Autumn of 2000 III

At the entrance gate of the LAZY C, I took a right and headed south on FM 256 to Apple Springs where I hooked a right onto State Hwy 94. I was zigzagging my way through the beautiful pine-treed landscape of East Texas and turned left at Groveton onto U.S. 287 and drove a short 20 miles to Corrigan where I stopped for a quick fill up at a reasonable $1.42 a gallon. Then it was south on a divided four lane U.S. 59, one of the more pleasant and picturesque roads in the state as it passed through the Sam Houston National Forest. My other option had been to continue on TX 94 and eventually merge with the drag of I-45, which was completely out of the question. My objective on the trip was to avoid the interstate system as much as possible. So far, so good.

However, way before I could catch a glimpse of the dynamic Houston skyline, old Hwy 59 was regrettably morphing into an interstate, so typical of all the metromesses across the country where it was now practically impossible to enter a city on a simple two-lane (or four-lane) highway. I eventually merged with Loop 610, and much to my chagrin trudged along in the arteriosclerotic rush-hour traffic until finally exiting at Westheimer Road in the upscale Post Oak district west of downtown. Lewis and I had planned to meet in “Mosquito City”, but since he was not wired in to Ma Bell in his rental apartment and it was too late to reach him at his office, I would have to fend for myself and wait to call him the next day. After a brief reconnaissance of the area, I found an overnight space in a relatively empty parking lot in an apartment complex. Before retiring, I entertained myself by watching on my portable B&W TV a marquee match up between the Packers and the Chicago Bears on MNF from the frozen tundra of Green Bay’s Lambeau Field. It was a fitting climax to an otherwise uneventful day, with the exception, of course, of having a delightful morning visit with Mary Chandler and her “family”.

After a quickie Eggs McMuffin breakfast at a local McDonalds, I was able to get in touch with Lewis to set up a time and place to meet for lunch. I took advantage of the free time to drive a short distance to the renowned and innovative Galleria, an enclosed, multi-level shopping mall with an all-encompassing skylight hovering over a central ice skating rink. The ambience of the vast interior space was awe-inspiring, to say the least. The Post Oak area was replete with architectural gems, the most notable being a 30-story office building designed by the incomparable Phillip Johnson – a ziggurat structure with predominant two-toned gray horizontal bands wrapping around radius comers. In my eyes, it was a masterpiece!

I met my friend at Popolos, a fashionable restaurant on Post Oak Boulevard. We both agreed to “damn the torpedoes”, so to speak, and go for “the best in the house”. I opted for the lemon-diced sauteed salmon while Lewis chose the New York strip sirloin. I peeked under the table and said in jest, “Just checking, Louie. With your proclivity towards beefsteak, I wanted to make sure your feet were not morphing into cow’s hooves.” He got a good chuckle out of that. I had to ask him if his steak was tender enough, harking back to a comment I made in the meat section of Brookshire’s several days earlier. He simply said, using the old cliche, “It’s so tender, I can cut it with a fork.” When it came time to settle for the check, I said, “Louie, we’ve been trading-off (treating each other) all weekend, so let’s go “Dutch” on this one, okay?” He agreed, and before we departed, he gave me directions to his apartment, suggesting I meet him there after he got off work.

Well, I had the whole afternoon to myself, so I started by working off the sumptuous meal with a bicycle ride around the prestigious Post Oak neighborhood, panning the area’s diversified architecture, including magnificent mansions and gleaming office towers in juxtaposition with one another. Houston was unique in that respect since it had no zoning restrictions to speak of. I even pedaled over to Phillip Johnson’s cynosure just to observe close-up its beautiful detailing.

After hooking up the velocipede to the back of the van, I found a pay phone and called Mark Boone, an ex-fellow employee at Harrell & Hamilton Architects in Dallas back in the early 1970s. After getting directions, I met Mark at his office situated in the inner city near Rice University, his alma mater. We took a mid-afternoon break and sauntered over to a local watering hole for a cold brewsky. We had a great reunion, catching up with each other’s past over the last 15 years. We reminisced about the good ol’ days at H & H with Mark commenting, “We were really cranking out the shopping centers. Those were fun and challenging times.” I added, “You know, we were a great design team with you, Gene, Ian, Hank, Lucho, and the rest of the gang. What I thought was rather weird, and amusing at the same time, was that all the firm’s best designers had been “displaced” from our “Ivory Tower” on the 17th floor of the Republic Bank to that crummy Cullum Building across the street. From then on, I always thought of us as the “orphans” of H & H. Mark added, “I loved working in that cruddy old building. It was like we had our own branch office, out of harm’s way.” I agreed, saying, “We didn’t have to be concerned about our “great white-haired God” (E.G. Hamilton) constantly looking over our shoulders. It was like we had carte blanche when it came to making our own design decisions.” E. G. did make an occasional “walk-over” just to check on what he affectionately called the “outlaw gang”. Mark needed to get back to the office, so we parted with a hug and a handshake.

I still had a few hours to kill, so I cruised through the glass and steel canyons of downtown Houston where all the somewhat stumpy brick and mortar office buildings that had defined the skyline from the 1920s through the 1950s were now dwarfed by the surge of stratospheric skyscrapers erected during the downtown building boom of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. I thought it was a wonder that such a water-logged (annual rainfall of 50 inches) terrain just 55 feet above sea level could support all that construction. Throughout the exodus of migrant workers from the “snow belt” to the “sun belt” (in the 70s and 80s), Michiganders retaliated with a piquant phrase of their own: “Detroit may be shrinking, but Houston is sinking.” Still, one couldn’t help but marvel at the explosive expansion, both upward and outward, that had taken place in the Bayou City.