Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Houston

Way back when, on or about the occasion of my 45th birthday, one of my adopted brothers gave me one of those poured stone coasters for my coffee mug. Molded into the top was the fine slogan

If you haven’t grown up by age 40,
you don’t have to.

It seemed a good thought but the math was wrong, so, not seeing the trap, I looked at him and said “Brother, you DO realize I’m 45, right?”

That little sumbitch looked me right dead in the eye and said, just that quick, “Brother, you always WERE the slow one of the family.” Should’ve seen it coming. Maybe he was right.

* * * * *

I ran across that coaster on my desk the other day, underneath one of my favorite coffee mugs, which had suffered a broken handle and was waiting for me to make it right. Making things right has become more important to me in recent days, so while I got out the superglue and (successfully!) reattached the handle, I read that coaster again, and realized — I’m well past forty and I’ve been much too grown-up lately.

As it happens I covered model train shows and modellers off-and-on for the Chronicle, so when I saw a notice on Facebook I knew where I’d be on Saturday. Every year, on the third Saturday in February, the overaged seven-year-olds of the San Jacinto Model Railroad Club hold their annual model train expo/show/swap meet, since 2003 known as the Greater Houston Train Show, and since 2005, they’ve gathered at the Stafford Center, which is just a few miles southwest of my Sharpstown home base. So bright and noonish on Saturday, I checked that I had the six buck adult admission fee in my pocket and that the camera batteries were charged, and off I went. (I had some hopes that explaining that I had basically been stuck at 7 years old for half a century myself might get me in for the child’s price, but I didn’t really expect it to work, and it didn’t.). I might have had a chance but the club cheated… the wives were running the ticket table! They’re very nice ladies and all but they LIVE with eternal 7-year-olds, so… But I did get a couple of laughs for the idea, so it wasn’t a total waste.

* * * * *

My first stop, after collecting info on a couple of area railroad museums I’ll maybe do more with later, was the Layout Room where the members of the Houston “G” Gaugers had set up a large multi-track oval.

G-gauge is big for models; the cars are about 5″ tall and correspondingly long, a little over a foot or so.

And because track alignment on mobile layouts isn’t always all it could be, the cars will sometimes derail or jump the tracks and require an intervention.

Click the 2 to go to the next page. (There are 3 in all.)

I’m sorry. I’ve been very quiet for a while now (and TOT is almost on hiatus) for a couple of reasons, one of which I’m STILL not at liberty to discuss just now, and the other being the visit of a very ugly critter name of Hurricane Harvey – a seriously obnoxious guest who quite comprehensively wore out his welcome before he moved on.

But It’s not been a totally unmitigated disaster. Mostly, sure, but not totally.

First, the not-so-devastating news: I live in Sharpstown, which is a small suburb (I guess by now it’s probably considered “near town” or even urban) just about four miles outside Loop 610. As I told several people, there’s a small neighborhood in the middle of Southwest Houston that had less rain than almost anywhere else in the area and no flooding, and I live right smack in the middle of that neighborhood. The nearest major street to me is Fondren, and during TS Allison and Hurricane Ike, the last two major rain events to hit this part of Houston, Fondren flooded. Badly. As in waist-deep on me, so almost 3 feet in the center of the road and close to 4 feet at the edges. Damaged a bunch of houses and townhouses in the area and ruined dozens of cars, mostly because of people trying to drive through several feet of flowing water in vehicles equipped for, at best, a couple inches of the stuff. Just for clarity, this is a really bad idea and you shouldn’t even think about trying it yourselves. Trust me. If your vehicle doesn’t have a chapter in the manual about Fording a Stream in Your Vehicle, do NOT attempt to ford streams in your vehicle. It doesn’t end well.

Anyway, as a result of this, the city of Houston rebuilt Fondren, from below the ground up. In the process our storm drainage here went from two 32″ cylindrical culverts to three 6-foot square culverts. This time, although my street got a foot or so deep in spots, Fondren never closed and the water in my area never got further than the main sidewalk a few feet off the street. This is good for me and for my neighbors – none of our homes, none of our cars, nothing was flooded. The only water that got to Rommie was coming down, and she shrugs that off. She does want a bath now, but otherwise…

So I don’t think I get to complain about bad luck for my next two or three lives…

And for the last several days I’ve had something of an insider view into how a major news organization works, which if nothing else has taught me that I DO have the skills and the ability to play this game. (Yes, I know, most of you have told me that and told me that and TOLD me that, but it’s never so clear from the inside… until now. )

And now for the devastation part of this…

Several of my friends and friends of friends weren’t NEARLY as lucky as I was.

I’ve spent a couple days in the aftermath helping friends who live in that complex document losses for FEMA and insurance companies, and salvaging what few bits and pieces could be retrieved after most of a week under Buffalo Bayou, which at the worst of it was about three feet deep where I was standing to shoot this. (I was there days later when the water was back where it belonged; my bootsoles got wet but that was all.)

These folks, most of whom were retired or close to it, are almost entirely wiped out. One of my good friends, who lives under the tall windows at the left of the frame above, managed to salvage a few bags of clothes and a handful of knick-knacks, but lost all of her furniture (including family heirlooms and antiques), her appliances, her books, her electronics, and her car.. She’s a writer and a movie buff, and much of her personal history, and almost everything she owns, was drowned. About half of her neighbors are in the same situation, along with tens (or hundreds) of thousands of other Houstonians, and a much greater number of Texans and, now, Floridians as well. This hurricane season is beyond horrific; none of the words I know really reach on this. There are miles and miles of these scenes. Tens of thousands of people have popped up here from all over the continent to help us, and we are truly grateful (you have no idea), but the recovery will be massive and will take decades. For many it probably won’t happen at all.

There’s just not much to say. As I said, I’ve been doing my photodocumentarian and local “fixer” schtick for the last several days, so I haven’t had time to shoot a lot of images myself, and when everyplace looks either normal or totally devastated… well, there’s not a lot of motivation. It’s too big and there’s just no way to really get an emotional or visual handle on it. We’re devastated, we’re collectively shocked out of our minds – this complex and many other parts of Houston had never flooded before and got several feet of water this time… but, well… Like the guy who hung his flag here, we WILL be back. It may take a bit, though, and if we’re a bit self-obsessed just now, this is why. Bear with us.

(And thanks for the well-wishes and all that, but seriously, not to worry about me. I really WAS quite unconscionably lucky on this one. I’ll take it.)

One of the great things about Houston is that despite the miserable climate we have sizable groups of people from everywhere living here, and sometimes they throw parties. For everyone.

Yesterday, it was the Brazilian Women Foundation. (Their spelling, not mine.) They took over Avant Garden, a local bar and music venue, for the afternoon/evening and held a festival.

Fortunately for me, I know a few Brazilians on social media and one of them clued me in, early enough that I was able to get down there for a little bit.

Food, music, clothing, more food, pretty rocks, pretty jewelry, ladies’ lingerie… a little bit of everything.

Not sure what she was serving, but look at that dress…

Doris, Sergio and the Unknown Drummer.

Mobile Clothing Store, aka Fashion Truck…

Pao de mel is a Brazilian Honey bread made with some sort of dark flour, dark honey, a bunch of spices, and chocolate.

That silver platter in the middle of their table is a sample tray. It is, you will note, empty. There’s a reason. YUM. I got the next to last piece and I had to block someone else out to do that. (Sorry, friend, but I’m a reporter; this is for journalism.) If it’s not the best sweet bread I’ve ever had, it’s that close. These folks, Honey Honey, are out of Austin. They don’t seem to have a website but they are on FaceBook and email. (Just ask. They’re in my contact book for DAMN sure.)

“It’s a geode. This batch is mostly turning out white quartz, not purple amethyst, but they’ve all got crystals and they’re all turning out beautiful.”

Handmade Jewelry byGumi…

Gulmira Heyl is yet another Facebook website only artisan, but either way that’s beautiful work.

It looked to be a pretty good turnout, all in.

I’ve never been to Peru, but it’s only one line on the map away from Ecuador, where I may end up, so when the folks at the Houston Museum of Natural Science announced that Peru would be the focus of the February “World Trekkers” gathering, I decided “Eh, close enough!” and sprung for a ticket. So last Friday evening I hopped a bus to a train and then started walking…

A bit of background…

Every few months HMNS hosts “World Trekkers,” a sort of Cultural Night for Members (and Their Kids). It’s mostly for young families to bring their younger persons to the museum, where they get to “experience” a little of another part of the world, in the form of children’s crafts, edible goodies, and usually a folkdance or music group. And, with luck, they learn that there’s more to the museum than a big room with a bunch of old dusty bones and rocks and such.

Mind, a big room with a bunch of old dusty bones and rocks and such was always enough for me as a kid, but back in those days we didn’t have iPads or virtual reality – we only had fire after big storms, and nobody really trusted those “wheel” things anyway… But the world’s changed, mostly for the better, and getting kids to think of learning and having fun in the same sentence is always a good idea.

I digress. Frequently. (Old folks do that. Deal with it.)

As I expected, the event was mostly “kid stuff” – paper mask making, a “Help paint a blanket on the llama” booth, a “Make your own quipu” table, (which drew as many adults as younglings) and so on.

For adults, there was music to listen to, and kids to watch, and a display of incised gourds, hand carved and colored. This is an old Inka art form, now mostly sold to tourists. I stopped to admire.

These are about three inches across, which makes the carvings about as intricate and precise as you think they are. The tops of these are geometric patterns, but if you look down the sides you’ll see traditional scenes of rural life. Others had illustrations of animals, landscapes, and jungle scenes. Sure glad I don’t have to carve those, but I suppose patience is a cultivated skill.

And then, over the speakers – “dancers start in five minutes, right here in the main hall…” and I started looking for a spot.

The performance troupe, Raices del Peru, is local. They’ve been around for years.

This is Roberto Cubias and Beatriz Rozo performing La Marinera, the “National Dance of Peru.” It’s from the northern Highlands.

Most of the dancers in the Raices troupe are young, and the little Panasonics I had with me aren’t really good for fast action in low light, so that part didn’t work so well. The shots that weren’t blurred were out of focus, the shots that were in focus were blurred. I wasn’t getting anything, but couldn’t get to a spot where I could work within the cameras’ limitations without disturbing most of the audience, and I hate it when people do that… so in the end I put the cameras down and just enjoyed the dancing.

I did grab the “shoot the dancers in front of the backdrop” moment, though, because these clothes are so beautiful that I wanted to show them to you.
Textiles and tapestries are one of the major art forms in the Andes, and these are nice examples of the better work.

On the way out I stopped to meet the petting zoo… a squirrel monkey, a guinea pig (cuy), and a chinchilla, and over to the side a young vicuña. I gave some thought to photographing them but I would have had to use flash, and they were skittish already after two hours of being petted, poked, and pestered by a small horde of younglings, so I decided to leave them alone.

Next time for that, too.

Anyway. Reality calls. Time to get back to it.

On the way to Goliad as soon as I log off here, to see Los Pastorales – a reproduction of an old play/performance the monks at Mission Espiritu Santo and the other early Spanish Missions used to teach the Christmas Story to the Mission Indians. Supposedly it goes from the viewpoint of the Shepherds. Should be interesting, though it’s done in Spanish and that might make it interesting. Words and a gallery to follow.

And there are several hundred pix from MECA’s Las Posadas last week, just waiting to be edited down and have words attached. That’ll have to wait until I get back, though.

That’s all gonna be happening over at The Other Texas, though.

Just for checking, in, though… here’s the first clean photo from MECA:



(Joseph and Mary, having wandered the streets of Bethlehem (with the Old Sixth Ward standing in for the little town) looking for a place to stay, eventually wind up back at MECA, where it’s about to be Party Time.)

So yesterday afternoon the editor-beings dispatched me to the Heights to see a Citzen about a Constable. As happens I was up in the Heights one afternoon earlier this week and the traffic then had been similar to the mall parking lot on Black Friday, so I left base camp with a LOT of time in hand, Just In Case.

And, as always, when you’re ready for Just In Case, nothing happens.

So I wind up hanging out in the front of Donovan Park, watching kids on all the toys and climbing/clambering stuff and chatting with a nice lady I’d met just last week on another shoot in another part of town… and along comes this tall gangly dude, friendly-looking, burdened with an armload of miscellaneous stuff. I watch, wondering what’s going on – he might be my Citizen but that doesn’t feel right – and he starts opening things up and putting things together, and okay, that’s a paint box and that’s a folding table, and no, that’s an easel, not a tripod – we’ve got ourselves an artist here. I wander over for a look – I’ve got little to no talent in that particular medium myself, so it always fascinates me.

Turns out it’s Roger Seward and he’s got a beautiful day to work with, so he’s going to get some actual painting done…

And THEN.. THEN… Just in Case happens. A crew of small persons approach from the unguarded Northern Reaches, and they glom onto the artist right off. There are a couple of minutes of just watching him do his thing, and then, kid-like, “we’re doing that in class too.”

Hmmm… This could turn into something. We Have a Situation, and chemistry is developing here. Fortunately the Citizen Victim has arrived. He’s over by the gate trying to raise the Constable by phone. Meantime, I’m watching out of one eye for the constable to show up, and keeping the other eye on the artists.

And then I glance away to check out what might be a cruiser coming up the road, but no, it’s just HPD… and I look back and Roger’s got the painting off the easel and down at work level for younglings, and this wonderful moment is happening, right here…

and this….

and it just keeps getting better…

and …

and EVERYONE gets in on the act…

And then, as all good things must come to an end, Mom comes back, the Constable arrives, and reality reasserts itself.

But there were those few minutes…

There are times when I hate this job, but on days like this, I wouldn’t do anything else.

It seems sometimes that close to half the countries south of Texas celebrate their independence from one colonial power or another within a very few days. Some of this is history, some is coincidence, but what it means is there’s a really big party. In Texas and most of the United States it’s generally referred to as “Fiestas Patrias.” We throw parades.

And I generally try to shoot them… because, well, they’re parades. There are bands. There are dancers. There are floats. There are veterans and celebrities ON the floats. There are old cars, with politicians and celebrities in them or on them. There’s music. Lots of music. This year there were high school ROTC units practicing for Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. There are flag-wavers and vaqueros and vaqueras and… it’s just a big noisy crazy spectacle and a heck of a lot of fun.

Also, for photographers, it’s what we might call a “target-rich” environment.

As always, the gallery is behind the picture.

One of the risks of doing “hyper-local*” media work is that if you don’t make a constant effort to look out past the horizon, your universe gets very small. A few weeks ago I noticed in passing that a delegation of Lamas from Drepung Loseling were scheduled to visit the Asia Society Texas Center to create another sand mandala. This is always a special event, but in Houston it’s not really THAT uncommon – one group of Tibetan Lamas or another comes through about every year or so. The thing is, though, after the first few minutes it’s not THAT much of a spectator sport, and I’ve seen it several times, so I marked it on the calendar out of habit and went on looking for stories.

The people involved with this are pretty slick about getting the word out, though, and the blip on the radar kept growing, and growing. And I kept thinking “nah, everyone knows about this, and every photographer within fifty miles will be there…”

See, my philosophy on covering minor news events without an assignment leans strongly in the direction of “hit `em where they ain’t”; if an event is going to draw a couple dozen other photogs, it’s unlikely I’ll find anything they aren’t getting, which means I’m mostly blocking the view of the paying customers, and selling anything after the fact is a matter of out-marketing those other guys… a thing for which I have no gift, little skill and even less inclination.

But as it turns out.. “everyone knows about this” was only most of the population of Houston proper. I mentioned the event, again in passing, to a Foreign Facebook Friend on Friday night, and he lit up like a neon sign. He’s at least 3/4ths of a Buddhist, you see, and had never seen the mandala work….and in and around the flood of words he typed at me over the next fifteen minutes I caught on that the message was “man, you just GOTTA go photograph this for me. You gotta, you gotta, you just HAVE TO…”

So…

50x50blackspacer


*a current buzzword – translates to “full coverage of the neighborhood, less coverage of the next street over, fading to virtually no information at all about anything more than twenty miles out…”

“Boooooo-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrr-dddddddd!!!!!!”

(Five letters. Three syllables. Impressive.)

Okay. I clamber into the front seat of the second coach, where I have a clear view of the engine on the curves, and settle in with the camera bag beside me.

Wooo! Wooo-wooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Shuf.. shufff… shuffa…shuffashuffashuffa clack shuffa clack shuffa clack clack clack

And… we’re off. If I didn’t know better I’d think this was a real train and I was off for a grand adventure somewhere.

But… no. No big grand adventures today. I’m out of clients and budget for those just now, so instead I’m aboard the SDF Express, one of two Chance Rides C P Huntington replicas in Hermann Park. It’s a bit too warm to sit inside, so I took a couple of hours “off” to ride the train and grab a few pictures.

The SDF Express and its sister, the Dr. Jack Express, certainly LOOK right for grand adventures.

I started to notice murals on my first major trip south – they’ve been a big part of the political and artistic landscape in Latin America for centuries, from the earliest civilizations we know of right up to now.

(Simon Bolivar, somewhere in a park…)

(The Hermit, Key IX of the Rider-Waite Tarot, beside the door of the Hard Rock Cafe’ in Cuenca.)

The last time I was in Ecuador I saw more straight-out graffiti than actual murals, which was disappointing, but they’re still to be found, everything from public art to portraits of political figures to advertising to political commentary for those who don’t own the newspapers….

Anyway, last Thursday afternoon I managed to beat the traffic down to Rosenberg for a Chronicle gig, so I spent some time roaming around and spotted this train-in-progress blowing through a side wall on 3d street. As you can see, it’s not small.

But, at the time, there was no one around, so I kept on wandering. I haven’t done enough small-town walkabout lately, so it was pleasant to get back to it. Checked out several antique shops and a couple of street scenes….

And about an hour or so later, I came back up the street, and met the muralist, Paul Sanchez. Nice guy, Paul. Puts up with all sorts of strange characters who come up and ask questions and stick cameras in his face and whatnot.

He says he’s done the entire mural with those little tiny airbrushes with the half-ounce paint cup, which I notice he has to refill about every ten seconds. He says he’ll be finished here in three or four days.

I’m going to have to go back next week and get the whole thing minus the scaffolding. It’s going to be grand.

(Mr. Sanchez has a website over HERE with some nice galleries, too. Take a look…)