This is a rambling, quasi-rant. I have no time for good editing, so I am posting it “as-is”. To all my Houstonian peeps reading this: I love you. Know that.
But your city is a hundred layers of frustration. Not that you need me to say it.
Yes, everyone here in Austin does their damnedest to point out the vast chasm of difference between our little city and the rest of Texas. The politics, the real estate, the attention paid to water-borne geckos, and our tendency to celebrate any bikini-clad homeless man with a social agenda. We’re all silly like that, and most Austinites are quick to point out how “weird” or “weirder” everyone/thing is here.
I’m all up in that bandwagon today.
But normally, I see these differences as more background noise than something that needs to be pointed out. Shit’s a bit strange here, but so what? Sure, we have a Yellow Bike Program, movie theatres you can get blasted in, and nekkid watering holes (close enough to Austin, damnit). But is that what really defines a city? What sets it apart? Honestly? Most of Austin’s big issues are right in line with any other Texas city: economic divisions, a dubious police force, and the obnoxious congestive effects experienced when half-assed city planning meets explosive population growth. So, aside from some glaring differences (like, say, knowing that voting to prohibit other individual’s rights guarantees that yours will be on the block next) we tick down the line of comparison against cities like Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston: text book, pretty much down the entire line.
But there are some more subtle differences between our greenbelted city and those in our vicinity. Much more nuanced differences. Things which we definitely take for granted until it all blows up in our face, like it has over the past couple of weekends during my trips down to Houston.
Traffic. Sweeeeeeeeet Jesus. Approximately six hours of every day I visit Houston is spent ON THE WAY somewhere. Usually, I feel like I’m stuck on some stretch of Karachi-bombed freeway, creeping along with a broken cement barrier scraping past, a mere four inches from my left side view mirror and a leaky “Fish” truck that is far too wide for its lane on my right. A smoldering cigarette butt is thrown from the Fish truck, and it bounces off my hood and over the cement barrier into oncreeping traffic. I look at the driver, he flashes us a gold-toof grin and begins to dig around in his nose for something. Word, son. Nice. Suddenly, the Fish truck’s lane is putt-putting along at a speed roughly twice that of mine, somewhere in the neighborhood of ten miles-an-hour. Ten minutes and ten car lengths later, I am no longer moving.
Things go from mildly frustrated to “fuck this bullshit” awesome.
And when you finally reach the source of your lane’s wrist-slittingly-slow speed, you grind your teeth down to dime-thickness upon the discovery that it is some douche-balloon in the LEFT HAND lane who has “magically” run out of fuel (check the gauge, bitch!), and is standing next to her vehicle, asking people to help her out with some cash for gas. Woman, you have absolutely lost your goddamn mind to do that to all of us and then request some sort of payment. You better call Tyrone before someone runs your stupid ass down.
Impressive. Impressive in that “you know, I used to believe otherwise, but there should be some exceptions that allowed for legal, impromptu public stonings” kind of way. Seventy lemur lifetimes later, when you finally exit the freeway and reach a goddamn gas station, you realize that you too were running low in the petrol department, and would have been in the same boat as that chick you just wished smallpox on.
Man, fuck that shit.
All the complaints here in Austin about traffic, based on having to sit in thirty minutes of Mopark traffic, pale in sad comparison to the hours required to navigate through Houston’s myriad of intersecting freeways with third-world no-lane interchanges. Just to get some goddamn gasoline. We have it good here, even if it could be better.
But you know what’s even WORSE than the traffic in Houston? The worthless “club scene”. Before I really dig into this, I want to state for the record that I have been going out in Houston for many, many years. I have many friends who live there, friends who I absolutely adore, who are regulars amongst Houston nightlife. When I visit Houston, it is not unheard of to see me out about the town, partaking in all that it has to offer, and enjoying myself in and amongst the “club scene” I am just about to start shitting all over. If there were a more convenient way for me to hang out with my friends in Houston, I would do it. If one of them was willing to allow us all to meet up at their place, get flammable drunk, argue with inanimate objects, and break things made of glass, then I would obviously prefer to do that rather than deal with the “club scene”. Well, you might be wondering then, “if you participate in that scene so often, how bad could it possibly be?” Oh, well then. Let me break it down for you:
Several thousand Striped Shirt dudes get together, primp, and prepare to profile by slinging credit cards and Red Bull with vodka all over the place in the hopes that some ladies, preferably total strangers, will be impressed enough to toss out handjobs beneath brass-decorated club bars like they were Halloween candy. This is the reason for the scene. This is the pack of wildebeest that supply the endless hunger of the Serengeti-like population of cash-hungry elements feeding off of them like vampires of the club-night. These dudes are out to get their rocks off, and plan on dropping lots of cash, booze, china, attitude, and pride to that goal.
Given that this is the endgame and method for the credit spending majority of “clubberz” in Houston, they get preyed upon by “club ownerz” and the “chickenheadz” that populate the interiors of Houston’s ever-changing club landscape. Bars/clubs breeze through that city by the hundreds, with very few making any real effort to change the scene, or do anything of real note. They’re out for the cash, just like the ladies are. And the system that is in place reflects that.
To begin, just about every place offers “valet”. This is a luxury service, which many people, whether wealthy or just spoiled, honestly prefer. They hate to park their own ride, and happily pay some random ex-con to wipe some spunk on their steering wheel and park their spare-tired Jetta on the no-light street next to the nearest plywood Hooverville. The same spot that homeskillet drove past to get to the valet awning, where he yelled out to his bros over the thumping house beats streaming from his iPod, “dudes, that shitty space right there is why I get valet to find me the choice spots!” And it only costs like, $5 plus tip. Plus all the change in your ashtray and a pair of Oakley sunglasses (damnit, bro! That’s my sixth fuckin’ pair, man! Lame!). Smooth.
Car has been taken away for a good keying. Now get behind the velvet rope and note that bouncer is wearing a three piece suit from Oak Tree, circa 1988. That was the year he tried out as a walk-on for the Bengals but was cut from the program for excessive steroid abuse. His teeth are chipped, probably from being on the wrong end of a few mag-lites in his day, wielded by rage-fueled doorguards of night establishments, much like himself today. He is not happy to see you. He is not happy to see anyone who is not two-dimensional, green, and a deceased prior-ruler of American politics. If you try to introduce him to Washington, he just might urinate in your bloodied mouth.
He honestly believes that he deserves such power and authority. This is the way of the “club scene”. And so it begins.
There is a cover charge for almost every fly-by-night bullshit-dancefloor-focused asshole circus in the downtown area. $5 would be a cheap cover. $10 would be considered a “typical” charge, if you are an out-of-town dude. If you are a dude wearing tennis shoes, expect to be charged a bribe for your entrance. Probably north of $20 (I got you next time Nick, sorry for pinning all that shit on you but I had no duckets! Ahhhhh!). He’ll say that your shoes are “disrespecting the establishment”, and that he is doing you a favor. This is hilarious for obvious reasons, but you will keep that to yourself. If you are wearing a hat, comfortable jeans, a smile, or hair that is not cemented into place you may be denied entrance for life. You might even get the mag-lite treatment. Again, this is the way of the scene. For the ladies, entrance is free. Unless the ladies are of the slower, or less attractive variety, which get charged as if they were dudes because they either a) are too slow to understand that they ARE the whole REASON for the club, or b) they look more like dudes, so they get charged appropriately. Thems the breaks in Houston.
So, as a dude in Houston, before you even ENTER a club, be prepared to drop at least $15 in cash. That’s an average though. Some will be slightly less, others will be obscenely more. Feel free to cry about it, as I am sure it would help your cause.
Once inside, prepare to drink heavily. You will want to do this because the interior will look exactly like every other interior of every other club you have ever been to over the rather expansive tract of time you have been indulging in such things. This realization will depress you. Immensely. And you will dive immediately into whatever will help you “adjust” your surroundings so that you can ignore everyone/everything there except for your friends (who are the only reason you’re there to begin with).
Besides, alcohol is fun. LOTS of alcohol is LOTS of fun. Especially when dispensed with complete abandon in the form of coordinated shots amongst a dozen like-minded friends. Suddenly, you’ll forget about that ass-hat manning the door who taunted your choice in footwear. You’ll forget the warm lighting. The square-foot tiled dancefloor, covered in sticky-spilled Red Snappers. That really nice dude in the bathroom that hands everyone paper towels and tells tales of living in New Orleans “before it got all wrecked-out”. You’ll forget all the Striped Shirt dudes that line the dance floor, who envision themselves as lions, stalking the crowd for the weak and sick, ignorant to the fact that they themselves are the wildebeests of the scene. It is their cash that fuels it. Well, their credit, more specifically. Their hard work and efforts that cause the owners and ladies to get together in a symbiotic effort to fleece them of what little money they can borrow at usurious rates…
Whoa. I’m going way overboard here. It isn’t that one-sided. It’s a game, really. Some dudes play it well, some dudes don’t. I, personally, never bothered playing it because I know I wouldn’t be particularly good at it. Besides, it’s more fun to show up, drink like a fish, laugh at the world for a bit, dance with the abandon of a half-wit, and scream the lyrics to songs you usually only sing in your car (alone). I’m in it for the fun. For the experience of the situation, not the game. But that’s just me. Call it lame if that makes you happy.
Where was I… ah yes. Inside. The drinks are mad-expensive, and the drunker you get, the higher the probability that your tab is going to get padded. It might occur as the result of an error in communication between bartenders over your 15 shot order. Perhaps you asked for Crown, but got gut-rot instead. It may be an honest mistake. But more than likely, the bartenders ran out of comps for their crew of broke-ass hoodrats, and your bill was already tipping out over $100 BEFORE they saw you stumbling around like WC Fields and making out with a wall-mounted light fixture, so they just started dropping some beers/McCalls on your bloated tab. You are too far gone to get that shit straight anyway. You can argue, but it won’t take much in the way of drunken-Jedi mind tricks to throw you off.
YOU: “Hey, maaaaaaan. Is this.. [holding bill three inches from face] ah hun-red an fitty two bucks?”
BARTENDER: “Yep. The tip line is at the bottom.”
YOU: “Whoooooooaaaaa, waidah minute, fursht. I de’yint drank all that man.”
BARTENDER: “I don’t know who drank it. But you ordered it. The tip line is at the bottom.”
YOU: “But whaaaaaaaaat is on here? I mean, whaddis’ on this tab?”
BARTENDER: “Right now, everything is on there but the tip. Bottom line.”
YOU: “…” [looking suspiciously at the multiple, moving images of the bartender]
BARTENDER: “The line at the bottom. I gave you twenty percent off, because you guys were so nice. It’s the line at the bottom. Thanks for coming in.” [walks away with urgency]
YOU: [curious expression melts over face] oh no shit? Twenty? Well, alright then. Shweeeet! [signing furiously, forgetting to bother doing math and totaling tip, leaving that to the limitless discretion of the bartending/management staff, which should make Christmas extra sweet this year for their kids]
And that’s just one establishment. In Houston, try going to more than one place. Better yet, try to go to more than one place with more than two other people. It becomes a logistical shitstorm of confusion and bad directions. Everyone knows how to get where they want to go, but no one can explain to anyone else. Plus, the fucking freeways inside the loop swap all around like a Harry Potter staircase. Nothing is near anything else, so it’s not like it is convenient to say “man, fuck this place! The door guy is a goddamn rabid orangutan and the bartender charged me fifteen bucks for tap water with a splash of immigrant urine! Let’s stand outside and coordinate (argue, cry) with each other for thirty minutes, compromise in frustration, drive another thirty minutes, and do this all over again somewhere else on the other side of downtown! Who the fuck keyed the entire right side of my car? That’s so awesome!”
Yes Houston, you are awesome. Awesome indeed. And by "awesome", I mean: "excrutiatingly difficult". I look forward to Thanksgiving this year, where I will repeat all of the things listed above (except for the valet, which is the most obvious fleece, as I prefer to be a mark at the bar rather than the parking lot – or both).
My friends are the best to get stumbling drunk with, they really are! I just wish we had a better venue...