Barbershop does not need these tactics in order to keep clients coming back. Their top-of-the-line haircuts, generosity, and family environment is enough to keep customers returning. All kinds of races, from Latinos and Caucasians to African Americans and Indians, come in and out of the barbershop every day. It is a true representation of what the Houston community is like most. Non-Houstonians might think of Houston as a city full of people that only care about chopped and screwed music and trucks. Though the barbershop might play chopped and screwed music from time to time, that is not the only kind of music we listen to. I found it hilarious when a Californian once asked me if I knew what MTV was until I realized he was not joking. The fact is that Houston is “…one of the most diverse cities when it comes to race and ethnicity…” (www.visithoustontexas.com). More importantly, Houston is also filled with caring, and friendly people like the ones you’ll find at Boomerang Cuts Barbershop.

The Boomerang Cuts Barbershop has been a part of the Houston city since 1982, and the barbershop has not moved from its location in the Greenspoint community. Although the exterior has been recently painted with beige paint, the old octagonal shaped windows in the front of the shop and the original 1980’s red and white striped pillar beside the door hints to just how long the barbershop has been around. It might not be as appealing to the eye as the Pyramids of Egypt, but unlike the Pyramids you feel a sense of homey security as you approach the sidewalk to the barbershop. It’s as if the barbershop is extending its hand to you, beckoning you to come in where it is safe. You might think its safety is due to its location directly behind a recently built elementary school, however, throughout the twenty years the barbershop has been in operation, the police have never had to pay a visit to Boomerang Cuts except for medical emergencies. This is very surprising considering that it is located at the heart of a high crime area. No one really knows why no one has ever tried to rob the barbershop or commit any type of crimes in or near the barbershop. It may be because all of the barbers are very muscular black men or possibly because the local community knows the barbershop is a true family. Whatever the reason may be, it seems to have kept all of the violence of the outside world on the outside of the barbershop.

Inside, the noise of clippers and obvious bellowing of blow dryers greet you. If you are lucky, you might stumble in on the barbers and clients in the middle of a discussion about a controversial topic. The last time I entered two of the barbers, Bernard and Juan, were discussing whether or not President Obama should be considered the first black president since his mother is a white female.

“Maybe he could be named the first half-black president, Bernard, because that’s all he is.” says Juan in a comical but stern manner.

When Lil Wayne was sent to prison last year, everyone was talking about it. “The police is just hatin’ because Wayne is at the top of his game. They can’t help but to bring my boy down when he’s at the top.” said, Richy, another barber. A client of his replied saying, “ Oh shut up Richy. The only reason you say that is because you’re still working here instead of releasing platinum albums like you said you were gonna do for the last five years.”

These are just a couple examples of the many conversations that take place in the barbershop. The topics range from entertainers to politics and usually go on for about two hours, but there is never really any hostility displayed towards each other. That is why many people love going to the Boomerang Cuts Barbershop. You can talk about anything you without being judged or receiving negative comments from the others. It is a place to express your opinions, and questions asked.This open acceptance of clients and ideas makes Boomerang Cuts Barbershop a place to get away from all of the chaos in your life and just relax.

The waiting area for the clients smells like a mixture of the barber’s hair grease and the cleaning products they use to clean their combs and clippers as you enter. As you lean back to get your haircut or hairdo, the first thing you might see is that the ceiling looks as though it were the original ceiling tiles with the many yellow stains from water on the roof. The tile on the floor looks like crystal clear seawater. It is aqua blue engulfed in a wave like pattern. If you stare at it long enough you might even feel as though you’re wading in the fresh waters of the Bahamas. Also, there are two vending machines filled with overpriced snacks and drinks for the waiting clients. The first time I used one of the vending machines I was about seven years old, at the time, and my mom had dropped me off at the barbershop to get a haircut for the first day of school. I had seventy-five cents in my pocket and decided to get a Snickers bar. I put my change in the machine, entered the code, and two minutes later I was still staring at the machine, just realizing there would be no Snickers for me, and that it had stolen my last bit of change. I must have cried for about five hours until it was time for me to get my haircut. I never like those vending machines after that. Now as I sit in the comfy chairs waiting to get my haircut, I ignore it’s pleas for money and focus on the twelve artistic barbers chomping away at their client’s hair, creating and designing a true works of art. All kinds of hair is scattered on the floor around them: curly hair, black hair…even fake hair.

If the barbers themselves aren’t enough to keep your interest, the recreational area might. It is open to anyone and everyone, including children and babies. They have an X-Box 360 for the children, teenagers, and even the more juvenile adults. It can get very loud in this area as the kids really get into the game, and occasionally you can hear a few kids crying after being defeated. They feel as though their world has come to an end. The X-Box 360 is probably the most up to date piece of technology in the barbershop, except for the alarm system. Most of the barbers still use the foldable razor blade that has been used since the early 1900’s instead of the newer electronic clippers. This again reflects just how original the barbershop really is. There is a separate area for the infants to rest without being disturbed by all of the ruckus and loud conversations throughout the barbershop.

As a child growing up in the Greenspoint community, there was always a lot of chaos in the environment that I witnessed firsthand. Drug dealers running from the police, grocery stores getting robbed. There were not too many places I could go and feel as if nothing could harm me. In fact, I can only remember two specific locations allowed me to feel safe which are my home and the Boomerang Cuts Barbershop. It was not only a barbershop, but a safe haven. It has always provided me and the members of my community with the mental protection from the outside world. While sitting in the recreational room of the barbershop or in the chair getting my haircut, I felt like nothing in the world could harm me. It’s no wonder as to why Boomerang Cuts Barbershop,”…keeps all clients coming back.”

LINKS
X-Box 360 Website
Greenspoint Website
Bahamas Website

Author’s Bio
Jermaine Thomas grew up in Houston, Texas with his mother and four younger siblings. He is a first year undergraduate student attending the University of Houston-Downtown. He is currently working on his Bachelor’s in Computer Science. Afterwards, he will then move on to attaining a Master’s in Software Engineering. Jermaine plans to use these degrees to pursue a career as a computer software engineer.

MAP

 

Two Tales, One City: Houston Inside and Outside the Loop by Chudi Abajue

Childhood home

Houston is a city I have called home all my life. I grew up on the southeast side of town in a small neighborhood called Southbelt, moving from one apartment complex to another. I watched as my parents tried to give me and my siblings a decent life. They encouraged us to be whatever we wanted and taught us no one was better than us. The neighborhood was predominantly white and the encouragement was necessary because I didn’t always fit in. When I turned 12, my parents were able to buy a two-story tan home with a Hardie Board and brick exterior that matched all the other homes on the block. I became more involved in the community by helping the local church and taking part in extracurricular activities at school but still did not fit in to the neighborhood. Something was missing. I needed to get out and explore. It was this feeling that helped me decide to move to Arlington, Texas.

Five years later, I graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington and I found that, aside from a few good friends, I had no real attachments. The 250-mile drives to visit Houston were over. I decided to move back. It was time to get back to my little neighborhood and at the same time become an outcast again.

Only two flags fly in Southbelt—the American and Texan. Three megachurches spread the gospel only minutes from each other and each house has a couple of cars in the driveway adjacent to a St. Augustine lawn. People never really speak about politics or religion in public, unless there is a good joke involved. Life runs at a slow pace. On the weekends high school students watch Friday football and have house parties. Middle- to upper-income couples settle and raise a family. Seniors come to retire. It’s a small, God-fearing community. There is even a 100-foot plus cross to prove it. While I was aware of other pockets of Houston, such as the renovated Mexican flea markets with poor, uneven streets in South Houston or the glass and steel towers of Downtown or the small dilapidated black barber shops near Scott Street, Southbelt was the Houston that I grew up knowing and I stuck to it.

After graduation and a few months job-hunting, I started my career in a small office in the Montrose area called Cisneros Design Studio. This job introduced me to the people who call themselves “Inner Loopers.” The environment was different from my upbringing along the Gulf Freeway corridor. I was accustomed to Ford F-10 trucks that had bumper stickers that read “W The President” in support of George W. Bush. Now I was coming across those same trucks that said “F The President.” The landscape was also different. In place of a Starbucks here, a Super Target over there, and a Home Depot next door, I saw “Mom and Pop” stores or chains with a significantly smaller footprint. I gathered from all these observations that this city was divided in its culture, people, and lifestyles.

Cisneros Design Studio

For the past five years, I bounced back and forth from inside to outside the Loop. In that timeframe I have worked for two different architectural firms and gone back to school at the University of Houston. In this short time, I have noted different incidents that give me a sense of my fellow Houstonians just minutes north of me. The majority of those incidents occur while I’m in or with my car.
My vehicle is something that is a necessity in Houston so it only makes sense that I would do most of my observation behind its glass. One of the first encounters was on the corner of Westheimer and Montrose. I knew Montrose was home to the the gay, lesbian, and transgender community when I first began working in town. I got so many puzzled looks from people in and around Southbelt when I mentioned I worked in the Montrose area that I started to say that I worked near Downtown and when they started to ask for specifics I just said around the Museum District. This little white lie ended follow-up questions such as “Is your boss gay?” or “Are you not telling me something, Chudi?”

At the corner of Westheimer and Montrose, I was wrapping up my lunch break and heading over to a Valero gas station. As I got out of my gray 1988 Mazda 626, breathing in some “fresh” air and escaping some humidity that had accumulated in the car due to the lack of air conditioning, I wiped my brow and dug into my pocket for my credit card. As I swiped the card at the pump I notice an older woman pumping her tank in front of me wearing a white Sunday dress with a large church hat, as if coming from a church meeting.

As I watched the numbers of gallons at the pump flicker before me, I could not help noticing something odd about the Church Lady. She had a boxy and weathered face and the stout figure of a construction worker. As I continued to take careful and casual glances, she turned towards me and gave me a stare as if she was going to give me a beating. Then I realized I was in the presence of a cross dresser. This was my first such experience and the person appeared to want to beat me up, inching closer to me. I ended all eye contact and abruptly stopped pumping my gas. I dug for my keys in my pocket while frantically trying to get back into my car and sped away from the station, while at the same time trying to avoid getting hit by oncoming traffic.
My next experience in the area occurred several weeks later. It was around 5:40 in the evening and I was ready to go home. The streets were busy and vibrant with cars and pedestrians. I proceeded south on Montrose past the Mecom fountain and waited at the stop light on the corner of Main and McGregor. Once the light turned green horns sounded off for the first car to move. I was thinking to myself, “It hasn’t even been a full second yet and people are blaring their horns for the front car to move. Where’s the patience? Where are the southern manners that we Texans brag about? My God, everybody calm down!” As the first car moved forward all the cars behind, including my own, followed, moving as quickly as we could before the light turned red again. I wondered are all people very confrontational down here. Would the people inside the Loop make up the inhabitants of yet another geographic area that I’m going to want to flee from?

A few days later, on a warm January afternoon I was at the office of Cisneros Design Studio at my area working on the latest sketch that Mr. Cisneros had designed. It was just after lunch and I was not in the mood to work anymore. As my eyes bounced back and forth from his sketch back to monitor, my neighbor Jeff strolls back into the office and mentions to me some guy that could be the next President of the United States. Knowing Jeff, I realized this could be another crazy story he has to tell me, but they are always interesting, whether it’s about his ex stalking him or what he saw at the bars the night before. Jeff is a white guy with a very “laissez-faire” attitude. He was in his early 30s but at times it seemed like he was 21. He had long hair and he seemed to be a product of the Inner Loop.

He goes on to tell me that there is this guy named Barack Obama planning to run for president. I look at him as if he just lost his mind. He continued to say that this Obama character is black, as if that was going to excite me about his new findings. My first thought was “Oh great, another black man running for President.” I smiled politely and told him I was skeptical. Basing my judgment on the neighborhood I grew up in, I countered with, “Who in Iowa or Florida would vote for a guy who’s name sounds like Osama?” I know from experience that your name does play a factor in how people perceive you. My second doubt stemmed from my being generally unsure about black candidates. They usually make the campaign about race and they always try to rhyme like they went to the University of Dr. Seuss.

Jeff seemed perplexed at my reaction, but I decided to look at this candidate a little more closely anyway. As the weeks followed I started to see why Jeff was so excited. He was intelligent and spoke well and talked about issues that interested me. This was an eye-opening moment for me that I truly believe stemmed from working inside the Loop. I began to see how cynical I had become due to the environment in the suburbs, but even more importantly, I saw that Jeff was more open minded and optimistic than I ever have been. Although this senator from Illinois was black and had a funny name, it was Jeff, not I, who thought he could be the next president.

Commute to Cisneros Design Studio

I observed other traits around the new geographic area where I worked. The community was much more diverse in its economics and population than the suburbs. Because of the closeness of buildings, you can see Maseratis and Lamborghinis in the driveway of Hotel Zaza and a few blocks north Interfaith Ministries caters to the poor and runaways. I lunched at the Jack and the Box on the corner of Montrose and Yoakum observing runaway teenagers while peacefully finishing my sandwich and fries.
I came across some thought-provoking liberal ideologies, people and bumper stickers that I assumed could only be found in New York or California. It was a place where conforming was not acceptable. Originality was the norm. I felt I had found a place I could finally connect with.

As my one-year anniversary at Cisneros neared, I was offered a job near my original neighborhood. This new opportunity paid more, had benefits, and the best part was that I didn’t have to drive 30-45 minutes every day to work. I felt that this was going to be the best move for me and my early career. During the first few months at the new office people were courteous and nice. But the conversations with my new employees left me disconnected.Most of the people were already married with children, and most of their conversations were about golfing, fishing, or their kids — all things I could not relate to. For lunch, the different restaurants were limited to the typical food chains that can be found anywhere in the city. The people and the environment of the neighborhood I grew up calling home all of a sudden had this feeling of being sterile. I started to feel that sensation of displacement once again.

After a year at my new office, I was set to begin my first school design, all the way from schematic design to the finished product. I was excited; this is exactly what I waited for — until I saw the final rendering. It was a symmetrical building with a tower in the front and brown and tan brick all around. I was highly disappointed. What upset me even more was that this is really what the educational client had requested. Within the Loop you could use different material like corrugated steel, stone, and maybe a little plaster here and there. Things could be asymmetrical; the norm was to break from normal. Outside the loop projects had to coordinate with deed restrictions and conservative voters ranting and hollering about the color of a brick on a new school or the geometry of the building. And the last thing any school district wants to do is upset its voters. Therefore, they play it safe and make everything vanilla or tan. After a while I noticed that everything is tan around my home neighborhood and office. The majority of the schools are tan, most of the shopping centers are tan, and just about every house is tan. I felt the suburbs were trying to kill originality.

A few months later, I was driving to work, and as I was coming over the overpass of El Dorado at Interstate 45, I noticed someone walking over the overpass. I reached the stoplight on the other end of the overpass and waited for the light to turn green, I thought to myself, “Why is that person walking over the bridge? Is his car broken? Does he even have a car?” I stopped myself. What is so bad with walking from one location to another? Is this what living outside the Loop has done to me? My experience inside the Loop was fighting my current environment. Instead of being so critical of people walking, I thought maybe this guy has the right idea and those of us in our cars need a reality check about our environment. I recalled the old Taco Cabana at the corner of Westheimer and Montrose, watching people walk constantly through that intersection.

As I got off the elevator and entered into my cubicle space in the office, I noticed my neighbor to the right of me is searching online about buying a scooter. Since gas prices are now $4.00 a gallon, he’s rethinking the idea of buying a truck and is considering a scooter. He asks me what I think about the scooter he has selected and I politely tell him I think it looks nice. But since I am one who can’t learn to keep my opinions to myself I continue to tell him he may want to wait out this gas price spike or at least buy an electric car like a Prius. He smiles and looks as if he takes my suggestion into consideration and goes back to work.
I am not sure to what extent I will always remain a product of the suburbs and how much my exposure to the Inner Loop changed me.
As I logged onto my desktop, I remember walking to my car from a Half-Price Bookstore on the corner of Montrose and Yoakum, and noticing a scooter going by with a long lanky gentleman wearing a white helmet. As I left the store and headed to my old, worn-out 1988 Mazda 626, I realized how many people in the Montrose area owned scooters. After a while I thought that maybe a scooter would be pretty cool to have if I lived down here.
I tried to snap out of my flashback but couldn’t help my reveries.
Not too far from the Beltway and Beamer intersection, minutes from my old home, I saw a large man riding on a bike. “Foolish,” I thought. This is not Montrose. Drive a car or stay inside.

Drive by Houston by Jessica Winegardner

My earliest memory of Houston, like most of my early memories, took place as a backseat passenger in the family station wagon. Houston was always our home-base when we packed our quarters and relocated for my father’s next call to duty as a military officer. Each time we visited Houston en-route to my grandparents’ house, my father would crank down the window and point to the third floor of St. Joseph’s Hospital, shouting over the traffic and wind, “that’s where I was born.” Sometimes we would caravan with my father in the lead car and my mother and the kids in the wagon. Despite the separation, he communicated with a persistent pointing gesture directly to the hospital while practically hanging out the side of the car. As a child I didn’t understand how someone could be born in a building so close to a highway and amid the towering skyscrapers. It seemed impossible to enter and frighteningly close to the high-speed of traffic.

St. Joseph's, Houston Texas

I always told people I was from Texas. It was a lie and one that I am reckoning in my adulthood. With both my mother and father growing up in Houston I felt it was my right to claim that legacy and call it my hometown; a foreign concept to an army brat who averaged a new home every 18 months. There was security in knowing I would return to Houston every summer. It was a place where I knew the weather would be heavy and warm, the food spicy, and the community supportive before we launched into another town. I credit this vague familiarity with Houston as one of the reasons I was willing to transfer from one architecture graduate school to another, leaving Dallas for Houston. Duty and honor pushed our family around the country. I was being led by love and commitment. After a year of a long-distance relationship, I could finally share a city with my fiancé.

Visiting Houston over long weekends while in the “courtship” stage with my now-husband, my impression of the city was one of greenspaces, festivals, and countless restaurants. We cheered for marathoners downtown, gawked at the art car parade down Allen Parkway, and rested on the knoll at Hermann Park, vowing to return for an outdoor movie. We drank iced americanos and Tecate from a can, anything to dissipate the heat. The days’ events seamlessly merged from one to the other with no difficulty in crossing town or jumping from Memorial Park to Tanglewood to Montrose in a matter of a few quick turns. From my perspective as a passenger, these neighborhoods had distinction; I could easily discern West U, Montrose, Midtown, or the Heights.

Now, having lived in Houston for nearly two years, my impression is no longer greenspaces, festivals and food; but rather hecticness, highways, and contradiction. Boundaries between neighborhoods that had visual clarity are now blurred. Links from one area to another feel consumed in a series of mergers and yields and street name changes. Traffic reports sound like inside jokes. “Accident slow at Westloop Northbound feeder near Southwest Freeway.” I’m not privy to the nicknames used for interstates; my map has numbers. It is not uncommon for my husband to receive a frantic call somewhere along the lines of “I don’t understand where I am, how do I get to the Guild Shop from Tacos-a-go-go?” My questions are always landmark based. My husbands answers are always cardinal. I can never tell him if I’m heading North or South and downtown is not an anchor to springboard me to the correct path. Despite this predictable song and dance we do on the phone, he always seems to be able to pin-point my whereabouts and steer me in the right direction.

"Tacos you must eat before you die"

And yet, despite the constant confusion and frustration, Houston is a city I would defend, and a city I am committed to exploring not as a passenger but as a driver in command.

My well-worn path from my house in the Heights to the University of Houston takes me through neighborhood streets with stop lights and stop signs and along interstates and access roads with six lanes of speeding cars. It is a path I know well and one where I allow myself to drift past the urgency of the traffic patterns around me and see the world beyond my windshield. I am not looking for confirmation in street names, it is my commute of two years and one I can do without a phone call asking for directions. Yale Boulevard has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour, but I often find myself dipping well below that. At the flashing yellow lights of school zones, I reduce my speed for the children filing by on their pedestrian commute home. With my sunroof open I can hear the alarming bell of the crosswalk guiding both the school children and the elderly across the busy intersection at 19th Street. I always wonder if there is a sense of independence these elderly pedestrians have with their living community being so close to a grocery store, pharmacy, shopping, and fast food. From an urban planning perspective it should be ideal, but from my perspective the destinations seem limited and travel unsettling with craggy sidewalks and street curbs hugging the pedestrian path. The Heights has a certain historic feel to it with craftsman homes, wide boulevards, and mature trees, but ever so often there is a puncture of modern development or remnants of a time when land value had dropped and compact apartment living marked the landscape.

More often than not, it is not the school zone that slows me but the daily sight of antiques, junk, and oddball stuff spilling out of consignment and antique stores along Yale. Near the piano tuning shop, there is the “little old lady” place with an inventory of doilies and Victorian furniture wedged between the sidewalk and the store-front. Further up the road is a store I am convinced is an on-going garage sale. The items seem to have an unloved discarded feeling to them with a mix of dated and used medical equipment. I am fascinated by the placement of a bed-pan next to a wicker outdoor set. One store which often justifies a brief stop is one we call “Ronnie’s place,” not only because the owner’s name is Ronnie, but there is no signage out front that would tell us otherwise how to refer to his business. The only sign is a pink fluorescent “OPEN.” It is lit at the oddest hours of the day which conveniently works with my own schedule. In the past when I have stopped in his store, I have found his collection of retro furniture to be an extension of himself with his drawn-out “dudes” and “totallys” fitting in perfectly with his Lucite lighting and shag carpets. His selection of sidewalk displays is the most savvy. Items with strong silhouettes and bold colors flank his store front. More often than not, the items are knock-off mid-century design or an incomplete set of some kind. Regardless, the experience is always a welcome change from the typical antique dealer.

Antiques on YaleThe ColonelJudy Chicago ???

As I drive towards St. Joseph’s hospital, which coincidentally is part of my daily commute, I notice not only the third floor, but the surrounding buildings and the slow change taking place on the Houston sky-line. From the vantage point of I-45 my understanding of downtown is in quick glimpses with buildings classified into shapes and forms, materials, and color. A fresh coat of gray paint paired with a deep red one gave one building an impressive make-over. Has that building always been there? What sort of color previously left it rendered insignificant for so many months? Thinking it is perhaps the speed at which I am passing buildings, I remind myself how quickly I detected stainless steel, side-by-side refrigerators in the glass-façade apartments recently erected along the highways’ edge. Scale is certainly a major factor in viewing the city from the car, but I’m learning that obscurity is perhaps an equal player.

As if the entry ramp from Allen Parkway to I-45 wasn’t precarious enough, I’m constantly distracted and trying to understand a bright yellow, leggy, metal sculpture nestled in a cluster of pine trees at the apex of the merging roads. The colors remind me of an early studio investigation of minimal artists and a professor’s fixation on Judy Chicago. Judy Chicago, why are you a part of my daily vocabulary and who deserves credit for this artistic distraction? One artist whose work I can instantly identify without loosing control of my car is David Addicks. I first learned of his over-sized presidential busts as I was pleading my case to allow an art studio to host my wedding reception. Spilling from his warehouse studio into the parking lot the busts were perfectly aligned with the Fab 4 towering above. British rock stars have a way of adding kitsch. I guess I was surprised to see the busts six months later relocated to the edge of downtown sitting on a traditional, regal looking green block with gold lettering.

I fall into the rhythm of my lane changes and merges and slip into my exit to the Third Ward. I pass through ornamental oblisks and arrive at the University of Houston. A promenade of stunted live oaks line my path. The turn signal is surprisingly timely and protects me as I turn onto Elgin to enter the parking lot. The massive brick architecture building crowned with its temple of glory marks the landscape. There are clues that this building is significant in a post-modern sort of way but the newness of the space has lost its luster and instead I know it just as an academic building.

When I was looking into transferring schools I thought my quest was to adapt to a new program. The Director of Architecture Graduate Studies at UH was more concerned that I had braced myself not for the change in school but for the change in cities. It was almost as if he were somehow warning me that Houston was a difficult city to reconcile and the classroom was to be extended throughout its borders in a maze of intersecting highways, parkways and neighborhood streets. In vain I attempted to explain that I wasn’t from Dallas but was simply living in Dallas. I wish I had told him the story of the my father hanging out the window, jabbing his finger at the hospital where he was born.

I think I am not alone in trying to make sense of this city. I have since noticed that the majority of my courses at the University of Houston seem to all have an investigative task in approaching the city….split up and walk down Main street, take the metro through downtown, sketch the skyline, compare taco stands, diagram the galleria. I wonder, are the assignments meant to give me a better understanding of my spatial/ urban environment or do my professors struggle with the same inverse ratio of the longer you are here, the less clarity you have. Though my experience has been fractured, I am gradually piecing it together, making a rich collage of place and belonging.