Category Archives: Freeways

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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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.