"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Houston, how I love/hate thee

I've just returned from yet another trip down the road to the 4th largest city in the USA: Houston, Texas. As a former 10-year resident of the Bayou City, I've always had a very bipolar relationship with this town, and each time I go back there again I have these same sort of feelings. In a nutshell:

Top Three Things I Love About Houston

     1. World-class medical facilities
     2. Great restaurants and shopping
     3. Architectural and cultural highlights

Top Three Things I Hate About Houston

     1. Traffic
     2. Traffic!
     3. TRAFFIC!! Grrrrr!!

"Rush hour" is a joke; congestion on the freeways and arterial roads lasts from about 6 AM until 7 PM, with perhaps a brief letup around 10-11 AM and 2-3 PM. This is compounded by the near-constant state of construction on many of the highways, and frequent accidents that block traffic. I suppose Houston drivers are no worse than those in any other big city (Boston and New York come to mind as metro areas with some of the most horrendous traffic conditions) but courtesy and common sense are thrown out the window here as often as used cigarette butts. This becomes especially apparent when it's necessary to merge lanes. Houston drivers absolutely will not budge when merging, but rather develop a steely straight-ahead stare as they hug the bumper of the car in front of them which seems to say "I do not see you attempting to merge from your lane which is ending to mine, and if I refuse to acknowledge your existence, then I do not have to let you in." Even worse, possession of concealed firearms is legal in Texas, so there is always the not-so-remote possibility that road rage can escalate to deadly violence. Flip off another driver at the risk of your life.

There are other disadvantages besides traffic snarls: crowded conditions, expensive housing, pollution, and crime. Of late, Houston has been struggling to cope with the influx of refugees from Hurricane Katrina. Many of them, having nothing to return to, have simply stayed on -- causing a discernable crunch in apartment and job availability. Also, a number of teen gangs from New Orleans have re-formed here, resulting in turf battles with already-established local gangs and a spike in drug-related crime.

Even with all these negatives, however, Houston is still a vibrant and exciting place. I remember quite clearly the feeling of energy I had when I first came to town years ago -- a crackling electric thrill from the crowds, bright lights, jumping night life scene, and the multitude of attractions and opportunities that can only be found in a city of this size. Even to this day, the sight of the Houston skyline still fascinates me.

Of course, the main reason I make the 150-mile drive to "Big H" on a regular basis is for the medical facilities, and the Texas Medical Center is without equal. M.D. Anderson Cancer Center is renowned the world over, and surgeons like Dr.'s Denton Cooley and Michael DeBakey pioneered heart transplantation here. Other institutions such as Texas Children's Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, St.Luke's, and Methodist Hospital rank among the best in the nation. My transplant pulmonologist at Methodist is world-renowned, and I will feel very comfortable putting my life into his hands when the time comes. But, the good news is that time will not come for at least another six months! More tests and a visit with him last week confirmed that my lung function has continued to improve, and I have added nearly one liter of volume to my lung capacity since last December. Even my doctor, a practical realist who has cautioned me during previous visits not to put too much stock into the numbers as they tend to fluctuate, had to admit last week that this latest increase is, in his words, "significant." In fact, he thinks I'm doing well enough that he said he does not need to see me again for another six months, instead of the usual three month follow-up schedule I have been on since last September. Woo-hoo!

There are other reasons why Houston is dear to me, but I'll save those for another post. For now, my good medical news is reason enough!


  • At 6/11/2006 03:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Houston sounds as if it would eat my soul. No thank you. St. Louis traffic makes me tremble, and it's a joke compared to, you know, REAL cities. :)


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