Thursday, June 01, 2006

…To the Bone

We returned from an extended Memorial Day vacation to good news on the home front: Roger Clemens would be returning to the Astros, the ground was getting a desperately needed soaking, and, most reassuringly, the city’s spirit, or something, remained unbroken by the fall of Enron, contrary to what the Wall Street Journal and New York Times would have you believe.

Still, we were bothered, anxious. We traced that feeling to our drive back into town, heading west on I-10 to 610 East, then south over the Ship Channel Bridge, where we are invariably elevated by the awesome spectacle of all those cranes and boats and cargo containers (a panorama, admittedly, that is best enjoyed from 130 feet or so in the sky, at least by us).

But only a few minutes later we quickly deflated, as we sped past the giant mountains of gravel and broken concrete chunks near the Cullen exit of the South Loop, then onward past the long-abandoned neighborhood shopping center with the grass growing on the roof (and it’s gettin’ high---maybe someone should run a mower over it).

These sights caused us to confront that eternally bothersome question: Why (oh why) is Houston so damn ugly? And: Was it always this ugly? And further: Is it just our imagination or is it getting uglier, and if so is there anything that can stop the relentless uglification (other than moving out to Cinco Ranch and not having to look at any of it)?

These are questions we occasionally ponder as we drive down one local thoroughfare or another and it is again made clear to us that the true face of Houston isn’t the view out Elyse Lanier’s back window or that gaze down Main Street from the old Warwick Hotel that supposedly set Bob Hope to rhapsodizing, but rather the beat façade of a dowdy apartment complex, now in the 30th year of its 20-year lifespan, or the rutted parking lot of a gone-to-seed and mostly vacant strip center, the one with the nail shop as its anchor tenant.

We are no simpering aesthete, having learned life’s hard lessons in the dark woods and on the public playing fields of the Hub City, yet all this ugliness can’t be good for the soul, individual or collective; it's certainly more burdensome to the city's spirit than the mere fall of Enron.

It is, of course, axiomatic that no one ever moved to Houston for the scenery or atmosphere---we certainly didn’t---but does a run-and-gun economy necessarily have to be complemented by such a repulsive landscape?

We have vowed to investigate this matter, thoroughly---we may even make it our life’s work, at least though next weekend---and will report back with our findings.

In the meantime, we see that the Houston City Council OK’ed not only those traffic-light cameras but the use of federal money for a day-laborer gathering site. While the Slampo’s Place editorial board, after a recent heated meeting at a nearby halfway house, expressed faint disapproval of both measures, we personally are unable to get excessively riled about either, although the use of a Community Development Block Grant (a CBDG, as we in the know call it) for the illegal worker gathering spot (that’s not what it’s called, but that is what it is) again points up the ways that illegal immigration discombobulates otherwise rational people and politicians (and many who aren’t).

The vote, predictably, split on party lines (we have no problem with partisanship on the technically non-partisan council, although it seems the body did attract a better caliber of individual before term limits, when it wasn’t always so obvious who was a Democrat and who was a Republican), with the Democrats, including the mayor, all coming together to support the measure, helping to ensure that their party lives up to its new slogan: “We’re Keeping Wages Down” (and the only party more discombobulated by the issue than the Democrats is the other one).

The lone Republican to favor the measure was our own representative on council, the well-known (well, not so much) International Man of Mystery, M.J. Khan, who, according to the Chronicle
said he believes there are people at the site seeking lawful employment. “It’s presumptuous on our parts to assume that all the people who will use the center are illegal immigrants,” he said.
It’s good to have beliefs, but better to have facts, at least when deciding public policy. Again, we’d challenge the councilperson to go to a day-labor site---formal or informal, there’s dozens and dozens to choose from---and locate one legal worker. If Khan keeps this up he may find himself with a real challenge on his hands next election (our proposed slogan: “Let’s Get Together and Make Houston a Real Pretty Place”).

But Khan’s discombobulation was nothing compared to that of Bill White’s, who according to the newspaper said:
"We fund the streets and highways. I'm sure because of the federal government's failure to enforce immigration laws there are some people who are undocumented on the streets and highways. That doesn't mean that we're condoning unlawful immigration."
We always hear what a smart guy the mayor is, but this "analogy," as the newspaper described it, gives us pause to wonder.

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