Friday, May 06, 2011


1) Yes, you are fucked without wheels; entirely at the mercy of the city's Yellow Cab mafia. Imagine some giant baby went ballistic with a trillion Fisher Price Motorway sets and a stockpile of Meccano, and chucked about 50,000 McDonalds drive-ins, car dealerships, video/DVD rental shacks and stores called 'Jed's Fishing Supplies - World's Biggest Tackle Emporium' around the sides, at random - and you still wouldn't be close. I asked a girl where I could pick up some fa...cigarettes. "There's a gas station up there, just up on the right!" she beamed. "Oh OK," I replied, squinting at a blinding white, dusty highway that vanished into a horizon of skyscrapers and scaffolding. "How long does it take to walk?" "Oh, you can't WALK there!" she mouthed, like she was speaking to a baby in a pram. "It's a 10 minute ride!" It took me a day before I actually saw snatches of avenues and houses. As you might have guessed, everyone knows everyone in certain districts, but it was hard to detect any sense of community - more like an endless stream of trucks and cars thundering by, atomic splitting across the freeways, before disappearing from view.

Incidentally, if you want to beat the traffic, you can always (ask your taxi driver to) use the HOV lane - that stands for 'high occupancy vehicle', which, in Houston, translates as 'more than one person in the motor'. No, that's not some sarcastic aside.

2) Houston cab drivers are the eyes and ears of the Illuminati. They know EVERYTHING that's going down in the Global Theatre. Bin Laden bopped? "NAH, I AIN'T BUYIN' THAT!" one dude called Marvin told me. "You look at the pictures of him in, uh, 2001 and he looks real young, OK? And then, in 2006, he's lookin' not so young, much older, right? That's the dialys. He was comin' inta Houston, gettin' fixed up at the dialys center. That's what killed him, THE DIALYS, and that was years ago, years ago! His family owned a condo over by Clear Lake, they got run out after 9/11. But I knew one of the nurses, and she saw Bin Laden gettin' the dialys. So I ain't buyin' that 'til they show the body! You go and research that, look up the dialys." Incidentally, Marvin once gave a lift to George Bush Snr. and "that Saudi Arabia prince guy"; he knows all the scientists at NASA and gave them "common sense" advice on rocket design, which they've sneakily incorporated and passed off as their own work; and he supplements his taxi-driving income by dealing rare Animals and Beatles vinyl originals.

I tried advancing Marvin's theory with Al, who used to be a Noo Yoik cop for 20-odd years, 'til he suffered a debilitating knee injury and returned to his native Houston. "NAH, I DON'T BUY THAT, THEY SHOT BIN LADEN ALRIGHT!" he angrily countered. "DO YOU EVER GO TO FRANCE? YOU GOT THAT TUNNEL? THEY'RE KINDA WIMPS, HUH, THE FRENCH? BUT OBAMA NEVER GOT RID OF THAT ASSHOLE, GEORGE BUSH DID ALL THE WORK SMOKIN' HIM OUT! YEAH, THE FRENCH...THEY SURRENDERED IN WORLD WAR TWO, RIGHT?" Al's got everything Merle Haggard ever recorded, he revealed.

3) Contrary to common belief ((and CNN overkill)), nobody out there ((bar the cabbies)) gives much of a toss about Bin Laden. I only saw a couple of DON'T MESS WITH TEXAS posters ((and one I'M A LONGHORN DAD! bumper sticker)). Similarly, the idea that the Lone Star State's full of mentalist evangelo-churches is an urban fib on par with 'Soviet Russia suppressed Christianity'. What you SHOULDN'T 'mess with' in Houston basically boils down to a) their motors b) NASA c) the Houston Texans. They're not very keen on the Dallas Cowboys, to put it mildly. OK, it's hardly West Ham - Millwall, but Cowboys-embossed windshields are just begging for trouble when you're speeding carefully through Houston.

4) Despite my best efforts, I was reasonably disappointed in my inability to locate a biker bar plastered with Confederate flags, ZZ Top on the juke, a barmaid with a Lone Star T-shirt tied off above her belly button and some bearded, bandanna'd, fingerless-leather-gloved pool shark called Zip 'Mad Animal' McGhee shouting "YOU ASSHOLE!!" at me the moment I asked for a Corona. Honestly, I did try. But all I got was three old bald guys, playing covers of Brown Eyed Girl and Folsom Prison Blues, while the Mexican barmaid kept on repeating, "You're too thirsty...lime with that?" as I ripped through the Corona stocks. Just realised, I forgot to tip her.

5) Oh, 'Dusty' from ZZ Top still lives in Houston, and they're all quite proud of the fact that international success and multibillion record sales never went to his fluffy, beardy head. Fair enough. I don't see George Michael popping back to Burnt Oak to pick up a shirt at Hassans or put a float behind the bar at the Bingo Hall ((he snubbed me on Twitter too, the fucker)).

6) It's not remotely original or funny to point out the bleedin' obvious transatlantic 'FAGS' blooper. Even 12-year olds wouldn't find that amusing. And I hardly use that term for cigarettes when I'm in London, anyway. But, for reasons beyond my ken, I was struck down with some strain of smoker's Tourettes and couldn't stop saying the F-word, for the duration of my visit. I don't think they heard me correctly, though - or at least nobody waved a fingerless leather glove in my face and screamed "YOU ASSHOLE!"

As for the, huh huh, "American girls go kerr-azy for a Brit accent" thing? LIES. Maybe if you're some ponce who can ham it up ((the old ladies over there were going spare over the royal wedding)), but try asking Jimmy Pursey - he was licking his wounds and crooning "THEY DIDN'T WANT US IN THE USA", moon landings ago. It's also difficult to gauge whether Houstonians 'get' UK irony, as they seem too laid back ((again, except the cab drivers)) to pull you up on quips. You kind of know you're veering out of their comfort zones when they reply with, "OH HA HA, YEAH..." with a tight grin and "WTF???" in their eyes. And if you pick up the best duty free bargains this side of Gibraltar (($16 for a big fuck-off bottle of Wild Turkey!)), don't blurt out, "Great, all aboard the party plane!", 'cos they'll just turn all serious and respond with: "Actually, sir, drinking from your own purchases is prohibited on flights," etc ((they also don't realise you're funning around when you state that the Pussycat Dolls were actually men - even if it's true)).

7) You never know who you'll bump into in Houston. One minute, you're looking for a non-existent cigarette machine, or a 2nd hand record mall flogging C&W and zydeco rarities ((somebody scribbled down an address for me, but nobody I asked could decipher it)) - the next, you're knocking around and shooting the shit with a posse of Houston Texans cheerleaders, who've descended en masse for some promotional bonanza. I think the unbelievably foxy one with the beef jerky tan wasn't that impressed that I didn't want to buy their forthcoming season calendar ((actually, I would have if she'd signed her mugshot with "I JUST GO CREAMY BANANAS OVER BTi BLOG!!" - tho' they'd probably have sued me for violation of endorsement policy, or summat)), but Miss Houston 2010 was wandering around too, and she even smiled and said hi to me, before some member of the Houston police dept. started yelling "BEHIND THE CHAIN! SIR, GET BEHIND THE CHAIN, THE CHAIN IS THERE FOR A REASON!" and whisked my blonde princess away to shake hands with a fat kid in a Texans shirt. She actually gave me a long, lingering look as she departed, and I wasn't even on ecstasy. Wow, do I still have the old magic? Spurned by dozens of goth chicks, only to be claimed by Texan beauty pageant ROYALTY itself? Things got even better when some bloke in a suit popped along and said, "Hey, sir, enjoy" and plonked a bottle of beer with a Houston Texans label in my hand. "What's the name of your publication?"

After that, things got a little crazy. An Ethiopian taxi driver had a minor altercation with a snowy-haired, handlebar-moustached cabbie which spilled into a passive-aggressive stare-out at the main entrance, and a guy in a blazer with a goatee suddenly figured out that I had nothing whatsoever to do with the event, and that some gatecrasher from England was just ambling around, picking up miniature trophies and sashes at random and pestering the cheerleader squad with inane questions about hating the Dallas Cowboys. One cop stomped over and asked me, "SIR, ARE YOU CARRYING VIDEO OR PHOTOGRAPHIC EQUIPMENT?", and I twigged that a burly gang of male and female plod - all weighed down with diving belts containing handguns, handcuffs and some unpleasant-looking canisters and blunt objects - were giving me 'long, lingering looks', so I thought it best to hail a cab and get the fuck out. God knows what it was all about.

I later excitedly told Al about this random encounter, but he just sort of dismissively snarled, "OH YEAH, THOSE CHEERLEADERS...LITTLE GIRLS...WEARING THEIR...LITTLE THINGS", before telling me that his mom's suffering from a bedsore and the hospital's no damn good.

8) Contrary to bigoted British beliefs, not everyone in Houston is a gutbucket. Sure, a few are, but it's not so different from Finsbury Park in that respect. But fucking hell, the food is mental. I've always considered myself a shameless hog - if you ever have a heart attack in a greasy spoon, I'll swipe the fried bread, beans and bacon from your plate before the ambulance arrives - but Houston food floored me. It was too much by far. Take, for instance, the 'chilli' dog - a vulcanised hot dog with cold mincemeat dumped over the top. Or the 'armadillo egg', which is basically a jalapeno pepper that's been wrapped in a pound of ground beef then deep fried. If you order this, don't expect a couple of egg-shaped munches. Expect four lumps of battered thrombosis, each larger than a hand grenade. That's a starter, by the way. I gave three of these away to Clinton, a guy in a porkpie hat who had some theory that Obama wants to get rid of NASA. "But I was talking to some of the scientists at NASA, and they told me explorin' Mars is a waste uh tahm anyway," he solemnly nodded as he crunched his way through my abandoned armadillo eggs.

9) Not many sing-alonga-Jesus CD promos on the TV ads - just some of the most mind-blowingly banal and evil health commercials I've ever witnessed. Take 'the Exelon patch'. A woman dances with her Alzheimer's-befuddled mother on the front lawn, and lovingly smiles as her ma sits in zombified silence at the breakfast table. The Exelon patch, the voiceover assures us, is enabling this family duo to enjoy some quality time, before the inevitable bodily shut-downs announce their arrivals - because, after all, that's your mom right there and don't YOU think she deserves some semblance of dignity in her final daze?

Deserves, er, what exactly? Check the official medical blurb, speed-rolling across the screen: "THE EXELON PATCH DOES NOT OFFER ANY GUARANTEE OF PREVENTION OR OFFSET OF THE EFFECTS OF ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE...THE EXELON PATCH CAN CAUSE VOMITING, NAUSEA AND DIARRHOEA...IN SOME CASES, HAS RESULTED IN HOSPITALIZATION AND DEATH"...and on and on it goes...basically stick some vile post-it note placebo on the old dear, and you can ensure her gastric system's blitzed to a pulp in no time! This was then followed by some ageing brunette urging her Latino sister to take some sort of drug to reduce the amount of plaque in her blood. "Now, I know you exercise, and you've amended your diet, and that is WONDER-FULLL," she drones to a blurry polaroid of a teenage girl, who has never been, and never will be, her sister. "But I'm doing this for you - you ARE going on this medicine - and I'm NOT taking NO for an answer. You've always done so much for I'm going to make you DO something for YOU." Sinister's not the word, especially when the disclaimer ticker starts scrolling "LONG TERM EFFECTS INCLUDE LIVER DAMAGE". Er yeah, scrap the NHS, great idea...

Incidentally, if I ever get Alzheimer's, just put a bullet in my head, it's kinder all round. My dad insisted on that and nobody listened.

10) My mobile phone's still over there! Fucking hell, of all the places to leave it...
i love your hate
lmao. I live in Houston and to see somebody else's point of view is fun, but I just wanted to say, You think our serving sizes are incredibly large? Imagine if we went to london , they give us a chili dog and we're like "the fuck is that? I ordered a chili dog, this is NOT a chili dog. Bring me some damn food!"
=] I do like how detailed you are. really gave me a mental picture of what you must of been going through, and you should probably find your phone lol.
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