Houston, We Have a Bird Problem


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I hopped off the Megabus in downtown Houston early Saturday morning…much earlier than I had seen the world in quite a while. The sun had not yet risen and the expansive downtown was quiet and dark. I chose to take a later bus to Austin because I thought I should get some breakfast before another 4 hour trip. I found a number of restaurants and coffee shops in the area ahead of time, so it was merely a matter of huffing it to the nearest one. Immediately after turning the corner from the bus stop, I cringed as my only pair of boots trudged down the two blocks of speckled bird-crap sidewalks. Go figure! Houston, you have a bird problem!

I walked on wide sidewalks watching the sunrise. The illuminated light installations danced for me, swirling me in a weary confusion in the dull morning. Was I up all night and was this a walk of shame? How was I up earlier than everyone else in the world?

I wandered through silent blocks of modern-deco buildings, following the Urbanspoon map towards breakfast. Closed on Saturday and Sunday the sign on the window read. Damn! I huffed to the next breakfast listing, ten blocks away, only to discover that is was no longer in business (thanks Urbanspoon!). I sat down, for the third time in my twenty block walk, to rest my back and begin a new search. A man of medium complexion and slightly fuzzed dredlocks asked me if I was new in town, eying my backpack. “I’m just stopping in for a few hours, then off to Austin.” Speaking quickly, and lowly, while wiping milky tears from his eyes, he offered me advice and help if I needed a shelter or to find food. I smiled and thanked him. He nodded and bowed a little before he walked off just as dizzily as he came.

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As the sun rises, and the downtown of Houston grows brighter, and more people appear. Everyone greets me with a “Good Morning” and a smile. Sometimes I respond with “How you doin’?” and a nod, the urban equivalent to “I too am a part of the brotherhood and I understand our plight,” whatever brotherhood or plight that could be applied. But the use of “Good” and “Morning” caused me to wince as it was not good without coffee and breakfast, and I was still unsure that it was morning until I had officially had the two. Where’s the Southern Hospitality beyond the formal greetings?

I found a listing for a café at the Hilton. I cringed at the thought, and yes a resort would be my last resort, but certainly a restaurant at a bustling hotel would be open. I decided to make my way another ten blocks. As I approached the hotel, a crowd of slender, brightly dressed and energized people stood, danced, shuffled and jumped in the streets and on the sidewalk. I was walking straight into a marathon, and hopefully I wouldn’t have to wait to pass. Luckily it had not yet started, and most of the action was the restlessness of the contestants, running around the block, and up and down the sidewalk, in effort to stay warm. If they would have been walking for thirty blocks with two bags, they would not have a problem staying warm.

Again, I am feeling a surreal moment where the world is moving behind a subject standing still (what is that film shot called?). I recall coming home at 6am from the Quarter, back to the dorms at Tulane. My friends and I would dance across the quad and interrupt the early morning ROTC routines. It was a clash of the last night/early morning worlds, and here I was again. I would never see a marathon before it had begun because I would never be up that early…now, I would, and am, staying out that late, and the surrealist acceptance where I recognize my role is priceless.

I eventually made it to the hotel, ordered coffee and breakfast, surrounded by marathon families, curious hotel guests and an international selection of hotel workers. Thank you Hilton for your multicultural hiring practices! And soon I am off to Austin, but not before I huff it back another fifteen blocks to the bus station.

Houston, you have a problem, but it’s not so much about your birds or your lack of breakfast options on a Saturday, you have a problem in that there is no place for us transitional people…those of us who are not homeless, marathon runners, or hotel guests. Those of us who are travelers, seeking adventure and connections. Where are your stories Houston? I will have to return here another time to discover them…I don’t doubt that they exist, but they definitely do not exist before dawn on a Saturday morning downtown.